By Jeremy Hallock
By James Khubiar
By Observer Staff
By Kelly Dearmore
By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
Reggae: Grown-Ups. It's not without a hint of irony that the Reggae award again goes to a ska band, especially when half the nominees this year actually hailed from Jamaica (Leroy Shakespeare and Ras Tumba). But you can't deny the Grown-Ups' own particular brand of brilliance when it comes to resurrecting a ska sound unheard since the Specials and the Selector and the Beat were relevant--like, since 1981. And the Grown-Ups get bonus points for going ska long before anyone else did, even if you did blink and miss the revival.
Industrial/Dance: Ugly Mus-tard. It's not really industrial, and you can't dance to it unless you've got a palsy, but Ugly Mus-tard plies that middle ground separating metal from that other odd entity people call "industrial" when they really mean to say "noise." And at least Stinkbug didn't win.
Avant-Garde/Experimental: Dooms U.K. Used to be Little Jack Melody was the avant-gardist around here, but either people figured out he was making great pop music with different instrumentation (banjo instead of guitar, tuba instead of bass), or our definition of experimental has so completely slipped that we now think of a first-rate straight-ahead rock band with an accordion as "avant-garde." Not that I would ever begrudge the Dooms' award for erasing the line between parody and homage so you'd never notice the difference--and now John "The Dark Messiah" Freeman's got the award to prove he's a genius after all.
International/Latin: Brave Combo. Brave Combo deserves this award every year but is so much more than just an International/Latin band: Pop, torch, jazz, you name it and Brave Combo can play it better than any other band in town, and if resurrecting the career of a diaper-wearing freak from the '60s (Tiny Tim) isn't enough to convince you otherwise, then perhaps you'd best move to Fort Worth.
Jazz: Cafe Noir. Marchel Ivery and Earl Harvin are the purists in this category, but when Cafe Noir's Norbert Gerl, Gale Hess, Lyles West, Randy Erwin, and Jason Bucklin go "jazz," they go where few around here have ever visited. Though touched by classical and seasoned with swing and colored by Gypsies, they're the best "jazz" in town. They happily trade Thelonious Monk for Django Reinhardt and would be just as happy backing up Ed Hagan for the rest of their lives.
Blues: Bugs Henderson. The old favorite takes home the award again, even as he handily beats out Andy Timmons, the readers' pick for Local Musician of the Year. But such is the power and respect that comes with age and talent, and even if Big Al Dupree does represent a wider tradition (think T-Bone Walker and Louis Jordan) and Jim Suhler's the best blues-rocker in the state (think ZZ Top, then think bigger), then Henderson's just the sort of venerable vet who'll never have to look for work, which is reward enough.
Single Release (1995): Funland/Old 97's, "Garage Sale/Stoned" (Idol Records). Two songs, four versions, and where Old 97's took the rock song and made it pop, Funland took the "country" song and gave it balls. Either the Old 97's aren't a country band at all, or Funland's Peter Schmidt should start yelling with a twang.
Album Release (1995): Funland, The Funland Band (Steve Records). What else is left to say except, It's about time?
Male Vocalist: Todd Lewis (Toadies). It's hard to tell who's singing, Lewis or his demons, but either way he gets his point across and cuts through the static of radio like few singers of the past few years. There's certainly something menacing in Lewis' voice, an indefinable terror that turns "Possum Kingdom" into a death threat, but Lewis is more than just a screamer. Anyone can scream. You know they're really good when they can whisper and still scare the shit out of you.
Female Vocalist: Kim Pendleton (Vibrolux). We should name this award for her because Pendleton will keep winning even if Vibrolux never puts out that long-promised debut for Atlas/Polydor (EP was due last October, LP was due this month, and the band--or Pendleton and Paul Quigg--has cut only four tracks so far). But she deserves it like a dying man deserves his last cigarette: You never know what the hell she's singing about, but the trick is you never really notice.
Local Musician of the Year: Andy Timmons. I understand why he wins this award a lot: Timmons is a technically dazzling guitarist, he's in several blues and jazz and even pop bands. But when Ronnie Dawson finishes 100 votes behind Timmons, you have to wonder if this award wouldn't be better decided by arm wrestling.
Songwriter: Todd Lewis (Toadies). Do you wanna die?
Classical Performance Ensemble: Dallas Symphony Orchestra. They play good. Real good. Should have won Best Cover Band.
Album Producer: Sam McCall. Brutal Juice bassist McCall is something of a local hero to struggling Denton musicians trying to get a record out. He'll record them on the cheap and then give them a masterpiece-sounding tape in return; ask Slobberbone, ask Baboon, ask anyone on the Welcome to Hell's Lobby collection, and they'll all tell you there's no better rock producer in town than McCall. He's the only one who'd deny it.