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Posted by on Feb 10, 2019 in Blog, Essays, Music and Concert Reviews | 0 comments

Matt Lessinger’s Annual Grammy Awards Analysis and Forecast [2019]



If you’re a regular reader and not yet up to speed on Matt Lessinger and his expertise on awards shows and analysis, then I’m not sure what else to say.

He’s been introduced here before.  Get with the program.

Let’s skip the usual preamble and get straight to Matt’s thoughts on tonight’s Grammy Awards.  For the record, I know nothing about this year’s music or ceremony, which will air tonight.  The Grammy Awards typically warbles between mesmerizingly great and train wreck awful.  I expect more of the same, tonight.

For those who appreciate the science of handicapping and value great analysis, I urge you to read his thoughts here, which should be valued as a terrific handicapping outlier.   You need not be knowledgable of the music nor interested in the Grammy’s to value the high level of this work — which is why I’m eager to share Matt’s contribution here at my site.

Matt’s e-mail to me reads as follows:



Hi Nolan:
Sadly, I’ve looked at the Grammy odds on three different sites, and the best odds were on Bovada each time.  You know the offshore sites are getting worse when Bovada has the best lines!  That’s unfortunate because they are only allowing a max bet of $125. on each category, and I have no idea how they came up with that number, but they are standing firm on that max.  I don’t have the time or the resources to scour for a site with potentially better odds and/or maximums, but if anyone can find one and they are willing to share that information, it would be most appreciated.  In the meantime, the odds listed here can all be found on Bovada at the time of this writeup.
The most obvious difference from years past is that there are now eight nominees in each category instead of five.  That makes our job a little harder, but there’s still value to be found and money to be made.  The other difference is that the nominees lean way more in the direction of hip hop than in years past. If I had been forced to bet on who this year’s nominees would be, admittedly I would have gotten slaughtered.  For example, if you look at the category for Best Pop Vocal Album, which has six nominees (Taylor Swift, Ariana Grande, Camila Cabello, Kelly Clarkson, Pink, Shawn Mendes), I would have said that each of those albums could easily have landed in the Album of the Year category. Instead, NONE of them were nominated!  For Taylor Swift and Ariana Grande to not have been nominated in an eight-horse field for Album of the Year is downright shocking.  It may signal that the Grammys are going in a new direction.  However, until they prove that they are willing to change the way they hand out the actual winners trophies, we have to assume for betting purposes that they are still the same old Grammys.
I’m going to list the categories in order of confidence, going from least to most.
Let’s begin:
“Shallow” by Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper is the -300 favorite and will almost certainly win.  There are going to be two themes that repeat themselves throughout the categories.  The first is that there are no standout nominees in any category.  In my humble opinion, “Shallow” is not even a particularly good song, but it may be the best one in this weak field.  The second recurring theme is that we will summarily dismiss any hip-hop nominees, even though there are more than usual this year, until it is shown that they can win the open categories on a more regular basis.  With regard to this category, that eliminates half the field.  Out of the ones that are left, Lady Gaga is the only one with a winning Grammy track record, having won six of them in the past.  “Shallow” is the logical choice, but at -300 it is unplayable.  I’m going to take a complete flyer for a token wager on the longest shot in the field, “The Middle” by Zedd and Maren Morris.  Bombs away!  My simple logic is that it is the only other song in the field that would be considered pop.  On the one hand, the fact that none of the Best Pop Albums were nominated for Album of the Year signals a move away from pop music.  On the other hand, Grammys have always rewarded pop musicians in the open categories, most notably Taylor Swift and Adele in recent years.  “The Middle” might be the only upbeat song in the entire field, and it wouldn’t shock me if some voters gravitate to it just because it sounds uplifting in a sea of comparatively depressing music.
My play: “The Middle” by Zedd and Maren Morris at 33-1, for a very small wager.  But if you’re willing to lay the heavy wood, you’ll probably win with “Shallow” at -300.
When the nominees were announced, my initial reaction was that Dua Lipa would be the odds-on favorite.  Instead, H.E.R. is the -110 favorite and Dua Lipa is +180, and it’s far back to the rest of the field.  Anecdotally speaking, H.E.R. is from Vallejo, CA which is a half hour away from me, and I listen to R&B music, and I had never heard any of her songs before.  Once I listened to her, I had to admit I liked her music quite a bit, and she has a recognizable talent such that she could certainly win.  But her resume doesn’t match up to Dua Lipa, who has already had a #1 song (New Rules) and international radio airplay.  At the given prices, Dua Lipa is definitely the better value play.  It’s hard to summarily dismiss the longshots – someone like Luke Combs or Margo Price could certainly be bombs away at 22-1 – but the problem in this category is that it’s hard to predict which longshot the voters would gravitate towards, so it’s easier to just stick with the proven commodity.
My play: Dua Lipa at +180
Disclaimer: As much as I try to keep my personal musical opinions out of this process and stick to cold, hard analysis, sometimes that’s just not possible. This is one of those times.
Kacey Musgraves is the +120 favorite. I am quite sure a country artist has never been favored in this category for as long as I’ve been following Grammy betting.  To me that signals the weakness with the other nominees more than it signals the strength of her album.  She could certainly win, but there’s no value there.  The 2nd and 3rd choices are the Black Panther album, which is essentially Kendrick Lamar, and then Drake.  Both are hip-hop artists, and so I’ll say the same thing I’ve said every year for the past 15 years: the hip-hop artists who have previously won Album of the Year are Outkast and Lauryn Hill.  That’s it, that’s the list.  If one of them becomes the third member of that list, more power to them, but at +250 and +350 they’re unplayable.  Cardi B and Post Malone are two more hip-hop artists that can even more easily be dismissed.  Brandi Carlile and H.E.R. are the two longest shots on the board, and justifiably so.  Out of the last four nominees I listed, Carlile is the only one who should have any shot at winning due to her career longevity, which is often rewarded in the AOTY category, but sometimes just being nominated is the reward, which is what this feels like.
That leaves Janelle Monae, who is listed at 6-1 on Bovada, but I’ve seen her as low as 3-1 elsewhere.  Being completely honest, this is more of a hunch play than anything else.  It simply feels like it should be her time.  She is an R&B artist, which has historically been more successful in the open categories than either hip-hop or country.  She has had a musical career spanning almost 15 years, which is more than most of this field can claim.  Prince was an uncredited collaborator on the album, and assuming the voters are aware of that, his recent passing will certainly carry some weight. It was one of the most critically acclaimed albums of the year.  And finally, inserting my own two cents, this album deserves to win. At 6-1 the value is there.
My play: Dirty Computer by Janelle Monae at 6-1.
Despite the constant insistence that Song of the Year and Record of the Year are two distinct categories, the same song wins in both categories way too often to be a coincidence. “Shallow” is the -300 favorite for SOTY and will probably win.  So why is it the +160 second choice in this category, and “This is America” by Childish Gambino is the -150 favorite?  I tried to find a logical reason and couldn’t come up with one.  This is the best bet on the board.  I’ll include another token wager on “The Middle” in case it sweeps both categories, but it’s far more likely that Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper will get the scoop.
My play (Best bet): “Shallow” at +160
Token wager: “The Middle” at 22-1
Good luck to everyone this year!
Matt L
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Posted by on Dec 21, 2014 in Blog, Essays, Music and Concert Reviews | 1 comment

A Song for All Seasons, An Anthem for the Ages


War is Over by John Lennon and Yoko Ono


Why “Happy Xmas (War is Over)” a song by John Lennon and Yoko Ono, stands the test of time


John Lennon once said he always wanted to write a good Christmas song.

Hard to believe, but as accomplished and prolific as The Beatles were as a group for close a decade with more than 300 recorded songs, they never released a holiday tune.

[Note:  “Christmas Time is Here Again” was an impromptu radio jam session, but wasn’t a commercial recording.]

So, about a year after the four icons disbanded as a rock group, Lennon and his wife Yoko Ono splintered away from London for a fresh new start in New York City.  That’s the creative and spiritual nest of solace they would ultimately call home and remain for the duration of Lennon’s life, destined to last only another nine years.  In fact, the unconventional duo never again returned again to England, not even for a visit.

During their early months, they settled down in Manhattan, where Lennon wrote a number of mediocre songs that were looked upon as his few commercial failures as a pop artist.  The mishmash of largely forgettable music, some of it original and other songs blatantly purged from Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention who he worked with in a somewhat disastrous collaboration, was ultimately released on the bomb of  double-album, “Sometime in New York City.”   This creative yet aimless period fueled by intense political activism and protest, however, included a most unusual Christmas song that was inexplicably omitted from the early 1972 album.  And yet, that musical oddity would ultimately become a powerful anthem for world peace as well as a timeless melody of hope for all humanity.  Cynics would even say it became one of the hallmark signature songs of the holiday season, serenading shoppers to shop and spend, hardly the original intent of the lyrics.

Like so many great works of creative alchemy, the song wasn’t particularly well-received when it was released, either by critics or the buying public.  The single certainly wasn’t a hit when initially released late in 1971 inside the United States.  The following Christmas, the single was released in England, where it enjoyed somewhat modest success, lofting as high as fourth in the charts.  But by the mid-1970’s the song was mostly forgotten and seemingly destined as a clumsy musical footnote.

The song later appeared on a relatively obscure John Lennon collection of hits, called “Shaved Fish.”  But following a stellar track record of commercial and critical successes — both with The Beatles and his hastily-assembled sidemen called the Plastic Ono Band — no one was quite sure what to make of the odd tune.  It certainly wasn’t a mainstream Christmas song in the old traditional sense.  But it wasn’t quite a political song either, not in the mold of other Lennon classics like “Give Peace a Chance” or “Imagine.”  Older traditionalists who fancied familiar Christmas music of the day weren’t about to purchase new single by one of the counterculture’s most outspoken Leftist revolutionaries.  And younger fans weren’t all too enthusiastic at the notion of listening to what amounted to a corny Christmas song.  Adding to its marketing troubles, the title was even controversial, opting to omit “Christ” from Christ-mas in favor of “Xmas.”  After Lennon’s controversial remarks about Jesus six years earlier “We’re more popular than Jesus, now”) and his widely-banned “The Ballad of John and Yoko,” tackling the holiday supposedly dedicated to the birth of Jesus seemed like yet another unnecessary risk.

It’s easy to now see that this song was way ahead of it’s time.  The song is titled “Happy Xmas (War is Over).”  It’s officially credited to “John Lennon and Yoko Ono with the Plastic Ono Band.”  But this music and lyrics and message is emphatically Lennon’s — all his own.

Not that it’s a great song.  It isn’t.  In fact, it’s downright pedestrian.  Amateurish even.  The instrumentation is unremarkable, even rustic.  There are no powerful voices nor memorable musical interludes.  It’s not even arranged very well.  The song has a “live” feel because that’s essentially what the recording session was — an afternoon recording followed by a quick studio mix with raw masters.  Lead singer (Lennon jamming), his backup vocal (Yoko Ono — with questionable singing abilities, to put it kindly), and a raw unrehearsed local choir struggle at times to make it all work.  But then, perhaps that’s the magic of it all.  That it’s so unrehearsed.  So genuine.

The lyrics of this odd holiday arrangement, like no other for its time, were penned by Lennon in just a single day.  The basic chords were hashed on an acoustic guitar in his living room.  After recording a few quick takes of the new arrangement with the Harlem Community Choir one afternoon in a studio, the master tapes were hastily arranged by the eccentric record producer Phil Spector, who was then at the very tail end of his staggering run as a music innovator.  It’s one of Spector’s final “wall of sound” musical creations.  And despite these disparate creative forces, there was utterly nothing to indicate this odd combustion of egos and sounds would eventually spawn to a song which likely endures as one of the single greatest holiday songs of our lifetimes — or more precisely the next century.  Alas, now nearly half a century later its reach beyond merely the music scene has become universal.

Taking nothing away from timeless classics such as “White Christmas” or “The Christmas Song,” and so many other marvelous arrangements by music greats, “Happy Xmas” has a number of defining characteristics that make it truly special.  No song before had ever melded the traditional messages of Christmas into an anthem for global peace.  While it was written in reference to ending the war in Vietnam (“War is over, if you want it.”), it’s really a desperate plea to end all conflicts.

Moreover, this wasn’t a song which reinforced the traditional comfort zones of the holiday season.  There are no chestnuts raging over an open fire.  And some people out there don’t like that.  That makes some of us uncomfortable.  To the contrary, it yanks the listener out of the cozy fantasy of Bing Crosby and Andy Williams Christmas specials into the real world.  Those who heard it were shaken from the old-fashioned notion of Christmas — one which really doesn’t exist anymore, except in fantasy.  The song asks us to confront ourselves and the world we made.

Listeners were even challenged by the song’s lyrics.,  Indeed, challenged.  To do more.  To be part of change.  To make it happen. “ And so this is Christmas, and what have you done?”  But the song isn’t really a lecture.  Rather, it’s a renewal of hope.  “Another year over, a new one just begun.”

Lennon was gunned down by a lunatic in December 1980.  Following that dark time just before a Christmas some 34 years ago, as part of the worldwide renewal of the extensive Lennon musical catalog, “Happy Xmas (War is Over)” was re-released.  The second time around, it made it all the way to number two on the record charts.  It’s pretty much been a staple of the holiday season ever since.

There is great power in great music.  Accordingly, I’d like for you to consider the power of this rustic masterpiece.  Take just a few moments, and listen to his message which is just as powerful now, as then.

Watch and listen to two very different accompaniments in the video clips below.  The first version may be difficult to watch.  It’s heartbreaking.  It’s painful.  It’s essentially the message Lennon was likely trying to convey when he wrote, “For weak and for strong, The rich and the poor ones, The road is so long — So happy Christmas, For black and for white, For yellow and red ones, Let’s stop all the fight.”  I suspect this message is too heavy for some around the holiday season.  But it needs to be heard – again.

By contrast, the second arrangement is considerably more upbeat.  It’s cheerful.  It’s happy.  The second video clip was taken from a popular television show (“ER”) several years ago.

Oddly enough, the music on both videos is exactly the same.  Nothing is different except for the imagery.  But watch and listen and feel the emotional responses you have to each.  The difference is staggering.  That’s the real power of a great song.

Indeed, this is why “Happy Xmas (War is Over)” now stands as a timeless masterpiece.  That it can bring about two extraordinarily opposite reactions.  Same song.  Same message. Different interpretations.

The greatest tragedy of all is that these kinds of songs need to be written at all.  That music like this is so necessary to dry our tears and ignite our hope.

The horrors addressed in this song, ceaseless war and unnecessary violence, will perhaps always be with us in some fashion.  They won’t be reduced nor erased easily.  And that’s why we so desperately need songs like this one from John Lennon and others — now more than ever.  It reminds us of what could be possible, even it just a dream.






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Posted by on Oct 29, 2013 in Blog, Uncategorized | 0 comments

When the Leaves Come Falling Down


Nolan Dalla in Belgium 2013

In Maaseik, Belgium — October 25, 2013


A wonderful mostly-forgotten gem by one of my favorite musical artists, the marvelous and mystical Van Morrison…..


“When the Leaves Come Falling Down”

From the album Back on Top (1999) by Van Morrison


I saw you standing with the wind and the rain in your face,

And you were thinking about the wisdom of the leaves and their grace,

When the leaves come falling down.

In September, when the leaves come falling down.


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