2002 Dallas Observer Music Awards

These are your choices, not ours, for the best musicians in town

On one hand, they could continue down the path they've already beaten, breaking dub elements down to their most spacious and textural in the typical nightclub setting, found sounds usually open to interpretation. Nice for a zootie on a head full o' hydro, but no way to make a real living in the music biz. Godawful Truth: no hooks or gimmicky chorus, hello day job. On the other hand, they could start doing remixes for rap artists, dance tracks, abstract film scores, incidental music for TV commercials and the occasional 5 a.m. gig playing in the "chill out" rooms at local rave gatherings. Sure, they'd feel like total prostitutes and would probably never be able to look at themselves in the mirror ever again, but at least they'd probably be able to afford to tour and interface with other musicians bearing a shared perspective. And so what if they have to travel halfway around the world to find an audience that doesn't totally take them for granted? Recording artists from North Texas have always had to do that. Just tell 'em Ornette said, "What's up?" --J.L.

Earl Harvin Trio
Winner for: Jazz

Strange that, had someone mislabeled this category, called it Avant-Garde/Experimental instead of Jazz, almost all the nominees could have remained; Wayne Delano, usually relegated to a backing track for the pasta special at Terilli's, is, no offense, the only standard-issue sore thumb standing out in this bunch. Flipside, Ghostcar and Quartet Out--all card carriers in the Dallas Creative Music Alliance--are tethered to the genre by little more than instrumentation and appreciation, and Earl Harvin Trio is a tease, inviting jazz back to its room only to fuck with it a little bit before kicking it out in a hurry.

Chomsky
Nancy Newberry
Chomsky
Tim DeLaughter
Mark Graham
Tim DeLaughter

Was a time when that wasn't the case for the Trio: 1995's Trio/Quartet and 1997's Strange Happy were just this side of straight-ahead jazz and, in retrospect, served as little more than an elaborate setup for what was to come next. The group--drummer Harvin, bassist-guitarist Fred Hamilton and Dave Palmer on various keys--delivered the punch line on 1999's Live at the Gypsy Tea Room, a double-disc effort that made Trio/Quartet and Strange Happy come off like nursery rhymes in comparison, an hour-plus of jazz that was anything but, 63 minutes of controlled chaos that beat Radiohead to the spot a couple of years ahead of time and would make Ken Burns' head explode if he had the guts to take off his Louis Armstrong records and pay attention. Live at the Gypsy Tea Room was "jazz" at the end of the century or the end of the world; hard to tell which.

Last year's Unincorporated finds the group walking on a tightrope that's actually a lit fuse, banjo licks and electronic tics joining in the fun because no one ever told them they couldn't. The trio of improvisations scattered among the disc's 10 tracks don't stand out because it all feels made up on the spot, the sound of three musicians in a room looking at each other for the changes, not knowing what comes next or caring much. Drums skitter and splinter, scurrying underneath Wurlitzer whirls and Hindustani slide guitar (huh?) swirls until it's a beautiful mess that recalls David Holmes' soundtrack work, punk, country, blues, funk, rock, roll and--oh yeah--jazz. And at times, it's close enough to a Squarepusher record that, next year, maybe these fellas will take home the Industrial/Dance award instead. Or maybe we should just cut out all the bullshit and give them Best Act Overall. --Z.C.

Idol Records
Winner for: Record Label

After Idol Records' second sold-out showcase in a row at South by Southwest in March, we said the label "may not be the Sub Pop of the South, but it's closer than just about anything else, only lacking name recognition, not talent." At home, at least, Idol is finally receiving that identification. And by "finally" we mean that the label has been operating for quite some time, which probably comes as much of a shock to some as the admission that Chomsky has released more than two albums. (Really, it's true.) Seven years ago, Idol released a 10-inch split single with Funland and The Old 97's, with each band playing the former's "Garage Sale" and the latter's "Stoned," and owner Erv Karwelis spent the next several years releasing albums by old-school punk bands such as Billy Club and The Feisty Cadavers, followed by space-rock releases by Mazinga Phaser and The Falcon Project.

Then came Centro-matic's Navigational in 1999, the label's redheaded stepchild that Karwelis liked so much he decided to keep adopting. Since then, there have been two more original Centro-matic releases and reissues of a pair of discs originally released on Quality Park Records, a fellow nominee and the Denton label that Centro-matic has been splitting time with. Over the past few years, Idol has also recruited Clumsy, Chomsky, The Deathray Davies and Macavity, assembling a lineup that packs Austin clubs each March. (The latest addition, [DARYL], just released its self-titled debut for the label.) All this has transformed Idol from a sub-pop outlet to a label recognized all along Interstate 35 for putting out albums as packed with good songs as its showcases are with fans. --S.S.

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