Girl power! PJ Harvey and Adele lead the Mercury hit list

It's the prize that makes music insiders sit up and listen – and two female nominees are favourites to be top of the pops
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Adele and PJ Harvey lead a strong roll-call of female artists on this year's Mercury Prize shortlist, which aims to recognise originality and individuality in British music. A win for Adele would cap a triumphant year which has seen the singer-songwriter's album 21 spend 11 weeks at number one in Britain and sell more than any other record in the US.

The chairman of the Mercury's judging panel, Simon Frith, said that Adele would "probably be glad still to be thought of as a Mercury artist" – meaning she is still a critical favourite as well as a commercial record-breaker. Adele's soulful, powerful vocals and "gimmick-free" presentation have made her popular with fans, while Harvey, who is joint favourite to win, has arguably made her best album with Let England Shake, a poetry-inspired mixture of echoing guitars and eclectic cultural influences.

"Women work across all genres, from singing to dance to pop," said Mr Frith. "Trends towards urban music are also reflected across the board, with glimpses of urban music also seen in Adele's production, for example."

It is the second time Adele is up for the award. Her debut 19 missed the prize in 2008, when it was won by Elbow, who are also nominated this year for Build a Rocket Boys!

Harvey won the award in 2001, but could not attend the ceremony because of the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the same day. She had been in New York on the morning of the attacks and, with flights grounded, she had to give her acceptance speech over the phone.

The other female artists on the 12-strong shortlist are Anna Calvi and Katy B. The singer-songwriter Calvi, a 28-year-old classically trained violinist, has won praise for a self-titled album released this year which was recorded in her parents' Putney basement.

Katy B, who was trained at the Brit School, has been recognised for On a Mission, which blends R&B vocals and dub-step arrangements.

The south London "pop rapper" Tinie Tempah is following up his two wins at the Brits with a nomination for Disc-Overy, which won over critics with its wry, self-deprecating wit. Other acts recognised include Everything Everything, James Blake and Metronomy.

Mr Frith added that some of those up for the award could suffer from being over-familiar, though he said Adele's album was "an astonishing album for many reasons". He also praised Tine-Tempah's Disc-Overy. "I've never played that record to anyone who didn't say 'I want to listen to that again'," added the judge. The winner will be announced on 6 September.

The shortlist

In a low-key and mostly uninspiring field, Elbow have made the most accomplished and emotionally affecting album, and deserve to repeat their 2008 success, but almost certainly won't. James Blake's debut has the mildly experimental sound and frailly pretty voice to turn the judges' heads.



Adele – 21

Everything Everything – Man Alive

Ghostpoet – Peanut Butter Blues & Melancholy Jam

Anna Calvi – Anna Calvi

Elbow – Build a Rocket Boys!

Tinie Tempah – Disc-Overy

Gwilym Simcock – Good Days at Schloss Elmau

James Blake – James Blake

PJ Harvey – Let England Shak

Katy B – On a Mission

Metronomy – The English Riviera

King Creosote & Jon Hopkins – Diamond Mine

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