By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
Bobby Dee's resigned to the fact that Shabazz 3, long nominated in the rap/hip-hop category but never winners (last year, they lost to Pimpadelic, which only proves there is no God), are in for an uphill fight. As he hands over a copy of the band's new CD single, he offers with a shrug, "Yeah, like we'll win." To that end, the band refuses to release an album until the brand-new EP, Live or Die (which contains five mixes of the title track and "I Gosta Handle Mine"), makes a dent on radio; better to wait for the one golden opportunity than shoot your whole wad in a vacuum. The disc is a satisfying tease, exuding a gentle feel-good vibe that sounds like liquid '70s sunshine, but you want more. And so does Shabazz 3.
Leroy Shakespeare and The Ship of Vibes
Nominated for: Reggae
If Leroy Shakespeare and The Ship of Vibes thought their 1990 disc Jubilation was overproduced, right down to the Edie Brickell guest vocal that was more appropriate than anyone will ever admit now, then the new Time Has Come remedies that problem in a jiffy. This thing is so underproduced, it sounds like it was made with a hand-held Casio and a Mr. Microphone. Not to disparage what's clearly the product of much sweat and deliberation--indeed, to self-release a sophomore effort seven years later involves much cogitation--but this is not an act to be enjoyed and appreciated at demo speed. The record just plays a little cold; it's sometimes less about the songs and more about the ease and inexpensiveness of using keyboards instead of real horns and drums. Time Has Come recalls modern-day R&B records that substitute synth for soul, discarding the strings and horns because they're too expensive. But being cheap, even out of necessity, comes with its own high price.
Not that Time Has Come is unlistenable or unlikable. The remake of "I Shot the Sheriff" (retitled here as "Didn't Shoot the Deputy") is the hypnotizing highlight, dub-funk-rock-pop during which a thousand things seem to be going on at the same time; it's a swirling collage of styles, proof that sometimes technology works for and not against you. And the disc starts to pick up steam from there. Like a good high, it just takes a while to kick in. For the most part, the material's still strong, Shakespeare's delivery is still the stuff of which ganja fever-dreams are made, and the direction's interesting enough to hold your attention in more than just a traffic-accident sort of way. The band, which also includes Arthur Riddles on bass and keyboards and Dave Burris on guitar, is apparently on some sort of dub-new age trip, though that may also be the keyboards and weed talking. But reggae at its we're-jammin' best is still about creating a vibe without having to plug in all the equipment, and Jah only knows what they could do without the Caribbean restaurant instrumentation.
Nominated for: Female Vocalist
Two years is a long time for anyone to spend recording an album, especially a debut album. But that's exactly what Shara Worden did. Augmented by an all-star cast of local musicians--including Earl Harvin and Dave Monsey (MC 900 Ft Jesus, Meredith Miller)--Shara toiled in the studio endlessly, making sure her baby sounded just right. And it does sound good. The production quality on Word rivals that of any big-budget major-label album. The problem is, the songs never rise above neo-folkie, hippie-chick schlock. The album could have stood with a little less tinkering with the sound and a lot more work on the songs.
More than anything, Word is a showcase for Shara's voice. Her vocals are so out front, it almost sounds as if she's singing a cappella. It seems like a waste of time to hire Earl Harvin to play in your band and then not really use him effectively. Her voice (think of Jewel, then stop thinking) can't really carry the entire album. It sounds great for a song or two, then it becomes tedious, then it becomes grating. It would sound loads better in a rougher setting, which is almost completely absent on Word. See you in two years.
Nominated for: Reggae
A year and a half ago, as the Grown-Ups were getting set to play one of their last shows, someone asked the band's singer-saxman-founder Dan Bailey about Dallas' ska scene. "Well, we've been the ska scene for three years, so if we haven't inspired anybody to start a band by now, then it's probably not going to happen," he said. A few bands have been added to Dallas' tenuous ska scene since then, but it's doubtful that the Grown-Ups inspired any of them. It's more likely that ska's national mini-revival was more influential.
The Ska Walkers are probably the best of the lot, but that's kind of like saying the Rangers are the best professional baseball team in Arlington. The band is more ska than punk, though its music is far less traditional than the Grown-Ups' Two-Tone-era ska. Still, the Ska Walkers are definitely more of a worthy successor to the Grown-Ups' legacy than other ska-influenced bands in the area--PEN 15, Kid Chaos--whose knowledge of ska's history seems to begin and end with Less Than Jake's last album. Plus, the band has the best flier art in town, hands down. One example: a perfectly drawn likeness of Yoda, Luke Skywalker's 900-year-old mentor in the Star Wars trilogy, dressed in the standard Two-Tone-era getup--black suit, tie, porkpie hat and sunglasses--and skanking. That has to be worth a few votes.