--S.K.J.

Best Spoken Word
As evidenced by the raucous documentary SlamNation--which screened a couple of weeks ago at the USA Film Festival, preceded by a performance from Dallas' national slam team with Clebo Rainey--filmmakers are still eager to define a generation of twentysomethings by the least employed, most exhibitionistic common denominator. Slam poetry is loud and thriving in Dallas and Fort Worth, still capable of packing them in at Club Clearview, the Dark Room, and the Dogstar Cafe, and poetry promoter Michael Jasper has begun to romance corporate sponsorships and pushes top cash prizes toward $500. But the artists nominated for Spoken Word performers don't fit the stereotype of slammers: Our nominees are all well over 25, some have gone to college, and a few have even found a way to make money off their words, or at least their voices. And though they're all capable of copping a slam'tude, their approach to the material and the performance is more thoughtful.

Clebo Rainey has worked extensively with city officials and private funders to carve out a legitimate space for spoken-word performance at festivals, fairs, and any event with even a slightly artsy aftertaste. In between, he also reads extensively both here and across the continent (he's about to begin a multi-city tour of Canada). A bespectacled fireplug of a man, his rich, commanding voice smoothly unravels his tense, often political, sometimes sexually explicit monologues. He shares a long history in Dallas poetry and the Deep Ellum scene dating back to the Chumley Hawkins days with Jenna, who he declares "wraps the audience around her little finger as soon as she starts speaking into the mike." Slender, red-haired, and quite a looker, Jenna delivers her monologues on love and loss in a rich, wry Texas twang that's sorta like a beauty-shop owner with a taste for Keats.

cottonmouth, texas (a.k.a. Jeff Liles) divides his time between Los Angeles and Dallas, where a little earlier this year he headlined a crowded Saturday evening at Trees. As you might expect from a performer who's named himself after a physical symptom of THC in the bloodstream, cottonmouth tends to be more leisurely, denser in his word images, but he still manages a marathon of critiques of pop culture, something you might also expect from a guy who regularly shares a menage à trois with hemp and TV: Fearing litigation, this year's Dallas Video Festival canceled a screening of Liles' Love Between Morons, his "collaboration" with Pamela Anderson and Tommy Lee. Liles dubbed his own stream-of-consciousness ramblings into the mouths of Anderson and Lee on their home-made video hit (at least, when Pamela's mouth wasn't full).

C.J. Critt's voice is featured in numerous radio and TV commercials, and she doesn't do too badly recording audio books for the national market. All that stuff pays the bills, but what keeps Critt stimulated are the readings she does in Dallas and New York with the Angry Girl Sextet. They often compare themselves to a band, because their performances have arrangements, harmonies, choruses, and other musical ideas applied to a non-musical performance. Relationships between the sexes are often the dominant theme in their shows, but the Angry Girls understand that onstage, humor is a much more effective feminist weapon than rage.

--J.F.

Best Club DJ
DJs are like rock stars, except they don't have to worry about pesky things like learning songs or playing guitar. All they have to do is drop a needle on a record, wait about five minutes, and then mix it into a new song. Rinse and repeat. It sounds like a pretty easy gig on the surface: You get to sleep as late as you want, spin the records you want to play, drink for free, get chatted up by beautiful girls, and, on top of all that, get paid for it. Actually, it sounds like a pretty easy gig on the surface, the sides, and the middle.

It's not as easy as it sounds, but it's also not exactly like being a register jockey for five bucks an hour. The nominees--David Page, EZ Eddie D, Mark "Mr. Rid" Ridlin, Merrit, and DJ Karl Fought--all have different styles, different tastes, and different fans, but they do have one thing in common: They have it made. Witness a recent Saturday night at the Lizard Lounge. Merrit, fresh off his air shift hosting "Edge Club" on KDGE-FM (94.5), no more than walked through the door before a crowd of well-wishers gathered around him. It was like watching people react to a famous person, whispering his name to each other and pointing. His workload that night: standing in the DJ booth and drinking.

Seriously, we know Merrit, and he deserves this award as much as anybody else. His show, "Edge Club," is consistently brilliant, and his talent is underappreciated. "Edge Club" features the most eclectic mix of dance and electronica music anywhere on the dial and anywhere in the city. If this came down to who plays the biggest club, Merrit would win going away, because his "club" is all of North Texas. And everyone is on the guest list.

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