By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
Winner for: Folk/Acoustic
"I'm not cool/I'm not beautiful/You probably already noticed that," Meredith Miller sings in "A Year and 3 Months," off her 1999 release, madami'madam. In the wrong hands, that kind of self-deprecation could come out all pitiful and insincere, but Miller's trademark is her ability to articulate insecurity. She never comes off as self-important when revealing her romantic foibles, as on the entirety of madami'madam. Maybe that's why she can successfully play both solo acoustic shows and perform with her band and always sound the same: robust, honest, real. It takes a quiet strength to sit three feet from the next table at Cafe Brazil and play to disinterested yuppies, faithfully enduring noisy chatter and clanging silverware.
Her reward? Meager applause and the occasional awkward fan just brave enough to compliment her. Maybe she finds solace in her guitar itself or in her songs, ripe with experience, seasoned with melancholy. Not that she's just a depressed, dutiful soldier. Miller's self-awareness is a strength, resulting in great lyrics like, "It feels like crying/I'm not real sure what that feels like/So it feels like throwing up/Spilling out guts." That line has been quoted in these pages at least three times now, but that's why we love her and you do, too: She's first and foremost a stimulating songwriter. Isn't that the whole point of Folk/Acoustic, shedding the skin of an electric band and bearing all? While a lone woman with a guitar may seem simpler than an entire band, the feat is much more difficult and complex.
Miller has succeeded in captivating her audience (those outside of Cafe Brazil, that is) through honest-to-goodness sharp songwriting and strong singing. Around here, that's rare and, more than likely, why Miller's been taking home the Folk/Acoustic award for years. (Her battle to be heard is finally over in Dallas, but unfortunately, it's only because she's moving back to Austin, enrolling in grad school at the University of Texas to study kinesiology. "The past years I've gotten into running, and I'm just real interested in it," she says. "I've been taking classes, and I think I'd be real good at it.") Doesn't seem to matter that she teamed up with Reed Easterwood (electric guitar, pedal steel, everything), Bryan Wakeland (drums) and Dave Monsey (bass) some four years ago. Even when performing with her full band, Miller still takes the spotlight. By virtue, not by force. --J.P.
Winner for: Metal
Every year, there are a few nominees that just don't belong in their respective categories, a few bands and musicians that stick out like tourists that wandered into Trees instead of Planet Hollywood. More often than not, there can be no other way. Example: Pleasant Grove may not be a country group, but where should they go? Sub Oslo's music isn't technically reggae, but it's not really rock either, and we can't just shoehorn them and every band we can't figure out what to do with in the Avant-Garde/Experimental category. Well, we could, though that would somewhat defeat the purpose. Besides, we didn't pull these names out of a hat: There were nomination ballots sent out, votes tallied, ideas gathered. Don't shoot the messenger or wish various biblical plagues on him. Please.
So, Slow Roosevelt isn't really a metal band, but that's as close to a proper category as you'll find for them in these music awards. Avant-Garde/Experimental only accurately describes guitarist Scott Minyard's occasional lapses in facial-hair judgment, and Rock/Pop just isn't, well, loud enough. And everything else doesn't work either for reasons both varied and specific. Apparently, enough people feel the same way, since Slow Roosevelt has taken home this award for the past few years, and until we come up with a more appropriate fit for what the group does, it probably will next year, too.
Some would say the unofficial title the band (besides for Minyard, singer Pete Thomas, bassist Mark Sodders and drummer Aaron Lyons) really deserves is Best Live Band, and that's probably the best place to start with Slow Roosevelt. Why else do you think a band that hasn't released a new album in three years still dominates this category? The group's two CDs, 1997's Starving St. Nick and 1998's Throwawayyourstereo) don't really capture Slow Roosevelt's live act, and the members of the band would even tell you that if you asked. They haven't figured out how to get the sweat into the digital grooves, rock a studio like a stage.
That, from what we hear, will change with the group's forthcoming disc, due out sometime this summer on Brando Records, the new label from Sam Paulos, Paul Neugent and Mike Swinford. (Slow Roosevelt parted ways with One Ton Records, amicably, after recording two albums for the label.) The band, currently in pre-production with longtime producer Alex Gerst, is taking it, uh, slow with the as-yet-untitled album, making sure everything is just right, that every note is in place, before they let anyone hear it. There's been talk about bringing in a bigger producer to record or at least mix the album, doing something extra, doing what they can to break out of D-D-FW, get their name out there. Until then, Slow Roosevelt's still the best metal band we have. Even if they're not one. --Z.C.