For the second straight year, an act with Triangle connections will be center-stage at next February's Grammy Awards. Where it was Arcade Fire this past year, next year it will be Bon Iver -- whose frontman Justin Vernon used to call Raleigh home.
Bon Iver scored nominations in the prestigious record and song of the year categories for "Holocene," a track from the group's eponymous 2011 album. That was part of a four-nomination haul including best alternative album and even best new artist.
The latter category is odd because "Bon Iver" was the group's third release -- and its first two both made the top half of the Billboard 200 album sales charts. One of the other best-new-artist nominees also has North Carolina connections, Fayetteville rapper J. Cole, nominated on the strength of his chart-topping album "Cole World: The Sideline Story."
Industry observer Sean Ross, executive editor of the Ross On Radio newsletter, cites Nicki Minaj as this year's worthiest best-new-artist nominee. But he predicts that Minaj won't win because she and J. Cole "will cancel each other out," which might allow Bon Iver to sneak in there the way Arcade Fire did for album of the year back in February.
"Then it's Bon Iver's people-who-propelled-Arcade-Fire vote versus The Band Perry's combination mainstream-audience vote and the never-insigificant 'I don't really follow new music but I hear they're good' vote," Ross said.
The nominations were announced Wednesday night at a Grammy concert at Staples Center in Los Angeles, where the awards will be presented Feb. 12. As expected, Adele's top-selling "21" album led the field with six nominations. Bruno Mars, Mumford & Sons, Rihanna and Lady Gaga all picked up multiple nominations in the major categories, too.
As for other nominations of North Carolina interest:
Eric Church, an Appalachian State alumnus from Granite Falls, was nominated for best country album, up against a field including Taylor Swift, Lady Antebellum and Jason Aldean.
North Carolina School of the Arts alumnus Jim Lauderdale, a two-time winner in past years, earned a nomination for best bluegrass album -- and also appears on a Tom T. Hall tribute album nominated for best children's album. Among Lauderdale's competition in the bluegrass category will be Brevard's Steep Canyon Rangers, sharing a nomination with comedian/banjo player Steve Martin.
Asheville guitarist Warren Haynes, a veteran of Gov't Mule and Allman Brothers, was nominated for best blues album.
Durham-based Merge Records, which captured last year's best-album Grammy with Arcade Fire, picked up a best-recording-package nomination for the expanded deluxe version of the same album. Zooey Deschanel, who records with M. Ward as the Merge duo She & Him, was also nominated in best song written for visual media, for the "Winnie the Pooh" song "So Long."
Marsalis Music, the label of Durham jazzman Branford Marsalis, scored in the category of best large jazz ensemble album for "Alma Adentro: The Puerto Rican Songbook."
Levon Helm's live album "Ramble at the Ryman," nominated for best Americana album, includes "Anna Lee," written by Greensboro's Laurelyn Dossett. That song has already been on one Grammy-winning album, Helm's "Dirt Farmer," which won best tradtional folk album in 2008.
ADDENDUM: Another nominee with local connections is recording engineer Miles Walker, who grew up in Raleigh and mostly works out of Atlanta. Walker engineered records that scored a total of eight nominations, including hits by Rhianna, Katy Perry and Wiz Khalifa, sharing the nomination on two of them -- Rhianna's album-of-the-year nod for "Loud," and Perry's record-of-the-year nomination for "Firework."
SECOND ADDENDUM: I received a pretty detailed response about who does and does not qualify as a "new" artist in Grammyland from another industry pundit, former USA Today music editor Ken Barnes. I'm fascinated in wonky stuff like this, so I'm passing along the whole thing:
As a 25-year Grammy voter, I've watched the definition of a new artist "evolve" from super-strict (one prior guest appearance on someone else's album disqualified Whitney Houston from new-artist consideration in the '80s) to the current, almost-anything-goes guidelines.
It's basically a wording problem at this point; if the category were called "best emerging artist" or "breakthrough artist" or something like that, it wouldn't be such a communications problem. Basically what the Grammys try to do is establish whether, with a particular album, an artist has achieved a breakthrough to the general public. If Bon Iver was considered a critical/indie/minority-taste hit prior to this record, then the Grammys would declare them eligible. If the Academy felt a breakthrough had occurred with a previous record, based on sales, airplay, critical acclaim, buzz, mass acceptance, etc., then no.
With only rather generally worded guidelines, it's always dicey, and standards tend to waffle. So there's always one or two "new artists" that stick in journalists' craws, for good reason.