The man to beat the Grammys: Rick Rubin

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By TODD MARTENS

There is one common thread through three of the five Grammy album of the year nominations — producer Rick Rubin. The Dixie Chicks, the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Justin Timberlake all enlisted the help of the veteran producer with their 2006 projects. ...


Those three acts will vie for the album prize against the non-Rubin associated Gnarls Barkley and John Mayer. While Rubin has worked with everyone from the Beastie Boys to System of a Down to Johnny Cash, he has never before had such a diverse crop of work recognized in such a top Grammy Awards category.

‘‘I hope this work will stand up and you can hear it in 10 or 20 years,’’ Rubin says. ‘‘I like to think you could have heard it 10 years ago. It’s all in the moment. There’s no trendiness about any of this.’’

For the Dixie Chicks, the group’s Open Wide/Columbia release ‘‘Taking the Long Way’’ was its first since the backlash over anti-President George W. Bush comments from Natalie Maines. Her much-ballyhooed 2003 remark, in which she told a London audience that she was ashamed the president was from Texas, resulted in widespread controversy among the band’s country fan base.

But ‘‘Taking the Long Way’’ would ultimately prove the Dixie Chicks hadn’t alienated their audience, as the album debuted at No. 1 on The Billboard 200 and has sold 1.8 million units in the United States to date, according to Nielsen SoundScan. The act’s album of the year nod is one of five nominations.

Manager Simon Renshaw says, ‘‘When you look back at the last three years, there’s sort of a sense of how far the pendulum has swung. It’s an interesting time for them. Maybe the Grammy Awards are almost a moment of closure of everything that happened since 2003.’’

The only album to have sold more than ‘‘Taking the Long Way’’ in the field is Timberlake’s ‘‘FutureSex/LoveSounds’’ (Jive/Zomba), which has moved 1.9 million units. Strong sales were fueled by the Timbaland-produced single ‘‘SexyBack,’’ which spent seven weeks at No. 1 on The Billboard Hot 100. Timberlake is recognized in four other categories, including best pop vocal album.

The Red Hot Chili Peppers are nominated for their first-ever No. 1 album, the two-disc ‘‘Stadium Arcadium’’ (Warner Bros.). The set spawned the single ‘‘Dani California,’’ which peaked at No. 6 on the Hot 100. The album has sold 1.6 million units and is one of six nominations for the Los Angeles-based rock act, who is also up for best rock album.

Rounding out the album of the year category is newcomer Gnarls Barkley, whose mix of R&B and rock became one of the bigger success stories of the year,and three-time Grammy-winning singer/songwriter Mayer.

This year the Grammys recognized two of Mayer’s albums. ‘‘Continuum’’ (Aware/Columbia), which found the artist incorporating a stronger blues influence into his pop/rock sound, has sold 983,000 units and peaked at No. 2 on The Billboard 200.

Two of the tracks on ‘‘Continuum’’ also appear on the John Mayer Trio’s ‘‘Try!,’’ a live set that is up for best rock album.

Gnarls Barkley received a total of four nods, with its song ‘‘Crazy’’ also nominated for record of the year. The latter was a true multigenre hit, as it appeared on Billboard’s Alternative/Modern Rock tracks chart and Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs tally. Ultimately, the song peaked at No. 2 on The Billboard Hot 100.

The act’s debut, ‘‘St. Elsewhere’’ (Downtown/Atlantic), a collaboration between producer Danger Mouse and rapper Cee-Lo, is also a contender for best alternative music album. It marks the first nominations for the recently formed Downtown Records, a joint venture with Atlantic.

Neither Cee-Lo nor Danger Mouse were willing to comment on the Grammys, but Downtown co-founder Josh Deutsch says the act’s elusiveness is part of its appeal.

‘‘A lot of their approach is to develop their own mythology,’’ he says. ‘‘Part of our DNA is to support that. What made the album so successful is that it didn’t come across as a song or just some producer-driven, superstar project.’’

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This page contains a single entry by Thomas Conner published on January 2, 2007 2:37 PM.

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