2004 Dallas Observer Music Awards

You voted. We counted. It's your favorite local acts, amplified.

It was one of those years. Three beloved major-label acts dominating nearly every major category, with little but their hometown in common. One a sweet, unassuming Christian family making music beyond their years. One a crew of aging but still-scorching rockers giddily throwing up the devil horns. One a chorus of gleamy-toothed optimists backing one of the city's most eccentric and compelling musical visionaries. No mistake about it: This was the year of the Polyphonic Eisley Brothers.

That makes it a frustrating year for some (with seven nominations and no wins, Sorta is officially The Color Purple of this year's DOMAs), but it's also an impressive reflection on Dallas' presence in the national scene--not one, but three famous acts duking it out for the top spot. While Eisley won Best Album honors, the Burden Brothers' "Beautiful Night" edged out that band's "Marvelous Things" in the final inning to win best song. And while Burden Brothers front man Vaden Todd Lewis nabbed the Best Male Vocalist award, he lost by an inch to Polyphonic Spree's Tim DeLaughter for Musician of the Year. Meanwhile, iconic acts swept their genre categories once more: Erykah Badu in funk/R&B; the Reverend Horton Heat in rockabilly/roots; Jack Ingram in country and western. Truth is, this year's issue looks a whole lot like last year's issue. Maybe we'll choose a different font.

I won't lie to you: I'm not entirely happy with the way the awards came together. I was disappointed by the lack of participation from the nominating board--who were called and coaxed repeatedly--and next year, I'm ready to try a totally new approach. (Not sure what, but expect free booze.) With that said, the awards themselves shook out nicely. Almost 5,000 people voted, and not even half of them were in the Polyphonic Spree. We hope you find something interesting on the pages that follow. This is our party. And we want you to enjoy it.

A few thanks, real quick like: Matt Hursh and Michelle Martinez entered hundreds, if not thousands, of ballots with their poor little hands; Todd Fletcher built the site for voting online; Lindsay Graham sorted the results; Zac Crain made me laugh; Robert Wilonsky made me cry, but he apologized profusely, and really, he knows it wasn't his fault; Rhonda Reinhart, our copy editor, shoulders blame for what she misses yet never gets props for what she catches, so, Rhonda, this be fer you. And to those who voted, who go to the clubs, who play in the bands, who lug the equipment, who close down the bars, who sit in the studio, who work and fight and scrap so you can rock us every night--we salute you. --Sarah Hepola

Eisley
Best Act Overall; Best Album (Marvelous Things/Laughing City EPs); Female Vocalist (Sherri and Stacy DuPree); Best Guitarist (Chauntelle DuPree) "Don't believe the hype." Those were the words Eisley once placed on their Web site above a link to a growing archive of articles. It was a reminder to themselves as much as anyone else. Staying humble isn't all that easy when you're on tour with Coldplay, when the star writer of Rolling Stone singles you out as the next big thing, when you land a major-label record deal, when your picture graces the pages of Entertainment Weekly, Maxim, Blender, Seventeen, the Los Angeles Times. These are kids from Tyler, Texas, after all. Homeschooled kids. Christians.

So don't believe the hype, if you must. Hype strangles our enjoyment of art, anyway. Too much hype would leach the pleasures to be found in this young, improbable and utterly endearing family band: the lush, melodic sway of every song; the eerie, otherwordly lyrics; the almost shockingly confident soprano of little Stacy DuPree. But of all their virtues, I think my colleague Zac Crain put his finger on the most important: "Musically, the group doesn't sound like anyone except itself," he wrote in his cover story on Eisley. Theirs is the kind of music made by children who grew up listening to songs, rather than watching them on MTV. Children who grew up reading in bed, drawing at the kitchen table, playing make-believe in the yard. (As a friend once put it, "Yep. That's Tyler.") Their two EPs, Marvelous Things and Laughing City, create swirling kingdoms of Narnia-style fantasmagoria: a bat with butterfly wings, an aquatic underworld, a little girl soaring above the trees. Artful and literate, their music is the best endorsement for homeschooling I've seen since my freshman English teacher assigned Ivanhoe.

Although last year represented Eisley's DOMA debut--with the band nabbing Best New Act honors--this year represents their genuine arrival. Eisley fans came out full force, with sisters Sherri and Stacy DuPree winning in a landslide for their hauntingly twinned vocals, while Chauntelle won Best Guitarist honors, although I suspect even she would admit she's not technically the best player. ("I don't know that many scales [yet] on the fret board, and I don't know any theory [yet]," Chauntelle admitted a few years ago on the Eisley Web site.) But her triumph reflects not only the band's staggering local popularity but also the powerful image of a female guitarist. Yep, two decades after Nancy Wilson, it's still a big deal. So Eisley has arrived. Almost. And that last part is tricky--it's the breath we're stuck holding until late summer, when their full-length album comes out on Warner Bros., the album they're stuck in California recording. When I spoke to their mom last week, she was anxious about the outcome; she's wondering about all the hype. Mostly, though, she was ready for her family to come home. --S.H.

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