By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
So how can a new act have been around long enough to be improved? Darlington gets polarized nominations because of the history of its members--this is, after all, essentially a reincarnation of the band Mess. In fact, it's basically Mess plus Spyche, which makes for a nice combo, since Mess was already catchy and connected and bassist Spyche was already beloved and cool; whether you count the "improvement" as a product of the member merger or of the heightened bubblegum sound is entirely subjective. Live, the band keeps the energy level all sparkly and bratty (a must with tunes such as "Jodie Foster" and "Sugar Fix") and has reproduced its tongue-in-cheek method on a full-length debut, Girltroversy, recently released on Last Beat. Vocalist "Christy" (a recycled Chris Mess) has too much and nothing to say, kinda like a houseguest who chatters at the TV set all day long. In one song, he calls himself a "house pet," which is telling. If Darlington were an animal, it would be a really cute mutt that runs in circles, steals your food, and sleeps on your face. Excellent.
Nominated for: Rockabilly/Swing
We all know by now he's the real thing. Dawson's hardly some poseur looking to cash in on a neo-retro trend, the swing-rockabilly craze that has the youth of America looking to gabardine shirts and Mary Jane shoes as a cure for their angst. Dawson's a bona fide Dallas icon who has long graced stages big (as in Big D Jamboree) and small (his legendary gigs at Naomi's) with his raw, frenetic brand of rockabilly guitar-slinging and gravelly vocals off and on for more than 40 years, and he's still getting after it. During the down decades, while the United States yawned at vintage sounds, Dawson found a home on the stages and stereos of England, where the kids have sustained an obsession for rockabilly ever since Lennon and McCartney covered Eddie Cochran and Gene Vincent. Here, he was busy playing oldies to the corporate crowd or cutting commercials; over there, he was a rock and roll great liberated from the museum.
Stateside, the resurgent interest in the genre has introduced a whole new generation to Dawson's prowess and prompted Dallas' Crystal Clear label to make available a sizable backlog of his recordings--including Monkey Beat!, Rockinitis, and, most impressively, the double-CD Rockin' Bones: The Legendary Masters--for both his longtime followers and the new slew of converts. And when you hear something like "Up Jumped the Devil" (recently covered by, of all people, Guns N' Roses guitarist Izzy Stradlin), you get an awfully clear idea of how rockabilly is supposed to sound: gritty, nasty, fun, and born on the wrong side of the tracks. And, of course, it should star the throaty reverb of a hollow-body electric mastered by a truly powerful player. He's been Dallas' Best Act Overall since before any of the other nominees were born, and he doesn't need an award to prove that there's more to being a legend than just surviving.
Nominated for: Cover Band
A Grateful Dead cover band was the logical step for fans of the geezer jam band who liked the Dead enough to consider themselves Deadheads, but were too responsible to fashion a "career" (selling pot, weaving bracelets, perfecting a "head stall" with a hacky sack) out of following the band across the country. It was a pretty easy gig besides. If you forgot a song, all you had to do was start a jam; everyone thought it was all part of the act. It's a moot point now, since Jerry Garcia's death forced the band off the road for the time being. Yet somehow, the Dead tribute bands have found the strength to soldier on.
The Dead Thing is practically a Club Dada institution, having held a weekly slot there, in one form or another, since the early '90s, when they were calling themselves WALSTIB. Since then, the band has gone through a steady succession of members, some of whom are now in Minglewood, a band that only sounds like a Grateful Dead cover band. Week after week, the Dead Thing prowls through the Dead's back catalog of songs, but mostly ends up jamming. Which is exactly what the Dead used to do. Dude, it's just like being there.
Nominated for: Avant-Garde/Experimental
The only way a music scene can support a band as wonderfully bizarre as Dooms U.K. is if it already has every other kind of band on the menu. It's a "hierarchy of need" issue--Dooms as the ultimate icing on a rock and roll cake, a luxury as decadent and absurd as a suite of Louis Vuitton luggage in a closet full of Samsonite. Silly, adventurous, irreverent, and on top of all that, accomplished, Dooms is too weird for the mainstream, too funny to be alienating, and too smart to be ignored.
The brainchild of Denton town crier-village idiot John Freeman, Dooms is his most ambitious and far-reaching project of many (he also performs solo as Dutch Treats and with friends as the Meat Helmets; he draws a comic strip titled Uncle Sloppy; and he makes odd videos, among other shenanigans). Dooms, which has a revolving lineup of seven or so members, many of whom play in other noted bands, perform live as a sort of cabaret-meets-Spinal-Tap hybrid. Freeman preens and poses front and center with impenetrable irony, belting out a set list that might include everything from Night Ranger's "Sister Christian" to Dooms classics "Golden Shower" and "Sweet Home, Atlantis." Their second full-length record, produced by sound wizard Matt Pence and titled Art-rock Explosion, is due out on Freeman's Balaliscious label by late May (it follows their 1994 lounge-metal debut Greasy Listening), but you gotta see the band to understand the charm. For those who already know, don't let the leprechaun get your goat.