Winehouse and Feist have released scintillating albums that combine a firm grounding in the musical past with a bold assertiveness that is very much of the moment.

ATTENTION GRAMMY VOTERS:
TWO FEISTY EARLY CONTENDERS

Amy Winehouse and Feist Hit the Radar With Smarts, Style, Attitude and Hooks
By Lenny Beer & Bud Scoppa

Although these are difficult times for the music business, the music itself is flourishing, especially in terms of female artists. The stage was set by the Dixie Chicks, whose runaway Grammy winner Taking the Long Way begins with three songs that resonate as strongly as any opening to an album in recent memory. No wonder the LP has shown such staying power.

On the heels of this triumph, two beguiling new and developing female artists have emerged to brighten the prevailing gloom. Amy Winehouse and Feist have both released scintillating albums that combine a firm grounding in the musical past with a bold assertiveness that is very much of the moment, providing the pop landscape with an exhilarating, much-needed blast of fresh air. These two career artists share a knack for creating provocatively personal music embedded with irresistible pop hooks, and have also added to our video library with eye-catching brilliance.

Winehouse convincingly portrays a ball-busting femme fatale with a mind of her own on Back to Black (Universal Republic), which contains the hit single “Rehab,” a heady blend of vintage soul and contemporary attitude. If this song of empowerment and defiance stands as the year’s most distinctive premise, Feist’s “1234,” from her album Reminder (Interscope), is 2007’s most inventive musical concoction, with its unconventional instrumentation, buoyant groove and playful vocal. Taken together, Winehouse and Feist’s breakthrough hits exemplify the autonomous self-assurance of their generation’s envelope-pushing brand of female consciousness.

Tellingly, these albums have followed a similar path on the way to approaching imminent critical mass, staking their claims in the iTunes Top 10 and maintaining a serious online presence, which continues to be a crucial aspect of their respective ascents. The new media generation has embraced them wholeheartedly, and the video channels are rejoicing in their creativity.

In a big-picture sense, the artistic and commercial impact of this gifted twosome provides hope for the industry as a whole, demonstrating that the major label system is still capable of locating, nurturing and breaking significant artists.

Don’t be surprised if Winehouse and Feist find themselves pitted against each other in the Best New Artist category of the 2008 Grammy competition. If the mainstream country stylings of Carrie Underwood, this year’s winner in the same category, are the aural equivalent of comfort food, these two contenders challenge as they satisfy.

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