By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
It's easy to picture them sitting around watching snuff movies and porn, eating Jack in the Box tacos, and ignoring the vomit crusting up in the corner of the room. But, hey, that's just conjecture. The band aptly represents the contingent that knows how to brainwash and mesmerize a young male audience (remember Brutal Juice?), so the Metal nomination makes perfect sense. But Stink!#bug has also garnered a nomination for Best Industrial/Dance, and while the "industrial" part of that nod is self-evident, about the only kind of dancing you could do to this music is some serious-ass moshing. Codpiece, anyone?
Nominated for: Reggae.
The still-young Denton-Fort Worth combo with the great name and forward-thinking approach to live performance has built a steady following over the past year. The band might call itself "dub," but because the Observer awards don't have a Dub category (not yet, anyway), the jury found a slot for this talented ensemble by focusing on the band's reggae bent. Here's the trump card: While members play layered, rhythm-heavy interpretations of their own songs, member John Knuckles sits off to the side, feeding the sonic output into his amalgam of machines and computers and mixers, and out crawls a varied live-mix specimen that never repeats from show to show.
Sub Oslo will release its intriguing sounds as 10-inch vinyl any day now, available on Dave Willingham's label. Granted, the recording may be a more static version of what Sub Oslo does best, but the band's dynamic spirit will likely break through such conventional permanence.
Jim Suhler and Monkey Beat
Nominated for: Blues
Jim Suhler's is the oldest blues tale around, the one about the white boy who learned the blues at the foot of the forgotten Mississippi guitarist living in a shotgun shack somewhere out near the crossroads. It's the stuff of film, literature, and cliche, as much a part of the music as the guitars and A-A-B chord structures themselves. Suhler, a Hillcrest stoner who cut his teeth playing the clubs in hard-rock bands during the mid-1980s, didn't have to sell his soul for the blues, but it's very likely he leased it out for a few months. Yet there's no denying that he's perhaps the finest modern bluesman in town, a man who turns up and tears up tradition every time he steps on a stage or into a studio (which is far too rare, having released only two discs with his band Monkey Beat and one other with Mike Morgan).
Suhler's the best sort of bluesman, actually, a guy who uses his hard-rock past to whoop the blues into the future. He's Angus Young on a Tres Hombres tear, a Southern-rocker with a taste for Muddy Waters, Bo Diddley with an Elmore James hard-on. The purists hate him because he's not to-the-note faithful, which is just as well: He belongs in the stadiums anyway, where his ZZ/DC routine would play to the back rows. Better there than the front barstools, where local guitar gods are far too often taken for granted.
Nominated for: Blues, Female Vocalist
Maylee Thomas seems ready for the big time, but in a small way. It would be easy to dismiss her considerable vocal range on the 1997 release Passion, produced by Dallas guitar guru Andy Timmons with arrangements and mixes so slick, your ears skid right off the edge before they get a chance to break the surface. Overproduction is the path of least resistance for companies who want to promote any white woman with a full, flexible voice and a professed love for soul-blues-jazz. After all, Glenn Frey nearly smothered Austin chanteuse Lou Ann Barton in folk-pop frills for her major-label debut, Old Enough. But Barton has a hardcore twang, a righteous growl, a glorious white-trash symphony of Texas ear, nose, and throat so unrepentant that Elektra dumped her after the first album.
Thomas, on the other hand, politely delivers the kind of Anglo soul-mama sound that could earn her a steady paycheck imitating Bonnie Raitt on power-ballad soundtracks behind national TV commercials for beer and trucks. You might think this a horrible waste of ability until you see Maylee live on the stage of Caravan of Dreams or the Blue Mule, where she's confident, competent, but trapped in a soulless MOR definition of soul. Then you realize she's already auditioning for jingles; her quasi-blues showcase feels like an auction for buyers of commercial voice talent.
Andy Timmons & the Pawn Kings
Nominated for: Blues
It would be a mistake to call Andy Timmons a typical Texas blues guitar player. He does come from the guitar-slinger school of thinking, but he plays the blues only occasionally. His nomination here has more to do with the band he plays with from time to time, the Pawn Kings. Timmons' style has more in common with hard rock than the blues, and even when he jumps headlong into a blues jam, he sounds more like C.C. DeVille than Stevie Ray Vaughan. Above all, the erstwhile Danger Danger sideman is an air-guitar player's guitar player, all hair-whipping, face contorting, whammy-bar-gripping solos.