The Grammys opted for sentiment, of course. Given the opportunity, the Recording Academy will opt for sentiment almost every time. And thus, the fact that the late, undeniably great Ray Charles' last album, Genius Loves Company, won 8 Grammys (including Best Album and Best Record) is not even remotely a surprise.
Genius is a brave, heartbreaking, occasionally enormously moving record...it has the feel of both a celebration of a man unwilling to surrender his soul even as his body was failing and a reverent wake as friends, fans, and musical disciples came to pay homage to Brother Ray one last time...but, putting sentiment aside, it was not the Best Album to come out last year.
But that's not really the point...the Grammys very rarely get that right...and one would have to be unnecessarily churlish to waste a lot of time and energy decrying the awards it got.
The show itself was better than most of them. The opening performance...with Black Eyed Peas, Gwen Stefani, Eve, Los Lonely Boys, Maroon 5, and Franz Ferdinand...was disjointed and chaotic but still kinda cool at times even though.
New Grammy darling Alicia Keys too often goes for the over-wrought performance these days but her duet with Jamie Foxx on "Georgia on my Mind" (a tribute to Ray Charles, naturally) was electrifying. Bonnie Raitt, the consummate soulful pro, later paid tribute to Charles and the other music industry figures who passed away in the last year with an lovely reading of "Do I Ever Cross Your Mind" with Billy Preston's organ backing up Raitt's sweet slide playing.
Green Day turned the amps up to 11 with a rousing "American Idiot" while U2 dialed it down with a delicate version of "Sometimes You Can't Make it on Your Own" (with Bono offering a brief tribute to his late father, for whom the song was written.)
Newlyweds Jennifer Lopez and Marc Anthony were surprisingly chemistry-free in their over-staged duet (but perhaps that was a case of nerves as this was their first public performance together since their much gossiped about marriage.)
Joss Stone and Melissa Etheridge (bald as a result of chemotherapy) raised the roof with their tribute to Janis Joplin (though I had to wonder why Stone kept slinking off to the other stage while Etheridge was blazing through "Piece of my Heart"...even the director seemed perplexed.)
Host Queen Latifah exercised her credible jazz chops on "Lush Life" and "Baby Get Lost" while Usher and the aging but still game James Brown traded some funky dance steps (after Usher powered through an athletic number that owed much to both Brown and the pre-wacko Michael Jackson.)
The tribute to Southern rock...with Gretchen Wilson, Keith Urban, Tim McGraw (who later sang his inspirational "Live Like You Were Dying"), erstwhile Allman Brother Dickie Betts, and Elvin Bishop joining the current incarnation of Lynyrd Skynyrd on a medley of four 30+ year old classic rock staples...was appropriately ragged, rambling, and heartfelt. While the gospel medley...with Mavis Staples, John Legend, The Blind Boys of Alabama, Ben Harper, and, especially, Kanye West was over-the-top and melodramatic...but rousing just the same.
(West, who tore through the anthemic "Jesus Walks" with a passion, needs to chill out about these awards though...he was still whining about not having won at the American Music Awards and he seemed visibly disappointed when Maroon 5 took the Best New Artist Grammy. Dude, get over it...nobody remembers who wins these things as soon as a few days after the show is over.)
The all-star tsunami aid version of the Beatles' "Across the Universe" was, again, a bit ragged but heartfelt. With Velvet Revolver and Alison Krauss providing the music, Bono, Stevie Wonder, Norah Jones, Brian Wilson, Alicia Keys, Green Day's Billie Joe Armstrong, Tim McGraw (that guy was everywhere!), Revolver frontman Scott Weiland, and Aerosmith's Steven Tyler traded verses on the song (which is available as a fundraising download at iTunes.)
As these award shows go, this one was okay...one still wishes there was less forced "banter" from the presenters and fewer laundry lists of "thank yous" from the winners but some things are never going to change so it's pointless to lose sleep over them.