Many have decried the lack of pop on the airwaves. But although they may not have scored too many hit songs among them, this year's crop of nominees is very fine, from Frankie J's R&B-leaning "Faith, Hope Y Amor" and Ricardo Montaner's classic "Viajero Frecuente" to Aleks Syntek's and Tommy Torres' very different variations of contemporary pop. But the winner will be Draco Rosa's "Vida," for multiple reasons. It just won Album of the Year at the Latin GRAMMYs. It has sold better than any of the other titles here. It was Rosa's comeback album after battling cancer, which gave poignancy to the title and content ("Vida" means life). The set acquires yet more meaning now that Rosa has revealed he needs a new bone marrow transplant. And last, but certainly not least, "Vida" is beautifully produced and mastered. It features Rosa compositions, performed as new duets with a wide scope of guest artists, striking the right balance between commercial pop and artistry.
BEST LATIN ROCK, URBAN OR ALTERNATIVE ALBUM
This mishmash category is remarkably consistent this year; all entries fall under the Latin rock/alternative label, with no urban contenders to speak of, unless Illya Kuryaki and the Valderramas qualify (personally, I would label them alternative). IKV were big winners at the Latin GRAMMYs with their comeback album, "Chances." But on the mainstream GRAMMY side, Mexican alt-rockers Café Tacuba carry far more clout in this marketplace, and its "El Objeto Antes Llamado Disco" has gotten good mainstream reviews. The dark horse is "Treinta Días" by La Santa Cecilia; the alt Los Angeles-based band has done a good job of reaching influentials.
BEST REGIONAL MEXICAN MUSIC ALBUM (INCLUDING TEJANO)
It's nice to see indie efforts like "A Mi Manera," by Mariachi Divas de Cindy Shea, compete alongside blockbusters like Intocable's "En Peligro de Extinción" and GRAMMY faves like Paquita la del Barrio, a contender with "Romeo y su Nieta"). Also in the running is Banda Los Recoditos, which has upped its quality enormously with "El Free." But this one should go to Joan Sebastian's very fine "13 Celebrando el 13," a collection of originals in new arrangements, all executed at the highest level.
BEST TROPICAL LATIN ALBUM
Who knew this would be the most hotly contested category of the year? Pit two major artists with hit albums against each other and you have an exciting contest. We're talking Marc Anthony with "3.0" and Carlos Vives with "Corazón Profundo." I'm going to go with Marc Anthony not only for the name recognition, but also due to the sheer popularity of first single "Vivir Mi Vida." The vote will be divided, however, and look out for dark horse "Sergio George Presents Salsa Giants."