By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
Musician of the Year
No one will be more surprised about Chris Holt winning Musician of the Year than Chris Holt. Endlessly self-deprecating and just plain nice, the 32-year-old Holt is almost too polite to be a rock star. When the Dallas Observer photographer asked him to sit for a second photo for this issue, he worried his first batch of portraits had just been that bad. But Holt, without making much of a fuss about it, has quietly become one of the busiest, and most reliable, musicians in town: This year alone, he played with Olospo, The Lonelies, Petty Theft, Hard Night's Day, Jones Thing, Rahim Quazi and Sorta, in addition to playing weekly all-request gigs at the Barley House, finishing a solo album, Summer Reverb, and generally being the go-to guy for guitar and keys. His talent and musical dexterity have almost become a handicap; he does so much it's sometimes hard to figure out what he actually does. His band Olospo (cringe-inducing name inspiration: Polo Sport) packs in the patchouli-wearing, tank-topped lovelies by playing wildly intricate music that is part Rush, part Ben Folds. Holt shirks the "jam band" label ("I hate Widespread Panic!" he once said), but how else do you describe a band that plays self-described "13-minute musical odysseys"? Meanwhile, his work with cover bands has revealed what a versatile player he is, while his all-request gigs (sometimes performed under the name "Chris Holt's Jukebox") spotlight a near-encyclopedic facility with pop music and a charming willingness to throw caution three sheets to the wind. And yet, not enough people have heard Chris Holt the singer-songwriter, who draws inspiration from Elliott Smith and Wilco to craft songs that can be as memorable as they are melodic. But his side projects are so popular, and entertaining, that it's sometimes a battle for Holt to get even his biggest fans to listen to his new work. Well, not anymore. --S.H.
Best Album (Idol Records)
There is nothing wrong with liking Flickerstick. That wasn't so easy to admit back in 2001, when the group was on its way to winning VH1's Bands on the Run. Flickerstick (especially then-drummer Dominic Weir) made for phenomenal television, fighting and hooking up and drinking like all great reality-television superstars are contractually bound to do. But musically--well, at least they looked good on TV. Their live shows were charismatic, but their album Welcoming Home the Astronauts (re-released by Epic in the wake of Bands on the Run), while at times catchy and melodic, was ultimately safe. And by "safe," we mean "boring." The only exception was "Beautiful," an anthem for young drunk girls everywhere.
But plenty of young drunk girls (and their young drunk boyfriends) became fans of the band. Fortunately for Flickerstick, those new fans stuck by the band during a four-year gap between new albums with only a live record (2002's Causing a Catastrophe--Live) and EP (To Madagascar and Back) to tide them over. The wait was worth it: While Tarantula, released last year on Dallas' Idol Records, isn't exactly dangerous, it's a more diverse album than Astronauts, the kind that not only maintains a fan base but also builds it. Astronauts sounded like a band in search of a major-label deal. Tarantula, on the other hand, sounds like a band happy to be liberated from corporate clutches; the music and the musicians have never sounded freer. "When You Were Young" echoes the Bunnymen with a symphonic sound, and "Teenage Dope Fiend" is the kind of teen anthem that made The Vines (briefly) stars, with its "c'mon, c'mon, c'mon" chorus.
We tried not to like it--really, we did--but our toes began tapping in spite of themselves, and soon enough, we were singing along. So go ahead and start liking them. Seriously, there's nothing wrong. --Merritt Martin
Stacy and Sherri Dupree (Eisley)
Best Female Vocalist
"Melodic," "angelic," "melancholy," "lovely," "crystalline," "cloying"--these are but a smattering of rock-crit adjectives slathered upon the sisters DuPree, whose Eisley bowed, at last, with a full-length, Room Noises. Those who would dismiss them as cloying--and, Rolling Stone, we're looking in your direction--miss the point entirely. Or perhaps they simply can't stomach so much loveliness in one sitting. This is light stuff but not lightweight, sweet stuff but not saccharine, moody stuff but never so mellow you could roast it over a campfire between graham crackers and chocolate bars. There's a reason Coldplay loves them so, and why Snow Patrol took them on tour: They make modern rock for people not yet ready to move into the future, for those who prefer their heartbreak comforting and their romance discomfiting and their salty tears just a tad bit sweeter than everyone else's.
Sure, the DuPrees write and perform material that's not hard to mock ("how the pollen fell all around your face in strange, yellow patterns"; "all the war horses wore rubber bands"). Anything's easy to dump on if you refuse to get it. But make no mistake: It takes guts to get out there and pretend punk (or, for that matter, rock of any kind) never happened, to open your mouths and let fly with some of the most florid imagery and baroque vocals this side of Tori Amos or Kristen Hersh or that chick from the Cardigans. Punk doesn't take guts. Singing about dreary birds parading across dreary skies and bats with butterfly wings, Holmes, that takes real balls. It's deceptively simple--the innocent longings of young women not yet ready to give up little-girl things, not yet ready to accept that what's out there is far less interesting or rewarding than what remains untouched and unblemished in here. --Robert Wilonsky