Of course, everything in the above paragraph, save for the description of who does what onstage, matters little as soon as you hear Eisley. At that point, words don't really work anymore. Every comparison fits a size too small; every easy answer just brings up tougher questions. Rolling Stone senior editor David Fricke certainly wasn't up to the task, comparing the band (looks-wise) to Avril Lavigne and (musically) to "a female Flaming Lips" in a recent review of its South by Southwest performance. (Fricke and Rolling Stone do, however, score some points for separating the wheat from the chaff, singling out Eisley--along with Kinski, Pretty Girls Make Graves and Kaito--from the other 1,000 or so acts at SXSW.) There's not one other band readily available as a reference point for Eisley, though once Laughing City, the group's debut EP for Warner Bros., drops in a month or so, just watch rock writers scramble for their best blank-meets-blank correlations.

Thing is, one plus one never equals two when you're talking about the music Eisley makes. You can take a picture of sunlight streaming through a bank of clouds, but it doesn't make you feel the same way as when you saw it and felt it and smelled it, and the same goes for seeing Eisley live. There are plenty of things I can say about how Sherri and Stacy's voices wrap together like a hand holding another one, how Chauntelle is the first real guitar heroine I can think of, how Wilson and Weston's rhythm section often could be its own song. But they wouldn't do the group justice. I will say this: It's staggering to think where they can go from here. --Z.C.

Carter Albrecht and Trey Johnson
Winner for: Musician of the Year (Carter Albrecht), Male
Vocalist (Trey Johnson) and Songwriter (Carter Albrecht)

Figures that Carter Albrecht would have a nice jump shot, even with a cigarette smoldering from his lips. He does everything else pretty well, so why not? I know about his shooting skills because I wriggled my way into the weekly basketball game that happens every Monday night at the place Albrecht and Barley House co-owner Richard Winfield share near the SMU campus. (Also on the court: Ward Williams, who plays with Albrecht in Sparrows and, lately, Sorta; Todd Pertl, pedal steel and guitar player for Deadman; and Paul Williams, producer of Sparrows' debut, Rock and Roll Days.) The night before that backyard game, Albrecht was onstage at Barley, sitting in with Shibboleth, twisting and shouting his way through a cover of the Guess Who's "These Eyes" and making pretty much everyone jammed into the bar forget someone else ever recorded that song. He cradled the crowd in one hand and held tight to the mike with the other, Shibboleth making like Booker T. & the MG's to his Otis Redding. And he's even better with his own material.

Flash back a couple of days to Sparrows' set at Liquid Lounge the Friday night before, or Saturday morning, if you wanna get technical. Leading the band through a set of songs from Rock and Roll Days, as well as some new ones the group plans to lay down with Paul Williams at Last Beat in a few months, Albrecht proved that he might be Dallas' one true rock star. No matter that Sparrows (which includes Ward Williams on slide guitar and pedal steel, bassist Dave Monsey, guitarist Danny Baylis and drummer Brent Cole) are still playing the small rooms instead of the big stadiums, or that Albrecht is too nice, too humble and too talented to be relegated to that kind of corrupt celebrity. He certainly looks like one, though, tall and skinny as a stop sign and charismatic as a con man. And he sounds like one on Rock and Roll Days. True to the title, the disc is rock and roll all over, but it's also soulful in spirit and singer-songwriter-smart in sentiment. Albrecht writes lyrics that can trace the history of the world from Adam and Eve to Avril Lavigne ("Rockinrocknroll": "Then there came a man/And then there was a girl/A murder, a flood, a virgin, a martyr, a Hitler, a Jagger/A radio") or reduce the history of a relationship to one fuck-you couplet ("Placebo": "And all I wanted was all you are/And all I got was all you are").

Flash back an hour or so from Sparrows' set that night and you'll see why Albrecht takes home Musician of the Year: He's just as happy playing sideman as he is standing in the spotlight. Playing guitar and piano and organ for Sorta, he blended into the background, chaining smokes and changing instruments, often in the same song. Sorta singer-guitarist Trey Johnson did more than keep center stage warm for Albrecht, showing off the voice that wins here for Male Vocalist. The pig-tailed Johnson has a set of pipes as comfortable in a caterwaul ("Boobjob") as a croon ("Look Like a Fool"), and sometimes both ("Chinese Feet"). Johnson's vocals are one of the highlights on Sorta's full-length debut, last year's Laugh Out Loud, and even more of a draw on the newer More Myth EP, as low-key and intimate as a good first date. The band (Johnson and Albrecht are joined by drummer Trey Carmichael and Baylis on bass, as well as Williams on pedal steel) is set to follow up those discs later this year, recording a new full-length with Paul Williams at Last Beat, around the same time as Sparrows. Maybe the bands should just release them together as a double-disc set; Sorta Sparrows kinda has a ring to it. --Z.C.Darla Oates
Winner for: Female Vocalist
Maybe it's too common a comparison, but what the hell: Darla Oates is a living female version of Jeff Buckley, trilling and thrilling with a range so unencumbered it recalls the dramatic vocals of the late singer, with maybe a little Yma Sumac thrown in. Her genre is, well, there isn't just one; bluesy at times, ethereal and folky at others, she's always charismatic, which isn't really its own genre, but maybe it should be. Once a solo artist, Oates pretty much stuck to Mondays at Muddy Waters and a night here and there at The Cavern and a few other clubs, but now that she's got a full backing band, the gigs are more frequent and the venues bigger. It's doubtful, though, that even the expanse that is Gypsy Tea Room could contain her full-throttle dynamics. Oates' style revolves around her voice, as it would and should with any singer, but not every singer has the knack to write songs that harness her raw skill and still let it dip and dive into show-off runs now and again. Regular audience members have called her a virtuoso, and the general opinion agrees in spite of the varied crowd Oates usually draws. Maybe her choice selection of covers was the initial enticement (just listen to her version of Peter Gabriel's "In Your Eyes"), but Oates has proven herself as a truly original artist. And a truly original voice. --Merritt Martin

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