For the next few weeks, up until the Grammys Feb. 11, we're adapting the weekly playlists to encompass the coolest songs -- in our critics' opinions -- that can be found among the singles and albums nominated for the Grammy awards. Elysa Gardner kicks things off with this list:
> Pick of the week:
The River In Reverse, Elvis Costello & Allen Toussaint: The British pop bard and the New Orleans soul icon had worked together before, but in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina their partnership took on a new musical and spiritual depth. The Costello-penned title track of their majestic CD, up for best pop vocal album, offers a piercing reminder of the singer/songwriter’s distinctive punch — and that pop music can still say something candid and meaningful.
> The Playlist:
Breathless, Corinne Bailey Rae: This dreamy, soulful tune from Rae’s self-titled debut is argument enough for her nabbing the best-new-artist prize.
Black Sweat, Prince: Leave it to Prince to remind us, with this delirious candidate for male R&B vocal, that sex isn’t a four-letter word.
God Bless the Child, George Benson & Al Jarreau, featuring Jill Scott: A couple of old-school virtuosos enlisted Scott’s nouveau soul savvy for a cover that’s at once fresh and knowing, and nominated for traditional R&B vocal.
Tomorrow Is Forever, Solomon Burke and Dolly Parton: Another pair of old pros, in top form, demonstrate the indelible link between country music and R&B on this contender for country collaboration.
For Once in My Life, Tony Bennett and Stevie Wonder: One of many endearing musical conversations from Bennett’s much-nominated Duets: An American Classic unites two more much-imitated but inimitable masters, who now share a nod for pop collaboration.
My Love, Justin Timberlake featuring T.I.: Nominated for rap/sung collaboration, this is also one of the best tracks on Timberlake’s impressive sophomore CD, with a keening melody and a percolating groove, via Timbaland.
I Was Doing Alright, Diana Krall: There’s not a single dud on Krall’s From This Moment On, up for traditional pop album, but this characteristically elegant, sexy take on a classic is one of several standouts.
Jenny Wren, Paul McCartney: From McCartney’s superb Chaos and Creation in the Backyard, this entry for male pop vocal confirms the veteran rocker’s still-unrivaled knack for blithe, buoyant pop.
Ooh La La, Goldfrapp: Singer Alison Goldfrapp and multifaceted muso Will Gregory continue to pump out some of the coolest, most stylish electro-pop around, as this nominee for best dance recording proves.
My Friends, Michael Cerveris and Patti LuPone: Though the stripped-down Sweeney Todd that's up for best musical show album lacks the lushness of the original Broadway cast recording, Stephen Sondheim’s score is forever glorious, and Cerveris and Lupone summon the dark passion this searing ballad demands.