By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
Winner for: Funk/R&B
There are several ways to explain why you voted Erykah Badu best Funk/R&B act for the third year in a row. The first, of course, is the enduring quality of her two studio albums, 1997's Baduizm and 2000's Mama's Gun, both of which time has only given the opportunity to unfurl at a pace suited to Badu's brain-melting voice and her sassy/sweet songwriting. Even "On & On," the big MTV hit that first brought the 32-year-old Dallas native national attention, sounds fresher today than a lot of the C-grade filler the neo-soul scene's produced in earnest since.
Then there's her famously incendiary live show, captured on '97's Live, where she refers to herself in the third person, says she's an artist and is therefore "sensitive about my shit" and tells a no-good suitor to get his own damn cell phone. And her collaborative work demands its own visit to the virtual ballot box: "Love of My Life," the self-styled "ode to hip-hop" she and boyfriend Common had featured on last year's Brown Sugar soundtrack, flowed some heavy allegorical nostalgia over a tasty flute loop; before that, Badu donated crucial juice to "Humble Mumble," one of the weirder numbers on Stankonia, the breakthrough by her ex-boyfriend Andre Benjamin's group OutKast.
All that aside, though, anyone who saw Badu present a Grammy a couple of months ago--complete with killer hairdo, rabid eyes, dead prez T-shirt and TelePrompTer backtalk--knows the real reason you've deemed her worthy of this here prize: You were scared to death not to vote for her. Afraid she'd pillage the Observer's offices and find your name included in a file of dissenters'. Afraid she'd take that information to the public library, find your address, come to your house and hurt you. The woman remains a force to be reckoned with. --M.W.
Earl Harvin Trio
Winner for: Jazz
You do not catch up with Earl Harvin; you do not even attempt to keep pace, lest your lungs collapse and heart explode. For as long as anyone can recall, he's been the Barry Allen of the local music community--the drum-kit blur that blows past you as he answers the call of someone in need. That's how he wound up playing with Richard Thompson, the beloved composer of the wry and wrenching rock songs since Harvin was a kid in New Jersey still dreaming of playing the trumpet; that's how he ended up with Seal and Joe Henry and The The long before that. They phoned, needed the front man who plays behind the band, and he came from the sticks with his sticks to lay down the beat they needed but only he knew how to give. Turns out you can't keep a secret weapon hush-hush when he plays like Harvin--jazzer, punk-rocker, space cowboy, motherfunker, collector of paychecks from pop stars, keeper of backbeats for old folkies, a maker of music who's in such a rush (and who is such a rush) he has no time for making distinctions. He likes what he likes, plays what he plays, is who he is--everything, always.
One day, perhaps, voters will realize that you can be Musician of the Year even if you don't play guitar, sing about heartbreak and hangovers or front Up With People. He's the perennial favorite in this category, though he's just a jazzer the same way Randy Johnson is just a baseball player. (Besides, Richard Thompson says, "Earl's not allowed to play jazz in our band. We have a jazz fine system. I jest." Beat. "Slightly.") Look only at Harvin's résumé over the past two years: an album with his eponymous trio co-starring league MVPs Fred Hamilton and Dave Palmer (Unincorporated, a Wurlitzer-wind of a disc labeled "free jazz" only because you can't buy this kind of brilliant), another with the Black Frames (upon which Harvin, Mike Dillon, Skerik and Brad Houser funk with whatever's lying around the woodshed), a guest appearance on NYC-based AwRY's deep-n-dark debut, a laptop-electronica stint with Wanz Dover and Bill Longhorse on the Terilli's-Sambuca circuit and now a U.S. tour with Thompson. He still craves writing for and performing with another rock band, long after the dissolution of rubberbullet, and somewhere down the long road plans on making an instrumental disc for Lift to Experience drummer Andy Young's Bella Union spin-off; "me and weird instruments and a G4 and whatever the hell happens," is how Harvin envisions it.
"I always try to do a little more than strictly being a drummer and playing with people, which I love and would never give up doing because I love playing with different people and playing all these different kinds of music," Harvin says. "As a kid, I listened to all kinds, and what I'm doing keeps me fresh. But I am more and more into the idea of putting together music as a whole, if nothing else for me and the 10 people who might buy it."
Harvin ended up touring with Thompson when Michael Jerome, who'd been playing with the Fairport Convention founder since the late '90s, took a gig with James Hall and the Pleasure Club. Jerome didn't want the gig going to just anyone, but a good friend whose playing he admired. Thompson knew Harvin had a jazz trio, heard his recordings with Seal and caught a Black Frames show. "And I thought they were absolutely fantastic," he says. "What I liked about them was apart from the vague similarity from a band called Gong from the '70s; I thought it was uncategorizable music. It certainly isn't jazz, it isn't classical, it definitely isn't rock and roll. It's something kinda unique, and I thought the way Earl played in that band was very original." But Thompson would have hired Harvin anyway--not just on Jerome's glowing recommendation, but for far more simple reasons.