By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
Nominated for: Funk/R&B
Is it really fair to place Grammy winner, Soul Train sensation, and Booker T. Washington graduate Erykah Badu in competition with local scenesters such as Hellafied Funk Crew, Mushroom Groovy, and Function Junction? Maybe, maybe not. But numerous Dallas musicians have flown near the sun, powered by the fumes of national recognition (Edie Brickell, Tripping Daisy, Deep Blue Something), and they still didn't dazzle us with their abilities. Badu, on the other hand, has created an impressive ripple in the international R&B market with her debut album Baduizm, which brought a reserved, contemplative ingenuity to an urban contemporary marketplace overcrowded with precocious belters, crooners, and harmonizers. Badu cares about timing and phrasing; she lilts and understates rather than testifies (her supple, breathy ballad "The Other Side of the Game" has even more power than Prince's sonically similar, lyrically opposite "Do Me Baby," because Badu never feels the need to escalate into screaming).
The results have left some listeners wondering not only how such a young woman can channel Billie Holiday so effectively, but also how she can get so much radio play on black and white pop stations in the process. Our one reservation: Her second national release was a live album regurgitating almost all of Baduizm with a couple of throwaway tunes for padding. Badu, who's often still stiff and uncertain on the stage, has a way to go as a live performer, and it's a bit early in the game to be marketing her live recordings when she's only released one album's worth of studio material. A similar, cynical commercial ambush has resulted in every bodily emission LeAnn Rimes ever made near a microphone making its way to a Blockbuster near you. Badu has the kind of talent that should be nurtured with more gentleness, patience, and selectivity.
Nominated for: Rock
"Post-rock" doesn't completely describe Baboon's music, but "rock filtered through punk filtered through avant-garde art filtered through a pig mask" probably wouldn't fit on a bin card at the record store. Even that doesn't leave room for singer Andrew Huffstetler's trombone-playing--reminiscent of having a fistfight with a deranged member of a marching band. Put simply, Baboon embodies all of rock's big dumb noises, its small quiet ones, and everything else in between. Of course, there are fewer of the quiet moments (and many of those are actually quieter rather than quiet), which makes it all the more special when a song like "Nation of Twos" or "Tidal Wave" emerges. "Tidal Wave" (from the new Scene, Heard compilation) shows a previously unseen side of the band, full of cymbal washes and rolling piano. It's hard to believe this came from the same band that recorded blast-first songs such as "Numb" and "Master Salvatoris."
Maybe it shouldn't be, though. While "Tidal Wave" is definitely a departure for the band, it's not as big a leap as one might initially assume. The "slow pretty shit"--as one fan called the band's more tuneful side on a Baboon Web site--has always been a part of Baboon's arsenal; they've just gotten better at it. Over the course of two albums (1994's Face Down In Turpentine and last year's Secret Robot Control) and one EP (1996's Numb), the band--Huffstetler, guitarist Mike Rudnicki, drummer Steven Barnett, and bassist Mark Hughes--has waged a constant war with itself, unsure of whether to use its instruments to play loud, melodic songs, or just beat us senseless with them. Sometimes both happen, and the combination of melody and malady is so good it hurts. Sometimes, a song like the emotive "Tool" (off Face Down) is the result, and it's equally thrilling. Whether Baboon opts for the good, the bad, or the ugly, it's always interesting, and--more often than not--it blows you away.
Nominated for: Funk/R&B, Rap/Hip-Hop
Once upon a time (let's say, the mid-'80s), white boys discovered the joys of mixing up funk and rap. They called themselves the Red Hot Chili Peppers and the Beastie Boys and Jane's Addiction. They strutted around onstage like stud specimens of groove, creating a music type all their own--sometimes inspired, sometimes not. The best of the lot evolved and moved on. Yet, by the mid-'90s, the original fever had spread to every corner of every town, and taken on countless recruits (Sugar Ray, Consolidated, Rage Against the Machine) who, to this day, show no signs of waning. A spirited movement indeed.
Denton's Beef Jerky hopped on the white-boy funk train more than five years ago and has ridden it, full steam, ever since. In fact, they've kept well within the boundaries of the genre; their self-titled EP (on Ffroe Records), a well-produced addition to the white-funk legacy, keeps to the good-natured side of the fence (rather than the sexist and hyper-political side) with clever, staccato raps (see "Meterman"), wah-wah guitar-riffing, and punchy, heavy bass lines that ramble and lurch throughout. They're having fun, and you're invited. Shake your groove thang, baby.
Nominated for: Alternative Rock/Pop
The Dallas Morning News reported recently in its biweekly local music column--wait, they have one?--that Bobgoblin is leaving Dallas. Well, they are...and they aren't. Singer Hop Manski has relocated to Arkansas, but the band will remain local. The item in the Morning News was just the band's skewed way of having a little fun at someone else's expense. In an e-mail message Manski sent us, he wrote, "Fortunately or unfortunately, you'll see us around town as much as you always do. In fact, I don't think there ever was a band who hung around so loyally for such a small--albeit great--following."