By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
Reverend Horton Heat
Winner for: Rockabilly/Roots
Back when these awards were first handed out, rule was you couldn't win in the same category more than five years running; after that, you were taken out of consideration, handed a cursory lifetime achievement nod, encased in Plexiglas and hauled off to the Hall of Fame, which answers the question, Whatever happened to Edie Brickell? So maybe this will be the last year Jim Heath, Jimbo Wallace and Scott Churilla take home this doorstop, though we doubt it; might as well just name it for the Rev and be done with it.
Which--no, seriously--is no knock against Heath and his bonzai bassist and drill-team drummer, but the fact remains theirs has become a style all their own: a self-contained subgenre of music as American as a Sergio Leone western or as Italian as a Dick Dale beach blanket of riffs. Hence, the spaghetti-western ambience and surf-rock strains that permeate Lucky 7, the band's latest and greatest since its sounds were full-custom and full-on. At long last, it's nice to embrace a band that's kept us at arm's length since it decided to dress up like lounge lizards and slow it down for the ladies, which may be why we never got it to begin with.
If the songs remain the same--from subject (loose women, fast cars, yo-Jimbo) to style (rockabilly by way of CBGB's, hillbilly by way of the Pacific Coast Highway)--for once that's a good thing. Nearly two decades since Heath was living upstairs at the Prophet Bar and goosing acoustic audiences with unplugged fury, he sounds reborn--baptized in gin again, without the hangover that's lingered ever since Liquor in the Front and Space Heater and all those other albums we never haul off the shelf when the mood strikes. (Sorry, fellas, but when you make a record as feverish and majestic as Full Custom Gospel Sounds, we're not gonna let you sneak under the bar you helped raise; you set a standard, and forgive the hell out of us for holding you to it.) So, apologies are in full effect after years of blaspheming the Rev; for this sermon, we're wide awake. --R.W.
Hydroponic Sound System
Winner for: Rap/Hip-Hop
The gospel according to Jeff Wade, a.k.a. Skinny Fresh: "It seems that hip-hop has lost its 'no rules' mentality," he says in the liner notes of his group Hydroponic Sound System's 2000 debut, Routine Insanity. Can't we all agree that if someone released a song outside of the 'verse-chorus then repeat twice' format the world would come to a grinding halt? I would like to thank the current crop of rappers for numbing our senses and lowering our expectations for something original. Who needs innovation when you're getting paid, biiiiiiatch!"
Who needs innovation? Wade and his partner Ruben Ayala, as well as the stable of thoroughbreds they enlisted for Routine Insanity, among them rhymers Headkrack, Massive, Kwasar, MYK, Iphlomatix, Soule and Cold Cris, dancehall toaster Grand Supreem, DJ Furious, singer Pat Peterson, keys player Ted Cruz, guitarist Reed Easterwood and multi-instrumentalist Randy Lee. The result is a record that brings back hip-hop's lost lawlessness, beginning and ending with beats and rhymes but allowing for plenty of side trips and head trips to be made before Wade and Ayala pull the car back into the garage. Wade and Ayala break beats over Latin jazz and silky soul, battering-ram rhymes and barely there ambience, freestyle fellowships and Steely Dan slickness. And at some point, a flute enters the picture. For Wade and Ayala, it's not just a job; it's an adventure.
Makes sense that Hydro would produce a hip-hop record that is and isn't one. There's Wade, the 30-year-old former DJ from Richardson who grew up hanging out at hip-hop shows Tropical Exodus with the MCs and DJs who'd go on to form Mad Flava, Shabazz 3 and Skwod X, among others, before manning the ones and twos with Sons of Soul. And there's Ayala, the fortysomething engineer best known (if at all) for recording a pair of Stevies (Nicks and Ray Vaughan) until he lured Wade into the studio full time. It's an unlikely combo, but one that works, and word is, you can expect something new from the dynamic duo later this year. Knowing Wade and Ayala, it will sound nothing like Routine Insanity. That's what "no rules" means. --Z.C.
Winner for: Reggae
This aural petri dish has been festering for more than five years now, the seemingly random addition/subtraction of noodling melodic figures and fragmented abstract noise panning east-west over skeletal dub-style arrangements, introverted "songs" titled later for our benefit. Let's call it omni-directional mood music. Waves and layers of sound rise and fall accordingly, tones come and go as they please, washing over us as they see fit, all somehow connecting textural dots and dashes of quieter traditional instrumentation. I know: ewwww. Sounds way complicated and pretentious as shit on paper, but the end result is both warmly engaging and tastefully minimalist. Best of all, Sub Oslo's stuff is sexy as hell.
It's not very hard to decipher all the references and influences here: Mexico's Nortec Collective and Plastilina Mosh, geezer UK splotch-artists Tricky and Mark Stewart's Maffia, Sly Dunbar and Robbie Shakespeare, Tackhead/Gary Clail bartender Adrian Sherwood, among other knob-and-dial-twistin' Huxleyites. There's obviously something here for everyone, given you don't mind dispensing with the idea of having a lead vocalist bleating on about God knows what. What's really hard is trying to figure out where this unpredictable group of musicians may be headed next. Your guess is as good as mine.