By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
By Scott Reitz
As documented in this paper three weeks ago--and, let's face it, for the past decade--it's been an uphill battle for Rhett Miller ever since he grew his hair long and sauntered around the St. Mark's campus with an acoustic guitar slung across his slight frame. A decade ago, he was just a boy in his late teens trying to emulate his Brit-pop idols, singing his fancy-lad poetry in a fey British accent; listen now to Mythologies and marvel at how illusory it sounds. It was all so charming, yes, but nothing beyond that--though that was enough to make the girls at Dada go ga-ga for that boy with the teardrops in his voice. Yet to watch Miller go through transformation after transformation was utterly captivating for those who knew he was just talented enough to appear lost, confused. It seems forever ago that Rhett's Exploding imploded on Chumley's one night, making a godawful noise that sounded as if someone left the melodies in the van. Back then, people wondered how he'd pick up the pieces. Nothing's worse than being a guy who lived down to his potential.
Now, Miller's part of a real band with real purpose, just one element surrounded by three other essential components. Though he's spent a little too much time on an Old 97's Internet mailing list trying to back-pedal, Murry Hammond was exactly right when he told the Observer a few weeks ago that "no one would give a shit about Rhett Miller if it wasn't for the Old 97's." It's a Band Thing, and the new record is the product of four men who finally figured out it's OK to pop instead of bang. Maybe next year they'll take home the Rock/Pop award. And probably a lot more.
Winner for: Folk/Acoustic
Heads up, kids: Meredith Louise Miller hasn't been folk or acoustic for a while. In her evolution from a lone chanteuse of twang to her current role as frontperson of a veteran-laden alternacountry band, Miller has plugged in and turned up, with impressive results. Her bandmates--Dave Monsey on bass, Bryan Wakeland on drums, and songwriting partner Reed Easterwood on guitar (and banjo and lap steel...)--give the ever-humble Miller her spotlight, and she does a damned gracious job of giving them theirs. But the real star of the show, as ever, is Miller's astounding voice: deep, warm, honest-to-God codeine for your worn-out heart and brain.
The Meredith Miller Band has just self-released a full-lengther, madami'madam, with all kinds of wonderful things happening throughout. While her collaborations with Easterwood push toward the full-on slide-and-pop end of the spectrum, Miller's self-penned tunes remain consistent with her earlier haunting melody work. Easterwood produced this gem with the same inventiveness and insight he brings to his own recordings, and the results make for a sort of indie-country hybrid. It doesn't sound like a Dallas thing, and anyone who listens would agree that the record deserves to be heard way beyond this town.
We critic types can breathe a sigh of relief that this Dallas talent is getting the voter recognition she deserves. (Of course, show me another local female worth her weight in songwriting talent, and I'll show you a grading curve.) And though she's transcended this category, we'll happily present her the Folk/Acoustic nod, but only with the understanding that she's earned far more than this award can offer.
Tie: Hellafied Funk
Crew/Professor D & the Playschool
Winners for: Funk/R&B
R&B is irrelevant here, as both winners have precious little to do with either letter. For that matter, Hellafied Funk Crew and Professor D & the Playschool don't have much to do with funk either, unless you're talking about the rank quality of their music. The only direction these bands make our ass move is out the door and as far away from where they're playing as possible. Or back to the record store to get our $12 back. And the fact that the winners are this dissimilar to each other and the genres they won for--Hellafied Funk Crew sounds like Korn, and Professor D & the Playschool just sound corny--shows just how little people care about this category. Or music in general. Of course, when the other nominated bands include only one artist worthy of consideration (Erykah Badu) and two others who are just as odious as the winners (Pimpadelic and Beef Jerkey), it's not exactly easy to separate the wheat from the chaff. It's all chaff. (Hey, c'mon, they won the awards already--what more do you want?)
But you wanted the worst, so here they are. It's hard to decide which band is more offensive to good taste. At first blush, we'd like to say it's Professor D & the Playschool, a band that was a bad idea back when it was called KC & the Sunshine Band. Vocalists Michele Broussard and Dorie Love tie for the least amount of soul possessed by a soul singer, but even that is almost forgivable. The problem is the music, which is so lifeless, singer-guitarist Donnie "Professor D" Heyden should have hired a cardiologist to produce his albums, which include 1996's Certified Funky, 1997's Certified Funky 2...and, sweet Jesus, the band is in the studio hard at work on volume 3. Certified Funky 2 wasn't much of a sequel, and not just because it was as bad as the original. It's the same damned album: Eight of the album's 12 tracks appeared on the first Certified Funky. And as all of the songs sound essentially the same anyway, Heyden has managed to come up with only one marginally workable idea over the course of the albums' 20 or so tracks. Pure genius. Maybe on the third edition, he'll use only seven of the same songs.