Copyright ©2009 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

The 51st annual Grammy Awards ceremony takes place this weekend in Los Angeles. Our reviewer, Tom Moon, thinks this year's contenders for Album of the Year are a worthy group.

TOM MOON: In a world of ringtones and single-song downloads, the album seems like an anachronism. But for artists, it remains a kind of gold standard. This year, the Grammys are actually recognizing a bunch of really thoughtful albums. Among them is "Tha Carter III," from the incredibly prolific New Orleans rapper Lil Wayne. It was 2008's top seller, and is up for the most Grammy Awards - a total of eight, including Album of the Year.

(Soundbite of song, "Tie My Hands")

Mr. LIL WAYNE (Musician): (Singing) Yeah, some say tragedy's hard to get over, but sometime that tragedy means it's over.

MOON: Lil Wayne has parlayed a string of cameos into hip-hop ubiquity. It's hard to find a hip-hop project that doesn't have him on it. If he's not the best rapper on the planet - as he's boasted - he's certainly one of the hardest-working. His album is a welcome contrast to the prevailing two-hits-plus-filler approach that's common in hip-hop. It's a concentrated dose of renegade creativity, track after track filled with brainiac rhymes and deceptively sharp commentary.

(Soundbite of song, "Tie My Hands")

Mr. WAYNE: (Singing) I knock on the door, hope isn't home, fates not around, the lucks all gone, don't ask me what's wrong, ask me what's right and I'm a tell you what's life, and did you know? I lost everything, but I ain't the only one, first came the hurricane, then the morning sun. Excuse me if I'm on one, and don't trip if I light one, I walk a tight one. They try to tell me keep my eyes open my whole city under water, some people still floatin'.

MOON: Lil Wayne faces stiff competition for the Best Album Grammy. He's up against another mega-success: Coldplay. The British rock band's fourth album, "Viva La Vida," offers the addictive and upbeat pop songs fans have come to expect. But the surroundings are a little different. The arrangements are dense and at times, devious. Some consider the album the band's most adventurous work.

(Soundbite of song, "Yes")

Mr. CHRIS MARTIN (Lead Singer, Coldplay): (Singing) If you'll only, if you'll only say yes. Whether you will's anybody's guess. God only, God knows I'm trying my best. But I'm just so tired of this loneliness.

MOON: The least-established artist in the Best Album field is Ne-Yo, the Los Angeles R&B singer-songwriter who's written Top 10 hits for Beyonce and Rihanna. Ne-Yo's third release, which is called "Year of the Gentleman," is notable for its level-headed, ever-respectful tone. Here's a man who's not afraid to show a woman his tender side, or serenade her with downright lovely, Stevie Wonder-ish melodies.

(Soundbite of song, "Why Does She Stay")

Mr. NE-YO (Musician): (Singing) She's so much better than me. I'm so unworthy of her. Why does she stay? Why does she stay? Why?

MOON: Also in the running is Radiohead, the trailblazing British band whose works have somehow never been nominated in the overall Best Album category. That's crazy because Radiohead specializes in albums in the old-school sense of the word, with songs that may not be conceptually linked yet still somehow coalesce into journeys. Last year's "In Rainbows" is an excellent example. POST-BROADCAST CORRECTION: Radiohead had previously been nominated for Album of the Year for "OK Computer" and "Kid A."

(Soundbite of song, "House of Cards")

Mr. THOM YORKE (Lead Singer, Radiohead): (Singing) Forget about your house of cards, and I'll do mine. Forget about your house of cards, and I'll do mine.

MOON: There's one more contender for the Best Album Grammy: "Raising Sand," the collaboration between Led Zeppelin vocalist Robert Plant and country singer Alison Krauss. It's a primer on the nearly lost art of harmony singing.

(Soundbite of song, "Please Read the Letter")

Mr. ROBERT PLANT and Ms. ALISON KRAUSS (Musicians): (Singing) Please read the letter. I wrote it in my sleep with help and consultation from the angels of the deep. Aaah...

MOON: Check out just one of these beautifully deferential performances and you may find yourself curious to hear more. It happens like that with great albums.

(Soundbite of song, "Please Read the Letter")

Mr. PLANT and Ms. KRAUSS: (Singing) Please read the letter than I wrote.

BLOCK: Our critic is Tom Moon. You can hear songs from the albums nominated for Best Album of the Year at nprmusic.org.

(Soundbite of song, "Please Read the Letter")

Mr. PLANT: (Singing) My house is full of rings and charms and pretty birds.

Mr. PLANT and Ms. KRAUSS: (Singing) Please understand me. My walls came falling down. There's nothing here that's left for you but checkered lost and found. Please read the letter that I wrote...

Copyright © 2009 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and Terms of Use. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.