By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
Nominated for: Blues, Folk/Acoustic
Who knew what to make of Alan's 1997 Blacks 'n' Jews? The title track was a work of absolute genius and chutzpah, the history of black-Jewish relations rolled up into one glib, sharp statement: "Marchin' two-by-two down in Mississippi/One was a Panther when the other was a hippie...Come back together now, blacks and Jews." The Jew Also Known as Josh Alan Friedman (a frequent contributor to the Observer) embraced the stereotypes his father, Bruce Jay Friedman, made famous in such novels as Stern and turned over the race card to find it was a joker; even the cover, featuring Torah-wielding Hasidim frolicking with bug-eyed Amos and Andy stand-ins, was an exaggerated joke that made its point and jammed it into your head. The boy's meshugenah, all right, crazy like a lox.
But when you look past the title track and burrow further into the disc, the title becomes less a joke and more a mission statement: No Hebrew in town does a better Blind Lemon Jefferson or makes a better accompaniment for vocalist-harpist Sam Myers, who joins Alan on the lowdown "No One Owns the Blues." Alan, a born-and-bred Yankee who moved here to be with his wife more than a decade ago and then nearly suffered a nervous breakdown from all the barbecue sauce, plays guitar like a kid born on the front porch. He reinterprets Jeff Beck with a little extra soul, redoes the Beatles with a bluesman's flair, and plays just enough notes to remind you how good he is and just few enough to make you appreciate the silences.
The rare knock on Alan has always been his voice: Purists argue that he sings like a boxer, that his are forever the soul vocals of a cracker who grew up in Times Square. But that's his real charm, when you get down to it: When he sings his haunting "Harlem Time" or the surprisingly moving "Bela Lugosi" off his album The Worst!, you can hear how hard he's trying not to try hard at all, and he'll win you over every time.
Nominated for: New Act, Rock
How does a band that made it onto the award ballot last year in the rock category qualify for the New Act nod this time around? Well, to cop an NBC slogan: If you haven't heard 'em, they're new to you. Not that there is anything truly new about the American Fuse; guitarist Nate Fowler (formerly of Sixty-Six), bassist Kinley Wolfe (once in the Cult), and drummer Clint Phillips (the Agitators) don't pretend there is. The American Fuse is three-chord rock gone awry: good ol' unabashed and unashamed, 90-mph, three- to four-minute rampages about the things that used to be important to all rockers--fast cars, hard drinking, the devil--before a bunch of namby-pamby college kids ruined it for everyone by thinking.
The tracks that jump out on One Fell Swoop, their debut album for Idol Records, are the same ones that jolt your head away from your whiskey for a few seconds when you catch them live, the kind of rock and roll that makes you yearn to pull a Bon Scott in the back of a pickup truck. A song like "Texas Speedball" sets off like a drag racer without a parachute, rambling faster and faster until you're certain that the only way it can end is by crashing into the wall; instead, it just runs out of gas. And then there's the cover of "Psycho Killer," which makes you stop just long enough to realize that those college rockers may have been onto something after all.
Nominated for: Metal
They're a time-warp gem, so yesterday they barely exist in today. If you didn't know better, you'd think ASKA--with its tease-me-don't-please-me hair and second-skin leather and Von Erich poses--was some kind of brilliant joke, a high-concept parody of an old hair-metal band; they make John Freeman and his Dooms U.K. look like high-brow amateurs. Only it ain't a gag, and only now, on their third record (1997's Nine Tongues), does it all start to make sense. ASKA, more popular in Korea and Germany than in their hometown of Arlington, are the true rock and roll revolutionaries, dedicated to keeping alive a music that all but died around the time Cherry Pie was giving the preteens a bedroom boner. This stuff is the true old-school: Brothers George and Damon Call, Darren Knapp, and Keith Knight are like time travelers who got whisked away from 1982 and dropped into 1998 and never noticed the difference. Maybe that's what living in Arlington does to you.
What at first seemed silly and even kind of offensive (the debut record contained some vaguely racist lyrics, though they always denied it) has revealed itself as an absolutely radical concept. It takes far more balls to make this kind of music than it does for Hagfish to recycle 1977 punk or Slow Roosevelt to offer up same-old-same-old speed metal. ASKA pisses in the wind and enjoys the damp breeze; they're fooling themselves right into a nice, long career.
Nominated for: Funk/R&B
Is it really fair to place Grammy winner, Soul Train sensation, and Booker T. Washington graduate Erykah Badu in competition with local scenesters such as Hellafied Funk Crew, Mushroom Groovy, and Function Junction? Maybe, maybe not. But numerous Dallas musicians have flown near the sun, powered by the fumes of national recognition (Edie Brickell, Tripping Daisy, Deep Blue Something), and they still didn't dazzle us with their abilities. Badu, on the other hand, has created an impressive ripple in the international R&B market with her debut album Baduizm, which brought a reserved, contemplative ingenuity to an urban contemporary marketplace overcrowded with precocious belters, crooners, and harmonizers. Badu cares about timing and phrasing; she lilts and understates rather than testifies (her supple, breathy ballad "The Other Side of the Game" has even more power than Prince's sonically similar, lyrically opposite "Do Me Baby," because Badu never feels the need to escalate into screaming).
The results have left some listeners wondering not only how such a young woman can channel Billie Holiday so effectively, but also how she can get so much radio play on black and white pop stations in the process. Our one reservation: Her second national release was a live album regurgitating almost all of Baduizm with a couple of throwaway tunes for padding. Badu, who's often still stiff and uncertain on the stage, has a way to go as a live performer, and it's a bit early in the game to be marketing her live recordings when she's only released one album's worth of studio material. A similar, cynical commercial ambush has resulted in every bodily emission LeAnn Rimes ever made near a microphone making its way to a Blockbuster near you. Badu has the kind of talent that should be nurtured with more gentleness, patience, and selectivity.
Nominated for: Rock
"Post-rock" doesn't completely describe Baboon's music, but "rock filtered through punk filtered through avant-garde art filtered through a pig mask" probably wouldn't fit on a bin card at the record store. Even that doesn't leave room for singer Andrew Huffstetler's trombone-playing--reminiscent of having a fistfight with a deranged member of a marching band. Put simply, Baboon embodies all of rock's big dumb noises, its small quiet ones, and everything else in between. Of course, there are fewer of the quiet moments (and many of those are actually quieter rather than quiet), which makes it all the more special when a song like "Nation of Twos" or "Tidal Wave" emerges. "Tidal Wave" (from the new Scene, Heard compilation) shows a previously unseen side of the band, full of cymbal washes and rolling piano. It's hard to believe this came from the same band that recorded blast-first songs such as "Numb" and "Master Salvatoris."
Maybe it shouldn't be, though. While "Tidal Wave" is definitely a departure for the band, it's not as big a leap as one might initially assume. The "slow pretty shit"--as one fan called the band's more tuneful side on a Baboon Web site--has always been a part of Baboon's arsenal; they've just gotten better at it. Over the course of two albums (1994's Face Down In Turpentine and last year's Secret Robot Control) and one EP (1996's Numb), the band--Huffstetler, guitarist Mike Rudnicki, drummer Steven Barnett, and bassist Mark Hughes--has waged a constant war with itself, unsure of whether to use its instruments to play loud, melodic songs, or just beat us senseless with them. Sometimes both happen, and the combination of melody and malady is so good it hurts. Sometimes, a song like the emotive "Tool" (off Face Down) is the result, and it's equally thrilling. Whether Baboon opts for the good, the bad, or the ugly, it's always interesting, and--more often than not--it blows you away.
Nominated for: Funk/R&B, Rap/Hip-Hop
Once upon a time (let's say, the mid-'80s), white boys discovered the joys of mixing up funk and rap. They called themselves the Red Hot Chili Peppers and the Beastie Boys and Jane's Addiction. They strutted around onstage like stud specimens of groove, creating a music type all their own--sometimes inspired, sometimes not. The best of the lot evolved and moved on. Yet, by the mid-'90s, the original fever had spread to every corner of every town, and taken on countless recruits (Sugar Ray, Consolidated, Rage Against the Machine) who, to this day, show no signs of waning. A spirited movement indeed.
Denton's Beef Jerky hopped on the white-boy funk train more than five years ago and has ridden it, full steam, ever since. In fact, they've kept well within the boundaries of the genre; their self-titled EP (on Ffroe Records), a well-produced addition to the white-funk legacy, keeps to the good-natured side of the fence (rather than the sexist and hyper-political side) with clever, staccato raps (see "Meterman"), wah-wah guitar-riffing, and punchy, heavy bass lines that ramble and lurch throughout. They're having fun, and you're invited. Shake your groove thang, baby.
Nominated for: Alternative Rock/Pop
The Dallas Morning News reported recently in its biweekly local music column--wait, they have one?--that Bobgoblin is leaving Dallas. Well, they are...and they aren't. Singer Hop Manski has relocated to Arkansas, but the band will remain local. The item in the Morning News was just the band's skewed way of having a little fun at someone else's expense. In an e-mail message Manski sent us, he wrote, "Fortunately or unfortunately, you'll see us around town as much as you always do. In fact, I don't think there ever was a band who hung around so loyally for such a small--albeit great--following."
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.
Nominated for: Jazz
There is no mystery as to why Cafe Noir--featuring, hands down, the finest musicians in town performing a pastiche of so many genres, they all but create their own--has never been nominated in the Best Act Overall Category. It is because they barely play out anymore; there simply are no venues for bands with violins and guitars and mandolins and accordions, no clubs big enough to contain the music or small enough to provide the necessary intimacy. And besides, they have never been heroes in their hometown: They are beloved in Los Angeles, where they accrue better press than Mike Piazza, and all but ignored here. Indeed, where were they when the Morning News recently offered its local picks to click? Nowhere, and that's all the more a crime when they're passed over for the likes of Pimpadelic or Loveswing.
One day, Cafe Noir will land the elusive label deal the band has long sought; one day, Dallasites will wonder, Now, how did I miss that?; one day, the band will have the last, loudest laugh. (Not that landing a label deal is a mark of validation, but the cash never hurts.) It's hard to believe, but Cafe Noir is actually something of an institution, existing in heroic obscurity for more than a decade; it has endured so many lineup changes, you'd think its members were filing for free agency at the end of every season. Most recently, seven-year veteran Randy Erwin left for the Rounders and the children's-party circuit; after proving wrong those who doubted that a yodeler could work with Gypsy-jazz-classical virtuosos, he and the band finally decided there were only so many avenues the band could travel with a vocalist in the trunk.
So now, they are back to an instrumentals-only lineup--featuring, of all things, drums and electric guitar. But what could have been deemed a sell-out move is instead a rather ingenious stroke of invention: The band is shopping a three-song demo that is by turns beautiful and rocking, classical music and classic rock, haunting and thrilling. To hear Gale Hess' breakneck violin runs suddenly turn into Jason Bucklin's electric guitar riffs is to be surprised even after all these years; the Zeppelin nod (the band's "Flight of the Lark" suddenly morphs into "Kashmir") doesn't even seem out of place, but a natural extension of where the band's headed--straight for the arena, by way of the conservatory. But this ain't art-rock; it's way too fragile for that, more about emotion than smarts, but absolutely brilliant nonetheless. Maybe next year, they'll get a nod for best rock band.
Nominated for: Most Improved Act
Of all the bands nominated in all the categories, here's the most appropriate and deserving of them all (but please, vote your conscience). Who would have imagined two years ago that a little garage-abilly band with the occasional Muddy Waters gig would evolve into a band bigger than the whole house? Not so long ago, Todd Deatherage was being dismissed as Rhett Miller's shadow, a carbon copy too hard to read because of the blues fetish getting in the way of the country fixation; Deatherage, a former jazz guitarist who cut his teeth playing blues with the likes of Brian "Hash Brown" Calway (hence, the name in homage), had spent so long learning a dozen other styles, he struggled to find his own. There was no power in the then-power trio, little rock in their rock and roll, more potential than reality.
Yet the new EP Starting at the End, produced by Deatherage and Dave Willingham, showcases a bigger band (they're a five-piece now) with a badder sound. The songwriting is crisp and sharp, and after years of disavowing their rock and roll promise ("[Jazz is] what keeps us together," they said only a year ago), Starting at the End is a real tear-'em-up kick that owes a little to Matthew Sweet, Southern rock, and the last whiskey of a long night. The songs are about three things: love, rock and roll, and how the twain shall never meet, and while the band plays behind him, sounding like the Allmans covering the Replacements, Deatherage sings like he's trying to cough up the heart stuck in his throat. They're most improved, all right, and a hell of a lot better than that too.
Nominated for: New Act
Brandon Curtis, Josh Garza, and Regina Chellew could be a trio of nobodies, and it wouldn't matter. Their band, Captain Audio, would still be the best new band in Dallas. But they aren't nobodies. The fact that they are, respectively, UFOFU's former bass player, Comet's former drummer, and Ruby's former touring bassist makes Captain Audio noteworthy; that they are pretty damned good makes them important.
Captain Audio may not be the most experienced of the contenders for best New Act (the tomorrowpeople, apart from being longtime veterans of the Dallas scene, were also nominated in this category last year), but you can be sure that collectively they have seen the inside of almost every club from Deep Ellum to Denton. Maybe that's why their five-song demo tape sounds like they're working on their third or fourth album instead of their first. That demo is as good as or better than most of the local releases this year, a generous slice of futuristic poptopia that's as familiar as the street where you grew up and as different as the way that street looks now. "Bugs" is one of the best songs that Dallas has produced in the past year, a blast of elastic guitar, noodling piano, and propulsive backbeat, while the droning, quietly insistent "TV Generation" somehow gives monotony a good name.
Captain Audio probably won't be a local band for much longer, if its demo tape is any indication. Good for them. UFOFU and Comet both disbanded just as they were on the cusp of indie stardom, and Chellew never had a good shot (see Stone Culture or Neurotica). Captain Audio deserves to be successful because of its members' histories; it will be successful because they write great songs. A band with this much talent has to succeed. Right?
Nominated for: Best Act Overall, Alternative Rock/Pop, Male Vocalist (Will Johnson), Local Musician of the Year (Will Johnson), Songwriter (Will Johnson), Album Release (Redo the Stacks, steve records)
The first time I saw Will Johnson, he was providing the spastic backbeat that made Funland go, his arms and head moving in time with the beat but in different directions. Every once in a while his head would jerk around to his microphone, he'd screw up his face and start singing in a strangely sweet voice. When I saw him play with Centro-matic for the first time, the only thing different was that his drum kit had been replaced by a guitar. He was still bobbing maniacally to the beat, his face still bore a grimace that was a combination of agony and ecstasy, and he still sang in that same sweet voice.
That said, Centro-matic isn't Funland, Mark II. Calling it that would be to diminish what Johnson has accomplished. There are elements of Funland there--the familiar drumbeat, rough guitars, layered harmonies--but Centro-matic is an entity all its own. Before Funland had even called it a day, Johnson had been recording on a four-track in his kitchen and bedroom with whatever instruments happened to be lying around. He did it because he had to; there were songs in his head that needed to be heard. Eventually, they became songs that we needed to hear, too good to languish away on tapes made for friends of his.
The album that resulted, Redo the Stacks, is brilliant, a warts-and-all masterpiece that barely contains Johnson's newfound songwriting chops. His cryptic lyrics and the record's intentionally demo-quality production shroud an album that is intensely personal, if only because Johnson played every note (save a few guest appearances) and sang every word. Some are a minute long and sound as if they were recorded on a microcassette recorder ("The Pilot's on the Wall"); others are noisy rockers that use all 16 tracks of producer Matt Pence's studio. The best songs on the album aren't the ones that recall Funland's best days; we expected those to be good. The great moments are the slower songs, such as "Post-It Notes from the State Hospital," which allow Johnson's strong voice to stand on its own, aided by little more than an acoustic guitar and a fiddle.
Over the last year, Centro-matic evolved from all-Will-all-the-time into a real band, featuring Pence on drums, bassist Mark Hedman, and Scott Danbom on piano and fiddle. Now that the rest of the band has moved to St. Louis, it's back to just Johnson. Maybe that's how it was meant to be.
Nominated for: Avant-Garde/Experimental
Corn Mo (Jon Cunningham) is a rock star, baby. A rock star from the '70s, back when they knew how to make 'em. With his flowing blond mane and wispy moustache, he looks like he walked through a hole cut in time and space by one of those over-the-top laser light shows that seemed to accompany almost every rock concert back then (I always wondered what happened to Styx's Tommy Shaw). That he plays accordion doesn't matter. His songs still rock and roll all night and party every day. In the hands of anyone else, a cover of Bon Jovi's "Always" played on accordion would smack of kitsch; when Corn Mo does it (as he did on "The Adventure Club" awhile back, accompanied by a cymbal he played with a drumstick shoved into the toe of his Converse sneaker), it doesn't sound like a joke.
Each Monsters of Rock cover he attempts--his repertoire also includes, among others, Mstley CrYe's "Home Sweet Home"--is sung without a trace of irony. It may all be a joke, but he isn't telling. His original material is just as good: "Shine On, Golden Warrior," the tribute to the ill-fated Von Erich wrestling family (available only on the new Scene, Heard collection), would be comfortable in a three-song set with Kansas' "Carry On My Wayward Son" and Blue …yster Cult's "Don't Fear The Reaper." Corn Mo is either a genius or the funniest man alive. Or both.
Course of Empire
Nominated for: Best Act Overall, Rock, Male Vocalist (Vaughn Stevenson), Local Musician of the Year (Michael Jerome), Single Release ("The Information"), Industrial/Dance, Producer (Chad Lovell)
Like an epic hero returning from an odyssey, Course of Empire is back from what seems like a long, wandering journey to reclaim its rightful place as one of the best bands ever to reign over Dallas. Wait a minute. Strike that. COE never really went anywhere in the damned-near four years since its major-label debut, Initiation, came out on Zoo Entertainment. The five members of COE have been here all along, occasionally performing live, but mostly holding down real-world jobs, producing other artist's efforts (Chad Lovell is nominated in the Producer category), and playing in other bands.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Nominated for: Rock
You want to root for Doosu just for the off-handed manner in which they thank "the valve donor" and "everyone on the 4th floor at Presbyterian Hospital" in the liner notes on last year's Quick Bionic Arms EP. Other bands in Doosu's situation might have used singer-guitarist Casey Hess' medical problems for sympathy or as an escape clause. To their credit, the members of the band just want to get on with their lives, thankful for the fact that they can. All they want to do is rock.
Quick Bionic Arms shows that the band is getting better at doing just that. With labelmates like Caulk and Slow Roosevelt, Doosu could previously be considered the most melodic of the One Ton bands (not counting recent signee Buck Jones) almost by default, and the six-cut EP confirms that suspicion. The songs are tighter and more focused, the structures trimmed down from 1995's ambling ...so called the cupboard's bare. The band's writing, especially Hess', is much more pop-based than before. On songs like "Arrow," Hess and the band--bassist Chad Deatley, drummer Todd Harwell, and singer-guitarist Eric Shutt--sound like early Jane's Addiction, Hess' lofty vocals softening the blow of the hard-driving riffs and clobbering rhythms.
Doosu is still Doosu, so "trimmed-down" only means that all the songs are less than six minutes long, and sometimes--usually when Shutt is singing--the band strays into the territory of bad Metallica (see Load and Reload). Doosu may be improving by leaps and bounds, but it's not there yet.
Big Al Dupree
Nominated for: Jazz
Friday and Saturday nights at Lakewood's wildly popular Balcony Club still belong to 75-year-old singer-instrumentalist Big Al Dupree--at least, on the marquee. Trouble is, many weekend patrons give their conversations top billing over Big Al's consummate musicianship. If you want to actually hear Dupree's shimmering, benevolent, throaty jaunt through a variety of jazz's poppier standards dressed up in his trademark "jump blues" style, we suggest two strategies: Get an early table, plant yourself there defiantly all night, and periodically tell your nattering neighbors to shut the fuck up while Dupree delivers his set.
Barring that, visit him on his less congested, more relaxed Tuesday-night gig, or grab a listen during one of his occasional out-of-club appearances, such as the 1997 First Presbyterian's jazz-gospel show, where he put saxophone to lips and blew the heart into Ellington's "Heaven" before an 18-piece band and a 30-voice choir. Or pick up his 1995 Swings the Blues disc, last year's Blues Across America/The Dallas Scene compilation, and 1996's Scene, Heard Volume 2 collection for huge doses and single shots of Big Al's big blues. You might just get buzzed enough to confront the roar of a Saturday night at the Balcony Club for a few more swigs.
Nominated for: Industrial/Dance
Two years ago, industrial music was poised on the verge of Next Big Thing status. Trent Reznor was a hero to the disaffected, and the industrial-lite of Gravity Kills was scurrying up the charts. Then, all of a sudden, dance music turned up its guitars (or just added them) and stole industrial music's audience. Even a casual observer of the music scene is aware of this fact, but it's pertinent when discussing 18% Grayhound because, apparently, nobody told them that even Reznor doesn't bother with industrial music anymore.
It wouldn't really matter, if the band were onto something original. Unfortunately, 18 percent of the band's music sounds like Nine Inch Nails, and the other 82 percent sounds like Gravity Kills. Even if that ratio were reversed, 18% Grayhound would still come off as scheming careerists whose calendar stopped in 1995. The small portion of the band's demo tape that recalls NIN sounds as if it were actually sampled off of Pretty Hate Machine, which seems like a pretty lazy way to make music. The real forefather to 18% Grayhound's sound is the industrial pop of Gravity Kills, itself a Muzak version of Trent Reznor's vision. A copy of a copy is only good if you can't remember what the original sounded like.
Nominated for: Cover Band
I was pressed into writing a blurb for steadily employed Dallas cover band Emerald City because I listened to them perform a few songs at a holiday bash. From that very brief exposure, let me recommend these proficient musicians for any office party, wedding reception, bar mitzvah, or suburban park concert where: a) more conversation than music appreciation will take place, and b) there's a lot of alcohol being served. And may I make a suggestion to Emerald City? Please, please don't play scintillating Marvin Gaye tunes like "Sexual Healing." If I must experience a verisimilitude of Gaye's genius, the preferred option would be some dyke drag king a la Elvis Herselvis lipsynching Gaye's real voice. Just a suggestion.
Nominated for: Industrial/Dance
Their self-penned bio insists they aren't industrial, though they understand why they get pigeonholed (like, by whom?) as such: "because the style of music the band creates is partially comprised of mechanical and electronic beats and sounds." But, they go on, the band is about more than that: They "have a much broader commercial appeal than the term industrial may imply." So there you have it: If industrial at its best offers anonymous rage bellowed over a metallic barrage, then these boys dish out industrial at its most top-of-the-pops mediocre. They exist solely to be stars--from bio: "Jason Jones has been striving for musical stardom since he was 17"--and make music not because they must, but solely because they desire easy fame. Which is a fine enough reason, I guess; guys who look like they do need something to help them get laid. But the need to be famous offers piss-poor inspiration when it comes time to write songs, and these boys are angry solely because they aren't Gravity Kills or Stabbing Westward or Tool. Nothing worse than cranky white guys who want what they will never have.
Nominated for: Funk/R&B
There are two things about college towns that you can count on: There will be funk bands, and at least one will call itself Function Junction. We don't exactly know why college towns sprout funk bands with such alarming regularity; maybe it's the number of parties generated, or the fact that a brain clouded with malted hops and bong resin will dance to anything. As for the name Function Junction, it's a common malady among funk bands to try to work the word "funk" somewhere into their band name, and usually into six or seven song titles ("Give Up the Funk," "We Want the Funk," "Funk It Up," etc). Any funk band worth its salt has at one time considered the moniker--then usually rejected it because it's so obvious. (Funkadelic got there first, last, and always.)
Here's the problem: in Dallas and Denton, there is at least one band that goes by Function Junction, but there could be three: Function Junction, Funktion Junktion, and Dysfunktion Junction. We're not sure if the multiple Function Junctions are the result of misspellings by clubs or if there are actually three different bands who unfortunately go by this name. No amount of reporting has been able to clear up the matter, but that's OK. We've seen the band that spells its name Function Junction, and they were exactly what you expect in a funk band: a groove-happy, bass-slapping party band. If the nomination was actually meant for another band, we're pretty sure the previous description would still apply.
Grand Street Cryers
Nominated for: Best Act Overall, Alternative Rock/Pop, Male Vocalist (Tim Locke), Songwriter (Tim Locke), Single Release ("Angie Wood"), Album Release (Steady on Shaky Ground, Rhythmic Records)
The Grand Street Cryers story starts innocuously enough. The band--then known as Dead City Radio--contributed a song to a benefit compilation put together by a group of students at Collin County Community College, 1996's Eat Yer Vegetables. The song, "Angie Wood," was good enough that local radio gave it a couple of spins. Then some more. Then a lot more. If you think you haven't heard it, you're probably wrong. "Angie Wood" has the kind of bouncy hook and indelible chorus that radio programmers crave, a statement of fact confirmed by the song's continued appeal--not to mention its second straight nomination for Single Release of the Year.
If "Angie Wood" penciled in the Grand Street Cryers' name at the top of the Local Band Most Likely to Succeed list, then the album that followed, Steady on Shaky Ground, rewrote their name in ink. The album featured more of the same jangly folk-pop, though only one song--the sprightly "You Win Again"--could match the exuberance of "Angie Wood." Steady on Shaky Ground is radio-friendly without being middle-of-the road, though at times it does cross over into Toad the Wet Sprocket territory. The band--singer-guitarist Tim Locke, bassist Fred Koehn, drummer Max Linter, and guitarists Steve Duncan and Greg Beutel--even included a couple of songs that showed a bit of a country influence (the train-a-comin' rhythm of "Loser Not Blues," the pedal steel on "Any City").
A big key to the album's success is Locke's voice, a soothing instrument that possesses a range equal to any other singer in town. His laid-back singing style and the band's vaguely non-threatening folk-pop sensibility has led to more than a few comparisons to Jackopierce, a slight you wouldn't wish on your worst enemy. Those comparisons should vanish with the release of new material--sometime in the near future--which shows off a darker, less jangly side of the band.
Hard Night's Day
Nominated for: Cover Band
Everyone, even rednecks and Reds, likes the Beatles--and if you hear someone say different, he's just a goddamned liar, pining away in denial. Whether it's the mop-topped pop or the latter-day hirsute guru infestations, the boogie-rock and roll retreads or the philharmonic epics, even when pooped out as Muzak or sung by Ringo, Lennon's and McCartney's songs give you no choice. You're predestined to like them. Even boob-jobs such as William Shatner's "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" can make you smile as much as The Breeders' superior stab at "Happiness is a Warm Gun." All this makes Hard Night's Day's job much, much easier. These guys are preaching to the choir, for Chrissakes. As long as they stay reverentially true, the word and the chord of the Fab Four will comfort you. Since Hard Night's Day has been known to actually channel the songs note for note on occasion, tribute act isn't just a fancy synonym for cover band--it's the God's honest truth.
Nominated for: Local Musician of the Year, Jazz
Behind the drum kit, Earl Harvin is still larger than life; he's a frontman behind the action, looming over the bassist or pianist or sax player even though obscured by the snares and cymbals. He contains such knowledge and talent that he can't be expected to just keep the beat--the room's too small for that, even when he's playing the arenas with Seal. That's why he plays with whoever asks him, whether it's MC 900 Ft Jesus or Seal or Shara or Johnny Reno or his own prog-punk band rubberbullet or his monster jazz ensemble, because he can't contain himself playing just one thing, night after night. To ask him to perform one music would be like asking Michael Johnson to stop running in the middle of the race--Harvin's got too many places to go, and it seems as though there are never enough seconds in a minute.
Harvin seems such an anomaly at times. He's a jazz purist whose albums on Leaning House (1995's Trio/Quartet and last year's majestic Strange Happy with pianist Dave Palmer) suggest Blue Note brilliance, but he's just as comfortable making a brutal noise with rubberbullet as he is a beautiful one with Palmer. Or perhaps we're looking at this all wrong: He adores tradition, but abhors its shackles, rendering moot the adjective "straight-ahead jazz" that separates the purists from the Spyro Gyra fans. Indeed, on Trio/Quartet and Strange Happy, Harvin and Palmer create a brand of jazz that twists, bends, turns in on itself, loses all form, then snaps back into shape at just the last moment. Even the ballads are more than just pretty; they're flesh rendered in hushed tones and soft brushes. The albums and the rare live shows are just as thrilling as a rubberbullet gig, just as visceral, just as chaotic, just as stirring; to Harvin, tradition is about at once respecting and destroying what came before, reshaping a malleable history on the fly. To Harvin, the only thing set in stone is what he hasn't tried, which is the mark of a true great.
Nominated for: Blues
Why is it that an obviously talented white female blues aficionado like Maylee Thomas is relegated to performing sludgy, chorus-heavy rock-blues while an obviously talented white male blues aficionado like Brian "Hash Brown" Calway is ushered directly into the temple and allowed to tend the blooze flame with raunchy, uncommercial purism? There's no way a young female blues acolyte would be allowed to tread the lauded path of former Connecticut dweller Calway, who's logged as many hours hosting area blues nights as actually sweating through performances. This former confidante of ZuZu Bollin and Henry Qualls--not to mention the mentor of so many young musicians, including Calways frontman Todd Deatherage--is a painfully imitative singer, but an engaging guitarist; so far, his modest, traditional talents seem best suited to master of ceremonies.
Hellafied Funk Crew
Nominated for: Funk/R&B, Rap/Hip-Hop
The members of Hellafied Funk Crew have every reason to hate me. A few weeks ago I called them--in no uncertain terms--the worst band in Dallas. After being assigned to write about the band for the Music Awards, I decided to listen to their self-titled album again and give the boys another shot. Upon further review: Hellafied Funk Crew still sucks, and I'm missing a half hour of my life that I'll never get back.
Whether you love them or hate them, you have to admit that the only funky thing about Hellafied Funk Crew is the second word in its name. Only slightly funkier than George Will, the band is barely fit to carry George Clinton's rainbow-colored jock. It just goes to show how important name recognition is in contests like this. Here's a dirty little secret about the Music Awards: It's damn hard to fill out some of these categories.
As far as Hellafied Funk Crew's inclusion in the Rap/Hip-Hop category, the band couldn't rhyme its way out of a CD jewel case, and its hop is all too hip, done to death by lightweights like 311. It kind of makes you pine for that Insane Clown Posse CD you traded in for cigarette money, because at least some of that was funny in a so-bad-it's-good way. This is just bad. If you're a fan of the band, go ahead and turn out the lights. I assure you, no one is home.
Nominated for: Blues
Over the years, Bugs Henderson has been virtually a perennial on this list. Sometimes he wins; sometimes, he finishes way back in the pack. But he's always here. And he probably will be until you have to pry the guitar from his dead, cold hands, which is the way it should be. For more than 40 years, Bugs has been doing his thing around these parts, but despite the fact that he's played with B.B. King, celebrated a birthday with Les Paul, gambled with Freddie King, done session work with Ike and Tina Turner, and is royalty in Sweden, he's not a household name here.
Yet those who recognize Bugs' moniker know he's dependable. He'll deliver an album just about every year, such as his newest Henderson and Jones, a Live at Poor David's release. He and his familial rhythm section, the Shuffle Kings, will play live somewhere around town at least once every month or so. And every time out, he gives you enough guitar wizardry to rock you and enough emotion to have you singing the blues. Vote for him or don't. It won't make a difference. You're welcome to do your thing. Rest assured, Bugs will do his.
Nominated for: New Act
Some bands seem to spring from thin air fully formed and radio-ready. The members show a knack for pulling together and stretching out the most immediate qualities of multiple genres--classic rock and grunge, funk and shiny pop--with dead-earnest lyrics over a super-slick presentation. Hi-Fi Drowning is one such band, joining the ranks of Grand Street Cryers and Deep Blue Something in this metroplex stew-pot of bands created, it seems, solely for rapid commercial trajectory.
The band's recent self-released, self-titled CD has all the bells and whistles that rock stations love to add to playlists. "Blame," the opener, starts with ominous atonal reverb before swirling into thick, glossy guitars and lead vocalist Eric Martin's heartfelt dissection of--you guessed it--a failed relationship. "Marilyn Manson's Children," a funk-rocker about lost and impressionable kids ("She's an angry child searching for a king, she says Marilyn Manson loves her soul/She's got black on her eyes, and you don't ask why, she wants what's mine...") has all the culture references and sonic hooks it can pack into its ethical little body. So gangway, credibility and dues-paying be damned. Word has it they've even got a demo deal with MCA. Then again, that is the home of the Nixons.
Nominated for: Country and Western
Suddenly, Brian Houser is everyone's Next Big Thang, hailed as the latest country-music savior even before his debut Never Look Back hits stores, which might happen in July. Maybe it's a case of jumping on the bandwagon before it leaves the station. Maybe country's in such dire need of repair that any 39-year-old Denton boy (by way of St. Louis) with an aw-shucks delivery, a little sharp wit, and good taste in covers makes for a decent messiah in these desperate times. (If local boy Ty Herndon's allowed to have a major-label career, then Houser ought to be appointed head of the Country Music Academy.) Houser--a Six Flags roller-coaster carpenter by day, Adair's journeyman by night--isn't a bad horse to bet on. He's got the kind of voice that makes a programming director get a little wet, a backup band that plays outlaw country like parolees and keeps the beat on a tight leash, and a pocketful of songs that will play to the purists and the revisionists. Indeed, the roster of musicians on Never Look Back reads more like the 1989 Deep Ellum outfield: Mitch Marine (formerly of Tripping Daisy and Brave Combo) on bass, Chris Claridy (ex-Fever in the Funkhouse, currently with Jack Ingram) on guitar, the Combo's Jeffrey Barnes on sax, and Sara Hickman on vocals.
"The Dog is Mine" is the should-be single, the kind of song that'll get the good ol' boys hollering and make their wimminfolk stare: "I got a message for the man who's screwing my wife," he begins, "I wanna thank you for takin' her out of my life." It's the stuff of which great country's made, a song about a dog that's really all about, well, pussy. The record swings with slide and organ and a little lifted twang, and it's better than most everything that comes out of Nashville; then again, so's anything that comes out of Cleveland. Houser's got a legit shot at something bigger than Adair's, if that's what he wants, but a word of caution: Houser ain't no overgrown 14-year-old girl from Garland, and today's overnight sensation is far too often tomorrow's carpenter once more. No one ever became a star before they released their record.
Nominated for: Country & Western
Jack Ingram began his musical life playing the local frat-house and coffeehouse circuit; strangers stumbling into his shows likely figured him for a folkie--Lord knows I did, and not a very good one at that--one of those guys who strums his acoustic guitar by candlelight because it makes the young girls moist with affection. He came off so sensitive, you just wanted to beat the crap out of him, and it didn't help matters that he kept releasing his little records on Rhythmic Records, the label owned by Jackopierce; sharing the profits with Garfunkel and Garfunkel renders you guilty by association. But a funny thing happened on the way to becoming the John Denver of fraternity row: Jack Ingram rounded himself up an assortment of top-notch Dallas club rockers (including Chris Claridy and Pete Coatney), fell in with Steve Earle, washed the folk right off his face, and did right by country after all.
Ingram's 1997 disc Livin' or Dyin'--his first album on a major label and the first to hold together from start to finish after a live disc and a few other indie excursions--exists in the flatlands separating the literate postgraduate country of Lyle Lovett and the broken-glass honky-tonk of coproducer Earle; it reeks of enough smoke to make you believe Ingram paid his dues in the clubs (and he did), but it doesn't roll around in the dust just to pretend it's a little dirty. Ingram's actually an intriguing case study when it comes to the modern-day country artist: the post-hat act who comes to country through rock and roll, the guy who rides into town in a beat-up pickup truck he bought last week. Ingram's a literate sort who favors Guy Clark and Jimmie Dale Gilmore covers ("Rita Ballou" and "Dallas," respectively), but their presence on the record only shows up Ingram's own shortcomings as a would-be poet (the guy actually gets "teardrops in my eyes," a phrase disallowed by the Country Music Association since 1964).
He tries to exist as both revivalist (he covers the 45-year-old gem "Dim Light, Thick Smoke [and Loud, Loud Music]" with barroom fervor) and revisionist (the opener "Nothin' Wrong with That" is a note-for-note carbon of Earle's own rip-roaring "I Ain't Ever Satisfied"); but it comes off like Lyle Lovett covering Tom T. Hall with Jerry Jeff Walker singing backup, which isn't as frightening as you'd think--indeed, it's a damned good time. Which is, perhaps, the point: Ingram chose Earle--a guy who started in the bars and ended up behind them--as a musical role model (hope it ends there) because they're both Texans infatuated with tradition but not too afraid to break free from those shackles. The trick now is to see whether Ingram delivers on his promise or takes Earle up on his threat, which, in the end, might actually do the boy a world of good.
Matt & Bubba Kadane (Bedhead)
Nominated for: Songwriter
It wouldn't be fair or valid to call Matt and Bubba Kadane, and their band Bedhead, mere revivalists. They certainly owe something to Lou Reed and John Cale for changing the way we think about music. An album like Beheaded probably couldn't have happened unless The Velvet Underground and Nico came before it. The frequent comparisons to the Velvet Underground are relevant, though only on a recommended-if-you-like basis. Bedhead meandered off the trail that Reed and Cale blazed long ago and created a sound that is uniquely its own.
It's also incorrect to label Bedhead a rock band, even though bands with three guitar players usually are. The music the band plays is related to rock only in instrumentation, in the sense that its music is produced using the standard guitar-bass-drums format. Little else that the band does resembles rock music, or at least what passes for such on the radio. The band--which includes Matt and Bubba on guitar and vocals, guitarist Tench Coxe, drummer Trini Martinez, and bassist Kris Wheat--does rock, but in another meaning of the word entirely, like a beer bottle that has haphazardly been placed too close to the edge of the bar; sometimes it teeters on the brink endlessly, other times it breaks apart into a thousand pieces.
Calling Bedhead minimalists misses the point. The band may not contain any extraneous elements, but it squeezes every drop of life out of what it does use. On their latest album, Transaction de Novo, basses and guitars are tuned to sound like anything but what they are supposed to, rhythms are pushed and pulled, three separate guitar melodies reveal themselves one by one and then intertwine. The songs that Matt and Bubba write are intricate--staggeringly complex when pulled apart, simply beautiful as a whole. At varying times, the songs can sound unplayable ("Psychosomatica") and catchy ("Extramundane"), but they are always full of nuances and textures. The only completely accurate thing to call the Kadanes and Bedhead is this: great.
Nominated for: Jazz
Do you really need someone else to tell you that Marchel Ivery is the embodiment of the legendary Texas tenor? Do you really need someone else to explain that Ivery's brisk saxophone bops and gentle crooning blues should be good enough for you, especially since it has been good enough for Red Garland, Wynton Marsalis, and Art Blakey? Really? Really? Well then, meet Joey DeFrancesco. That is to say, pick up Marchel Ivery Meets Joey DeFrancesco, the latest Ivery disc from local label Leaning House Jazz. As Leaning House co-founder Mark Elliott relays it, the well-versed organist was passing through Dallas and just "offered to stop by." Well, what a nice happenstance.
The session struts to life with "Blues Walk" and "Another Minor Thing" before Ivery slides into the ultra-cool for "Violets for Your Furs" and "Bag's Groove." Before the tape finishes rolling, DeFrancesco chases Ivery through "Lester Leaps In" and saunters with him in "Making Whoopie." But if the ending ache of "Lover Man" doesn't convince you that Marchel Ivery is the real deal, it doesn't matter what I say here. You obviously don't listen to anyone.
Kim Lenz and Her Jaguars
Nominated for: Rockabilly/Swing
Lenz is a bit upset she wasn't nominated in the female vocalist category--which she won only last year; she takes the slight with good-humored hurt, but she has a point--after all, who the hell is Shara? (He writes, meaning no offense.) But Lenz shouldn't take offense at the nominating committee's silly oversight. Besides, wouldn't she rather her whole band get the nod rather than just her alone? Indeed, Lenz's music is about the entire package--not just her retro good looks and 1950s fashion and Wanda Jackson pipes, but the old-school band behind her kicking a yesterday sound into tomorrow.
On the band's just-released self-titled debut, Lenz and the boys strive to recreate a music that died the moment Gene Vincent and Eddie Cochran got banged up in their infamous car wreck; rockabilly lived and died so quickly, it remained the most intact sound in rock and roll history, and Lenz's Jaguars keep hope alive by playing it so straight, you could use it as a level. Indeed, the record, with all the instruments recorded at the same time direct to one-track, sounds as though it was recorded from a distance. It's the work of fetishists who abhor modern technology and clean sound, who adore songs about kissin' and tellin', drivin' and dancin', and havin' a ball in the back of a 1957 Chevy. Lenz can sing, but more importantly, the band can play, and that's what turns a novelty act into art.
Little Jack Melody & His Young Turks
Nominated for: Avant-Garde/Experimental, Jazz
Little Jack epitomizes an unfortunate pop-music rule: If you don't fit neatly into a specific category, you can kiss the big time goodbye. Jack's music? Cabaret, oom-pah, Latin, Tin Pan Alley, jazz, fairy-tale, creepy, sensual, sad. How the hell can a narrow-minded rock fan process all that stimulation? Takes a smart listener to appreciate a truly smart musician.
Little Jack (his wife calls him Steve Carter) has the gift, all right. You'd be hard-pressed to find a better singer-songwriter in these parts, but his loyal following remains a cultish one. For more than eight years, the Denton-based Little Jack and his revolving-door band, the Young Turks--musicians accomplished on instruments as varied as flute and accordion and tuba and even harmonium--have been recording and performing with an unflinching stoicism that belies Jack's resignation to being the town eccentric. In between, the Steve Carter part of Jack writes scores for theater and such (you know, the kind of stuff that requires sheet music and theory). And during live shows, Jack comes off like a sober Tom Waits spliced with a smiling Glenn Miller--charismatic, cool, and utterly in control. You wanna shake the hand of the man behind the amazing music, but you don't want to invade his space.
The band's recordings present all the angles with intuitive precision; the latest, My Charmed Life (on Carpe Diem), may be the most complex and charming. From the wrenchingly melancholic "Barbie and Ken" (they fell in love at the dance) to the samba-tinged "Mr. Horizon" to the joyously frenetic "Kilroy Was Here," the album proves that Jack has no intention of boring himself with convention. But as he smilingly implies on the moody "Close, No Cigar," he knows he's destined to graceful, noble obscurity: "I coulda been a contender, I coulda been on TV/I coulda been big as Johnny Ray, I coulda been such a star/Now I'm crying another blues/Close, no cigar." Pity.
Nominated for: Avant-garde/Experimental
Just when things were getting kind of normal with the alt-space band Mazinga Phaser--they had released the surprisingly warm and reasonably (for them) directed bauble Abandinallhope (Idol Records) and were in the studio working on another--things got too normal, at least as far as band life goes. Indeed, they hit a common speed bump known as "irreconcilable differences," and suddenly, the majority of Mazinga Phaser decided they could no longer get along personally, professionally, or even musically with founder Wanz Dover, so they kicked him out.
But this is Mazinga Phaser we're talking about, so it could never be a completely normal breakup. Scuttlebutt abounds that Wanz is forming a new version of Mazinga, name intact, while singer Jessica Nelson, guitarist Eric Hermeyer, bassist Cole Wheeler, and drummer Mike Throneberry finish the new Mazinga album. Nelson reports to the contrary that Mazinga ends with these sessions. Via e-mail shorthand, she writes: "It is our wish that Mazinga Phaser is over, and [we] will see to it legally that it is. None of this 2 mazinga phaser's [sic] bullshit." Although one of the more irascible music writers here comments that only eight people really care about any of this--the band and the band's friends--you can't like seeing the end of any band that cares as much about putting on a dazzling show as putting out dazzling music. And you have to wonder: Who gets custody of the visual interpretation?
Nominated for: Rap/Hip-Hop
Mental Chaos is from Dallas, but they could be from Brooklyn, or the Bronx, or...the point is, the duo--rapper DJ Rodney "The Messiah" and producer N-Hance--may live here, but the music they make has a distinctly East Coast vibe. The beats that N-Hance lays down come from the same streets that groups like Gang Starr and A Tribe Called Quest walk on, addictive and snappy and funky. DJ Rodney's rhymes flow as easily as found money, sometimes boastful but never straying into how-to-be-a-playa territory.
His wordplay is inventive at times ("I'm on the run with more rockets than Houston/I'll be coming through your town like the civil rights revolution"); rewind-the-tape hilarious at others ("My strokes be more different that Kimberly fucking Dudley"). It's refreshing to hear a band like this, especially after being subjected to an endless parade of so-called Third Coast bands recycling the same lyrical topics (drugs, guns and, uh, hos) over the same lumbering Parliament-by-way-of-Funkadelic beats. It also makes you wonder why Dallas hip-hop is so underground that it could be used as a Mafia safe house.
Nominated for: Folk/Acoustic, Female Vocalist
Meredith Miller is three years back from Austin. Last year, Miller's fate merged with those of guitarist Reed Easterwood (POWWOW) and drummer Bryan Wakeland (Fever in the Funkhouse, Tripping Daisy), and now she's formed her first band--for recently recorded samples, check out this year's Scene, Heard CD and our Web site (www.dallasobserver.com). Miller decided she wanted more flesh in her sound, and she had grown tired of being the single woman with guitar drowned out by the conversation of crowds at bars and coffeehouses; like it or not, a bunch of guys playing instruments behind you makes more people listen. This recent metamorphosis nicely parallels Miller's two Dallas Observer Music Awards nominations: She's gone from folk/acoustic songbird to band-fronting female vocalist.
Nominated for: Funk/R&B
Mingo Fishtrap rolls through "Sitting On the Dock of the Bay" during a gig at the "N" Bar, a job that seems snazzy but in reality is probably a baby-step away from working a hotel lounge. The Fishtrap come at the vanilla-funkster genre by way of the Cajun-fried, N'awlins bullfrog front man who can belt it out when he wants, but seems more enthralled with offering stage patter in a raspy voice. But the nouveau riche, or nouveau trendy, or nouveau-whatever-they-are audience is digging it. The middle-aged divorcees wired on $5-call drinks and $50 champagne take to the floor whenever they hear a song that sounds familiar--which, they fail to realize, is all of them--to dance the white-man's lament and the Funky Chicken to funk cover tunes.
This crowd complements the 'Trap well: After hacking through Van Morrison's "Brown-Eyed Girl" in an off-the-cuff, mocking way where it's unclear whether the band hates the song and plays it because the frat crowd demands it or whether the band likes the tune but just doesn't have the balls to admit it, Mingo Fishtrap whips through some songs off its own debut disc. The band puts over the originality with added intensity, and the crowd responds: The songs aren't familiar, but the audience recognizes that after the band gave them what they wanted to hear for 45 minutes, it was now giving the audience what the band needed them to hear. As the scrawny blond kid with the saxophone hammers it down in the finale, giving it his all, Mingo Fishtrap proves that white-boy funk bands can grow up, at least for a few minutes at a time.
Nominated for: Rockabilly/Swing
Used to be a time when everyone in this town went country sooner or later; now, after a while, everyone seems to think they're playing Vegas with Sammy and Dean. It'd be easy enough to question Bill Longhorse's move toward satin-doll pop: His previous bands, Rumble and Sixty-Six, were more suited for the last dive bar on earth than the nicest lounge in Reno. In Sixty-Six, especially, Longhorse sang with a growl that had its own name, sounding like Leonard Cohen on a Tom Waits bender. Behind him Nate Fowler and Gabby Ramirez and Toby Sheets couldn't decide whether they wanted to fuck or fight--damn, it made for some exciting nights, watching that band stay together by falling apart.
But you can only ride the bronco so many times before your ass starts to ache, so Longhorse jumped off and found a little safe haven playing guitar in a band where he isn't the frontman, even if he's still the star. And Mr. Pink isn't your run-of-the-till lounge act: These boys can play, tossing out Sinatra and Martin standards with silken ease. Live, Jefferson Stewart isn't the Dino he thinks he is in the studio (his "Sway" is so dead-on it's spooky)--more like Jack Jones before he climbed aboard the Love Boat. But that doesn't diminish the impact one bit: When you're looking for a place to gamble away a little hard-earned scratch, Mr. Pink is the safest bet in the house.
Nominated for: Funk/R&B
In Denton, you can't swing a dead cat without hitting a herd of white boys with horns and plenty of hot air to spare. They come, party down, and eventually--if you are lucky--go home. No (relative) harm, no foul. You're not going to stumble upon a wee-willy-Parliament to be sure, but considering the funk alternative--311 clones ad nauseam--the saxes and trombones are far easier to get down. As if the name doesn't say it all, Mushroom Groovy fancies themselves a bunch of little merry pranksters, with jams focusing on getting high, making (preferably free) love, and getting high. With songs such as the quick-stepping ska of "Mystic Purple Cola" and the manic "Mighty Mow," the vibe stays light and searching. The independent CD Fungusamungus gives a good 40-plus-minute overview in a digestible take-home size, but as the live track shows, this type of funk is always better in the flesh, if for no other reason than you won't tear up your stereo when you swing that dead cat.
Nominated for: Rap/Hip-Hop
They're witty enough to sample Gene Wilder's Willy Wonka ("So you get nothing! You lose! Good day, sir!") and keen enough to sample Isaac Hayes' "Pursuit of the Pimpmobile" for a little roll-with-it vibe; the beats are light and tight, and the braggadocio's whimsical and wicked without ever losing the wit that comes with turning adversaries into dog meat without ever breaking a sweat. Indeed, these guys have been around long enough to make a few enemies, and the track "Elimination of an Artificial Ingredient" (found on the new Scene, Heard collection) reminds you of a time when rap artists got even with their foes with words, not deeds. "I've been rhymin' since you were a hole inside your daddy's Trojan," warns Chuck Smooth in a voice so deep and deadpan you could never imagine him cracking a smile. "Fuck with Native Poet, your block is now the Gaza Strip." This is some serious shit, Charlie gone nuts in the Chocolate Factory.
Native Poet, which also features Tahiti on tracks and The Cut Selectah Baby G scratching all hell out of that vinyl, wanders the line separating the politicians and the gangstas, packing so much rage into the funk. And I can only hope, pray, that "Elimination" is aimed at Pimpadelic (hence the sample?), especially with this stream of bile: "Fake white niggaz, lock 'em up in Rikers, Lew Sterrett, and Alcatraz/Yo', give 'em the gas." God bless Native Poet, but watch your step.
The Necro Tonz
Nominated for: Cover Band
By all cynical critical standards, the Necro Tonz should get boring a lot faster than they do. Then again, Alice Cooper and KISS, two long-buried blockbuster acts they cover, should've gotten boring long before they started selling millions of records. The comic-book premise of the Necros--they're a motley crew assassinated by the Mob and buried in the Las Vegas deserts, only to rise zombie-like from Cold War nuclear testing and form a lounge act--sounds dormant before you finish the description. Yet the semi-satanic shtick that infuses this cover act is canny enough about the necrophilia underlying the whole genre of cover bands and musically adept enough that lead singer Necrophilia and her quartet of multi-instrumental musicians can swing impressively on "Suicide is Painless" and be salaciously somber on "I Put a Spell on You." The heavy makeup they all wear and the funeral-home patter Necrophilia spouts between tunes are concessions to the grim gimmick; their rhythmic confidence and Necrophilia's vocal command are something more.
Nominated for: Best Act Overall, Country & Western, Male Vocalist (Rhett Miller), Local Musician of the Year (Miller), Songwriter (Miller), Single Release ("Timebomb"), Album Release (Too Far To Care, Elektra Records)
pHitchhike to Rhome, Wreck Your Life, and last year's Too Far To Care (the band's Elektra Records debut) contain, between them, a couple dozen winning moments; they're each delightful, literate, polished pop records dolled up in thrift-store western wear and borrowed twangs. They're a No Depression trifecta, the kind of records made by young men who figured out after so much trial and error that they need look only as far as their back yard for inspiration. Back in the day, Rhett Miller used to sing Brit; now, he affects a hitch in his giddy-up every now and then, but I have no doubt this year's model is closer to real life than any of its predecessors. A little age and experience have turned Miller into a smart, substantive songwriter with a little meat on his frail bones. Miller's a long way into a career, having produced one solo album (Mythologies), a handful of cassettes with Rhett's Exploding and Sleepy Heroes and whatever else he's done, and now three records with the 97's. Miller has made giant strides forward in a short amount of time; he has grown up in public like few other local performers and survived the ordeal.
Indeed, Too Far to Care is a bigger, brasher counterpart to its two predecessors; songs such as "Curtain Calls" and "Timebomb" play harder than anything Miller has done in his young life, their pop melodies colored by a rich country shuffle. "Niteclub" swings with a reckless Hootenanny vibe ("I just might get drunk tonight, and burn the nightclub down," Miller sings). "Four Leaf Clover" gets some extra kick from guest Exene Cervenkova; Rhett's longtime collaborator Murry Hammond takes a surprising and heartfelt lead on "West Texas Teardrops"; and the whole package is a soundtrack to a road trip across Route 66 ("Just Like California"). These boys aren't country, or what passes for it these days; they're better than that.
Nominated for: Metal
Pantera gets dogged constantly for its glam-metal past, but it never had one, really. Maybe there was a pair of Lycra zebra-print trousers or two pictured on those Metal Magic or I Am the Night LPs, and bassist Rex used to have the surname Rocker, but after four albums of filthy gristle, it's time to put that epithet to rest. The best you can say is that Pantera pulled a "Celtic Frost in reverse" move: When those screwy Swiss death-metalers became pretty poofs for 1988's Cold Lake, fans were hurling themselves off the Matterhorn for weeks.
Pantera live, featured on last year's Official Live disc, is all bone and taut muscle: "A New Level" is possibly the most galvanizing song any band has ever used to begin a set, maybe even surpassing the Stones' "Start Me Up" (Apple Computers should co-opt it--take that, Microsoft!). The brothers Paul--Vinnie on drums, Darrell on strafing guitar--shuffle and skid like a tap-dancing Sherman tank, and manic-depressive singer Philip Anselmo--long recovered from shooting something other than empties in his back yard--is a gnashing wolverine; it's hard to take Anselmo's lyrics very seriously when he's singing in a throaty bark, "Fuck the world for all it's worth/Every inch of planet Earth." The Great Southern Trendkill, released in 1996, was a killjoy of an album too, but that's to be expected from Anselmo, a man singularly unsuited for the role of rock star. The taste of rubber and leather must be getting a bit old after the many times he's put his foot in his mouth--odes to blue Valium ("10s") aren't so neato in light of Anselmo's 1996 drug events--but after having seen him perform, I do actually believe him when he says he's always misinterpreted. He's far from eloquent, but as a self-pitying loose cannon, he's fascinating: "Are you ready to rock?" it's not.
Nominated for: Rap/Hip-Hop
If it's a joke, then pardon me for missing the punch line; if it's parody, then excuse the hell out of me for not cracking a grin. They know they're "the most hated band in Dallas." They say so right at the beginning of the brand-new Statutory Rap, introducing a batch of songs that include such memorable titles as "Tits," "Middle Finger," "Pissin' Needles," and "Gaybird Fever." And they revel in their smarm, rolling around like pigs in shit. The music reveals they've got some good taste buried beneath that dumb-ass demeanor--though no better than the Red Hot Chili Peppers around the time of Mother's Milk. But it isn't funky enough or novel enough to warrant the time it takes to weed through the inane, junior-high misogyny ("Drop your drawers tonight/If you don't want to show pussy, baby/Tits will be all right") and smug racism. (The Amos and Andy voice at the intro makes Birth of a Nation seem positively progressive.)
They're white boys who get off on looting the ghetto, neither understanding or appreciating the culture they appropriate; they mistake their dicks for microphones and think a little embezzled funk is enough to put over the joke. But even the dim self-awareness ("Hated") isn't enough to justify the end result: People hate Pimpadelic for a reason--because, in the end, they don't play well as caricatures or exaggerations; they're having far too much fun to dismiss their puerile hip-hop as just a benign goof. A joke is never funny when it's mean-spirited, and music is never good when it's this bad.
Professor D & the Playschool
Nominated for: Cover Band
Although nominated for best cover band, Professor D and his crew's two CD releases, Certified Funky (1996) and Certified Funky 2 ('98) showcase the band's original material, much of it penned by frontman Donnie Heydon. The "cover act" label stems from its live-show circuit (Arlington clubs, Dallas Alley, frat parties, etc.) and its self-imposed "party band" status, playing happy-happy, good-time funk-lite. The seven smiling members--six white-bread suburban men and one Dorie Love, a bopping, gyrating chick who sings up in front--seem content with their local loyal following and their innocuous reputation; their idea of "racy" are lyrics like, "Pussycat's in the house (meow! meow!)/I could be your lover boy, you could be my thaang/Open up your heart, and let that kitty swang/Here kitty, kitty!" Words like that epitomize the harmless fun a party band has to generate to get a strange and general crowd drinking, throwing down, and eventually throwing up.
Nominated for: Most Improved Act
Ben Kweller never had a chance, and he knew it too, even at the tender-tough age of 16. Even before the world had heard a note of Radish's Restraining Bolt, the pressure sat on his chest and threatened to crush the breath out of him--first, from Mercury Records President Danny Goldberg, then from The New Yorker, then from his father and perhaps even himself. He was more overhyped than Betamax and doomed to the same end, obsolete even before unwrapped. No band in the world, especially one fronted by a mere child who had barely played the clubs, could have been expected to have broken the top of the pops right out of the gate; at best, Radish might have made it as a novelty, but novelties wear thin once it's discovered how poorly they're made. And so Restraining Bolt sold a few thousand records; a couple of songs made it on to radio and MTV, and then it disappeared to the used-CD bins, where no one bought it even at the nicest price. Seems every kid in America already has a Nirvana album.
But why disparage Kweller for making a record thick with the echoes of his heroes? Why write him off, as Spin recently did, before he's even had the chance to find his own voice, much less let it break? Restraining Bolt is a perfectly mediocre record--for teen rock heroes, Ben Lee is a safer bet, though no less derivative in his own endorsed-by-Sonic-Youth indie-rock fashion--but that's precisely what ex-Nirvana manager Goldberg wanted, an album that recalled his old buddy Kurt without actually digging him up. Kweller, a kid from Greenville for whom grunge hadn't lost its flavor, made the record he was supposed to make; he is, remember, just a child, a pawn in a machine much bigger than he will ever be, and what Goldberg wanted, he got--right in the mouth. The whole experience has left Kweller a little wiser, a little wearier, and a little more gun-shy; he wants to prove he's not a dud in the same cannon that fired Hanson into the Milky Way. And so he has hired the wonder that is Joe Butcher as his bassist, and one can only hope young Ben will let old Joe show him how they do it in the real world. The addition of Butcher should make them, well, most improved, but only if the boy occasionally looks to his bassist to see what it takes to be a rock and roll man.
Nominated for: Rockabilly/Swing
He's a sax maniac from way back, when Tango's frogs were all the rage and lounge music was more nostalgia than capital-N now. For years, Reno made a living by providing the ultimate good-time music, swinging crystal-clear notes for the Lite-beer crowd, long before martinis began flowing like water. That he went swing is hardly a surprise, and hardly a sell-out pose: After all, what was his part-time boss Chris Isaak if not a 1950s throwback of a different breed, a pin-up rockabilly who looked like Elvis and hurt like Chet Baker? Reno's brand of lounge is hardly as one-note as the term implies. His 1997 disc Swinging and Singing aches with B-3 soul, as Jimmy Pugh and Red Young (the latter is the blood coursing through L.A. institution Joey Altruda's veins) play the hell out of their Hammonds and turn such standards as "One For My Baby," "My Baby Just Cares For Me," and "Harlem Nocturne" into stirring, swinging affairs that would make both Francis Albert Sinatra and Jimmy Smith so very proud.
The lounge lizard shtick wears well on Reno, master of his domain at the Red Jacket: If his sax always seemed a little sweet behind Isaak's brooding rockabye blues, now it's got just the right sound--it smolders, like a cigarette down to the butt. And if Reno ain't exactly Chet Baker or Sinatra (or Chris Isaak, for that matter), his somber, sensitive delivery is Rat-Pack perfect, like Joey Bishop on a bender. Book this boy in Vegas or the Viper Room, and start printing the money.
Reverend Horton Heat
Nominated for: Rockabilly/Swing
There's nothing particularly cutting-edge about rockabilly music. You've got your amped-up reverb and tremolo, your stand-up bass slaps, your clickity-clack drums, your tall tales of boozin' and hellin' and cattin' around, and that, my friend, is the way rockabillies like it. But it's not necessarily what the kiddies like. The kiddies are more than happy to put away the hair grease, let the high and tight grow out, and trade in the '57 Chevy at the first sign of anything new and hip and now--like, say, a Volkswagen Beetle. To Jim Heath's credit, Reverend Horton Heat managed to keep the kids happy as he played fast and loose with the limits of genre, even if purebreds weren't too sure. It may have been as simple as hanging with edgy people, such as Gibby Haynes on the essential Full Custom Sounds of... and Al Jourgensen on the uneven Liquor in the Front. It may be that when push comes to shove and it's time to throw down live, the Rev leans on the "rock" far more than on the "billy."
Whatever it is, it seems like the Rev doesn't think it's enough. With each album, including the new Space Heater, the Rev is inching closer to a pre-packaged, radio-ready product and away from his dyed-but-true rockabilly roots. The new single "Lie Detector," though catchy in a power-chord kind of way, seems a calculated effort to alternative-up a basic start-stop beat. "For Never More" screams metal. And there's no sense dwelling once again on the "rapping" on "Revolution Under Foot." But the Rev of old isn't gone. It's there riding high in the instrumentals "Pride of San Jacinto" and "The Prophet Stomp," and even "Jimbo Song," if you can get past the goofy cheerleader chorus. The sinister creep and croon of "Hello Mrs. Darkness" is a song that could have glowed with a little more nurturing, but considering that the Interscope bio brags that the album was written and recorded in 30 days, we may have found the problem.
The other, and probably more accurate, theory is that you can only pretend rockabilly is edgy for so long. You eventually have to stand by it, everyone else be damned, like a Ronnie Dawson; break free of it and have hit songs on the radio like the Rev seems to want; or wallow in it and bloat into a cartoon like the Cramps. When you see Western print shirts and Saturn's rings on the same album's cover art, you can't help but get stomach pains.
Nominated for: Metal
If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then REO Speedealer should be extremely flattered. In a close approximation of that band's modus operandi, Roller (originally Steamroller 88) plays ass-whippin', shit-kickin' metal at punk's breakneck velocity, sounding at times like a trailer-park version of Metallica with Jim Heath--hopped up on a couple of lines of crank and a case of Lone Star Light--singing lead. The quartet--guitarist Alex Hill, singer-bassist B.C., singer-guitarist Scot C., and drummer Shandy J. McKay--even looks more than a little like REO Speedealer (gimme caps, dirty T-shirts, wall-to-wall tattoos), but then again, so does the entire crowd at the Orbit Room on any given night.
The band's latest album, South Bound and Down, is a late-night journey through the back roads of Texas in a bitchin' Camaro. Song titles such as "Road Kill Hangover," "Whip It Out," and "Speed Demon" should give you a good idea of where that journey is headed. The guitars are as jagged as a broken bottle of Jack Daniel's, and the lyrics might be offensive ("Rock & Roll Holocaust") if you could ever decipher them. The album shows that Roller has the chops to rise to the top of the Dallas metal scene, provided they ditch the "cowboys from hell" shtick. We liked it better the first time.
Nominated for: Reggae
It's understandable that local reggae outfit Root 420--who, according to two club bookers, earn numerous phone calls the week after a show from audience members wanting more--started last year's set at Fort Worth's Caravan of Dreams with the self-deprecating announcement: "We're a reggae band...from Fort Worth." This Cowtown anomaly was opening for Ladysmith Black Mambazo, one of the world's most beloved and influential purveyors of South African rhythms. Root 420 proceeded to charm the audience with a tight, jumpy set more energetic than roots reggae yet professional enough to have The Dallas Morning News' Mighty Thor declare that they seemed like Jamaicans to him. The mix of reggae covers in their set still typically outweighs their original tunes, which probably still makes them more a party band than pure purveyors of the Jamaican sound. But the increasingly large numbers who flock to their Fort Worth shows should give them the chance to take flight into a more personal vision.
Nominated for: Rap/Hip-Hop
Ty Macklin is the undisputed MVP of the local hip-hop community. The former member of Decadent Dub Team and the founding father of Phlomatics has produced almost all the essential bands in town, from Native Poet to Mental Chaos to his own Shabazz 3; he provides them with wisdom, guidance, counseling, support, and the best sound no money can buy. Macklin even worked on Erykah Badu's Baduizm--he produced "Drama"--having known the South Dallas native long before she became hip-hop's answer to Billie Holiday. For years, Macklin (who goes by the handle XL7, because he's such a self-proclaimed square) has crafted diamonds out of archaic coal, fashioning beautiful R&B out of old Freddie Hubbard and Cannonball Adderly samples and layering mellow beats over the most soothing of soul. In 1996, Musician magazine even honored Shabazz 3 by naming them one of the country's best unsigned bands (they were the only winners from Texas). Yet despite the impressive credentials, Macklin and Bobby Dee and Fatz still languish in obscurity even in their hometown; were it not for EZ Eddie D on KNON, they wouldn't even exist outside of Macklin's home studio. It's criminal.
Bobby Dee's resigned to the fact that Shabazz 3, long nominated in the rap/hip-hop category but never winners (last year, they lost to Pimpadelic, which only proves there is no God), are in for an uphill fight. As he hands over a copy of the band's new CD single, he offers with a shrug, "Yeah, like we'll win." To that end, the band refuses to release an album until the brand-new EP, Live or Die (which contains five mixes of the title track and "I Gosta Handle Mine"), makes a dent on radio; better to wait for the one golden opportunity than shoot your whole wad in a vacuum. The disc is a satisfying tease, exuding a gentle feel-good vibe that sounds like liquid '70s sunshine, but you want more. And so does Shabazz 3.
Leroy Shakespeare and The Ship of Vibes
Nominated for: Reggae
If Leroy Shakespeare and The Ship of Vibes thought their 1990 disc Jubilation was overproduced, right down to the Edie Brickell guest vocal that was more appropriate than anyone will ever admit now, then the new Time Has Come remedies that problem in a jiffy. This thing is so underproduced, it sounds like it was made with a hand-held Casio and a Mr. Microphone. Not to disparage what's clearly the product of much sweat and deliberation--indeed, to self-release a sophomore effort seven years later involves much cogitation--but this is not an act to be enjoyed and appreciated at demo speed. The record just plays a little cold; it's sometimes less about the songs and more about the ease and inexpensiveness of using keyboards instead of real horns and drums. Time Has Come recalls modern-day R&B records that substitute synth for soul, discarding the strings and horns because they're too expensive. But being cheap, even out of necessity, comes with its own high price.
Not that Time Has Come is unlistenable or unlikable. The remake of "I Shot the Sheriff" (retitled here as "Didn't Shoot the Deputy") is the hypnotizing highlight, dub-funk-rock-pop during which a thousand things seem to be going on at the same time; it's a swirling collage of styles, proof that sometimes technology works for and not against you. And the disc starts to pick up steam from there. Like a good high, it just takes a while to kick in. For the most part, the material's still strong, Shakespeare's delivery is still the stuff of which ganja fever-dreams are made, and the direction's interesting enough to hold your attention in more than just a traffic-accident sort of way. The band, which also includes Arthur Riddles on bass and keyboards and Dave Burris on guitar, is apparently on some sort of dub-new age trip, though that may also be the keyboards and weed talking. But reggae at its we're-jammin' best is still about creating a vibe without having to plug in all the equipment, and Jah only knows what they could do without the Caribbean restaurant instrumentation.
Nominated for: Female Vocalist
Two years is a long time for anyone to spend recording an album, especially a debut album. But that's exactly what Shara Worden did. Augmented by an all-star cast of local musicians--including Earl Harvin and Dave Monsey (MC 900 Ft Jesus, Meredith Miller)--Shara toiled in the studio endlessly, making sure her baby sounded just right. And it does sound good. The production quality on Word rivals that of any big-budget major-label album. The problem is, the songs never rise above neo-folkie, hippie-chick schlock. The album could have stood with a little less tinkering with the sound and a lot more work on the songs.
More than anything, Word is a showcase for Shara's voice. Her vocals are so out front, it almost sounds as if she's singing a cappella. It seems like a waste of time to hire Earl Harvin to play in your band and then not really use him effectively. Her voice (think of Jewel, then stop thinking) can't really carry the entire album. It sounds great for a song or two, then it becomes tedious, then it becomes grating. It would sound loads better in a rougher setting, which is almost completely absent on Word. See you in two years.
Nominated for: Reggae
A year and a half ago, as the Grown-Ups were getting set to play one of their last shows, someone asked the band's singer-saxman-founder Dan Bailey about Dallas' ska scene. "Well, we've been the ska scene for three years, so if we haven't inspired anybody to start a band by now, then it's probably not going to happen," he said. A few bands have been added to Dallas' tenuous ska scene since then, but it's doubtful that the Grown-Ups inspired any of them. It's more likely that ska's national mini-revival was more influential.
The Ska Walkers are probably the best of the lot, but that's kind of like saying the Rangers are the best professional baseball team in Arlington. The band is more ska than punk, though its music is far less traditional than the Grown-Ups' Two-Tone-era ska. Still, the Ska Walkers are definitely more of a worthy successor to the Grown-Ups' legacy than other ska-influenced bands in the area--PEN 15, Kid Chaos--whose knowledge of ska's history seems to begin and end with Less Than Jake's last album. Plus, the band has the best flier art in town, hands down. One example: a perfectly drawn likeness of Yoda, Luke Skywalker's 900-year-old mentor in the Star Wars trilogy, dressed in the standard Two-Tone-era getup--black suit, tie, porkpie hat and sunglasses--and skanking. That has to be worth a few votes.
Paul Slavens Trio
Nominated for: Avant-garde/Experimental
Paul Slavens is nothing if not experimental. Though still mostly recognized for the wonder-why-it's-gone, jazz-cum-rock band Ten Hands, which at its best played away rock conventions while still fulfilling the necessary expectations, Slavens continues to pop up in the oddest places doing the oddest things. Aaargh, he's been a pirate hocking lottery tickets on ye olde television commercials; he's had tiny stints doing sketch comedy at KD Studios; he's been caught hiding out with Dave Abbruzzese's Green Romance Orchestra. And on many a Wednesday night, he's been known to turn Club Dada into a, well, Freak Show.
Dr. Paul Slavens' Freak Show, as whatever magic he's pulling from his bag of tricks is usually billed, could be damn near anything, but last year, as many times as not, it took the form of a trio, with Reggie Rueffer (ex-Spot) on violin and George Dimitri (Dallas Opera, Fort Worth Symphony) on bass. Swing, C&W, jazz, tango, polka, show tunes, polished traditionals, improvised incidentals--all get equal audience with Slavens, and all have equal chance of being either silly or sublime. If you are lucky, you might catch him taking a stab at one of his own personal "serious art music" piano pieces from his self-done album Absolute. Serious personal piano music? Yuck, isn't that John Tesh territory? Yeah, but talk about the avant-garde.
Nominated for: Country & Western
Slobberbone's lone nomination in the C&W category doesn't do them justice: If Barrel Chested wasn't among the best records of 1997 made by one of the best bands ever to hail from these parts, then Pimpadelic's got talent, and Deep Blue Something are still the next Beatles. These boys are the anonymous heroes of the No Depression lot, so authentic, they're almost parody--born in small-town Texas, raised underneath big skies, reared in small pool halls where they set up equipment behind the tables and the cases of beer. Slobberbone--still the worst name for one of the best bands around--might have come out in 1993 sounding like some rip-roaring Uncle Tupelo homage, but five years later, they're their own brand of special: Last year's epic Barrel Chested, released on the Austin indie Doolittle, catches and passes anything Whiskeytown or the Bottle Rockets released last year or forever. It's a remarkable follow-up to a catch-you-from-behind debut (1994's self-released Crow Pot Pie), a record about growing up on the access road to nowhere, watching the world and women pass you by as you pass out in a whiskey haze. The Old 97's may drive down big-city concrete-and-steel freeways; but Slobberbone are stuck in a flooded-out bar ditch somewhere between Denton and Oblivion.
This is a band that has tried for years to figure out what it is: Frontman Brent Best hires and fires fiddle players every other week; gigs are known to be recklessly perfect or incoherently sloppy, and the difference is subtle; and upon signing to Doolittle in 1995, the group re-recorded Crow Pot Pie and buffed its necessary rough edges clean off. The original was a beautiful, unpolished gem that sounded like a screen door banging in a tornado; Best howled about whiskey-glass eyes and drinking till his sweat reeked of Jack Daniel's, the guitars blazing like an East Texas sunrise in August. (It still ranks among the best albums released this decade, which, you know, makes it worth seeking out.) The songs remained the same on the redo, but the energy was dissipated; the new Crow Pot Pie sounded as though it were recorded in a bank lobby.
Barrel Chested delivers the promise, and threat, of the band's original vision: It kicks off with a sonic boom, the sound of git-ars (as the affable Best pronounces it, without affectation) and barbecue and dirt choked down with some bargain black-label. But Best also knows that drink comes with a price: "Drunk Little Fists" is as poignant and chilling a song as you will ever hear about domestic violence, Susan Voelz's violin in the background sounding like a heart breaking. Then he follows it with "Get Gone Again," which begins with the words, "I'm so sick of writing songs about screwing up." It's evidence of Best's maturation as a singer and songwriter, a very grown-up move for a very young man only two albums into a career that ought to last a lifetime.
Nominated for: Rock, Metal
Yup, no question about it: Slow Roosevelt rocks. Like Helmet, like Metallica, like Pantera...like everything the metal genre has come to represent ever since it merged with hardcore, or perhaps it was the other way around. Yup, it kicks you right in the tush. It's all about noise and riffs, all release and no tension, catharsis without a moment of subtlety. From beginning to end, Slow Roosevelt's albums--including the just-released Throwawayyourstereo (released on Aden Holt's One Ton label, home to Holt's sound-alike and think-alike Caulk)--are loaded with rage and defeat; this is what it sounds like when white guys get depressed/angry and want you to feel/touch their pain/hatred. Women suck, jobs suck, friends suck, people suck, yaddayaddayadda--theirs are the classic contents of punk-metal, every word a dagger and every breath a spit in the face of someone standing nearby.
Back in the day, Pete Thomas--perhaps the most clean-cut and nicest of all metal-band frontmen--used to scream about how you're so fucking great but he sucked; back then, when he and Mike Daane and the rest of Last Rites were packing the pre-mallrats Trees, Thomas was the Robert Plant of Deep Ellum, a hirsute funk-rocker who seemed in on the joke. Now, he's growling songs like "Everyone's a Liar," "All She Needs is Benadryl," and "Friends I'd Like to Kill," and it's becoming harder and harder to tell whether he believes such things or just believes they sound good when snarled over riffs Scott Minyard stole out of a 1987 Guitar Player magazine. Not that it matters. It still rocks.
Nominated for: Female Vocalist
She has always been so hard to figure out, this woman with a fighter's body and an angel's voice. Even those who know her well will say they hardly know her at all; she keeps her clenched-jaw secrets to herself, buried beneath the tattoos and leather and denim and short-cropped hair. She once revealed that she began performing in Washington, D.C., in metal and jazz-thrash bands; she also mentioned she had moved to Dallas in 1991 on "intuition," knowing no one here but taking the plunge nonetheless. But other than that, she's a proud enigma--a woman scared to death each time she gets on the stage but determined to do it nonetheless. She swears she hates the sound of her own voice, and then turns around and releases a 12-song CD filled with nothing but her voice and her guitar. Perhaps to figure her out would ruin the surprise.
It seems like forever ago she was lost standing in the shadow of Johnny McNabb and Bill Longhorse during her days as Rumble's bassist, playing bass in silence as she and Pete Coatney kept time. Once a night, Spyche would step to the mike and bring the set to a dead-quiet stop, whispering Prince's "The Beautiful Ones" as though it was about everyone in the room; even on a worn-out old tape made during a set a thousand years ago, you can still hear the crowd's hearts beating. Her next band, 39 Powers, had local star power but not star quality; every member of the band seemed better than the material they were coming up with. Now, she's in Darlington, and it all seems like so much fun for Spyche, the been-around-the-block veteran playing with such eager punk-rock boys; she says she's having a ball.
But her first solo record seems to be her real passion, no matter how she denies it; after all, it takes real guts to lay yourself this bare when you claim to abhor it so damned much. So Blue You Shimmer captures those shaky Club Dada gigs with accurate, piercing intimacy. Produced by Matt Pence and Dave Willingham, the album is so heartfelt, it hurts. "The only time you'll hear from me is when I'm blue," she sings in a voice that sounds as though it's coming from the bottom of a bottle. Who the hell is Spyche? Why, she's you and me.
Nominated for: Cover Band
Conventional wisdom would say being in a cover band is easy. You don't have to write any songs. You have the entire history of music to mine from. So you pick surefire pieces, songs that not even a cranky Dallas Observer critic would dare not like--say, the Rolling Stones' "Under My Thumb" or "Let's Spend the Night Together" or "Bitch." You make sure you get a guitarist that can at least speak the same language as Keith Richards. You get a drummer who understands that Charlie Watts was really the man holding the plan in that band; maybe you even land a seasoned Young Turk such as Bryan Wakeland on occasion. Although it's not mandatory, somewhere along the line you might even stumble upon a lanky youth with the right sass and strut--or at least some big ol' honkin' lips. If you can get all these things, you'd think you'd be set.
But you won't be. After all, there's more to the Rolling Stones than just the words and the guitar licks and the backbeat and the stance. So Sticky Fingers, the Thursday-night version of Club Dada's Insert-Classic-Rock-Band-Here tribute show, won't start you up. But to be fair, they won't shatter you either. They'll just roll out a couple of rough-and-tumble sets of hits that'll make you long for the real thing. Which isn't really so bad. After all, that's pretty much the same effect you get these days from watching the real Glimmer Twins in action.
Nominated for: Metal, Industrial/dance.
Ah, smell the machismo--sweat, beer, tattoos, guitars on overdrive, and the exaggerated throatiness of boys playing men. Rap meets metal, metal meets funk, funk meets industrial. This is Hard, Fast, Loud, and Mean, and one hell of a catharsis (beating?) for those standing near the stage. The title of the band's full-length debut, Dynamic Domination (Last Beat, 1996), pretty much says it all, as do the song titles: "Beast," "Mouthful of Shit," "Outhouse." The onslaught of noise makes it hard to really nail whether the band views shock value as an inside joke or a dead-serious endeavor. (Given the photo on the inside of the CD cover--the guys mooning a photographer--my guess is that they're sometimes laughing behind those throttling screams.)
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.
His latest album--ear X-tacy 2, the sequel to his surprisingly popular 1994 album--features a grab bag of styles, including a stab at industrial ("Is This What You Want?") that is either a hilarious parody or desperately bad. We like to think that it's a parody, given Timmons' three Local Musician of the Year trophies. The rest of the album is one long guitar solo, broken up every so often by Timmons' vocals. It really doesn't matter what genre he tackles--his signature fretboard work means that the result ends up sounding like an Andy Timmons song. He may be a great guitar player, but he's no bluesman. We've got the pictures of him jamming with Kip Winger to prove it.
Nominated for: Best Act Overall
If I never want to hear "Possum Kingdom" again, imagine how it feels to be Todd Lewis or Lisa Umbarger or Mark Reznicek--cranking out that same song night after week after month after year, hauling it out like it was "Stairway to Heaven" or some other golden oldie from another decade though it's only (only!) seven or so years old. Better to be a one-hit wonder than a none-hit blunder, but still...enough is enough. And don't think the Toadies, including recent add-on Clark Vogeler as guitarist, don't know it too: Just a few weeks ago, after a year and a half of preparation and pondering, the band finished its second (second!) full-length album for Interscope; after recording for three months in Austin with Butthole Surfers guitarist Paul Leary, they have the disc all but in the can, awaiting mixing in June for a release date sometime in the...fall...winter...next year? "We want it out in the fall," says Reznicek. "The sooner, the better." (Christ, you'd think they were Boston.)
The Second Album is a most curious beast, actually--so much unlike the platinum-selling Rubberneck and the 1993 EP Pleather and the demo cassette Velvet that it might as well be by a different band. Perhaps it's the subtraction of Darrel Herbert (gone to the tomorrowpeople) and the addition of Vogeler--a classic-rock fetishist who perfected his guitar-hero, foot-on-the-monitor moves during his days with the mighty Funland band--but suddenly, the Toadies' trademark chicken-fried punk has evolved into a far different shade of boogie. The album, or at least the unmixed and unmastered version that landed in our laps, begins with a subdued jolt; the main instrument for the first few minutes is, of all things, an organ--proof that sooner or later, everybody brings in keyboards to flesh out the rock.
Lewis' voice throughout is less a scream than a hysterical mutter, and the twin-guitar boogie-rock attack that marked older Toadies songs, not to mention the band's contributions to such soundtracks as Basquiat and The Crow: City of Angels, is no longer the main attraction but a sideshow--the cream filling instead of the whole dessert. The rock is there, but the album builds to a slow burn instead of beginning on fire: The third song ("Push That Hand Away," perhaps?) recalls "I Come From the Water" but with a more relaxed attack; it's classic-rock with a metal-pop twist, guitar solos and layered punk-rock choirs chanting the choruses. "Dead Boy" is maximum rock and roll, arena rock made for the clubs; and one song even contains an overt nod to "The Twist," with an added "son of a bitch" for superior Toadies effect.
At first listen, I didn't much care for the record--but then it struck me that it was simply because the band's "new" sound wasn't familiar, comfortable; too often we like our bands to remake yesterday's records even as we wonder why they don't evolve (pop fans are the most hypocritical in all the land). Local radio, eager to "break" a band they ignored for years, ruined Rubberneck for me and my three friends--Redbeard probably thinks the record's called Possum Kingdom--but the fact is, the record's also four-plus years old and contains songs that date to the band's inception. The Toadies have grown more in two years than in the six years before that, and it's something we could all get a little more than used to.
Nominated for: New Act
When volume becomes noise and rock becomes yesterday's fashion, most musicians give up and fade away; they don't quite know how to turn their youthful obsessions into adult passions, and so they give them up completely--or die trying. Mike Gibson spent much of his youth in Brutal Juice; they accrued, over the course of a few years, a mighty reputation as the loudest band on the block--punks who thrashed to a (literal) trash-can beat, screaming bloody murder until their promise threatened to destroy them. Brutal Juice was performance art masquerading as rock and roll band; few who attended their New Year's Eve gig a few years ago will ever forget how some of the band members shattered a trash-bag pinata on stage and watched as decayed road kill spilled to the floor.
But somewhere along the way, not long after Interscope released the band's major-label debut and then proceeded to sell them by the dozens, Gibson decided he had had enough of making noise. He wanted to write songs, to give structure to the chaos that had been Brutal Juice's calling card for perhaps too long. When the band finally imploded in February 1997, he took a batch of songs written during a Brutal Juice tour; rounded up departed Toadies guitarist Darrel Herbert (fired from the band last year, and now found standing behind the bass), guitarist Jody Powerchurch (and what a great band name that'd be), keyboardist John Norris, and ex-BJ drummer Ben Burt; and formed the tomorrowpeople, so named for an old BBC series. (Burt is no longer with the band: He was recently asked to "sit out" from the current recording of the band's forthcoming Geffen Records debut, and he was offended enough--perhaps rightly so--to depart the band for good. "It was very unfortunate," says manager Shaun Edwardes.)
"I thought rock and roll was gonna save my soul/But now I know it's got limitations," sings Gibson (now Gordo "Buzz" Gibson) on the unbearably catchy "Something for Joey" off the band's stellar 1997 debut, Golden Energy (released on Last Beat). And it's not that the tomorrowpeople isn't a good rock and roll band, but it's something better, something more--almost techno in places ("Queen of Earthly Delights" succeeds in small scale where U2 fails in epic proportions, blending dance-floor with anthemic pop), a little bit proggy ("Psyched by the 4D Witch," which recalls Yes without saying no), kind of hypnotic and ambient (the gorgeous "Youth in Orbit" never transcends a whisper). It's certainly grounded in pop-rock--"We're almost a prescription for a post-grunge hangover," Norris once explained--but it aims much higher and hits every single time. Call this adults in orbit: Only in Dallas would a band of veterans be nominated in the New Band category--twice in two years. But more than anything, it's the sound of grownups making rock and roll that says more with a hint than it ever did with a holler.
Nominated for: New Act, Male Vocalist (Bruce Dickinson), Local Musician of the Year (Dickinson), Folk/Acoustic
Calling Bruce "Broose" Dickinson a "new act" is like referring to Rhett Miller as a whippersnapper (or, for that matter, like saying Darlington is a new band). Dickinson has been around longer than, say, Ben Kweller has been toilet-trained, having fronted pop poppins and released even a couple of solo records before releasing TooMuch Is Not Enough last year, his "first" TOOMuchTV album. (There was a cassette even before that.) He's been around so long, he's even managed to convince me that his pretensions are real enough and sincere enough--hey, I may despise pop poppins, but I'm not going to begrudge any man his desire to actually write, much less sing, that crap. And I mean that in a nice way.
Besides, I much prefer Dickinson's albums away from pop poppins, especially 1995's Exploring a Diverse Universe and TooMuch Is Not Enough, not to mention his frequent acoustic collaborations with Meredith Miller (the two only recently recorded a live album of "sappy love songs"). By himself or with a rotating cast of musicians (including former Fever in the Funkhouse guitarist Brad McLemore and ex-True Believer Jon Dee Graham), Dickinson's art-pop aspirations seem somehow warmer, more honest, more deeply felt. Where once Dickinson drowned himself in pretty words strung together for effect rather than meaning, he's now grounded more in reality, in emotion. He's still a blind romantic ("Would You Love Me," "The Moment of Love," "Curious About You [Would You Love Me II]"), but not so whimpering anymore; and the heavy keyboards-and-loops music, evocative and ethereal but with a sharp point, backs him up without letting him down. He's no rookie at all; indeed, Dickinson's a cagey veteran at this point, hitting the ball a little farther with every at bat.
Nominated for: Industrial/Dance
It seems like only yesterday no one was listening to ADanceRegina!, a band fronted by Ming the Merciless look-alike Jonnee "Not My Real Name" Flash; frankly, listening to the band's 1995 classic Beat Ballet, I'm still wondering whether the release date was wrong--c'mon, it was 1985, right?--or whether the quartet was really ASKA in dance-floor drag, so hopelessly outdated, they were one step away from being progressive. The more things change, the more they sound exactly like the Starck Club. Damn, where did I put my vial of coke?
But fret not: One half of ADanceRegina! lives on in Triprocket, a band not so bad if you've never heard of Garbage. Bobby R. (keyboards) and Matt Tinoga (drums) have hooked up with vocalist-keyboardist Kaila Brasell and guitarist Colton Weatherston to form this crafty discotheque concoction that's less about half-baked synth and more about half-assed soul: Brasell ain't no Shirley Manson, but she'll do on a Thursday night. Triprocket's eponymous debut--released last year, though not so's you'd notice--is one of those records that sneaks up on you; perhaps it's the lowered expectations created by the cheap packaging and the ADanceRegina! cover tune (oh, the memories!), but it's innocuously likable in a catchy sort of way, dance music made for pop radio with a shelf life of 37 seconds. I mean, deep down, you know this group of Shirley-Come-Latelys ain't no damned good, but that doesn't mean you can't like them. There's nothing criminal about having guilty pleasures, especially if you don't let them sleep over.
Nominated for: Alternative Rock/Pop, Single Release ("People to the Air"), Album Release (UFOFU, The Medicine Label)
If the band hadn't gone and broken up late last year, UFOFU would have made for a great sitcom. Think, people: you got a gay ex-junkie former hustler on vocals and guitar; you got an ex-Navy man and classically trained pianist on bass; and you got his wide-eyed kid brother banging away on drums. Throw in a few wacky neighbors, and you're there. The pitch: Ratso Rizzo, Corporal Klinger, and Brandon Walsh form a rock band. Much hilarity ensues.
The music would have been damned good too; none of that Monkees camp. Following the requisite series of indie 7-inchers and EPs, UFOFU finally stepped out on last year's self-titled full-length. If the eternal conundrum of '90s pop-punk is its inability to move beyond rudimentary chord progressions and lyrical juvenilia, then consider UFOFU a compelling step toward resolving the enigma--or at least an object lesson on how to combine smarts and energy without sounding stilted. The band blithely employs jazzy chords and polyrhythms, but you'd hardly notice them among the sugar-coated melodies of such songs as "People to the Air" and "Flying."
Frontman Joe Butcher's lyrics tend toward stream-of-consciousness acid-babble, but it works as lowbrow scat-words chosen more for their rhythmic value than for any narrative agenda. Still, such devices are ultimately bound by the band's primary concern, the pop song, and UFOFU's least interesting moments ("The Thing of It Is," "A Letter") arrive when the band's melodic conception fails it. Mostly, though, the record provides odd, hooky numbers as atypical as the players responsible for them.
Sadly, the whole sitcom thing went to hell when the band split last November. Then again, with Butcher now playing in Radish (the man always did have a great sense of humor), with bassist-vocalist Brandon Curtis having joined Captain Audio, and with little Ben not so little anymore and working the drum slot in Tripping Daisy (best move that band has made in years), you've got spin-off possibilities galore. Provided you can find someone to play Tim DeLaughter. Is Pauly Shore available?
Nominated for: Industrial/Dance
Though always a dark reservoir of the id, you never know what exactly to expect from Ugly Mus-tard. Evil clowns. Jabbering pontiffs. Hall of Mirrors. Or just your basic everyday death, dismemberment, and devils. Ugly Mus-tard is one of the few bands in town that can't simply be heard, can't merely be seen. Ugly Mus-tard has to be experienced. For the most part, the band is merely a shade of misspent youth, a fun game of Halloween with loud guitars and louder drums. But at its best, Mus-tard goes beyond the bass-heavy crunch of hardcore and carnival sideshow antics and creates music--and images--that can truly haunt.
On the latest eponymous release, for example, if you can get beyond the bone-jarring and mind numbing-roar that comes with the territory, Ugly Mus-tard juts into startling reposes of cello and violin ("Bitter") and piano ("Blue"). With MVP Mike Daane engineering, you know that Ugly Mus-tard will sound technically good, but you never can quite wrap your mind around the fact that Ugly Mus-tard can sound downright beautiful. A sick trick, indeed.
Nominated for: Folk/Acoustic
I live three doors down from Keli Vaughan, the skinny, blonde, intimidatingly poised singer-songwriter who's made regular, modest, but incendiary appearances at Cafe Society, Cafe Brazil, and The Dark Room. She also shares her solo vocals and electric guitar generously with friends; I heard a private mini-set in the studio apartment beneath me that got my neighbor in trouble with the landlady because it dragged on so long and loud. Vaughan's voice ricochets between mean and sweet, loud and soft, very often in the same breath. Her self-released, six-song EP The Quiet Earth was recorded while she hung out in Liverpool during an extended European exile that included opening for Echo and the Bunnymen's Ian McCulloch (she now admits she didn't know who he was).
These spare, prickly tunes are folk only in the way Billy Bragg's early Back to the Basics compilation is folk: You could perform it sitting on a stool, but there's no way you could stay planted belting this kind of tuneful, sawed-off street wisdom (hers is minus the cockney Marxism, needless to say). Right now Vaughan pays her bills as a massage therapist while she collaborates with local musicians like former Tablet member Paul Williams. She's well aware she could jump on the Lisa Loeb-Jewel caravan if only she soft-pedaled the influence of Exene Cervenka, Nina Hagen, and Chrissie Hynde in her music. But the Lilith Fair tent has proven itself big enough to shelter ballsy dames and sob sisters alike, if they have a way with a lyric. And Vaughan's CD is virtually genderless in its treatment of cruelty and yearning. Keli Vaughan lives in a musical era sympathetic to female unclassifiability, and she should take appropriate advantage.
Nominated for: Reggae
Hmmm...Watusi, a 16-year-veteran group, never appears in the pages of this newspaper except at Music Awards time, when it's up for best Reggae band (an award this band won last year in a landslide). Maybe it's because we're all a bunch of lily-white stiffs around here, or perhaps it's just hard to find fault--as we so love to do in these pages--with such a joyous band that's whole existence revolves around creating upbeat tunes that spread the message of "One Love." Watusi's latest release, Cool Runner, is a bubbling rush of feel-good (one-) world music that makes even soulless music critics want to pass the dutchie on the left-hand side. With a generous sprinkling of cool-jazz alto sax and Latin drums, Watusi isn't going to have you seeing visions of Bob Marley, but that's OK.
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.
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.
Gone are the days when a producer was placed on some lofty pedestal. Nowadays, recording equipment is so cheap that just about anybody can be a producer, and they can do it almost anywhere. What was once a field of bitter and stubborn men who imposed their own vision on the band (Phil Spector) has been replaced by a group of musicians who record bands in their free time, usually in an empty room of their house.
Matt Pence and Sam McCall both fit this bill. Between the two of them--and including Dave Willingham--they have recorded (at home) almost every band in Denton, including some of the best albums to come out in the past few years, such as Slobberbone's Crow Pot Pie and Centro-matic's Redo the Stacks. Chad Lovell is also a musician, but his studio isn't exactly a home-recording facility like Pence's. He and his band, Course of Empire, built the studio using advance money from their former label, Zoo. Lovell undoubtedly has one of the best ears in town, as evinced by his win in this category last year and his permanent spot near the top of many bands' producer-to-get lists. David Castell is kind of a throwback to the old school of producers, but that only means he doesn't work at home. His skill can be heard on Buck Jones' Shimmer, where he gave the band the added edge they lacked on their previous record, Shoegazer.
If we had to pick a winner, Pence would get the nod. His work with two-thirds of Funland, Peter Schmidt and Will Johnson, shows just how versatile Pence can be. Centro-matic's album was rough in all the right places, and smooth where Pence could get away with it. It sounds like a home-recording because Johnson wanted it that way. Schmidt's unreleased album is the exact opposite. It has all sorts of little details that usually get excised outside of a normal studio. Unfortunately, Pence has packed up his gear and moved to St. Louis, breaking the hearts of a number of up-and-coming (and poor) Denton bands.
Best Live Music Venue
Nice that Dallas' music scene has evolved to the point that every nominee in this category really is a great place to see and hear bands play. The baby of group, The Curtain Club, is only a few months old, though it opened with an air of entitlement and the bravado of a major contender, thanks to the industry prowess of its owners. Its specialty: established local bands, grouped together on sure-fire power bills that bring the kids out in swarms. Course of Empire plays with Captain Audio. Centro-matic plays with the Calways. Hagfish plays with Bowling for Soup. It's one-stop shopping for a cross-section of Who's-Cool-Now? Small enough to feel intimate but big enough to breathe, the Curtain Club may be the first all-local venue that comes off like a polished pro. And it doesn't hurt that its sound system and its golden-earred soundman were all lifted straight from...Trees.
For seven years straight, Trees was the only mid-sized rock venue that always did it right. To this day, local bands consider themselves "arrived" if they land a headliner slot there, and their fans swoon at the big, clean, well-cooled room that still mostly manages to keep the ogling frat boys and clueless tourists at bay. Even with the competition from the newfangled Curtain Club, Trees pulls a trump card by booking strong indie-rock touring acts that blow through town: Sebadoh, Son Volt, Stereolab, Flaming Lips, Dinosaur Jr. The club's friendly bartenders, viewing mezzanines, and pool tables upstairs don't hurt either. Let's just see if it can get its once-perfect sound back in the pink.
A few doors down, the soon-to-shut-its-doors The Dark Room sits like an oasis of civilized quietude in the overcrowded chaos of Deep Ellum. There, you can sit in a booth, sip a Cosmopolitan, and hear the Meredith Miller Band or the Enablers or Broose Dickinson play with accomplished low-key flair, or catch Slobberbone or American Fuse play full-on rock sets with turned-down attitude. Small, dark (you may have guessed), and conversation-friendly, the Dark Room is a favorite destination of knowing music fans who don't want their ears blown off every night. It's almost tragic that it will soon enough get absorbed by the Green Room:Fraternity Row doesn't need another restaurant-bar, does it?
A half mile down Elm, you'll find the country cousin of the rock contingent, and a much older, nobler cousin it is. Sons of Hermann Hall, a lodge-ballroom established in the earliest part of the century for a German fraternal order, has in the past few years re-crowned itself as a great stage for local and national country, swing, and alt-country acts. Junior Brown, Wilco, Robert Earl Keen, and the Old 97's sound great every time, and the atmospheric details boost the hall's charm about 34 notches: hardwood floors, curving double staircase, heavy velvet curtains, long tables for ample seating, and a downstairs stretch of well-lighted bar offering a welcome respite from the live show. The forced departure of Mike Snyder for the Gypsy Tea Room has caused a lot of the Sons' former tenants to follow suit--Son Volt played the Tea Room on its recent swing through town--which has forced the Sons to book more up-and-comers than established acts.
The other venue resurrected from the dead in the last few years is the Bronco Bowl. Mention it, and any rooted Dallas rock fan gets that nostalgic gleam in his eye, recalling the great shows that graced that stage throughout the 1980s: the Replacements, U2, Siouxsie and the Banshees, Frankie Goes to Hollywood. These were the college-radio acts that were too big to play a club, but not big enough to fill an arena, making the 3,000-seat space so ideal. After a short sabbatical, rock fans once again make the trek to Oak Cliff to enjoy the Bronco Bowl in its refurbished state, all the better to enjoy the likes of Lou Reed, Beck, Elvis Costello and the Attractions, Portishead, and the like. Great sound, not a bad seat in the house--and hell, after the show, you can even bowl a few games.
Local Record Label
Record labels are an anachronism: Better to record at home using a four-track and DAT and release a record by yourself than share the profits with businessmen who refer to your art as product. Major label, indie label--what's the diff anymore? But with that in mind, the list of this year's local-label nominees does offer some evidence of what's right with record labels, especially when you consider that the finest label in all the land--Leaning House Records--is run by two young men going broke fast as they try to preserve jazz in its purest, finest sense.
Indeed, Mark Elliott and Keith Foerster's daydream has amassed a dandy collection of discs by the likes of Earl Harvin, Marchel Ivery, Shelley Carroll (with the Duke Ellington Band, no less), Donald Edwards, and Fred Sanders (featuring homeboy Roy Hargrove, a most impressive coup for a struggling indie). Even more impressive, come May 30, Leaning House will record a Village Vanguard session led by alto saxophonist Wessell Anderson, a member of Wynton Marsalis' sextet. Elliott and Foerster have chosen to bet the farm on selling jazz, which accounts for such a small percentage of major-label sales (forget indie), they might as well give the records away. Elliott, who has Joel Dorn's ears and Gandhi's patience, and Foerster, well, they're doing God's work.
The rest of the nominees are less about risk and more about rock: Aden Holt's One Ton is home to the noisiest batch of musicians this side of a train wreck: Doosu, Slow Roosevelt, and Holt's own Caulk. One Ton, which broadened its palette with the signing of most-likely-to Buck Jones, also was the springboard for Jeff Liles' one-man show cottonmouth, texas, which made its Virgin Records bow last year. RainMaker Records, which introduced the world to the Nixons and Deep Blue Something and deserves a reduced rate in hell for the favor, is still around offering up its flavor-of-the-second rock: Soak and Quickserv Johnny are among the most notable. Idol Records is home to more notable acts, such as American Fuse and Mazinga Phaser (which may not exist anymore).
Steve, the Crystal Clear imprint, is still plugging away despite the demolition of its two franchise players, Funland and Sixty-Six. But at least something good came of the bust-ups. Ex-Funland drummer Will Johnson's Redo the Stacks (released under the nom de rock Centro-matic) was high among last year's local releases, while the forthcoming record from former Funland frontman Peter Schmidt, recording as Legendary Crystal Chandelier, is by far his best work ever.
But of all the local (rock) labels, Last Beat Records is by far the most label-like, boasting an actual roster: Fireworks, Darlington, the Necro Tonz, Riot Squad, Clowns for Progress (their one out-of-town contribution), and rubberbullet, among others. (The label's finest act, the tomorrowpeople, released one of 1997's best homegrown discs, Golden Energy, but Last Beat lost the band to Geffen Records. Or not: The tomorrowpeople are managed by Last Beat's Shaun Edwardes, proof that some indies exist solely as minor-league training grounds where artists prove they're good enough to start in the Big Show.) Last Beat also exists to give major-label bands a little indie cred: Both Tablet and Slowpoke released CD singles through the label before their Mercury and Geffen releases, respectively, hit stores. And Last Beat even has its own studio, which makes it less a label and more a self-contained scene.
Local Radio Program
If you're truly into music, radio exists solely as a part-time housekeeper, someone with more time on their hands than you who can keep an ear out for the latest and coolest sounds and then bring them to you in a nice, convenient package. And who has more time on their hands than college kids? In fact, I'm pretty sure that's what "college music" means: music that no one who works for a living has time to listen to. KTCU-FM (88.7)'s In the Red, which kicks off at 11 p.m. Sundays--when students are still awake and working people are fast asleep--does a nice job of tidying up. Jared Blair and Chip Adams always keep it refreshingly more music than monkey business, with just enough background information delivered in a but-you-already-knew-that tone to make you feel that you did already know it, even when you didn't. KTCU can sound like it's broadcasting out of an Igloo cooler, but that only adds to the college-radio vibe, and "In the Red" usually doesn't sound any more amateur than KDGE-FM (94.5)'s The Adventure Club used to a few years ago.
Not that anyone would mistake "The Adventure Club" as serious professional broadcasting. Still basically a college radio program on a (somewhat) bigger, (somewhat) real station, "The Adventure Club," as presided over by Josh Venable, is exactly what every college radio DJ thinks a real job in radio will be. From 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. Sundays, Venable plays host to shoegazers, noisemakers, locals, and Morrissey. We can't say with any good sense that the show isn't as exciting since co-host Keven McAlester headed West to write for New Times Los Angeles, our sister paper. But the program still feels most right when Venable has someone to talk with, be it a local musician dropping by or an off-mike co-worker.
Just feeling right is what Lone Star Radio is all about. Though the KKZN-FM (93.3) program listed on the ballot is "Texas Music Show," Abby Goldstein's Sunday night "Lone Star Radio" (8-10 p.m.) is the Texas music show of record. Goldstein's program is not always pure, 100 percent Texas-grown, but Goldstein's show melds perfectly with the Zone's something-old-something-new-etc. programming objective. Meaning: You get Stevie Ray Vaughan, Undulating Band, Neil Young, and even more Stevie Ray Vaughan--or, on a good night, you might get a nice chat or studio set from an Abra Moore or a Josh Alan. Most importantly, Goldstein isn't afraid to whip out a CD no one's ever heard before, secure in the notion that if she likes it, others will too.
To a lesser degree, this principle is applied on Dallas' big rock stations as well. Point-men Buddy Wiley of KTXQ-FM (102.1) and Chris Ryan of KEGL-FM (97.1) are genuine backers and friends of local bands. While locals still have to catch the finicky Redbeard's ear to land any sort of serious rotation on Q102, Texas Tapes has long been local rockers' chance to hock their wares for a few minutes every weekday night at 9 p.m. And Ryan's The Local Show (Sundays, 9-10 p.m) consistently goes the extra mile by not only playing popular local acts that safely fit into The Eagle's testosterone-bubbling niche (Doosu, Caulk, Pimpadelic, Ugly Mus-tard), but booking acts that could simply use a little free exposure into the live gig that follows the radio program.
In the end, playing local music, advertising local music, and begging you to come out and see local music is all you can expect from radio. It's by far more than most local bands deserve. If you don't listen to these programs and then go out and support the acts you like, it's not radio that sucks. It's you.