By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
By Scott Reitz
Mad Mexicans 6 p.m.
Nominated for Best Latin/Tejano
Mad, as in mad funky. Mad, as in mad rockin'. Mad, as in...well, sometimes just pissed off. Mixing equal parts hard rock riffs, Latin rhythms and hip-hop-speckled vocals, the Mad Mexicans provide as much flavor as a bowl of mole sauce. These six "rockeros," as they call themselves, rock the party in Spanish one minute, English the next, all the while pumping out hard-charging rap-rock that swerves from party anthems ("Mexican Party") to angry political treatises ("Mad Mexicans"), all of which makes for some mad fun.
Nominated for Best Act in Town
Pleasantly scruffy, clad mainly in white and as radio-friendly as they come, Hey Hollywood is the stuff of which emo dreams are made. This quartet's high-energy output is deceptively sweet; at first listen it's charming but nondescript. Subsequent listens, however, prove otherwise: Hey Hollywood's songs are seamless, intensely rendered tunes that are cohesive without losing their individual parts: Drums that bang and pop, and glittering lead guitar lines that provide the cement for a rhythm guitar wall of sound.
Nominated for Best Hard Rock
Part Pearl Jam, part Foreigner, maybe a teeny bit Rush, Exit 380 takes its hard rock influences seriously. This quartet, formed in Denton, also takes those influences to places they haven't been. Anchored by the intricate, expert bass playing of a man known simply as "the Hutch," 380 is a reminder of why we all liked grunge and why just plain, un-ironic rocking out is an underrated endeavor.
Nominated for Best Act in Town, Best Hard Rock, Best Album (Baboon)
Baboon's scritchy-scratchy guitar, rocked-out but danceable drums, and wired vocals courtesy of Andrew Huffstetler are by now the soundtrack of Dallas life. This is a storied group whose history dates to the mythical days of the early '90s, but don't let that fool you: This crew still produces some of the best music and most lively shows Big D has to offer. As last year's release Baboon made clear, the group continues to craft hook-laden pop with an edge; they haven't lost a step.
Nominated for Best Hard Rock
Named after the creepy stalker villain from the flick Cape Fear, Max Cady indeed fills the soul with an adrenal fight-or-flight instinct. Why? Cuz the sound of a Gibson pounding fuzzy through a Marshall rig is supposed to scare the shit out of you, that's why. But with Max Cady, it's a good scare, the kind of heart-pumping thrill you'd get on a 110-foot bungee jump. Power chords and a dirty attitude, drums spanked like a tantrum-prone toddler, ragged vocals sung about topics ranging from bad girls to bad crimes—these are the blood and guts of Max Cady. Beware.
Mitra 11 p.m.
Nominated for Best Metal
If Glenn Danzig spawned a son whose glands produced twice as much testosterone as the normal man, then suffered a lacerated vocal chord, the child might—might—sound as hard as Mitra's singer Kurt Grayson. This is good old-fashioned scary metal, of the double bass drum, Metallica/Megadeth rapid-fire riff variety. Straight-ahead, throat-ripping, head-pounding metal—Ace of Spades, muthafuckas!
Nominated for Musician of the Year, Best Country/Roots, Best Folk/Acoustic, Best Male Singer
You know how when you go to some club for a beer or two, or maybe to an open mic somewhere to check out some mellow Wednesday night gig, and there are about 85 "singer-songwriters" pouring their hearts out, and really, you want to pay attention, but soon your mind starts to wander...that chick's hot...wonder if there's a pool table...God, this music's boring. That never happens when Doug Burr takes the stage, whether solo or with an ensemble backing him. See, in Burr's hands, a song becomes more than a song—it grows into an intense moment of transcendent focus, centered on his sure-footed melodies and knack for building a slow-burning hook.
Nominated for Best New Act, Best Folk/Acoustic, Best Song ("Sad Song"), Best Male Singer (Ryan Hamilton)
My, Smile Smile has grown, literally and figuratively, in the past year or so. What started out as a duo—Ryan Hamilton on guitar and Jencey Hirunrusme on piano (the two share vocal duties)—has expanded into a full band, fleshing out the delicate sound at the group's core. Hamilton and Hirunrusme share a rare vocal intimacy; their voices mingle like vines. Call them experimentally traditional—the core duo manages to write plaintive, yearning almost folk-like songs updated with unexpected melodies. The real treat is Hirunrusme's keys, lovely lines of slightly skewed chords and solo licks meander through the songs like a lonesome traveler. We've seen Hirunrusme lugging around what appears to be a cumbersome Fender Rhodes to and from gigs. We appreciate the effort.
Nominated for Best Experimental/Electronica
Free your mind and your ass will follow goes the saying, but what happens when your mind is blown? Such is a good question to ask at a Faux Fox show, where surreal costuming provides a visual metaphor for the ass-shaking electronic/punk/pop/rock/dance freakout groove offered by the Denton group. Simultaneously menacing and engaging, Faux Fox injects much-needed energy into a musical universe plagued by Top 40 boy-rock and Avril Lavigne. If all were right in the world, Faux Fox would top the charts.
Nominated for Best Act in Town, Best Album (We Hope You Win), Best Song ("That Girl"), Best New Act, Best Indie Rock, Best Male Singer (Levi Smith), Musician of the Year (Levi Smith, Daniel Hopkins)
When Radiant is on—which is often—the audience finds itself swathed in a blurry swirl of Brit-pop guitar, plaintive vocals and keyboard drones that rotate like a sonic tornado. Think a fleshed-out, less cloying Coldplay, minus the weird rubber bands, minus the whiny vocals, plus a dreamy mélange of pop. Listening to Radiant is like riding on a cloud.
Nominated for Best Experimental/Electronica (Wanz Dover)
The Frenz cannot be stopped. The Frenz cannot be contained. The Frenz...well, you'll just have to see for yourself. Think an iMac that's mated with an Atari. Think an extension of the current electronica phase that's taking over the universe. Think Kraftwerk played by a robot with a soul. Just think.
Nominated for Musician of the Year
Leading a hungry pack of talented, tough-as-nails musicians is a difficult task. Corralling all that kick-ass energy as the band swaggers through a set of Led Zep songs or stomps around like AC/DC is a thankless, challenging job. Especially when said musicians are, like, 10 years old. Uber-talent Marc Solomon is not just a musical man about town—he also heads up Zound Sounds, a Dallas rock 'n' roll school that puts Jack Black to shame. Expect the Cavern to shake with the mighty thunder of kids smaller than their instruments! In all seriousness, don't miss it—they're amazing.
Enormous Magic Verb
Nominated for Best Experimental/Electronica
To extend music. To think beyond the norm. To fuse smart, weird lyrics with smart, weird music. To fear nothing—not piano, nor peppering songs with saxophone. To keep heads nodding in time to fleshed-out pop. To find your inner Badly Drawn Boy. To master your songs, with their running piano lines, bursts of brass, and thick, full bass lines. To channel the good parts of Ben Folds.
Nominated for Best Album(Let's Be Poor Together), Best Male Singer, Best Indie Rock
Oh, it's so difficult to hear Johnny Lloyd Rollins without the ghost of Elvis whispering in one ear and John Lennon in the other. Which is OK—what better specters to be haunted by? Thing is, Rollins listens to his ghosts' advice, but only so far; the rest is all him. Rollins' output struts through genres with a seamless stride, cutting a path of rockabilly, country, pop and the nooks and crannies in between. His talent is borne of the mysterious inner drive of a record hound, all clever chord changes and turns of phrase.
Could any project created by Chris Holt go wrong? Voted Musician of the Year for the past two years, Holt has resurrected his on-again, off-again group—this incarnation featuring Eric Neal, Tom Bridwell, Steven Luthye and David DeShazo—looks both back and forward, with bits of '80s rock (Joe Jackson, even!), happily punk guitars and reggae teases. Vintage keys provide the flourish, and a snappy rhythm sets the bedrock.
Nominated for Musician of the Year, Best Male Singer, Best Producer
Is there something this cat can't do? His deft, natural touch at the board can turn the most mundane of tracks into a masterpiece, which should make him a star in and of itself. But Nourallah—whose Web site calls him "the anti-Justin Timberlake"—also separates himself from the pack with a prodigious output of stunningly well-constructed songs. Mellow but not boring, in the spirit and tradition of the world's best songwriters, his tunes have just the right touch of reverb, understated vocal production and subtle lyrics. This is a man who knows his Lennon, but doesn't rely on him.
Inner City All Stars
Nominated for Best Jazz
You. Will. Not. Stop. Dancing. The best part about living in the '00s is the different genres of music that smash like atoms, creating a brilliant flash of energy. Such is the genesis of the Inner City All Stars, who slam together old-school funk, New Orleans jazz, rap from back in the day and blaxploitation wah-wah rock into one big booty-shakin' jam. If your ass ain't movin' by the end of their set, you better see a preacher, cuz you got no soul.
Nominated for Best Act in Town, Musician of the Year (Danny Balis, Chris Holt), Best Album (Strange and Sad but True), Best Song ("85 Feet"), Best Instrumentalist (Danny Balis, Chris Holt)
Building on a somewhat traditional base of acoustic guitar and melodies that ride the line between finely honed and charmingly ragged, Sorta plays like a California rock all-star group: low-key but not monotonous, equal parts alt-country and AOR rock. This is a popular crew with a penchant for writing hook-filled music for grownups. "85 Feet and Falling," perhaps their best-known song, is a true gem.
Greenville Avenue Public House
Nominated for Best Funk/R&B
Anybody can belt out a soulful tune, but the true test of a singer is if they can rock a slow jam. And that, friends, Carmen Rodgers can do. Rodgers harks back to the heyday of R&B and soul—you know, Luther and Anita, rather than R. Kelly and Christina. Ten seconds into her song "Love," you'll find yourself floating on jazz-drum and wah pedal groove, buoyed by a voice that's mature, sexy and spot-on strong.
Nominated for Best Rap/Hip-hop
Money, as in bling culture, reppin' for the Dirty, and celebrating cars, girls (but not those who don't pay for lunch) and hip-hop life. Waters, as in Muddy Waters, as in a long-standing tradition of intelligent black men making intelligent music. Seems like a contradiction, but it's not—Money Waters slings rhymes like freakin' T.S. Eliot, if Eliot had grown up in Oak Cliff.
Nominated for Best Album (J.D. Whittenburg)
He's known as the singer/guitarist for the alt-country band Trainwreck, but with his recent self-titled solo debut, Whittenburg went out on a poppy limb, and it paid off. The man's got songwriting in his blood, and the spot-on production from local genius Salim Nourallah fits him like a thrift store pearl-snap shirt. Whether he's crooning over a moaning pedal steel or ambling in a more Abbey Road direction, Whittenburg is a talent that always keeps you guessing, without straying too far from his roots.
Nominated for Best Act in Town, Best Indie Rock
Sometimes music should make you want to lean over and kiss the person next to you on the shabby couch at the party, all Dolce Vita-like. The Valentines make such music—mod-ish pop filled out with simple keys, '60s vocals with just the right amount of jaggedness and shimmy-shake drums. Oh, and don't forget the handclaps.
Nominated for Best Rap/Hip-hop
Standing at 6-foot-5 and as cut as LeBron James, Steve Austin, aka the Bioniq MC, is a buff and boisterous MC, his lyrical flow so impressive he landed a deal with Universal to distribute his latest disc, 800-LB. Gorilla, whose single "Bussa Move" made its mark on the Billboard charts. Impressive, and a testament to a man who's as much brain as brawn.
The Von Ehrics
Nominated for Best Act in Town
Like the troubled, talented and cursed wrestling family from which they take their name, the Von Ehrics are big, messy fun with a dark, pudgy underbelly. And they wouldn't have it any other way. This is a crew that clearly believes in rock and freakin' roll—guitars that sound like a buzz saw meeting a chainsaw in Hank Williams III's backyard. Perfect hick-tinted vocals and a chunk-a-chunk rockabilly backbeat. This is whiskey with a whiskey chaser music, for crowds in which footwear from cowboy boots to Doc Martens are equally apropos.
Tame...Tame and Quiet
Nominated for Best New Act
It's a difficult task to create art rock, or even semi-art rock, and still make it accessible, enjoyable even. In that context, Tame...Tame and Quiet should win an award for bringing unexpected twists and turns to the world of popular music. Think mid-'80s Lower East Side music, vacillating between angular and jangly (jangular?), with hummable tunes and crackling drums.
Nominated for Best New Act, Best Folk/Acoustic, Best Female Singer
Could we really believe in a just God when Jaffe writes such amazingly subtle, gorgeous singer-songwriter fare and remains so low under the radar? Jaffe's often mentioned in the same breath with Ani DiFranco, but such comparisons are unfair—Jaffe's much better than the ballyhooed babe of confessional lady songs. Oh sure, Jaffe also writes personal fare, just her voice and an acoustic guitar, but where DiFranco's lyrics get all open-mic cheesy, Jaffe's are inhabited by a sophistication that belies her young age. Where DiFranco's voice often stretches and cracks from the "strain" of her "anger," Jaffe needs no such histrionics. Her voice conveys emotion and complexity through a sheer unique power that fills the room. On second thought, maybe we should just keep her all to ourselves.
Nominated for Best Soul/R&B
Anything but common, but definitely comprised of folks, this duo boasts an impressive, rare ability to find unusual harmonies. Grounded by hip-hop-lite beats, Motown-evoking keys and traditional R&B crooning, Common Folk is able to take off on flights of fancy, whisps of turntable scratches and slightly psychedelic vocal grooves seducing the duo, slowly, into a different atmosphere.
Rose County Fair
Nominated for Best Country/Roots, Best Indie Rock, Best Male Singer (John Pedigo), Musician of the Year (John Pedigo)
Blurring the lines betwixt country and rock, RCF makes you feel like you've dug through your parents' record collection after smoking pot in the bathroom.
Nominated for Best Country/Roots
Damn, who knew someone from Arlington had so much soul? Morris touches on that icky new country, but mostly she hangs about with the ghosts of Nashville's past. As gritty as the floor of an old stadium, Morris sings with conviction and finesse but hits the dirty notes of the third wave of country. She'd be equally comfortable playing AAC as an old honky-tonk.
Nominated for Best Country/Roots, Best Folk/Acoustic, Best Album (Everbody Has a Dark Side), Best Song ("These Tears Could Rust a Train")
The perfect setting for the Theater Fire's blend of rustic Americana and Southwestern music would be under a full moon on some sweltering backwoods porch, where listeners slap mosquitoes on their sweat-slicked skin, pass around little brown jugs of hooch and laugh when the hounds howl along with the performance.
Fishing for Comets
Nominated for Best Folk/Acoustic, Best Female Singer (Camille Cortinas)
What's wrong with a little happiness? Nothing—at least according to Fishing for Comets, with their sweet, unapologetic melodies, acousto-jangle and occasional accordion forays. When singer Camile Cortinas sings, "It's just so cute/Watching the waitress/Get swept off her feet" in her happy-go-lucky voice, you don't mind a bit. With pop this coy and catchy, you can throw away your Zoloft.
Nominated for Best Act in Town
Billed as the "premier Celtic rock band in the Southwest" (really!), the Killdares have been around since 1996, proving you can shred on a fiddle as much as you can with a Gibson. This is no Riverdance train wreck. Nope, the Killdares sound like what a rock band would sound like in The Hobbit—all distorto guitar, fiddle, bass and even John Bonham-esque drum bash.
Nominated for Best Folk/Acoustic
Gliding as smoothly as a crossfader from genre to genre, Calhoun's got something to please even the most jaded music fan. Straight-ahead rock? Check. Soft, acoustic ballads that eschew cheese in favor of a dark intensity? Disco? A smidge. New wave? Pass the hair gel. Which is not to say this crew is a bunch of dilettantes. They're simply music travelers, masters of each domain and unfettered by the concepts of genre.
Nominated for Best Blues
Months ago, THe BAcksliders mailed out a bunch of vinyl 45s as their press copies of a new single. As in, you know, a real live pressed platter, wrapped in cellophane and with cover art you could actually see. Opening that mother up, sliding out the disc with care, we were transported back to our eighth-grade trips to Sound Warehouse and Peaches Records. And that's how THe BAcksliders roll, with retro rock they can actually back up. They put their vinyl where their mouth is.
Nominated for Best Jazz, Best Female Singer (Amy Curnow)
Talk about eclectic: S5 harks back to those steamy Deep Ellum nights when chanteuses joined with punk rockers to put together a rockabilly band. In this case, make that a chanteuse, Amy Curnow, who has teamed up with a Billy Zoom-type guitarist and Dave Gahan-type keyboardist to produce some of the most original music you'll hear this side of the Trinity. At its soul sultry torch song sweetness, S5's output escapes the pigeonhole with brilliant guitar touches and warm, smart synths.
Nominated for Best Rap/Hip-hop, Best Album (Tres Monos in Love), Best Song ("Work It Out"), Best Producer (Picnic)
PPT knows what time it is. This hip-hop trio from tha Funky might as well be De La Soul reincarnate, with their tricky rhymes and sophisticated pop culture pickins (ever hear a rap band sample Flock of Seagulls?). Not to say they're lightweights—Pikahsso, Picnic and Tahiti have carved names for themselves with talent and humor, picking up the alt-rap mantle long ago abandoned by Tribe and the like.