Will Radiohead gatecrash ladies' night at the Mercurys?

A clutch of young female singer-songwriters have emerged at the forefront of nominations to win the 2008 Nationwide Mercury Prize, traditionally the most seriously regarded of trophies in the music industry's back-slapping calendar.

In fact, such is the abundance of feminine talent they might wish to rename this year's "Mercurys" as the "New Amys", after the troubled songstress who some of the tabloids are anxious to replace, or even the "Dustys", after the vocalist who appears to have inspired a fresh generation of performers.

But the 2008 prize will sadly not be remembered as the "Duffys", given that the album Rockferry, the highly acclaimed debut from the 24-year-old Welsh warbler Duffy, right, was a surprising omission from the 12-album shortlist.

Among those who made the cut were Adele, the 20-year-old north Londoner, who underlined her youth by last year naming her first album 19, and Laura Marling, a flaxen haired waif from Reading who is barely 18 but is already a highly accomplished performer, as she demonstrated to a music industry crowd at the unveiling of the shortlist yesterday in London's Covent Garden.

Beside them on the roll call of nominees was Estelle, 28, the west London-born rapper and singer, and Rachel Unthank, the Northumbrian folk singer who also performs with her cello and feet and who at 29 is the veteran of this wave of women artists.

Estelle's album Shine includes the single "American Boy", which featured the rapper Kanye West and reached No 1 in March. Adele's 19 has just been released in the United States and has won her an appearance on The Late Show with David Letterman.

According to Simon Frith, the chairman of the Mercury judges, the list of nominations merely reflected the growing muscle of female artists in terms of album sales. "All this says is that there are a lot of women making interesting music. If you look at the charts there are a lot of women there and they are crossing genres."

None of this cut much ice with the bookies yesterday, as William Hill promptly installed Radiohead as joint favourites to lift the prize for their seventh album, In Rainbows, a release that shocked the music industry last year when it was offered to fans as a digital download at a price of their choosing. Although they have dominated the British music scene for more than a decade, Radiohead have never won the Mercury Prize, despite having been shortlisted three times before for OK Computer (1997), Amnesiac (2001), and Hail to the Thief (2003).

In Rainbows – described by the judges yesterday as "a gripping new chapter in the remarkable Radiohead story" – was offered at 5-1 alongside Alex Turner's new project, The Last Shadow Puppets, which in April released The Age of the Understatement.

As lead singer of the Arctic Monkeys, Turner won the Mercury in 2006 with Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not.

The winner of this year's prize will be announced at a London-based ceremony broadcast live on BBC2 on 9 September.

The nominations

Radiohead

In Rainbows

5-1

The album has been critically well-received as more accessible than their previous work.

The Last Shadow Puppets

The Age of the Understatement

5-1

This collaboration of Alex Turner from Arctic Monkeys and Miles Kane from The Rascals reached No 1 in April. Turner won the prize in 2006 and was nominated last year.

Robert Plant & Alison Krauss

Raising Sand

6-1

After the success of last year's Led Zeppelin reunion, Plant will be equally proud of this acclaim for his work with Krauss, who already has a clutch of Grammy Awards to her name.

Elbow

The Seldom Seen Kid

6-1

The Mercury panel heaped praise on Elbow for having produced an "epic rock record" with their fourth album.

Burial

Untrue

6-1

Though at the forefront of this scene, Burial prefers to keep his real identity unknown. "Restless, alarming and alluring," said the judges.

Laura Marling

Alas I Cannot Swim

8-1

Still 18, Marling's debut was described by the panel as consisting of "beautifully composed and emotionally compelling tales of fear and romance".

Adele

19

8-1

North London graduate of the BRIT School for performing Arts & Technology is inspired by Etta James and Dusty Springfield.

British Sea Power

Do You Like Rock Music?

8-1

"Joyfully eccentric, noisy and exciting," was the panel's verdict on their third album.

Estelle

Shine

8-1

Estelle can rap, sing with soul and ride a lover's rock rhythm to boot.

Neon Neon

Stainless Style

10-1

This is a conceptual album based on the life of the maverick motor mogul John DeLorean.

Rachel Unthank &The Winterset

The Bairns

10-1

Folk nomination featuringthe work of the Unthank sisters, Rachel and Becky, from Northumbria.

Portico Quartet

Knee Deep in the North Sea

10-1

Former busking quartet adopted by Hoxton's fashionable Vortex Jazz Club.

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