2001 Dallas Observer Music Awards

Narrow margins remind us that everyone's a winner

The Polyphonic Spree
Winner for: Best New Act, Local Musician of the Year (Tim DeLaughter)

Tim DeLaughter has been through the wringer in the past few years and emerged successful, sane and, most of all, creative. But that's not why he deserves the Local Musician of the Year award. DeLaughter deserves it because, divorced from his circumstances, he's a great musician, a man with ideas so big, stages and studios can't contain them. His band, The Polyphonic Spree, is nearly a year old and gives the most recent evidence of his ability, after all these years, to orchestrate and direct other talented musicians. He did it first with Tripping Daisy from 1991 to 1999, when upon the death of guitarist and friend Wes Berggren, the group disbanded. Now he's doing it with The Polyphonic Spree. Often the band awarded Best New Act is composed of local musicians who have been around for years, having played with a handful of other bands until they found the right fit for their groove. In DeLaughter's case, that scenario is only partly true. While he's been around for years, instead of trying to fit into someone else's vision, he always realizes his own.

The Polyphonic Spree is DeLaughter at the helm, conducting a 20-piece orchestra and choir to the tune of a fine pop melodic sense. The band leader has never been shy about being unorthodox. Never content to sit still or look/sound/be traditional, DeLaughter has been making a splash in Dallas ever since he started performing here a decade ago. Not surprisingly, his new band has created a stir among the locals, being really the first band to fit that many people on stage (more than even Sub Oslo) and not sound chaotic and messy. Each instrument/musician has a chance to shine, and with the talent in this band, they certainly do. But to dote on Polyphonic's size is really to miss the point. Polyphonic wasn't formed just to make a statement. As DeLaughter told the Observer last year, "You're kind of limited on guitar, bass and drums. When you go into this world and improvise, it just opens up this fountain of other ways to look at and play music."

Rock/Pop: Chomsky; Funk/R&B: Erykah Badu
Nancy Newberry
Rock/Pop: Chomsky; Funk/R&B: Erykah Badu
Avante-Garde/Experimental: Captain Audio; Rap/Hip-Hop: Pimpadelic
Nancy Newberry
Avante-Garde/Experimental: Captain Audio; Rap/Hip-Hop: Pimpadelic

The group's demo (recorded in December 2000) is nearly as good as a live performance, highlighting singalong vocals, pretty strings and trumpet and flute flourishes not unlike Spiritualized, without being pretentious or depressive. In fact, that's always been DeLaughter's strength as a musician: He's happy and exudes joy in his music. Polyphonic is definitely a more serious affair than Tripping Daisy but still exciting and playful.

Not only that, but if there was an award for Best Local Record Store, hands down it would go to Good Records--the shop DeLaughter co-owns--located outside of Deep Ellum (a telling detail in itself). Good has the best selection of stuff your friends have never heard of, with a music-obsessed staff more knowledgeable than 100 rock encyclopedias or Greil Marcus. Plus, it has free in-store performances by local and national bands almost every week, putting music in people's hands one way or another. Just another reason DeLaughter deserves this. --Jessica Parker

Winner for: Album Release (Everything You Thought Was Right Was Wrong Today), Country & Western

Slobberbone's handmade debut, Crow Pot Pie, rolled in off the streets like a stray nearly seven years ago; it drank too much and stank too much, and it raised such a nasty ruckus the neighbors complained, but fuck them. We turned it up, poured another glass of Black Jack for Brent Best and the boys and rode out the storm they'd dragged in with them--tons of dust, hail, hell and high water. But so much for myths; so much for letting the rambling, raucous front-porch-by-way-of-the-garage country-rock obscure the finer, deeper points Best was making even then. Two albums later, I've (finally) come to the realization that beneath all those early, hell-raising songs about drinking, sobering up, falling off the wagon, slurring, stumbling, shooting her dead between the eyes and living like shit in an empty trailer, Best has always been a brilliant storyteller--better even than the always-reliable Rhett Miller, who still fancies himself Raymond Carver with an Elvis Costello hard-on. The difference is, Miller writes real pretty and fancy (what--you mean he's not the king of all the world?), while Best just writes real; you smell the hangover of a man too tired or too wasted to hide behind metaphors and clever-clever wordplay. Shit, man, who's got that kinda time when there's a bottle to empty, a heart to break or a soul to save? He always sounds like he's one drink away from a nervous breakdown or one broken heart away from committing double homicide; Miller writes like he's trying to impress the ladies or his songwriting pals back in L.A., while Best writes like he's crying for help.

If Slobberbone (Best, Tony Harper on drums, Brian Lane on bass and mandolin and Jess Barr on guitar and banjo) is this town's best country band--and I'd dare say it's one of this town's best bands, as generic labels mean little when a band relies as much on feedback as fiddle--it's because Best toys with the conventions of the genre; he's a tear-in-your-beer kinda guy, only he prefers his booze a little stronger. "Give me back my dog," he demands on the latest and greatest, and as The Great Greil Marcus (author of the indispensable rock history Mystery Train) rightly pointed out on Salon.com last summer, it's not just the mutt Best's after but the best part of him she had nerve enough to take. Best writes breakup songs the way Randy Johnson throws fastballs at dumb-ass birds that get too close to the catcher's mitt; you're always one pitch away from having your wings popped off.

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