By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
You're preaching to the choir, Hop. (And if the band is indeed moving, well, the joke's on us.) We've always thought Bobgoblin was underestimated by many as a novelty act. The band's routine--matching jumpsuits, video monitors, the Black Market Party--may strike some as hokey and others as derivative, but its songs are unquestionably brilliant, and that's all that really matters. Bobgoblin's angular power pop conceals its real agenda, a batch of 21st-century protest songs camouflaged in a mixture of glam rock, punk, and new wave.
Last year's MCA-released The Twelve-Point Master Plan--for the most part, a re-recorded version of 1994's self-released Jet--is a brick wrapped in a snowball. It's the band's Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, a 43-minute filibuster of a record that files lyrical objections against handgun-packing crazies ("Nine," "Killer"), Texas Lottery junkies ("25 Million:1"), and morally comatose suburban dwellers ("Mental Suburbaknights"). Each song is a command to its target to go out in the back yard and cut itself a switch. Manski knows it's easier to get his point across with the right hook instead of a right hook of in-your-face politics. The sharpest hook of all may be his lyrics, which often mix cynicism and optimism in the same verse. His idiosyncratic delivery is quirkier than ever, extending words by several syllables while alternating between a breathy falsetto and leader-of-the-pack bravado.
As contrived as Bobgoblin's Black Market Party shtick seems (and sort of is, really), it's the centerpiece for what is arguably the best live show in the city. Manski and his crew of toy soldiers--drummer Rob Avsharian, guitarist J. Weisenburg, and bassist Corporal Glascock--are as angular on stage as their music is, full of herky-jerky energy and steely-eyed intensity. For now, we still have the privilege to call Bobgoblin our own.
Nominated for: Folk/Acoustic
In 10 years, Colin Boyd may regret his appearance on the soundtrack for Barney's Great Adventure. His contribution to the disc, "Rainbows Follow the Rain," makes him sound so...average. The song sounds like every bad children's song you've ever heard, offset only slightly by Reggie Rueffer's weeping fiddle. It's a shame that Boyd's second appearance on a national stage (Jack Ingram had a minor hit with his cover of Boyd's "Make My Heart Flutter") should come here. It's a good thing this isn't much of a national stage.
Boyd deserves some legitimate national attention. His songs are played acoustically--which gets him labeled as a folkie--but they owe as much to Buddy Holly and Merle Haggard as they do to folk music. His latest album, Sincerity, picks up where 1993's Juliet left off, with Boyd spinning tales of love gone bad ("Don't Torture Me"), love gone bad ("Forgettin' Someone") and, uh, love gone bad ("I Know What She's Sayin' to Him"). Although he sings lines like "The fire still burns in me/And here is the smoke I breathe," his voice never betrays the hurt he feels, his evenhanded manner making each song all the more poignant. If you've never heard Colin Boyd, you should. And if you've only heard him on the Barney soundtrack you bought for your kid, don't judge him too harshly. Everyone needs the money.
To win in the Most Improved Act category seems sort of a dubious accomplishment, akin in some respects to being crowned Ms. Arkansas Harelipped Inbred at the beauty pageant. It's good for the self-esteem to be able to call yourself a "winner" and all, but as you make your way to the spotlight, somehow you can't help feeling that the award implies you were less than desirable to begin with.
Then again, sometimes being Most Improved is a genuine recognition of a steady upward trajectory. How else to explain why Buck Jones, a band with some nice national press blurbs for their first independent release, Shoegazer, is looking at not only its second Most Improved nomination in as many years but also straight-up nods for Best Act Overall and Best Album for the band's latest, Shimmer? The disc is a compelling meld of captious noise-rock and accessible power pop, a snapshot of a band taking a step forward, showing an eagerness to expand its range while still honing its voice. And Gabrielle Douglas' nomination for Best Female Vocalist notwithstanding, it is the balance of both her deliciously fragile tones and her husband Burette's Everyman singing that completes Buck Jones' voice. While the songs she fronts tend to drift off, Burette's are well-rooted--and, in many respects, better--songs given an extra polish that, well, shimmers thanks to her supporting background vocals.
In the months since Shimmer's late-August release, the quartet has also continued to expand the sonic magnitude of its live show, proving it can fill even a near-empty Deep Ellum Live with a rich coat of sound. And some new, post-Shimmer tunes reveal that though enamored of whirling worlds of discord, Buck Jones isn't afraid to back off and let a song stand on its own straightforward hooks. Don't be surprised if Buck Jones takes another big step next year and winds up in the Most Improved category once again, and for all the right reasons.