Who will walk away with a Grammy? Our predictions

The Baltimore Sun

The music industry certainly felt the sting of a spiraling economy last year, as CD sales dropped more than 20 percent. But that seemingly had no direct effect on the creative side: Mainstream pop still managed to produce some daring and creative music.

Sure, not all of it made the upper reaches of Billboard's pop charts. But, unlike previous years, the Recording Academy seems to have paid closer attention to some of the fresher sounds. Nominations in the top Grammy categories are an interesting mix of artists with reliable commercial success (even in a bad economy) and relative newcomers who garnered critical praise, if not big sales. Here are my picks of those who may win and those who should.

Record of the Year

"Chasing Pavements," Adele

"Viva La Vida," Coldplay

"Bleeding Love," Leona Lewis

"Paper Planes," M.I.A.

"Please Read the Letter," Robert Plant & Alison Krauss

Will win: "Viva La Vida." It isn't the best song here, but the soaring number is easily one of Coldplay's better cuts. Its snobbery-free artfulness (a refreshing break from the band's usual approach) is smartly streamlined in a pop-savvy production - just the kind of thing the academy usually loves.

Should win: "Paper Planes." The song is catchy and ingenious in the way it uses the sounds of gunshots and ringing cash registers.

Album of the Year

Viva La Vida, Or Death and All His Friends, Coldplay

Tha Carter III, Lil' Wayne

Year of the Gentleman, Ne-Yo

Raising Sand, Robert Plant & Alison Krauss

In Rainbows, Radiohead

Will win: This is usually a tricky category where the perceived artistic quality of an album will sometimes trump the blockbusters. (Herbie Hancock surprisingly walked away with the award last year.) But tonight, it may be a tossup between In Rainbows and Raising Sand.

Should win: In Rainbows. Each nominated album glimmered with moments of greatness. But In Rainbows, which the band brilliantly sold and marketed itself, is the most consistent effort in the category - braiding strong song craft with mind-expanding musical layers.

Song of the Year

(awarded to the songwriter[s])

"American Boy," Estelle, featuring Kanye West

"Chasing Pavements," Adele

"I'm Yours," Jason Mraz

"Love Song," Sara Bareilles

"Viva La Vida," Coldplay

Will win: "Chasing Pavements." Easily the strongest song here, buttressed by a simple, surging arrangement. Plus, Adele's soulful vocal delivery gives the song just the right amount of emotional heft.

Should win: "Chasing Pavements"

Best New Artist

Adele

Duffy

Jonas Brothers

Lady Antebellum

Jazmine Sullivan

Will win: Over the years, this award has been the kiss of death for several careers - The Starland Vocal Band, anyone? It wouldn't be a shock if the ubiquitous Jonas Brothers walk away with this one.

Should win: Adele. Amy Winehouse aside, Adele is the most promising of the recent invasion of British female pop artists.

Best Pop Vocal Album

Detours, Sheryl Crow

Rockferry, Duffy

Long Road Out of Eden, Eagles

Spirit, Leona Lewis

Covers, James Taylor

Will win: Sheryl Crow. She has long been a Grammy darling, and Detours is one of her best efforts.

Should win: Sheryl Crow

Best Rock Album

Viva La Vida, Coldplay

Rock N Roll Jesus, Kid Rock

Only by the Night, Kings of Leon

Death Magnetic, Metallica

Consolers of the Lonely, the Raconteurs

Will win: Coldplay. If the guys don't clean up in the major categories, they are a shoo-in for this one.

Should win: The Raconteurs. The album is deliciously defiant, mixing slivers of blues and progressive rock, without settling anywhere. It's all kinetic and the songs hold together well.

Best R&B; Album

Love & Life, Eric Benet

Motown: A Journey Through Hitsville USA, Boyz II Men

Lay It Down, Al Green

Jennifer Hudson, Jennifer Hudson

The Way I See It, Raphael Saadiq

Will win: Jennifer Hudson. Although her album is the weakest of the bunch, the Oscar winner may take home the gold gramophone.

Should win: Al Green. Lay It Down tastefully updates Green's signature sound without sacrificing any of the Saturday-night sensuality and Sunday-morning sanctification that cemented his legend in the 1970s.

Best Rap Album

American Gangster, Jay-Z

Tha Carter III, Lil' Wayne

The Cool, Lupe Fiasco

Nas, Nas

Paper Trail, T.I.

Will win: Lil' Wayne. The quirky rapper was the unlikely breakout star of 2008, selling the most albums (more than 3 million) of any pop act. His CD is uneven, but many of its catchy moments were some of the most memorable of any mainstream hip-hop album last year.

Should win: Lil' Wayne

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