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Not long into the 24-plus minutes of "What I Want to Do to You" (originally the bop lead-off track on Strange Happy, rendered unrecognizable in its current incarnation), Palmer suddenly, inexplicably, breaks into a few bars of "Take Me Out to the Ballgame." But it's a momentary respite: Palmer cuts loose again, absconds deep into the final funk frontier while Harvin keeps him grounded, laying down a beat like landing lights. Finally, the track dissolves into ambient beats and trance-like rhythms, until you half expect Tricky to come out from behind the curtains and gravel-growl over the track. Every song on the new record's like this, sort of: intimate and whispered one second, consuming and enormous the next. This ain't just a record; it's a lifestyle.

When the disc is written about in rock magazines--and surely Leaning House owners Mark Elliott and Keith Foerster will make sure to get such an epic collection into the hands of the Important Tastemakers--there will no doubt be comparisons to early Weather Report, Live-Evil-era Miles Davis, and Keith Jarrett, not to mention Spiritualized and its prog-rock progenitors. They're all fair game; At the Gypsy Tea Room is what happens when jazzers raised on rock decide to cut loose from history, kiss tradition goodbye, and move directly into a dazzling, unknown future.

--R.W.

Hash Brown
Winner for: Blues
There's no musician in town more worthy of courtesy than Brian "Hash Brown" Calway, if only because this Yankee transplant has spent so long paying the bills by playing host to some of the rottenest "blues" musicians you've ever been smart enough to stay the hell away from. Recording with ZuZu Bollin, Marchel Ivery, and Henry Qualls or mentoring Todd Deatherage and preteen wonder Andrew Baxter Jr.--all that good stuff is out of love and respect, the benevolent pursuits of the blues scholar who knows deep down it don't get any better than yesterday but who doesn't shy away from taking the competition under his broad wings. But how on earth Calway can stand hosting blues jams (the scariest two-word combo in the English language, save perhaps "open mike" and "rock opera") is beyond the most rational mind. There's got to be nothing worse than setting up shop at The Bone or Hole in the Wall and inviting every two-bit liquored-up Skynyrd fan with a Stevie Ray fetish up on stage for a little rudimentary A-A-B guitar-slinging. Calway has the constitution of a combat surgeon: He's seen it all, till finally he has become inured to the blood and guts his blues too often get reduced to during Tuesday-night throwdowns. Fact is, the guy could beat the hell out of Kenny Wayne Shepherd, but Calway's such a nice guy, he'd probably give him lessons instead.

Here's a guy who lends his talent and his band (the righteous rhythm section of bassist Terry Montgomery and drummer Bobby Baranowski, beloved ever since his days keeping Reverend Horton Heat on a leash) to the most workaday of projects, yet never loses the faith. Not that Mitch Palmer's 1997 debut She's Lookin' Good--co-credited to the H.B.'s and released on their Browntone label--was dreadful. It was simply so obvious, R&B standards (among them "Can Your Monkey Do the Dog" and "Three Time Loser") and lesser-knowns rehashed one more time, till the music became an echo of a genre that has evolved as much as a corpse. God bless the bluesman who infuses his term paper with a little soul, but there comes a point when blues bands are just swing bands without the wardrobes. Sorry, but it all sounds like that Deep Ellum theme park to me.

It's a shame Calway and his boys haven't released their own record since 1994's Rollin' Blues. That disc, which is now a little hard to find, offers proof enough that Hash Brown's a smart player who knows when to hold 'em and when to fold 'em--meaning, he stays the hell out of the way long enough to let the sidemen and guest stars take center stage more often than not. You'd have thought Hammond B-3 player Nick Connelly was part of the band on Rollin'; he gets more solos than Calway, who proves himself time and again the most generous player this side of assists leader Jason Kidd. Wish we could give him more than this lousy statue.

--R.W.

Shabazz 3
Winner for: Best Rap/Hip-Hop
It must be frustrating for the members of Shabazz 3 to visit the house on Lower Greenville that their manager, Ron Guerra, shares with former Deep Blue Something guitarist Kirk Tatom. There, hanging on the dining-room wall, is a shining example of how inexplicable the music industry can be: the gold record Tatom was awarded for Deep Blue Something's 1995 major-label debut, Home. Seeing Tatom's gold disc has to be almost as frustrating as being forced to open up for Pimpadelic or Hellafied Funk Crew just because it's the only way to get gigs. Or seeing the list of nominees in the Best Rap/Hip-Hop category and not seeing another real hip-hop band mentioned, after working for years to get the Dallas hip-hop community some attention. It must be difficult for Shabazz 3 to ignore all the flashing signs blocking its path, the ones that say, "Sorry, fellas. Talent doesn't matter."

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Zac Crain
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