2001 Dallas Observer Music Awards

Narrow margins remind us that everyone's a winner

It never works: Trying to pick a winner before the race is over, calling the election before every pencil mark and mouse click is accounted for, tabulated. (Insert your own Dan Rather/Peter Jennings/Tom Brokaw joke here, because we don't feel like it.) There are always upsets, last-minute votes, surprises. For all the run-away victories--Erykah Badu, for one, and Reverend Horton Heat, for another, broke the tape weeks ago--there are the contests that refuse to go easily, simply.

For instance: The six nominees for Local Musician of the Year--the pAper chAse's John Congleton, The Polyphonic Spree's Tim DeLaughter, The Deathray Davies' John Dufilho, Centro-matic's Will Johnson and Matt Pence and Glen Reynolds of Chomsky (and Weener and Bluh, as well)--were neck and neck and arm in arm until the last day of voting, a mere 80 votes separating No. 1 from No. 6. And if you think, well, 80 votes isn't that small of a margin, think of it this way: Badu bested the late Johnnie Taylor by a "scant" 700 or so votes, and Jim Heath and company "barely" came out ahead by more than 700 as well.

Best Act Overall: The Old 97's; Male Vocalist, Songwriter: Will Johnson
Mark Graham
Best Act Overall: The Old 97's; Male Vocalist, Songwriter: Will Johnson
Album Release (2000), Country & Western: Slobberbone; Single Release (2000): Toadies, "Heel"
Nancy Newberry
Album Release (2000), Country & Western: Slobberbone; Single Release (2000): Toadies, "Heel"
Female Vocalist: Kim Pendleton, Vibrolux; Producer: Matt Pence
Mark Graham
Female Vocalist: Kim Pendleton, Vibrolux; Producer: Matt Pence
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
Cover Band: Weener
Cover Band: Weener
Industrial/Dance: Rope Lab; Folk/Acoustic: Meredith Miller
Nancy Newberry
Industrial/Dance: Rope Lab; Folk/Acoustic: Meredith Miller
Metal: Slow Roosevelt; Blues: Silvertones
Stephen P. Karlisch
Metal: Slow Roosevelt; Blues: Silvertones
Local Record Label: One Ton Records; Latin/Tejano: Havana Boys
Stephen P. Karlisch
Local Record Label: One Ton Records; Latin/Tejano: Havana Boys
Live Music Venue: Gypsy Tea Room
Mark Graham
Live Music Venue: Gypsy Tea Room

As for who walked away with the Local Musician of the Year trophy, we won't spoil the surprise for you, if you didn't happen to attend the awards-handing-out shindig we held at the Gypsy Tea Room on April 17. Turn the page, and the next few after that, and you'll be up to speed. No problem.

A few categories aside, the 2001 Dallas Observer Music Awards could be summed up by the constant give-and-take-and-give of the Local Musician of the Year race. More than a few awards traded hands like strippers at a bachelor party, making the rounds once and again. Chomsky, The Deathray Davies, Centro-matic, Baboon and the pAper chAse played tug-of-war with the Rock/Pop award, while Slobberbone and The Deathray Davies traded the lead in the Album of the Year category hourly. Red Animal War, The Polyphonic Spree, The Happiness Factor and Dixie Witch all had a grip on the New Act trophy at one point or another, and Best Record Label was a toss-up until the final week. And so on.

Unlike in years past, there were no big winners this time out, less a case for the Dallas-Denton-Fort Worth music community's parity than its strength. Any given nominee could have won any given category, and it would have been richly deserved, presented with fanfare, given away without comment.

Contrary to popular belief, we're proud of our fellow locals and more than that, we're proud of you, the voters, the readers, for recognizing the talent under your nose, in front of your eyes, surrounding your ears. (Although, certainly, the shelf life of the rarely-here Old 97's inclusion in that number is nearing an end.) For once, for this week, let's put our differences aside (and there are many, and we are stubborn) and celebrate the music coming out of Dallas, out of Fort Worth, out of Denton and Arlington. Even Farmers Branch and Flower Mound, God bless 'em.

In the pages that follow are the bands and musicians that make up this year's list of winners. But the fact is, everyone is a winner. --Zac Crain

The Old 97´s
Winner for: Best Act Overall

There are those who will complain that the Old 97's' solitary win this year--for Best Act Overall, no less--deserves an asterisk, that since frontman Rhett Miller lives in two cities (neither of which is Dallas), since bassist Murry Hammond has also pulled up stakes, since guitarist Ken Bethea and drummer Philip Peeples are the only members of the band qualified to vote in city elections, the Old 97's are no longer a local act and certainly not the Best Act Overall.

And, well, the naysayers are probably right, for once. After all, why should any of the runners-up--Chomsky, Baboon, Centro-matic, Legendary Crystal Chandelier or The Deathray Davies--lose out to a band that now considers Dallas a tour stop and a line in their Elektra Records-approved one-sheet? The simple answer: They shouldn't. But, of course--of course--it's not as easy as all that.

The Old 97's, for better, for worse, are still, and probably always will be, a Dallas band, no matter where their royalty checks are sent. Too much sweat has been spilled at the Gypsy Tea Room, at Trees, at Sons of Hermann Hall--and once upon a time, at Naomi's--for Dallas to turn its back on the group now. Just as Bedhead remained a Dallas band long after Matt Kadane and Tench Coxe moved away, the Old 97's are ours. When Miller goes solo, then all bets are off.

No surprise that they should win here, especially with the couldn't-be-better timing of the arrival of the band's fifth album (sixth, if you want to count Early Tracks, last year's collection of leftovers), the relentlessly upbeat Satellite Rides, which sheds the country tag once and for all. (Seriously, folks, there are Woody Allen films that are more country than the latest 97's record.) No surprises on Satellite Rides either: You can guess the direction of Satellite Rides without breaking the shrink-wrap. Just look at the boys' matching Mod mop-tops (thanks to a few carefully placed hair extensions, reportedly) and band-on-the-run turtlenecks on the front and back covers of the record, and the pile of The-Kinks-by-way-of-The-Knack songs contained inside are the only logical conclusion.

Or, perhaps, if you're looking for a few hints as to direction/sound, pick up a copy of The Deathray Davies' The Return of the Drunk Ventriloquist. Then listen to Satellite Rides' leadoff single, "The King of All the World," again. Yeah, you thought that sounded familiar? Join the club, line forms to the rear. Clearly, if DRD singer-songwriter John Dufilho weren't such a nice guy, a lawyer would already be on retainer, motions would have already been filed. Or maybe Miller's just so much of a fan of the Deathrays--the 97's brought the band on tour with them last year, and Miller turned up on Late Night with Conan O'Brien sporting a Deathray Davies T-shirt--that he couldn't help but be influenced. Either way, maybe Dufilho and company deserve to be recognized as this year's Best Act Overall instead.

That said, Satellite Rides finds the 97's in top form, though their last-minute inclusion of the Rhett-and-a-guitar "Question," possibly the most beautiful song they've set to tape, only hurts the album. Why? Because it shows what the over-30 Miller can do when he's being himself, instead of trying to sound 18, or maybe "19." (Haha.) You almost wish Miller would go it alone, if only so you could hear more songs like "Question," so he couldn't hide behind power chords and a booming backbeat. So he could be Rhett Miller, for once, forever. And that's when we'll cut the cord. --Z.C.

Will Johnson (Centro-matic)
Winner for: Best Male Vocalist, Songwriter

There are those who want to write songs, and there are those who need to write songs, and you don't need an A&R man or music critic to help you discern the former from the latter. The songwriter by desire is, far too often, the untrustworthy bet: They're the ones with nothing to say, and they'll tell you so as loudly as they can from any stage, every night. Put your money on the songwriter by necessity, because he or she's the poor soul doomed to giving till it hurts, then pushing past the ache until they can no longer tell what feels good from what feels awful; it all provides the same buzz. They're the suckers who'd record for nothing and no one, happy only to get the sounds and words out of their heads and hearts and onto tape; they're the ones sitting in their bedrooms, plugged into four-tracks, clearing their throats and heads until they run out of words, notes, breath. They're the ones you'd follow to the ends of the earth, hand in hand, because you just trust them that much.

Will Johnson, certainly, is such a songwriter, but not merely because he and Centro-matic (Scott Danbom on piano and violin, etc; Mark Hedman on bass and guitar; and producer Matt Pence on drums) have released four albums in the past two years (not to mention myriad singles and split-EPs and other side projects); don't applaud the guy just because his art comes in mass quantities (after all, so do cigarettes and reality-TV shows and other things bad for you). Celebrate him for quality and not quantity, no matter how tempting the reflex to sit in amazement at his prolificness. Celebrate him instead for crafting pop songs so delicate they brush past you like a shadow; celebrate him instead for having resilience enough to open his chest, time after time after time, and give you his heart without asking for anything in return. That's the songwriter you want to bet on every time: He delivers without ever collecting.

It's hard now to recall there was ever a time when Johnson was, like, just a drummer--that spasm behind Funland's drum kit, that whirlwind of arms and legs and hair and sweat relegated to keeping the beat and, gasp, singing backup. But it's not so difficult even now to remember that rush--that bona fide thrill--that came when Johnson handed over his first collection of songs, recorded all by his lonesome in his bedroom and meant to be heard only by his friends; a tape of those early songs, those black-and-white sketches so brilliant they could hang on any museum's wall, remains among my most prized possessions. His voice--so vulnerable, breaking and aching, like that of a boy becoming a man--leapt out of the homemade, low-fi static and burrowed beneath the skin like shrapnel. Maybe that's because Johnson was a time bomb who'd finally gone off.

And he still can't contain himself: Last year's soft-as-a-brick-hard-as-a-feather All The Falsest Hearts Can Try(released on Quality Park Records) and San Gabriel Songs/Music(on Idol) are but two more literate, intimate additions to the canon that grows, seemingly, every other month. You listen to Centro-matic albums and wonder, in the end, how exhausting it must be to be Will Johnson, every single day. San Gabrielis especially demanding, full as it is of songs (short stories, really, with every other word deleted) about men and women on shaky last legs (or painkillers, perhaps)--the "prostitutes and gambling men" who've lost their innocence and, likely, all hope. When you listen to Centro-matic albums, you can never tell whether to smile or cry, so you do both. Just imagine what Johnson does. --Robert Wilonsky

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."

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

Slobberbone
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 alwaysbeen 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 notthe 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 shehad 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.

Everything You Thought Was Right Was Wrong Todayis that Breakthrough Record every band dreams of, only to have it remain a distant, unattainable fantasy; it's Slobberbone's Pleased to Meet Me, Exile on Main Street, Anodyne. It opens with a "Meltdown," hangs "Trust Jesus" banners from overpasses from here to San Diego, paints "I Love You" in bright colors on water towers and coats the whole mess in the "easy sheen of alcohol"; it's the boozer who winds up in the drunk tank wailing about salvation; it's the songwriter venting his frustration at a music industry that has no room at the table for the guys with something to say ("You serve them Bizkits and Korn with a spoon"); it's the loser plotting his revenge on all them who done him wrong; it's the loner begging for one more companion, one more shot at redemption. It's a mess. It's a masterpiece. --R.W.

The Toadies
Winner for: Single Release (2000)

After all of the will-they-or-won't-they? debates, all of the politics, the label mergers and new managers and abandoned albums, all of the shit they've been through--and there isn't another word for it--this is what it comes down to for The Toadies. Music--plain, simple. That's it, nothing else. Just a dozen good-to-great songs played by a great-to-really-great band. Imagine that. The rest of it is a cancelled soap opera, pulp fiction for VH1 addicts. It is irrelevant. It is finished.

At this point, it doesn't matter that "Heel"--the song that wins here for Single Release--is not technically, not officially, the first single released off The Toadies' finally-out Hell Below/Stars Above. Or that it's not even really a single; The Toadies said as much when it first began to trickle out, to fans' stereos, to radio playlists. Why should it matter? Exactly, it shouldn't. (The first, official single from the disc is the Rubberneck-reminiscent "Push the Hand," if you're wondering. And even if you're not.) Appearing on an Interscope Records sampler last summer, "Heel," if nothing else, was the first bite of a big meal that spent a long time in the oven. (OK, metaphor, you can relax now; we're done stretching you.)

Official single or no, "Heel" was and is a good enough starting point, a bridge from one still-played album to the next long-awaited one, a reintroduction, a remember-us? note from a band that never really went away, but sure, didn't go anywhere for a while either. A sign that a new record no longer existed merely on paper, in a rehearsal studio, on desperately typed posts on Internet message boards, in dreams. It was real, and what's more, Interscope was really going to release it. And, a few twists and turns aside, they did just that a few weeks ago.

Fact is, every song on Hell Below/Stars Above is a single, is radio-ready, and not in a bad way. Even the epic, kings-of-Queen title track would work, giving adventurous program directors two songs for the price of one. (There are those, however, who think The Toadies should have completed the homage to all-things-Mercury and combined "Hell Below/Stars Above" with the disc-closing "Dollskin.") You could pick the Funland-lives "Jigsaw Girl" or HB/SA's power ballad (emphasis on both words, please) "Pressed Against the Sky." "Sweetness," "Little Sin," "Motivational," "You'll Come Down"--anything would work, does work. For our part, we think they should have begun at the beginning, with the appropriately titled, album-opening "Plane Crash," which hits the ground with Marshall stacks still ablaze.

More than likely, they'll be burning long into next year. Might as well start engraving the trophies now. --Z.C.

Kim Pendleton (Vibrolux)
Winner for: Female Vocalist

It seems like Vibrolux has been Dallas' biggest soon-to-be success story in the making ever since there was a different Bush in the White House. It hasn't been quite that long, but the band's bumpy journey from Dallas to Los Angeles and back, wading waist-deep through a major-label A&R alphabet soup--at some point in the past five years, the band has been mentioned in the same sentence as Sony, Warner Bros., A&M, Elektra, Virgin, RCA and Polydor in this very paper--has been Dallas' local music, made-for-TV-movie-of-the week sob story.

Many just-as-deserving bands before Vibrolux, however, have watched their chances slip through their palm-up extended fingers, and many more will be stung by the same hot-and-cold indecisive impulses that power the industry in the years to come. But when Last Beat Records released Vibrolux's self-titled debut last year, the band's lone album in its long, seemingly thwarted career, you remember why people feel like Vibrolux has been dealt a fate worse than Vice President Dick Cheney's cardiologist. And it has all to do with Kim Pendleton.

Pendleton's got the sort of persona that appears tailor made for stardom, and when Vibrolux performs live she exudes a captivating confidence. Yet despite her obvious, pleasing merits, even the most obnoxious guy in the crowd is going to leave remembering only one thing: that voice. She can swing low, sweetly, before climbing chariot-like into high notes, as she does in the whisper-to-a-scream dream of "Love Letters." She can vamp like a sultry sophisticate ("Beginning") and then slum with a coarse growl ("Can't Feel"). And when she kicks off with rainy-day downers, as when she breathes "Sometimes you feel so low" on "Hammerhead" or "Don't leave me standing at the door" on "Good Night Sleep," you know this sunshine girl's not going to let you linger there too long. Pendleton's voice lends Vibrolux's guitar pop the sort of moody dexterity that elevates its potentially listless moments to a more alluring level.

It's that transforming and transfixing talent that allows Pendleton to tackle David Bowie's "Win" and turn it into the sort of swoon that sounds like it was made especially for her. As less-enchanting female vocalists (see Tori Amos) caterwaul themselves to commercial and critical successes, it's easy to understand why Vibrolux's devoted fans hope the band keeps reaching for more. So while Pendleton's third best female vocalist award may seem a meager honor, we know it's the least she deserves. --Bret McCabe

Matt Pence
Winner for: Producer

So what does a producer actually do? Well, he presses the record button, turns knobs, slides switches, checks microphones and combines individual tracks to piece together the songs and tracks. That's the technical version. We hear the work of producers every day on radio programs, albums, TV shows, movies and commercials. So what makes Matt Pence a better producer than the other four men nominated? Chances are, unless you have first-hand experience in a recording studio, the answer probably is "his name's on good stuff" or "he makes bands sound good." And that's true; it is and he does. Three of the best album nominees were recorded by Pence (The Deathray Davies' The Return of the Drunk Ventriloquist and All the Falsest Hearts Can Try and South San Gabriel Songs/Musicby Centro-matic, the band whose drum kit he sits behind). But there's more to producing than just twiddling with expensive audio equipment. There's magic. No, really, we're sure of it.

Just spin any Centro-matic disc and hear the many different things a producer can do. There's "the band's live in my living room" sound. And there's the "Help! Will Johnson's trapped at the bottom of a well" sound. (We're sure Pence has more technical terms for these qualities.) Either way, a producer is probably doing best when you don't notice him. Then no one's thinking, "What the hell happened to [insert band name here]? They sounded so much better live." And Pence, who also won this award last year, realizes that, making each band sound like the best possible version of itself.

Don't expect him to stop now. Pence and fellow nominees Quality Park Records' Matt Barnhart and Dave Willingham (who co-owns Two Ohm Hop and now lives in Austin) are partners in The Echo Lab, an industrial-looking studio down a rocky dirt road in Argyle. They're currently renovating the studio, adding a new control room, live room, isolation booth and lounge. And once they finish the construction in May or June, they'll have even less free time than before. Don't be surprised if all three find themselves nominated again next year. --Shannon Sutlief

Chomsky
Winner for: Rock/Pop

There are bands you want to listen to, bands you want to hang out with, bands you want to make part of, well, the soundtrack of your life. And then there are bands you just want to be in. You see them onstage, plugged in and jacked up, and you wonder what it must be like to have that much fun, to wear that stupid-goofy-giddy grin, to hit that note on the keyboards, to jump that high with a guitar strapped around a gangly frame, to make that sound that lingers into the rest of the night and maybe even the next morning or the next week. There's not a drop of cynicism or irony spilled on the stage, no sound made between quotation marks. But who has time for smirks when everyone in front of you--the audience, your fanatical fanswho love you so much they're willing to jump up and down and bob their heads like broken spring-loaded dolls and look so effin' silly in the process--sports only satisfied smiles? I want to be in Chomsky, just because I want to know how it feels to have that much fun making music with the new new-wave. (Full disclosure: I also want to be in Britney Spears, just because I want to know how it feels.)

I'd never felt that way till hearing the band at South by Southwest last month, as they popped and rocked on a Sixth Street stage so tiny it barely held five grains of sand, much less five full-grown men and their instruments. How guitarist-singer Glen Reynolds found room to pogo and windmill twixt frontin' frontman Sean Halleck and keyb dweeb Don Cento is a subject currently under investigation by physicists and mathematicians. Rare is the SXSW shindig full of audience members digging the tunes--usually, it's three out-of-town rock critics, two label lackeys trying to run up the expense account and a bunch of other jive bastards talking louder than the band's playing--but the kids were out in force that night, singing along to songs they'd never even heard before. (A good chunk of the set consisted of selections from the band's forthcoming Onward Quirky Soldiers, to be released at an unspecified time by an as-yet-unspecified label; it's yours for the asking, if you've got enough money in the bank to cover expenses for travel, and just think of the coin you'll pocket when some label comes sniffing around trying to lure Chomsky to the Promised Land of Signanddrop.) Chomsky (which also includes bassist James Driscoll and drummer Matt Kellum) were the men of the hour that night--Rock Stars in the making, Rock Stars for the taking if only some A&R dude could have opened his ears and pocketbook. It was that kind of night, one of those times when you realize how lucky you are to live in a town where this kind of thing is available on a weekly basis; I'd see Chomsky every night. If they came to my house.

Upon its release in 1999, it was easy to think of the band's debut A Few Possible Selections for the Soundtrack of Your Lifeas retrofitted new-wave--nostalgia-rock for the under-35 crowd that misses the glory days of drinking Blue Nun in the Video Bar parking lot. But listen after listen (it's the disc that keeps on giving) reveals a big, beating heart (among big, beating other things--like Halleck's "gun") beneath the sun-drenched surface; it's the Cars without the sneer, Devo without the sarcasm, XTC without the stage fright. But what I've heard of the new album (including the moody, mellow "Gravitate") suggests a band that's become its own best influence. Yeah, Chomsky's the best pop/rock band in this town. And that town. And that town over there. --R.W.

Erykah Badu
Winner for: Funk/R&B

On the back cover of her second album, Mama's Gun, which was released late last year, Erykah Badu asks "What's yo izm?" to anyone who'll listen (and probably anyone who won't, too). She's baiting us, of course: Badu received a mountain of flak for calling her 1997 debut Baduizm, as if the blatant name-branding was a self-aggrandizing stroke of calculated marketing zeal (which it was) and not a reflection of the artist's indefatigable sense of personal definition (which it really was). With Mama's Gun, the question is a double entendre: "Y'all believe me yet?"

We should. Over two studio albums and a smoldering live one, Badu's become Dallas' queen-bee soul sister, a woman as comfortable reeling off Billie Holiday vocal licks in a Top 40 hit about hippy-chick determination as she is singing her hazy, crazy breakup blues in the 10-minute suite called "Green Eyes" that closes Mama's Gun. And that, really, is the thing: For all its crackling Soulquarian sonic warmth, Mama's Gun was last year's R&B record because it unveiled a singer who in the space of two albums had done the kind of maturing most never even get around to considering. (Mad love to Ginuwine, but the dude's still riding the pony he came in on.) Much longer and earthier and more embarrassing ("With no bra my ninnies sag down low") than most anything released in our increasingly moment-driven "urban music" industry, it's the type of record artists either don't seem interested in making or aren't allowed to make anymore, subtle and organic and funny in ways that R. Kelly and Babyface and their ilk seem incapable of even understanding.

And then there's the matter of the live show, that ultimate R&B Red Sea: To DAT or not to DAT? That is, as always, the question. For Badu, like her co-visionary D'Angelo, the problem's as simple as the one she asks us: Would it be Badu-like to sing along to a tape? Would it be Badu-like to not give these people more than my CD played really loudly? Would it be Badu-like to play the same set every night? So she worked up a show with a live band and everything and wowed 'em from here to both shining seas, every night singing her heart out and, at the appropriate moment during "Cleva," taking off her signature headwrap and showing off her bald-ass head. Don't think Badu deserves this award? Fine. Come back next year when you're ready to believe. --Mikael Wood

Captain Audio
Winner for: Avant-Garde/Experimental

If there's a recipe for earning the Avant-Garde/Experimental tag, Captain Audio penned it, and it probably looks something like this: Pair Regina Chellew (who's played guitar with Ruby, among others) with members from successful and respected, but defunct, local bands (Brandon Curtis of UFOFU and Josh Garza of Comet). Release an ambitious pop album (1999's My ears are ringing but my heart's ok on Last Beat Records) that's equal parts grand ideas and catchy hooks, infused with country rock and beautiful melodies and top-down drums. Play infrequently, but complement the trio with musicians from several other bands on slide guitar, cello and such during those rare appearances. Release an even more ambitious album (last spring's Last Beat-released LUXURY or whether it is better to be loved than feared), as idiosyncratic as it is brilliant, meaning both intelligent and radiant. Continue playing rarely.

Since 1998, when Chellew first talked Curtis and Garza into practicing some songs, Captain Audio has been based on the freedom to experiment and follow the musical impulse wherever it leads--from the Spanish lyrics and Vince Guaraldi-like piano opening on "Los Pedasos" to the variety-show theme song trombones on "Star," both of which show up on LUXURY. Not long after the band formed, Garza told the Observer, "What makes it fun for all of us is there are no rules. If we want to do a good, catchy pop song, we do it. If we want to do a Pet Sounds, Beach Boys song, we do it. If we want to do [Pink] Floyd, we do it. Whatever we feel like doing, whereas maybe our other bands were like, 'Oh, we're space-rock' or, 'We're punk-rock.' With this band, it's however we feel is how it's going to be. No one's gonna get uptight if it isn't pop or if it's too artsy. Who cares as long as we're having a good time? And I haven't had a good time in a band in a long while."

So maybe the real formula for Avant-Garde/Experimental is to have fun. Whatever it is, we hope Captain Audio keeps doing it, though it doesn't look like they'll be doing it anytime soon. In the meantime, Chellew is recording a solo album for Last Beat under the name Chao, and Curtis and Garza have moved to Brooklyn and are working on other projects under The Secret Machines banner. All bets are off though on what new influences the three might bring to a new release. We'll be brushing up on our Latin and French just in case. --S.S.Reverend Horton Heat
Winner for: Rockabilly/Roots

We are misunderstood. We are. I am. No, this is not a retreat, a reversal of position, a contradiction. It is a clarification, something we've, I've, always believed, but possibly, probably, have never said or written. We, contrary to popular belief and most of the things we've written in these pages in the past, like the Reverend Horton Heat, or used to anyway. (And most of you do, too--still do, in fact--based on the Rev's extermination of all comers with extreme prejudice.) We were fans, close enough to have bassist Jimbo Wallace kick us in the face with a beach ball at a long-forgotten New Year's Eve show. (Long story.)

The Full Custom Gospel Sounds of...--and Smoke 'Em If You've Got 'Em, to a lesser extent--is a record that defined Deep Ellum for a time, and yes, still deserves a prime place in Dallas music history, with no complaint or apology necessary. It is one of those albums that managed the neat trick of being brand new and decades old, a disc that had something new to say and used familiar words to say it. It was Dallas music history, wrapped up in a dozen songs--from the Big "D" Jamboree to the Theater Gallery with not a single misstep along the way.

Where did we lose Jim Heath? Was it when he made the honest mistake of thinking Al Jourgensen could produce anything other than an ounce of heroin at 4 a.m.? When he hopped a trend and fell off? Or was it, more likely, when powerhouse drummer Taz Bentley left the flock? Who knows or cares at this point.

Fact is, we've gone into every record since Full Custom Gospel Sounds believing, knowing, Heath has another one in him, and we probably always will. More than a few of you, no doubt, are sure that Space Heater or Spend a Night in the box or It's Martini Time is that album, that the Rev (the band and the man) only gets better with age. And since, with these awards, the fans and voters have the floor, we won't disagree. No matter what we think, what we believe, Heath has earned at least that much respect. We'll save our opinions for the next album. Maybe it'll have the full custom gospel sounds we've been waiting for. --Z.C.

Sub Oslo
Winner for: Reggae

Sure, we could undertake the futile endeavor to school your sorry asses on the difference between reggae and dub, but that's a diatribe for a different day. However you slice it, the now Fort Worth-Denton-Austin-based Sub Oslo is one of Texas' truly original acts and arguably one of the only projects of its kind on any side of the Atlantic. And slicing it is one thing Sub Oslo knows how to do. Sometime back in 1996, this nine-piece--yes, onstage and behind the mixing boards there are nine motherfuckers constantly crafting and shifting and shaping the wall of percolating bass and rustling rhythms that wash over you at one of their shows--decided it had the audacity to create and play a style of Jamaican-born-and-bred music that was as synonymous with the island in the mid-1970s as rock steady was in the 1960s and dancehall was by the 1980s.

And they were going to do this in Texas. With local musicians. But before anybody had a chance to give these guys a clue, guitarist Frank Cervantez, drummer Quincy Holloway, sound mixer and engineer John Nuckels, percussionist Moses Mayo, multi-instrumentalist Alan Uribe, flute and percussionist Brandon Uribe, bassist Miguel Veliz, piano and synth man Ben Viguerie, and visual-mixer Paul Baker had gone off and perfected something that had as good a chance of thriving in North Texas soil as Washington, D.C.'s cherry trees. But blossom Sub Oslo has, regularly filling large rooms when it hits Austin, turning new ears onto the seasoned sound every time it plays an epic set at a Denton house party, or just blowing whatever Brit's mind that gave the band's latest album, 2000's Songs in the Key of Dub, the sort of glowing review in The Wire that the esoteric magazine typically reserves for European free improv or whatever John McEntire or Jim O'Rourke has touched that month.

It's easy to see why. Sub Oslo's sound isn't the sort of neo-dub low-end theories peddled by Bill Laswell or African Head Charge, but it's also not a straight dub roots approach. The band's added a different sort of twist to the cut-and-paste rhythm-is-the-rebel pyrotechnics of King Tubby and takes a modestly more modern avenue to create the mood and message than old-school legends such as Jackie Mitto, Joe Gibbs, Augustus Pablo, Dennis Bovell and Yabby You and the Prophets. Admittedly, hearing live dub in Dallas makes about as much sense as the Warren Commission's magic bullet, but at least when this shot hits its mark and takes the back of your head off, you get to go tell your friends about it. --B.M.

Weener
Winner for: Cover Band

After a performance by Weener, we overheard an audience member say to one of the band members, "Dude, you rock. Do you have a CD out?" We leaned closer, expecting an explosion akin to Joan Rivers replying to someone who asked if her slipdress came from the Kathie Lee section of K-Mart. After all, big fans--and Glen Reynolds, Ben Burt, Mark Hughes and Jason Weisenburg are such devoted Weezer fans that they spend their free time practicing, perfecting and performing songs written by another set of musicians--are also the most defensive. And, in the eyes of a disciple, admitting ignorance is a sin worse than saying the band sucks. Instead, the incredulous musician responded with grace, directing the new fan toward Weezer's two albums, Weezer and Pinkerton.

With an arsenal containing just those two full-lengths and a handful of B-sides, compilation contributions and covers (Weener covers Weezer covering The Pixies' "Velouria"), it wasn't surprising when the members announced last year they'd no longer be getting their Rivers Cuomo on. However, last month, Weener reunited, with Hughes and Reynolds' newer cover band Bluh opening. (The announcement in Trees' ad of "The Return of Weener" overwhelmed bassist Hughes, who, in the interest of full disclosure, is a Dallas Observer listings editor and contributing writer.) Who'd expect a bunch of local musicians covering a band with a few minor hits would generate such a stir?

But one of the great things about Weener is (or is it "was"?) that the band's dead-on covers have initiated new fans into the cult of Weezer--and how anyone could have escaped "Buddy Holly" or "Undone (The Sweater Song)" on the radio in 1994 is beyond us--when they thought they had just wandered into an amazing rock show by a band with a funny name. Likewise Weener has pleased even the fans who know all the words and each close-part harmony.

These days Weener probably even sounds more like the '90s Weezer than the Weezer that's on tour does, especially since original bass player and harmonist Matt Sharp left Weezer to front The Rentals. Plus, how could anyone, even Cuomo himself, sing "Say It Ain't So" for the trillionth time with as much passion and enthusiasm as another musician who has studied each note as if it were his own? Perhaps that's the reason Weener is pulling a hat trick, winning three consecutive awards since it formed. These guys are doing these "oldies" because they want to, not because it's what some fans expect from them. And, maybe after Weezer's performance during Edgefest next month, Weener will have some new artillery. Because, in Weener's case, imitation really is the sincerest form of flattery. --S.S.

Earl Harvin Trio
Winner for: Jazz

Giving the best jazz artist award yet again to the Earl Harvin Trio is almost unfair in Dallas, a city that boasts as lively yet unheralded a jazz scene as you'll find anywhere in the country. Most local jazz musicians have to play safe, recognizable, traditional fare to the Big Duh's self-obsessed dinner-crowd set, where solos are interrupted by orders for another bottle of that week's au courant zinfandel.

But when the Earl Harvin Trio plays something that has been occurring more frequently ever since keyboard/piano player Dave Palmer relocated to Austin, it plays in blocks. The group will lay down its heavy, diversified jams over a week during which it plays almost every night from Dallas to Denton and back. It plays rock clubs, it plays jazz haunts, it plays bars. Hell, this small combo could probably wander into a honky-tonk and have the boot-scooters howling and raising longnecks after it turned Hank Williams inside out and Palmer launched into one of his trademark tirades against the government, Napster or some extemporaneous hypothesis about the interconnections of aliens and Pam Anderson's breasts.

Of course, it doesn't hurt that drummer Harvin is a local music veteran with talent to burn, which he always displays during his incendiary solos and polyrhythmic time-keeping. The Trio, however, is his in name only. On any given night, these three musicians possess one of the most instinctual and sympathetic onstage relationships you'll see south of Chicago and west of New York. Palmer's hands dance across his Rhodes like some strange love child of late-'60s Cecil Taylor and mid-'70s Herbie Hancock (that's one ugly baby) as Harvin unleashes an endless supply of sounds from his sparse kit, conjuring the ghost of Beaver Harris with hammer-of-the-gods heavy hitting that can instantly change into sharp and crisp Kenny Clarke high-hat-snare swing before your jaw hits the ground. Through it all, bassist Fred Hamilton never misses a tempo change or silent cue. And when he puts the bass down and picks up the electric guitar or, as he's displayed a few times lately, a specially made-in-India lap guitar that permits him to finger-pick lightning-quick arpeggios that recall a sitar's raga, Hamilton cranks out the sort of free-flowing treble kicks that would make the likes of John Scofield and Pat Martino shit if the Trio would ever play outside Texas again.

You can still find one of its three solid albums on the sorely missed Leaning House Records label, and a new album is reportedly coming out on Two Ohm Hop this year. Whatever the case, chances are the next time you hear a Trio standby like "Fuck Your Reason" or whatever those three musical infidels decide to do to "What I Want to Do to You," it won't be anything like the last time. --B.M.

Pimpadelic
Winner for: Rap/Hip-Hop

Irish dandy Oscar Wilde is probably the last person who comes to mind when thinking about the merits of the young hellions who make up Dallas-Fort Worth's mischievous rap-metal outfit of Jesus-Christ-Super-fly-boys Pimpadelic, but he should. When the quip-master observed that the problem with music is that when played well nobody listens and when played poorly nobody talks, he obviously hadn't encountered the conundrum presented by the purveyors of such precocious wordplay as that found on Statutory Rap and last year's Tommy Boy debut, Southern Devils. Local yokels have seen fit to praise and castigate these blokes regardless of listening to them or evaluating if they're doing their particular groove thing well or not. Of course, watching these boys to men imagine a line that connects Seth Green in Can't Hardly Wait to Kevin Spacey in American Beauty is like watching an overturned turtle trying to right itself. You know how it's going to end, but the spectacle is more passive-aggressively titillating than a Shannon Tweed straight-to-Skinemax-after-dark erotic thriller.

This crew exudes a persona that desperately wants you to believe that it never met a woman it didn't want to degrade or a substance it didn't want to try. Not content simply to reinvent Me So Horny-cum-License to Ill verbal kooks and Faith No More-qua-Red Hot Chili Peppers bass-line hooks, Pimpadelic's epiphany came when it realized that "cock" rhymes with "rock" and subsequently lowered the lowest common denominator a few igneous layers below wherever Caligula is buried. The resulting mishmash of problems that followed the band's porn-American-style video shoot for "Caught it From Me" at Trees last year, frontman Kord "Dirty K" Murphy's frequent absences are simply par for this rough-and-tumble course over the silicone hills of naughty party girls and far away into the misty mountaintops of Hollywood Babylon.

With tracks that glisten like a Pen and Pixel rendition of Sodom and Gomorrah, Pimpadelic leaves nothing to the imagination and turns and burns on its highway to hell with the pedal to the metal and a backseat full of Ciprofloxacin and Zovirax. If you can debate the idiosyncrasies of "White Trash" versus "Tits (Will BR Alright)," you can probably get yourself a staff writer position at Hit Parader or at least an internship at Vivid Video. Plain and simple, Pimpadelic makes Korn, Limp Bizkit, Kottonmouth Kings and Insane Clown Posse look like the trying-too-hard-to-be good-for-nothings that they are. And it just goes to show you that being the most authentic and convincing Real Deal in a throng of thong-snapping poseurs can win you friends and influence people. --B.M.

RopeLab
Winner for: Industrial/Dance

For the past two years, the Jump Rope Girls (which was once basically RopeLab + the purty vocals and guitar licks by Doosu's Casey Hess - some electronic noodling) have dominated the Avant-Garde/Experimental category. And both times it was mentioned that RopeLab out-experimented the rock sensibilities of the Jump Rope Girls--our subtle way of implying that just maybe RopeLab was more deserving. However, RopeLab is an even better fit in Industrial/Dance since its experiments lean toward drum 'n' bass, trip-hop, techno, trance and ambient. Plus, it knows how to get a crowd's attention and set a mood for the evening--two important aspects for trying to get people to either hit the dance floor or pull up a square of concrete and pay attention to a group lacking instruments with strings.

Take, for example, when RopeLab played between band sets at last year's KTCU Noize Fest in the cavernous Ridglea Theater. Four- and five-member rock bands (even ones capable of filling up Deep Ellum clubs on Tuesdays) are intimidated by the rows and rows of seats in the renovated movie house. The group (which started as Jump Rope Girls Don Relyea and Bobby Mahoney and has included Mark Rinewalt and David Gee since Mahoney moved to Denver) fearlessly stationed themselves and their turntables, keyboards and other equipment to the right of the stage. With hands moving quickly between knobs, switches and keys and heads bowed wearing lights that looked like the red glowing eyes of Star Wars' Jawas, they didn't even seem to notice when onlookers stopped by to see where the sounds were coming from in the dark smoke. And it isn't an easy sell pitching electronic music to a bunch of Texas Christian University students waiting around for Spoonfed Tribe to take the stage. Believe us.

Besides the occasional performances, RopeLab has recorded four albums--one set of live cuts, Hazardous Fluids, and two takes on the theme "Dark and the Light"--available online from its MP3 Web site. And judging from the points it has racked up online and votes tallied here, RopeLab has converted more than just a few hundred Fort Worth fans of organic drum jams. --S.S.

Meredith Miller
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.

Slow Roosevelt
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.

The Havana Boys
Winner for: Latin/Tejano

Though the salsa dance craze hasn't received the attention swing did, it likely gave The Havana Boys a push to the front of the line in this category. Seemingly sedate diners jump from seats at restaurants and clubs to shake along with the nine-member, all-Cuban-born band when it whips up a mambo or a side of Latin jazz. But debating where the votes came from belittles this band, which is out to steal James Brown's title and alter it to Hardest Working Band in Show Business. They're already qualified for the gig.

The Havana Boys (fronted by father Jorge Antonelli and his sons Armando "Tembleque" Antonelli and Frankie "Malembe" Antonelli) play an average of 25 shows a month, six shows a week, with sometimes three performances often scheduled on one Saturday. The band (which also includes Maiquel "El Pulpo" Romero, Denny Mora, Ernesto "Chencho" Velez, Mariela "The Lady of the Boys" Suarez, Ivan Martinez and Rodolfo "FoFi" Gomez) holds tenure at Sipango on Travis on Wednesdays, the Hard Rock Cafe on Thursdays, Gloria's in Addison on Saturdays and during Carnaval Sundays at Liquid. (A fifth regular gig at Silhouettes in the Adam's Mark hotel just ended.) During downtime from the performance load--when there is some--the band practices its music and choreography and writes its own compositions and arrangements.

The Havana Boys were founded by the senior Antonelli just three years ago, when son Armando convinced him to come out of a 19-year retirement from music; now Armando manages the band. Each member is required to play several different instruments besides his or her (gotta give props to Suarez) principal. The instrumentation is like a traditional big band (vocals, piano, trombone, violin, saxophone, flute and bass) with various types of Latin percussion, including timbales and congas, thrown in for the extra kick. And if you haven't seen 'em play, you have no excuse. Soon enough, more than likely, the only place you'll be safe from The Havana Boys' busy schedule will be your own home. Maybe. --S.S.

The Silvertones
Winner for: Blues

Just based on Dallas music history, you'd think this would be the most fought-over, sought-after award in the bunch. You'd think. This is, after all, the city where Stevie Ray Vaughan was born, where he played his first few shows. More than that, this is the place where Blind Lemon Jefferson--remember him? The prince of country blues? The guy on the cover of this issue? Come on, people--used to hold court on street corners not too far away from where Gypsy Tea Room now sits, with just a guitar and a tin cup full of change to keep him company. Leadbelly and Aaron "T-Bone" Walker walked these streets once upon a time. Dallas, whether you believe it or not, is one of the most important homes of blues music. (Pick up a copy of Alan Govenar and Jay Brakefield's 1998 book Deep Ellum and Central Track if you're skeptical.) Or it used to be anyway.

But, sadly, the nominees have begun to run together, blur into little more than the concert calendar at Blue Cat Blues. And that is as much our fault as it is anyone else's. Sure, we'll take the blame. But The Silvertones don't want to blame anyone for anything; they just want to play their throwback blues and hope there's enough people around to hear it. And lately, there has been, with crowds growing each time out thanks to the word-of-mouth support for the group's debut release, Cruisin', a healthy mix of jump blues and surf's-up instrumentals, an album that conforms to traditional ideas of what blues music should sound like as much as it confronts them, conquers them. The band--drummer-vocalist Randy Ball, guitarist Mark Scott and bassist Brian Wicker--isn't ready to be mentioned alongside Stevie Ray or Leadbelly or Blind Lemon just yet, but it might be someday. And maybe when that happens, people will remember that Dan Aykroyd may own the House of Blues, but Dallas owns the land it was built on. Believe it. --Z.C.

One Ton Records
Winner for: Local Record Label

The more things change, the more they don't: One Ton Records, the local imprint that brought you the eardrum abuse of Caulk, the wispy dream-pop of Buck Jones and the power-metal schmaltz of Slow Roosevelt, holds onto the title its held since 1997 with its fifth straight best local label award. And the imprimatur's done it by seemingly not changing too much, even though few of the bands that it pushed back in '97 are still around. The faces behind the scenes remain pretty much the same, and even though former promotions guru Tony Edwards left the offices for a different shade of day gig, when you run into him out and about he's still got the 411 on what's going on in One Ton land. It's just that sort of enthusiastic operation and probably the main reason why it keeps winning with the public.

One Ton is one of the few North Texas labels around that's established product loyalty, and its fans continue to support its latest round of bands. Whether it be Dallas pop-rockers Valve, Oklahoma-boys Fixture, the here-and-gone Prize Money or the label's latest, former Buck Jones drummer Cody Lee's solo output, One Ton knows how to identify its audience and get people to come to its shows and buy its records: 1) Promote the living hell out of everything the label and its bands do wherever that may be; 2) Play every town in the region where there may be a young adult audience that isn't getting its fair share of the rock and/or roll; 3) Package its accessible product in bright, shiny colors; and 4) Hold seasonal, all-ages concerts where the label sells sampler CDs at weekly allowance prices.

Yes, it's true, One Ton has learned the first cardinal rule of street hustling: If you pimp it, they will come. And it's a winning formula that keeps the label on top and leaves its young fans feeling big, bothered and entertained. --B.M.

The Adventure Club
Winner for: Radio Program that Plays Local Music

Full disclosure: Josh Venable, host of The Adventure Club, is a friend. Probably my best friend, but that's the kind of thing that doesn't need a title; it's just the way it is. And before anyone takes any of this the wrong way, Venable won this award fair and square, by himself, no help needed, asked for or offered. Anything else would cheapen both jobs, men. So save your letters, e-mails and suck-this bathroom graffiti. Unless they're creative.

That said, Venable deserves the nod here, even though Chip Adams' now-defunct Local Access (on Merge 93.3) and Chaz's Local Show (every Sunday on KEGL-FM) revolve(d) around Dallas-Denton-Fort Worth music, both in title and format, and even though KTCU-FM's The Good Show has often been just that, and Russell Lyday's The Show That Fell To Earth on KNTU-FM gets better each week. Venable's secret lies in the fact that, on his show, local bands aren't graded on a curve, just played right alongside some of the best in national and international (OK, well, British) music. There is no distinction between Dallas and New York and London, and in a perfect world, that's the way it should be.

Venable's made some discoveries along the way, such as The Rocket Summer, better known as Bryce Avary, a one-man-band from Grapevine High School. Besides for the local discs he spins each week, Legendary Crystal Chandelier, [DARYL], the Old 97's, Chomsky, The Deathray Davies, Baboon and Corn Mo--and the list goes on and on--have all stopped by his show in the last year or so, playing live in the studio, given a chance to be heard. And with the Adventure Club-sponsored shows at Club Clearview, he's getting the word out in other ways, doing his part, doing what he can.

Yes, he's a friend, but more than that, he's a friend to local music. And that's what counts. --Z.C.

Gypsy Tea Room
Winner for: Live Music Venue

They clean the bathrooms. That's why we like Gypsy Tea Room, and maybe why you do, too. Plus, minimum graffiti, maximum stalls and egad! actual toilet paper in those stalls. Sounds crazy, but we prefer not to catch a disease between bands. See, these are the amenities we desire. The basics. Don't care 'bout no laser light shows or clubs chock full o' indie cred. Just give us TP, man. The little things are important in a club, a place in which you might spend four hours standing and drinking and moaning until the headlining band finally comes onstage. Gypsy Tea Room is just a nice venue: It looks great, sounds good, has plenty of charm and now boasts a variety of talent, not playing favorites to one genre, as it did upon first opening when, if you didn't sang with a twang, your band didn't play there.

In general, Deep Ellum's music dives are, let's face it, just plain skanky. They're dirty and awkward and cheap and are usually run by what appears to be the crew from Wayne's World. Not to be a snob, but Gypsy Tea Room is the finest music venue in that grimy little world called Deep Ellum. First of all, the Tea Room's interior finishing lends to its ambience. Exposed brick walls, hardwood floors, a couple of plush couches, a pool table, a modern bar--this is what we want when we pay 15 bucks on a Friday night. We also like the "cooled with frozen air" aspect of the place, as the GTR ad boasts. And thank goodness there are no "trees" in our line of vision or a stage so high our scoliosis flares up and threatens to ruin any joy we might derive from being so close to the stage. And, oh, how lovely and moderate those sound levels can be at Gypsy Tea Room. Maybe we're turning geriatric, but shows at some other clubs are so loud they render us near deaf for days after; we don't like that. Ringing in our ears = not good. Co-workers on Monday wondering, "Why are you yelling at me?" = not good.

An added bonus to the Tea Room, perhaps not so obvious upon first glance: Band members have to access backstage from front stage. We like being able to drool over our idle idols as they pass by, working up the nerve to tell them how much we liked their last record. It lends to the stalking. --J.P.

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