If Mumford & Sons' sophomore album, Babel (Glassnote Records), takes home the Grammy for album of the year on Feb. 10, it will mark the fifth year in a row an indie act has won the top prize, if you count indies by ownership. The run began with Robert Plant & Alison Krauss' Raising Sand on Rounder Records in 2009; followed by Taylor Swift's Fearless (Big Machine); Arcade Fire's The Suburbs (Merge); and Adele's 21, which, while issued in the United States through Columbia, originated on indie label XL, where the singer is signed in the United Kingdom.
Even if Babel doesn't triumph and breaks that streak, the 2013 Grammy nominations are packed with independent releases in both major and minor categories. The American Assn. of Independent Music (A2IM) counts 210 nominations out of the 393 non-producer category nominations this year, which is more than half. While there may have been past years where indies have had more nominations in terms of absolute numbers, before the Recording Academy consolidated categories, A2IM president Rich Bengloff says, "We have never had a higher percentage of nominees, or a higher percentage of categories, in which indie labels have nominations."
Concord Music Group leads the pack with 26 nominations, including those earned by Rounder Records and Heads Up, which issued Radio Music Society from 2011 best new artist winner Esperanza Spalding, who's up for best jazz vocal album. Concord acts Chick Corea, Kurt Elling and Al Jarreau also scored jazz nods, while Rounder's Time Jumpers are up for best country album for their self-titled sophomore set and best country duo/group performance for "On the Outskirts of Town."
Other labels with impressive showings include Smithsonian Folkways, which earned five nominations -- including Quetzal's Imaginaries, up for best Latin rock, urban or alternative album, and Elizabeth Mitchell's Little Seed: Songs for Children by Woody Guthrie, nominated for best children's album. Ultra picked up four nominations, including three in the best dance/electronica album category with Steve Aoki's Wonderland, Kaskade's Fire & Ice and Deadmau5's <Album Title Goes Here>. Hear Music scooped up four nods, including two for best traditional pop vocal album with Paul McCartney's Kisses on the Bottom and Carole King's A Holiday Carole.
Most noticeably, however, independent labels once again infiltrated the evening's most high-profile nominations. Aside from the six nods earned by Glassnote's Mumford & Sons, including best rock performance for "I Will Wait" and best Americana album for Babel, Dualtone Music's Lumineers benefited from the momentum of their top 10 hit "Ho Hey" by scoring multiple nominations, including a best new artist nod. Joining them in the category is Southern rock quartet Alabama Shakes, whose debut album Boys & Girls was released through ATO Records last April. And while Swift's fourth album, Red, was released too late to be eligible in the album categories, the pop-country superstar could once again notch a huge win for indies if her first Billboard Hot 100 No. 1, "We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together," earns the record of the year trophy for Big Machine.
Additional reporting by Jason Lipshutz.