(NASHVILLE SKYLINE is a column by CMT/ Editorial Director Chet Flippo.)

The Grammys have become such fun every year, you almost forget that they’re also serious music awards. Of course they are. But the expectations and the hoopla and then the realities of the nominations and actual awards themselves have become such a major societal and media event. All kidding aside, in the past few years, the Grammys have shed their old image of being elitist awards and have been accurately reflecting musical triumphs — rather than commercial success — much more so than in years past.

Last year’s crowning of O Brother, Where Art Thou? as album of the year could not have been more apt (although O Brother was a rare smash success both commercially and critically). And Dolly Parton and Ralph Stanley winning, respectively, the country female and male vocal performance awards sent a clear shot across the bow of the mainstream country record labels. This year, the choices are again studded with sentimental favorites and anti-mainstream establishment icons. Parton, Stanley, Johnny Cash , Willie Nelson are prominently nominated and — given the temperament of the Recording Academy voters — have to be serious contenders.

Of the four big all-genre Grammy categories (record, album, song and new artist of the year), there are two country nominees. Alan Jackson will likely win in the song category for “Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning),” where his strongest competition is Bruce Springsteen’s similarly 9/11-themed “The Rising.” The Chicks likely won’t win album of the year, where their stiffest rival is — again — Springsteen, with his album The Rising. As the two artists who most eloquently addressed the 9/11 tragedies in song, Jackson and Springsteen deserve to win.

The biggest country surprise is new artist Joe Nichols ’ nominations for best male country vocal performance and best country album. There’s one key factor at work, though: Nichols is easily the strongest debuting artist since Brad Paisley , and I suspect voters are so relieved to again see a truly talented newcomer emerge that they fell all over themselves voting for Nichols. At any rate, he deserves it.

Another surprise is Pat Green ’s double nominations (for song and male vocal performance, both for his “Three Days”). Again, though, I think Green’s emergence as a national artist — due largely to his own hard work and initiative over the past few years — resulted in his being rewarded. He also likely was the recipient of favorite son votes from the large number of voters in Texas, which hasn’t had a local boy busting out in a while.

A lot of readers (including this one) are puzzled by the exclusion of Montgomery Gentry in the country performance by a duo or group category while Trick Pony gets nominated. The Grammys are expected to be a benchmark of recorded excellence, not a popularity contest. Trick Pony is a fun, entertaining band, but are they truly Grammy material?

A great many readers were outraged over the fact that Kenny Chesney and Toby Keith were completely overlooked when both had breakout years and strong albums and singles. In Chesney’s case, one can only speculate about his omission, but I suspect that it’s pure and simple a matter of voter snobbery. In the matter of Keith, I think he’s being punished by industry highbrows for recording the bellicose and politically incorrect “Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue (The Angry American).”

Several readers have inquired about the absence of Shania Twain and Tim McGraw in the nominations. Since the cut-off date for nominations is Sept. 30, the new albums by Twain and McGraw (which were released in November) won’t be eligible until next year.

P.S. If you bought CDs — or even a single CD — between 1995 and 2000, you’re entitled to a refund. It’s part of a settlement that major record distributors have agreed to in settling a price-fixing lawsuit. About $44 million of the settlement is being set aside to
pay customers from $5 to $20 each (per person, not per CD), depending on how many wind up splitting the money. By year-end 2002, only about 30,000 applications had been received. To file a claim, go to this site:

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