It may not have been an unforgettable evening, but last night's Grammy Awards broadcast was certainly an "Unforgettable" evening. That is, Natalie Cole's "Unforgettable" -- album recorded in tribute to the music of her father, the late Nat "King" Cole -- was the evening's runaway winner.
Not only did the single, a duet between deceased father and live daughter, walk away with the Record of the Year and Song of the Year, but the project also landed Album of the Year and a host of lesser honors, including Best Traditional Pop Performance, Best Instrumental Arrangement Accompanying Vocal(s), and Best Engineered Album (Non-Classical). David Foster, who produced the single, was named Producer of the Year (Non-Classical).
All told, it was a triumph of the fogeys, and not uncoincidentally the least interesting Grammys broadcast in years. Apart from occasional flashes of brilliance -- Paul Simon's show-opening rendition of "The Cool, Cool River," for instance, or Evgeny Kissin's finger-busting performance of Liszt's "Spanish Rhapsody" -- the broadcast dragged interminably as the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences (the organization which presents the awards) found room for a seemingly endless stream of lame performances and self-congratulatory awards.
Perhaps the evening's fogey-est moment belonged to "Unforgettable" composer Irving Gordon, who thanked the voters with a bit of impromptu rock-bashing. "It's nice to have a song accepted where you don't get a hernia when you sing it," he chortled, as the audience -- unsure whether he was referring to rockers in general or Michael Bolton in particular -- applauded with polite insincerity.
Still, the rockers did have their share of victories. Although the heavily favored Bryan Adams was virtually shut out -- his "(Everything I Do) I Do It For You" won only in the consolation-category Best Song Written Specifically for a Motion Picture -- R.E.M. kept the faith, winning Grammys for Best Pop Performance by a Duo or Group, Best Alternative Album and Best Music Video, Short-Form.
Bonnie Raitt, who is beginning to become a Grammy regular, won in every category she was up for except Record and Album of the Year, yet managed to seem utterly unspoiled by her success. "I was so not expecting this," she told the audience upon receiving her Grammy for Best Pop Vocal Performance, Female.
Raitt was hardly the evening's most surprised winner, however. That would have been Mark Cohn, who was voted Best New Artist over such heavy-hitters as C+C Music Factory, Color Me Badd and Boyz II Men.
Sometimes, the good guys really do win.
But not often enough on Grammy night. How else to account for the fervor with which Michael Bolton was received by the audience? Bolton appeared to tumultuous applause, both while massacring Percy Sledge's "When a Man Loves a Woman" and, later, accepting a Pop Vocal Performance Grammy for the crime.
Either the voters were totally unfamiliar with the original (and the general concept of soul singing), or they felt voting for Bolton as a "pop" singer would underscore the difference between his singing style and that of genuine R&B artists. Like, for instance, Luther Vandross, who won Grammys for R&B Vocal Performance, Male and R&B Song (and thanked, among others, "my diet doctor"), or Patti LaBelle and Lisa Fischer, who shared the ladies' R&B Grammy.
Still, fake soul seemed the order of the evening, from the Commitments' violation of "Mustang Sally" to the relentless hipper-than-thou jive served up by Grammy host Whoopi Goldberg. "I'm supposed to be witty and cute," was the defense Goldberg offered at one point for her half-witticisms, but she was neither; the closest she got to funny all evening was when she joked that, "In the category of new faces of the year, the winner is Michael Jackson."
Ooh, a Michael Jackson joke. How daring.
Not that daring has ever been a Grammy mainstay. Indeed, the broadcast's biggest risk was pairing two non-English-speaking artists -- Juan Luis Guerra and Celine Dion -- to present the Producer of the Year award to David Foster. Yet as much as they struggled with their cue cards, their delivery was still more polished than that of the seemingly-stuffed Chet Atkins, who helped present a pair of country music Grammys.
Country brought a double-dose of local recognition, though, as D.C.-based singer Mary-Chapin Carpenter took the Best Country Vocal Performance, Female award for "Down at the Twist & Shout," a song inspired by Bethesda's Twist & Shout nightclub. Carpenter, who performed the song as part of the Grammy broadcast, seemed stunned. "I didn't expect this," she burbled, echoing Raitt's sentiments and modesty.