Honor roll: Grammy Award for Album of the Year

Each of these albums has been nominated for a Grammy Award for Album of the Year. They are ranked by honors received.

Album:How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb

How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb

U2

The album that carries U2 into its 25th year—and likely the mixed blessings of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame—is one of its most frank and focused since the days of October and War. But its gestation was anything but simple, in part salvaged from ‘03 sessions the band deemed subpar. Enter Steve Lillywhite, the band’s original producer and sometime collaborator in the decades since, who helped retool the track “Native Son” (originally an antigun screed) into the aggressive iPod anthem “Vertigo” and leaves his distinctive stamp on the muscular “All…

Album:Genius Loves Company

Genius Loves Company

Ray Charles

The fact that Genius Loves Company will be Ray Charles’s final new album inspires an unavoidable blue feeling. But it’s also a happy reminder that the man spent the last months of his life at work doing what he loved. The overall effect of these dozen duets is autumnal and smooth. Brother Ray is on point and cruising here. Fine moments abound—you can hear his delight even in the rather stiff company of Diana Krall and Natalie Cole. His voice sounds a bit frayed by ill health at times, but it also allows for great performances like the slyness behind the…

Album:Speakerboxxx/The Love Below

Speakerboxxx/The Love Below

OutKast

At a time when experimentation is taboo in most overground rap, that’s all Outkast seem intent on executing. Firstly, this double CD has no cohesive link, other than the fact that it sounds like a pair of solo albums stitched together to demo exactly how Andre’s yin works to augment Big Boi’s yang. Andre 3000’s Love Below disc rates as the more eclectic of the two, given that he’s turned in his emcee credentials to become a full-on funk-soul-jazz vocalist who mostly sings about items of love (“Happy Valentine’s Day”), carnal lust (“Spread”), and female…

Album:Come Away with Me

Come Away with Me

Norah Jones

It is not just the timbre of Norah Jones’s voice that is mature beyond her 22 years. Her assured phrasing and precise time are more often found in older singers as well. She is instantly recognizable, blending shades of Billie Holiday and Nina Simone without sounding like anyone but herself. Any way you slice it, she is a singer to be reckoned with. Her readings of the Hank Williams classic “Cold Cold Heart” and Hoagy Carmichael’s “The Nearness of You” alone are worth the price of the CD. Jones’s own material, while not bad, pales a bit next to such masterpieces.…

Album:Two Against Nature

Two Against Nature

Steely Dan

Never so much a band as the slyly crafted specter of one, Steely Dan’s mid-1990s “return” to live performance was as surprising as it was perverse. They’d previously toured only once, round about the era of Watergate, pet rocks, and Shaft. A half-decade after their concert comeback and a mere 19 years after Gaucho seemingly closed out their recording career, the jazz-pop conceit of Walter Becker and Donald Fagen deliberately dropped back into a recording landscape where they weren’t so much seasoned vets as alien ambassadors…

Album:O Brother, Where Art Thou?: Original Soundtrack

O Brother, Where Art Thou?: Original Soundtrack

T-Bone Burnett, Various Artists

The best soundtracks are like movies for the ears, and O Brother, Where Art Thou? joins the likes of Saturday Night Fever and The Harder They Come as cinematic pinnacles of song. The music from the Coen brothers’ Depression-era film taps into the source from which the purest strains of country, blues, bluegrass, folk, and gospel music flow. Producer T Bone Burnett enlists the voices of Alison Krauss, Gillian Welch, Emmylou Harris, Ralph Stanley, and kindred spirits for performances of traditional material, in arrangements that are either a…

Album:The Emancipation of Mimi

The Emancipation of Mimi

Mariah Carey

Early buzz on The Emancipation of Mimi predicted that this would be the disc to mark “the return of the voice”—the voice being that glass-shattering instrument that propelled Carey to bestselling female artist of all time status—and mostly it is. But because of the small army of talent involved in its assembly, the album is way more than just a comeback vehicle. For proof, try straight-ahead, look-out-Beyonce-Mimi’s-still-got-it “Mine Again,” or ‘70s-soul cuddle-up, “Circles:” a don’t-attempt-on-American-Idol love song, or the gospel dazzlers “Fly…

Album:Late Registration

Late Registration

Kanye West

For haters eager to see Kanye hit a sophomore slump—no such luck. Late Registration can’t replicate the novelty of last year’s College Dropout, but otherwise, this is an impressively more mature and labored-over album. Lyrically, Kanye’s only improved a notch but musically, the album sounds incredible, especially with co-producer Jon Brion helping polish the songs to perfection. Tracks like “Heard ‘Em Say” (featuring Maroon 5’s Adam Levine) and “Hey Mama,” are richly textured in their soulfulness while the flint-edge of “Crack Music” and “Gone”…

Album:American Idiot

American Idiot

Green Day

For its first new set of music since 2000’s Warning, Green Day tears up the blueprint and comes up with something unexpected: a punk rock concept album built around elaborate melodies, odd tempo changes, and a collection of songs that freely reference classic rock warhorses like the Beatles and Pink Floyd. “She’s a Rebel” and “St. Jimmy” might sound like vintage Green Day, but the rest of the disc finds the Northern California trio trying on a variety of different guises: “Boulevard of Broken Dreams” is a cliché-strewn Foo Fighters-style power ballad;…

Album:The College Dropout

The College Dropout

Kanye West

This debut from the most sought-after hip-hop producer not named Pharrell delivers the unthinkable: West magically sledgehammers home his opinions on taboo topics over beats that are equally daring. The envelope-ripping beats shouldn’t come as a surprise given that he’s supplied the soundscapes to monster singles by everyone from Alicia Keys (“You Don’t Know My Name”) to Talib Kweli (“Get By”). What is freakish is that in West’s world, rhymes about strippers, God, college life, and guns can co-exist tidily and not undermine each other. On “Breathe In Breathe Out”…

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