Grammys Roll Around Again

Spotlight shines on a few new talents, but the show's tenor was predictable, and the multitude of award categories dizzying

THE 33rd Annual Grammy Awards were ushered in with backlash from young Irish singer Sinead O'Connor, up for awards in four different categories. Ms. O'Connor stated to the press that she would refuse the awards if she won them, on the basis of what she feels are the commercial and material goals of the record industry. Radical rappers Public Enemy followed suit. As it turned out, O'Connor's only award was for Best Alternative Music Performance for the album ``I Do Not Want What I Haven't Got.'' Public E nemy received no award. Nevertheless, the Grammys went on in much the same way as always, except that the broadcast originated from Radio City Music Hall here in New York instead of from Los Angeles - with comedian Garry Shandling doing a fine job as host. As usual, there was a mixture of the good, the not-so-good, and the downright questionable.

Among the good was crackerjack producer Quincy Jones, whose ``Back on the Block'' album, featuring an array of artists singing and playing everything from rap to bebop to bossa nova, swept the Grammys with six awards: Album of the Year, Best R&B Performance by a Duo or Group With Vocal, Best Rap Performance by a Duo or Group, Best Jazz Fusion Performance, Best Arrangement on an Instrumental, Best Engineered Recording (Non-Classical), and Producer of the Year. Mr. Jones was astounded, because, as he told the press after receiving the awards, even though he has won 19 Grammys in the past, it's something `` ... you never take for granted.''

No one was surprised that rapper MC Hammer walked away with the Best Rap Solo Performance for ``U Can't Touch This,'' though this writer favored the more authentic rappers Queen Latifah, Mony Love, and Public Enemy. Hammer is to rap what Harry Connick Jr. is to jazz - his schtick is rap with a Las Vegas twist, making him palatable to people who can't swallow the more stripped down variety of the genre. But what was really hard to take was the award for ``U Can't Touch This'' for Best Rhythm & Blues Song , an endlessly repetitive little riff that's catchy, but not really a song at all. It was up against the superior offerings of Janet Jackson (``Alright'') and the classic ``I'll Be Good to You'' (sung by Ray Charles and Chaka Khan on ``Back on the Block) - among others.

Speaking of Harry Connick Jr., his award for Best Male Jazz Vocal Performance, for his album ``We Are in Love,'' was met with mixed reactions from the members of the press at Radio City. One writer asked him how he felt about winning a jazz award over veteran bebopper Jon Hendricks. Mr. Connick, to his credit, replied that it made him feel a little funny. ``There are elements of jazz in my style, but I'm not a jazz singer.'' He pointed out that Tony Bennett, another nominee in the same category, is also not a jazz singer. It could be added that the other nominees, Bobby McFerrin and George Benson, aren't really jazz singers either, if you're using Jon Hendricks as a measuring stick.

The same ambivalence carried over into the female jazz vocals, where Ella Fitzgerald, more a pop than a jazz singer, won out over Betty Carter - a true innovator in the realm of jazz vocals, and Carmen McCrae, whose wonderful tribute to jazz pianist Thelonious Monk was one of this year's outstanding jazz albums.

Mariah Carey was practically a shoe-in for Best New Artist, despite competition from British singer Lisa Stansfield, and the close-harmony trio Wilson Phillips. Although Carey has been highly touted as the next Whitney Houston, she lacks Ms. Houston's sparkle and vocal power. She also has the annoying habit of turning every one- or two-syllable word into five or six syllables, and projects a dryness and lack of warmth in performances. Nevertheless, she also walked away with the Best Female Pop Vocal Per formance. Another disappointment was the choice of newcomer Alannah Miles for Best Female Rock Vocal Performance over more experienced and all around better artists Janet Jackson and Tina Turner.

A new artist that was regrettably overlooked altogether was South African singer and Zulu dancer Johnny Clegg, who thrilled audiences on his world tours last year and penetrated the US market with his album, ``Cruel, Crazy, Beautiful World.'' But there were some moments in the Grammys that would have warmed even Sinead O'Connor's heart. One of these was the Grammy for Living Colour for Best Hard Rock Performance. This band - one of the very, very few rock bands whose members are all black - is one of th e most impressive outfits to come along.

ENERGETIC, vibrant, and talented, Living Colour isn't afraid to take chances, mixing in elements of funk and avant-garde jazz into their intelligent brew of metal-laced rock and stinging, intelligent lyrics - which they demonstrated in their performance at the Grammy ceremony. Sinead would have been further pleased by lead guitarist Vernon Reid's T-shirt - a life-size photo of the Irish lass herself.

Performance highlights at the Grammys included Aerosmith's ripsnorting rendition of the Beatle classic ``Come Together.'' The veteran hard-rock band, who won Best Rock Performance by a Duo or Group With Vocal for their ``Janie's Got a Gun'' single, added their own touch to a tribute to the late John Lennon, who won a Lifetime Achievement Award.

Other interesting moments included Bob Dylan receiving his Lifetime Achievement award, fiddling with his hat and not knowing what to say; Tracy Chapman picking out notes on the piano and singing a simple, touching version of John Lennon's ``Imagine''; Phil Collins, winner of Record of the Year, singing a lovely duet of the winning song, ``Another Day in Paradise'' with David Crosby, of Crosby, Stills, and Nash; and Latin bandleader Tito Puente accepting his award for ``Best Tropical Latin Performance'' dressed in a diamond tail coat that outclassed even Liberace.

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