The Grammy Award nominations were announced Tuesday. I awaited the list with anticipation. Not just because it's my job, but because I was interested in what the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences thought was the cream of the music crop this past year.

I figured there would be a couple of sympathetic nods to Johnny Cash, his wife, June Carter Cash, and Warren Zevon, all of whom passed away during 2003. I also expected some sympathetic nods to the ailing Luther Vandross, who has been in and out of a coma for the past few months.

So when Vandross' "Dance with My Father" and Zevon's "Keep Me in Your Heart" were announced in the running for Song of the Year, I wasn't surprised.

Actually, Vandross' time had come. The song is a strong one, co-written by Richard Marx (and the title track to Vandross' most recent album). Vandross earned five nominations, including Male R&B Vocal Performance, R&B Song, R&B Album and R&B Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals, for his duet with Beyonce on "The Closer I Get to You."

If Zevon were still alive, his nominations would have been a bit more surprising. The late singer/songwriter of "Werewolves of London" fame has always made music under the NARAS radar. But Zevon was on a roll.

His "Keep Me in Your Heart" was also nominated for Male Pop Vocal Performance, and the singer's duet with Bruce Springsteen, "Disorder in the House," received nominations for Rock Performance by Duo or Group, and Rock Song. In addition, Zevon's album "The Wind," which chronicled his succumbing to cancer, was nominated for Contemporary Folk Album.

The Cashes were given a nomination in the Country Collaboration with Vocals category for their duet "Temptation." In addition, June was nominated for Female Country Vocal Performance for "Keep on the Sunny Side" and Traditional Folk Album for "Wildwood Flower."

Johnny, on the other hand was christened with only one additional nomination, for Short Form Music Video for his haunting remake of Nine Inch Nails' "Hurt."

One category I always watch is New Age Album. Last year, my favorite instrumental duo — Tingstad and Rumbel — walked away with an award for the soothing "Acoustic Garden." Other past recipients for New Age Album have included Kitaro and Paul Winter.

This year, New Age Album nominees are Cusco ("Inner Journeys: Myth and Legends"), Michael Hoppe ("Solace"), Peter Kater ("Red Moon"), Kitaro ("Sacred Journey of Ku-kai") and Pat Metheny ("One Quiet Night.") All are great albums. but I'm pulling for a tie between Cusco and Kitaro.

Then there's the Metal Performance category. Metallica's "St. Anger," Korn's "Did My Time," Marilyn Manson's "mOBSCENE," Stone Sour's "Inhale" and Spineshank's "Smothered" will duke it out. I'm thinking Metallica on this one.

We'll find out when the Grammys are broadcast on Feb. 8. Until then, I'll keep hoping for the best . . . in my opinion, anyway.