Michael Jackson | Stevie Wonder | Nancy Crampton

Jacko Backo? Singer Beats It to NYC

Sources are claiming that Michael Jackson has returned to New York.

He may have sneaked back in the last couple of days. His point of alighting would be the Palace Hotel on Madison Avenue.

His kids may have preceded him to the U.S. Sources say their nanny, Grace Rwarmba, was spotted in California two weeks ago.

Jackson thinks he's putting together an all-star charity single for the survivors of Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath. Whether or not that's possible remains to be seen.

Jackson's benefactor, Bahrain's Sheik Abdullah bin Hamad Al Khalifa, is said to be traveling with him and picking up the bill wherever they go.

I'm told that Jackson recently settled a lot of unpaid bills, including a big one with his former attorney John Branca.

If Jackson is in town and wants to record, he'll be doing it most likely with his old team: Brad Buxer, Michael Prince and Bruce Swedien at the controls.

Where he'll do it is a better question. The Hit Factory is history, and Jackson certainly won't be renting Sony Studios any time soon — unless of course he thinks he can get a deal there.

This would be the first time in his long career that Michael has no recording contract with a major label, one that would foot the bills up front for his various indulgences.

Meanwhile, Jackson's arch-enemy, Diane Dimond, was seen around the offices of Paramount's syndicated show "The Insider" the other day. The word is she may wind up freelancing there now that her Court TV gig is up.

Those with sharp memories will recall that Dimond's original Jackson assault in 1993 was on Paramount's "Hard Copy." Linda Bell Blue, that show's producer, now runs "The Insider."

Grammys: Three Weeks Left and No Stevie

The deadline to be considered for the next Grammy Awards is three weeks away, and there's no sign of Stevie Wonder's new album. He's obviously not going to release his long-awaited "A Time 2 Love" in time.

When I asked Wonder's wife, Kai Milla, about it, she said: "The tracks are done. They're amazing. But he keeps tweaking them." OK.

And Madonna's "Confessions on a Dance Floor" will also miss the deadline, although there's an outside chance of a single by that date.

A Ricky Martin single will get in just in time, guaranteeing a hot performance on the February 2006 show. Also missing: Jamie Foxx's debut album on J Records.

But the looming Oct. 1 deadline means lots of releases by big names on the next three Tuesdays.

This week we have new releases from Paul McCartney, Bonnie Raitt, Trisha Yearwood and David Gray. Next Tuesday we have Neil Young, Bon Jovi, an all-star tribute to Luther Vandross and that sort of faux-duets album from the Ray Charles estate.

On Sept. 27, getting in just under the wire: Barbra Streisand and Barry Gibb, Maroon 5, Sheryl Crow, Natalie Merchant, Sean Paul, Toni Braxton and the second album released this year by Ryan Adams.

But Grammy voters shouldn't let "September" distract them from his tour de force "Cold Roses" album, which was released in May.

Whew!

That doesn't even include Oct. 4 releases that could be deemed eligible. Among them: a potential Best New Artist nominee in James Blunt, and a possible Best Pop Vocal, Female with the release of Fiona Apple's "Extraordinary Machine."

But keep in mind, we have five likely Best Album nominees already with Mariah Carey, Kanye West, U2, Green Day and Coldplay.

We also have the Rolling Stones' just-released "A Bigger Bang," and the Ryan Adams album "Cold Roses" that would be nominated in every category if there were any justice.

And if Warner/Reprise cares to try, it could get Eric Benet — stigmatized unfairly as the 2005 Ike Turner for cheating on Halle Berry — into all the male vocal categories. That is, if it hasn't forgotten his album "Hurricane," which it released this summer.

There's also the new Bob Dylan sets, although it's unlikely the Grammys will ever go near him again. They think that the Album of the Year award several seasons ago for "Time Out of Mind" was enough.

For Best Record, there will be plenty of choices, but only one that's obvious: Kelly Clarkson singing "Since U Been Gone." It's a little piece of unexpected heaven. Her "Breakaway" album will wind up in all the pop categories.

But Kelly will have stiff competition from Mariah Carey, whose "Emancipation of Mimi" album is the story of the year. "We Belong Together" will be in the Best Song and Record categories, Mariah in Best Pop Vocal, Female. She could make it a clean sweep, and of course, the whole point will be to see what outfits she wears that night.

Song of the Year could be an interesting race if Grammy judges take a hard look at what's out there.

Neil Young introduced "What God Made Me" on the Katrina relief telethon last Friday night. It was so poignant and simple, so beautifully understated, that if it's overlooked because of some commercial crap from the last 12 months, then there's no point to the awards.

McCartney's album, "Chaos and Creation in the Back Yard," boasts two or three great songs, any of which could be in the same category. "Too Much Rain," "At the Mercy," "Certain Softness" and "This Never Happened Before" are exceptional in a catalog of songs unequaled by any other writer.

The album also deserves award consideration, although it's likely to wind up in the Best Pop Album category simply because it won't have been out long enough to sink in.

And then there are the Stones and "A Bigger Bang." Best Rock Album? Maybe. But the Stones deserve something different, I think — maybe a Lifetime Achievement Award that would erase the need for pigeon-holing "A Bigger Bang."

They're in their 42nd year. It's a record, and it will never be broken unless U2 sticks out past 2020.

There were plenty of other releases in the last year, and all of them will get bits and pieces of nominations.

Carly Simon is a cinch for several for her "Moonlight Serenade" album. Aimee Mann should pick up one or two for her excellent "The Forgotten Arm." Gwen Stefani's solo album "Love.Angel.Music.Baby" was a huge hit that cannot be ignored. Rob Thomas' solo album "Something to Be" will also pick up a number of deserved nominations.

Famed Photographer: First Book, Los Angeles Show

Nancy Crampton has taken the picture of nearly every famous writer and artist imaginable. She's well known, respected and beloved in the New York literary community. Now she's publishing her first book ever.

It's called "Writers," and it features portraits of — among others — Norman Mailer, William Styron, Saul Bellow, Truman Capote, Tom Wolfe, Alice Walker, Laurie Colwin and Isaac Bashevis Singer.

My favorite picture, and one that is kind of a masterpiece, is one of John Cheever. He's seated outside on steps near his home, his dog is staring down at him and Cheever is brooding.

This picture, like all of Crampton's work, will tell you everything you need to know about the subject. (I like the fact that a lot of Crampton's photos are taken on the fly, and not always in lavish set-ups.)

Starting Saturday, the Los Angeles Central Library will have an exhibit of Crampton's work. It's the first of three shows for her this fall.

Her Boston show begins Sept. 30 at the Athenaeum on Beacon St. There will be another in New York, at the Leica Gallery beginning Nov. 11.

But for now, she's at the Los Angeles Public Library's First Floor Galleries located at 630 West Fifth Street, downtown.

"Writers," a handsome coffee table book and Christmas gift, is published by Quantuck Lane Press.