Our 20th Music Awards

1988-2008: Two Decades of DOMA

The Tejas Brothers walk the borders between country and conjunto, Texas and Tejano, blues and pop without settling into one genre long enough to be neatly pigeonholed.

"We thought we would play a little of this, a little of that: a little blues, a little country, a little rock with a Tex-Mex influence. We didn't realize they'd all jump into some of the songs at the same time," says accordionist frontman Dave Perez, who was entertaining diners at Los Lupes in Duncanville when bluesman Chris Zalez asked to sit in and play alongside him.

The band's self-titled debut masterfully blends those influences into the kind of music that could only come from Texas, the state that birthed Freddy Fender and Freddie King, The Texas Tornadoes and Willie Nelson. Sharing bills with Eleven Hundred Springs, which owned every category for which they were eligible at this year's DOMAs, helped bring The Tejas Brothers in front of the right audience too. Perez says he prefers playing for country fans who enjoy "real music," listeners who know better than to fall for manufactured Nashville treacle.

Whereas the Tejas Brothers head south of the border for inspiration, Denton's Ramblers go east, west and back in time a century or two. They'll frequently jumpstart a country folk song with violins and accordions, klezmer and European folk music, sounding like something you might have heard around the bonfire if a gypsy caravan and a cattle drive happened to cross trails and ended up sharing a barrel or two of whiskey. A song later, they'll score the theme from an imaginary spaghetti Western with an Ennio Morricone-inspired suite. It's not an obvious progression from the members' punk-rock pasts.

Nonetheless, the band's debut CD, Midnight Drifter, earned a warm reception from local critics who loved the left-field take on traditional country and the full-throttle, spontaneous, youthful energy they bring to such a dusty old genre. Jesse Hughey


BEST HARD ROCK ACT
THE BACKSLIDERS

Like many bands, THe BAcksliders make the claim that it is a group best experienced live. Normally, this might point to the shortcomings of a particular studio release, but in the case of Kim Pendleton and the rest of this spry quartet, a sweaty club is the best place to see what makes THe BAcksliders so special. Seeing that the band has played more than 300 gigs in its brief two-year existence, it's obvious that the members see the value in getting in front of an audience as well.

"The live act comes across pretty rocking," says guitarist Chris Bonner. You're Welcome, the band's recently issued sophomore effort, is a fine party record, a throwback to everyone from early Elvis Costello to Blondie to David Bowie, an album that makes the '80s sound like a better time than it actually was.

Pendleton's soulful voice garners much of the attention, but it's guitarist Bonner (Pendleton's husband) who writes the songs and sets the band's mood in the studio, as well as onstage.

"We play blues and hard rock," says Bonner, "but we are really more of a power pop band."

THe BAcksliders is the kind of band folks want to perform at their backyard barbecues, playing music packed full of hooks and sing–along choruses, songs that touch on just the right amount of retrospection without sounding like an oldies act. Darryl Smyers


BEST RAP/HIP-HOP ACT
ASTRONAUTALIS

How the hell did this happen? The winner for this year's Best Rap/Hip-Hop Act as judged by Dallas Observer readers a) beat out Lil Wil, who just dropped his major-label debut and has a single that's generated video spins, radio airplay and even its own signature dance nationwide; b) makes music that can only be called rap or hip-hop if you're using a very broad definition for the genre; c) did nothing to encourage his fans to vote for him (at least as far as I can tell); and d) hasn't lived in North Texas for five years. It might almost seem suspicious if you've never heard Astronautalis, aka former SMU theater student Andy Bothwell, a Jacksonville, Florida, native. But if you listen to the narrative rhymes and genre-blending beats on You and Yer Good Ideas or The Mighty Ocean and Nine Dark Theaters or, better yet, if you catch one of his riveting live performances, it will finally make sense.

This fall, Astronautalis will release a John Congleton-produced CD, which will include collaborations with several area stars including Midlake drummer McKenzie Smith and fellow DOMA winners Sean Kirkpatrick and Sarah Jaffe, to name a few. He says he'll be promoting it heavily by the end of the summer, but given that Astronautalis can win a DOMA from another time zone without so much as posting a MySpace blog about the contest, he might not have to promote the release too hard around these parts. —J.H.


BEST BLUES ACT
JONATHAN TYLER & THE NORTHERN LIGHTS

Speaking from his home in Flower Mound, 23-year-old blues wunderkind Jonathan Tyler is boyishly modest, but still confident and almost giddy. And for good reason. He and his band, The Northern Lights, are getting ready for a lengthy tour, and an album deal with Atlantic Records is, according to Tyler, "really close."

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