Winners take mall

When the readers voted the rock, the Old 97's came away 'big' winners

This year, we've decided to invite everyone--from the nominated artists to the general public, and that includes you--to the Dallas Observer Music Awards ceremony, which takes place Friday, April 19, at the Rehab Lounge in Deep Ellum and costs $5 (nominees get in free, of course). Little Jack Melody and His Young Turks perform at 7 p.m., awards will be presented at 8:30, and Cowboys and Indians take the stage at 9:45. Neither of our performers won an award this year, though they have in years past, but you don't need to win to be good. You just need to be good.

Best Act Overall: Old 97's. A year ago, Rhett Miller, Murry Hammond, Philip Peeples, and Ken Bethea walked away with the Most Improved Act statue, which was ironic enough since Miller has been part of the local-music landscape for almost as long as T-Bone Walker. But now, as the Old 97's are on the verge of signing to one of at least three major labels vying for their considerable talents, they take home the coveted Best Act award. Of course, Fever in the Funkhouse won this award five years ago and, at the time, also was being courted by the majors, but this year the Old 97's have one thing going for them Fever didn't: The Old 97's got the goods.

New Act: REO Speedealer. With the exceptions of the Toadies, Brave Combo, and the Dallas Symphony Orchestra (and who the hell votes in this awards thing, anyway?), no band received more votes in its respective category than REO Speedealer. And though the name's worth a hundred votes alone, Speedealer has the muscle to back it up: Like one long guitar solo, noisy and powerful, it's the sort of rock-and-roll band that could only have been born in Texas, where "psychobilly" is a box to check off on job applications under the heading "ethnicity."

Most Improved Act: Old 97's. This award has long been regarded as the Backhanded Compliment Award: You used to suck, but now you don't. Which isn't true in the case of this band, though the songwriting has gotten better (Hitchhike to Rhome was a modest debut, Wreck Your Life was a meatier follow-up) and the playing has gotten better (Ken Bethea, come on down!), and the performances have gotten better, and...You get the point. And the Old 97's have the Best Act Overall award to prove it.

Rock: Toadies. The first two singles off Rubberneck stiffed, the third made the Toadies MTV love children for 120 minutes and landed their name on the cover of Spin, and now the fourth got them on "Week in Rock." If that isn't enough, the record--which Interscope first tried to ditch till a Florida radio station started playing "Possum Kingdom"--is past gold on its way to platinum. And to think: George Gimarc said they'd never make it.

Alternative Rock/Pop: Hagfish. These guys epitomize "alternative rock/pop" around these parts: They dress snappy, play snappy, even walk snappy, and they manage to fit guitar solos into songs that don't even run two minutes. And if they're the Ramones or the Descendents, then the Old 97's are fronted by Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings, but that's hardly the point: These boys are in it for the chicks, and if they happen to come up with the rock in the process, so be it.

Country and Western: Old 97's. You could make a case for Cowboys and Indians to win this award (and Lord knows I have), and Donny Ray Ford couldn't be more of the Real Thing if he died and went to the Grand Ole Opry, but when you're on a roll, you're Mel Gibson.

Metal: Brutal Juice. Solinger and ASKA came up a few votes shy of catching Brutal Juice, but in reality Brutal Juice is in a league of its own when it comes to its so-called competitors in this category. Where Solinger and ASKA are fossils encased in Spandex and leather, cliches tangled in long hair and power ballads, Brutal Juice is the next step in the evolution of metal--louder than punk, meaner than hard-core, uglier than death. Your mom thinks ASKA is noise; ASKA probably would say the same thing of Brutal Juice.

Cover Band: Hard Night's Day. Here's a band that deserves its award without question--not just a Beatles cover, but the table of contents and the index, and the footnotes in between.

Folk/Acoustic: Meredith Miller. Josh Alan was saying the other day he hoped Meredith would win this award because she deserved it, and the readers agreed: After going into something of semiretirement for the past few months and only now returning to the stage, Miller has become probably the best singer-songwriter in town hiding behind her acoustic guitar. Whether performing under the fluorescent lights of Borders or the cover of night at the Dark Room, she takes your breath away even as she looks for her own, and no one since Sara Hickman in 1988 could turn a twinkle into a tear so quickly.

Funk/R&B: Bassx and Rap/Hip-Hop: Bassx. These two awards go together because Bassx manages to vanish that line separating a good funk band from a good hip-hop band; of course, that's because they're a bit of both with jazz thrown in for good measure. And while Ernie Johnson and Shabazz 3 might represent the respective awards a little better--hell, at least both of them live here, unlike the just-moved-to-NYC Bassx--then at least Bassx splits the difference quite nicely.

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