Indeed, Local Musician of the Year nominee Michael Jerome has shown versatility and, ultimately, his all-around good-sportsmanship by lending his talents to just about everything in town that needs beats, rhythms, or a healthy dose of plain-talking modesty. From a brief pop poppins resurrection to gigs backing Meredith Miller to the experimental free-forms of Jeff Liles' cottonmouth, texas, as well as many near-invisible--and probably not worth his time--efforts, Jerome has summarized almost his entire career for us this year and proven a point we already knew: Some of our best musicians play the drums. (Just ask Earl Harvin or Will Johnson.)

Still, though it looked for a while that COE would languish in the land of the lotus-eaters forever, the guys have been trying--at least for a few of those years--to get a move on. They finished Telepathic Last Words almost two years ago, only to find themselves caught between rock and a hard place. Zoo was going belly-up, and the album was D.O.A, even as congratulatory reviews and radio airplay from the locals seeped out.

But if you've seen COE live, you know it's a band that will not go out with a whimper, but a bang--musically, Course is all bang. The band wrestled Telepathic away from Zoo, found a new label in TVT Records, and reworked the album into the disc now selling at a store near you. The primal dual drums, Vaughn Stevenson's craggy vocals, and the stang of Mike Graf's wall of guitar all mixing with computer loops keeps COE habitually lopped into the industrial genre. But beyond "The Information," a single that skips between the hard-throttled techno of the Chemical Brothers and Prodigy and Stabbing Westward, you have such tracks as "Houdini's Blind" and "Captain Control" that slip into old-school glam (a point made even clearer before Course switched out the cool cover of T. Rex's "Cosmic Dancer" for the cosmic rendering of "Blue Moon" on the TVT release). Even the most cursory listen to Telepathic reveals that the band is really '70s-style monster rock saved by a coming-of-the-century high-tech sensibility.

--S.K.J.

Cowboys & Indians
Nominated for: Country & Western, Rockabilly/Swing
Let's take a moment to re-examine this local treasure. We must remember to embrace this band, to catch their live show every so often as food for our native souls; we must appreciate the band members' dedication to real-deal swing music and the unflagging vision of band leader Erik Swanson. We're living in Texas, damn it. Find something about the western life to truly dig. Cowboys and Indians makes a good start.

Bellowing frontman-trombonist (and self-described "big man") Swanson has, for the past four years, dedicated his ample talent to writing, recording, and performing an old-school, dance-hall Western swing that puts most homage bands to shame. He's a modern music man with a savvy appreciation for the past, for authenticity--witness the bands' crisp suits and LBJ Stetsons and ultra-professional manner. And with right-hand man and guitar genius Billy King as his co-pilot, Swanson and company keep a room hopping.

Image aside, Cowboys and Indians' music packs all the right details: velvety riffing, upright bass, and punchy horns. These are the sounds Bob Wills and Ernest Tubb and Louis Jordan funneled into our collective soul decades ago, and they're what make C&I's appeal so immediate. You don't have to hear their songs or see the band live a dozen times before you like it. A fan of any genre will tap his toes, smile, even itch to dance to infectious tunes such as "I'm a Ding Dong Daddy," "Wanted in Texas," "Indian Attack," and the brand-new "Stompin' at the Sons." Dallas is shamefully short on this kind of gold, so let's value what we've got.

--C.R.

Cresta
Nominated for: Most Improved Act, Female Vocalist
The biggest draw--and drawback--for Cresta has always been singer Jenny Esping. With her cutesy-doll looks and her sweet timbre, Esping could body-double for the role of Sugar Spice. Of course, while such a comment would bring rosy cheeks to almost any fourth-grader, it doesn't usually sit well with today's modern fem-rockers. And it doesn't usually please aspiring-alternative-bands-who-just-happen-to-have-pretty-women-singers either. Unfortunately, it sums up the challenge Cresta faces.

No matter how fuzzy, funky, heavy, or heady the music gets, Esping is still out in front, light and airy. Not that light and airy is a problem: It works perfectly on a song like "My Reminder," where the sweetness is a guilty pleasure. And on quieter numbers, when Esping's voice is allowed to float free, unhindered by combative beats and strained guitars, Cresta captures a pleasant dreaminess. In the past, Cresta has had some major-label nips, and though nothing has taken yet, it's only a matter of time before someone goes salt- (or Spice-) mining in our own back yard.

--S.K.J.

Darlington
Nominated for: New Act, Most Improved Act
"This song sounds just like the last one/And the next one and the one after that one/It's another sillysillysillysilly song/And like Blake says, it's gonna be a singalong."

God bless Darlington. Every town, every music scene, needs its own solid traditionalist punk act--a three-chord, just-for-the-hell-of-it band bent on tight melodies. In a world brimming with self-serious musicians aspiring to questionable artistic greatness, Darlington comes off like a really good, really greasy cheeseburger after a night of hard drinking: necessary and satisfying.

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