By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
Reverend Horton Heat
Nominated for: Rockabilly/Swing
There's nothing particularly cutting-edge about rockabilly music. You've got your amped-up reverb and tremolo, your stand-up bass slaps, your clickity-clack drums, your tall tales of boozin' and hellin' and cattin' around, and that, my friend, is the way rockabillies like it. But it's not necessarily what the kiddies like. The kiddies are more than happy to put away the hair grease, let the high and tight grow out, and trade in the '57 Chevy at the first sign of anything new and hip and now--like, say, a Volkswagen Beetle. To Jim Heath's credit, Reverend Horton Heat managed to keep the kids happy as he played fast and loose with the limits of genre, even if purebreds weren't too sure. It may have been as simple as hanging with edgy people, such as Gibby Haynes on the essential Full Custom Sounds of... and Al Jourgensen on the uneven Liquor in the Front. It may be that when push comes to shove and it's time to throw down live, the Rev leans on the "rock" far more than on the "billy."
Whatever it is, it seems like the Rev doesn't think it's enough. With each album, including the new Space Heater, the Rev is inching closer to a pre-packaged, radio-ready product and away from his dyed-but-true rockabilly roots. The new single "Lie Detector," though catchy in a power-chord kind of way, seems a calculated effort to alternative-up a basic start-stop beat. "For Never More" screams metal. And there's no sense dwelling once again on the "rapping" on "Revolution Under Foot." But the Rev of old isn't gone. It's there riding high in the instrumentals "Pride of San Jacinto" and "The Prophet Stomp," and even "Jimbo Song," if you can get past the goofy cheerleader chorus. The sinister creep and croon of "Hello Mrs. Darkness" is a song that could have glowed with a little more nurturing, but considering that the Interscope bio brags that the album was written and recorded in 30 days, we may have found the problem.
The other, and probably more accurate, theory is that you can only pretend rockabilly is edgy for so long. You eventually have to stand by it, everyone else be damned, like a Ronnie Dawson; break free of it and have hit songs on the radio like the Rev seems to want; or wallow in it and bloat into a cartoon like the Cramps. When you see Western print shirts and Saturn's rings on the same album's cover art, you can't help but get stomach pains.
Nominated for: Metal
If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then REO Speedealer should be extremely flattered. In a close approximation of that band's modus operandi, Roller (originally Steamroller 88) plays ass-whippin', shit-kickin' metal at punk's breakneck velocity, sounding at times like a trailer-park version of Metallica with Jim Heath--hopped up on a couple of lines of crank and a case of Lone Star Light--singing lead. The quartet--guitarist Alex Hill, singer-bassist B.C., singer-guitarist Scot C., and drummer Shandy J. McKay--even looks more than a little like REO Speedealer (gimme caps, dirty T-shirts, wall-to-wall tattoos), but then again, so does the entire crowd at the Orbit Room on any given night.
The band's latest album, South Bound and Down, is a late-night journey through the back roads of Texas in a bitchin' Camaro. Song titles such as "Road Kill Hangover," "Whip It Out," and "Speed Demon" should give you a good idea of where that journey is headed. The guitars are as jagged as a broken bottle of Jack Daniel's, and the lyrics might be offensive ("Rock & Roll Holocaust") if you could ever decipher them. The album shows that Roller has the chops to rise to the top of the Dallas metal scene, provided they ditch the "cowboys from hell" shtick. We liked it better the first time.
Nominated for: Reggae
It's understandable that local reggae outfit Root 420--who, according to two club bookers, earn numerous phone calls the week after a show from audience members wanting more--started last year's set at Fort Worth's Caravan of Dreams with the self-deprecating announcement: "We're a reggae band...from Fort Worth." This Cowtown anomaly was opening for Ladysmith Black Mambazo, one of the world's most beloved and influential purveyors of South African rhythms. Root 420 proceeded to charm the audience with a tight, jumpy set more energetic than roots reggae yet professional enough to have The Dallas Morning News' Mighty Thor declare that they seemed like Jamaicans to him. The mix of reggae covers in their set still typically outweighs their original tunes, which probably still makes them more a party band than pure purveyors of the Jamaican sound. But the increasingly large numbers who flock to their Fort Worth shows should give them the chance to take flight into a more personal vision.
Nominated for: Rap/Hip-Hop
Ty Macklin is the undisputed MVP of the local hip-hop community. The former member of Decadent Dub Team and the founding father of Phlomatics has produced almost all the essential bands in town, from Native Poet to Mental Chaos to his own Shabazz 3; he provides them with wisdom, guidance, counseling, support, and the best sound no money can buy. Macklin even worked on Erykah Badu's Baduizm--he produced "Drama"--having known the South Dallas native long before she became hip-hop's answer to Billie Holiday. For years, Macklin (who goes by the handle XL7, because he's such a self-proclaimed square) has crafted diamonds out of archaic coal, fashioning beautiful R&B out of old Freddie Hubbard and Cannonball Adderly samples and layering mellow beats over the most soothing of soul. In 1996, Musician magazine even honored Shabazz 3 by naming them one of the country's best unsigned bands (they were the only winners from Texas). Yet despite the impressive credentials, Macklin and Bobby Dee and Fatz still languish in obscurity even in their hometown; were it not for EZ Eddie D on KNON, they wouldn't even exist outside of Macklin's home studio. It's criminal.