Endure a few run-throughs of Pomp and Circumstance, make sure your tassel is on the correct side of your cap and ready your flask for the after-party at the rich kids lake house. Its a graduation, baby.

Most years, the theme of the Dallas Observer Music Awards is an afterthought, some cute concept that makes for good cover images, but this year is different (even though, admittedly, our art director enjoyed that punk-rock cheerleader photo shoot).

Much like high school, the past year in local music has been rough, including some big break-ups (Chomsky, Day of the Double Agent), some bigger breakdowns (Trees, Club Dada) and some shitty parties (Dallas Music Festival).

But again, like high school, we all got throughand even had some fun on the way. Thank the areas best musicians for that. In spite of shakeups all over the city, this past year saw the scene prove its creative muscle and make its marks, so lets treat this years awards for what they really area cap-and-gown token of gratitude to the music that has survived (and thrived) in a year that hasnt exactly been easy.

And remember, this is your token. After helping with Februarys open nominations (your choices were split with a panel of local DJs, record label employees, club owners, Web site owners and writers), your 3,627 votes decided the 23 winners on the following pages. There werent many surprises in the voting (unless the Burden Brothers single award seems small compared with last years eight), though a few categories were heatedvotes for female singer, cover band and best act in town were neck-and-neck until the polls closed.

Longtime readers will notice a few changesseparate categories for best guitarist, bassist and drummer were combined into an instrumentalist category, which put deserving players on keyboard, fiddle and pedal steel onto the ballot. Since this is a rock-dominated city, the rock category is now split between hard and indie (the latter of which I still find ill-fitting, since, uh, isnt everybody independent out here?). Electronic music, once ill-matched on the ballot with DJs, now shares a category with the experimental genrenot perfect, but an improvement. And last, after 10 years of ignoring the Internet, were giving local music Web sites their DOMA day in the sun.

In the graduation spirit, you can be nice and say there are no losers hereeverybody passed their classes and did a damn fine job. But the 23 graduates with honors marks on their caps got em for a reason. Congratulations. Sam Machkovech

Best Act in Town

Humility is overrated. Every year, we talk to winning bands that are meek about their victories--"It's an honor," "I didn't expect this at all," all that Sally Field junk. Can't blame 'em, but those are veiled attempts to be polite about the "YESYESYES" sensation that swells up for the honor. You won't get that from Sorta.

"We didn't do anything this year," bassist Danny Balis says flatly. "I don't even know how to explain that, how we got nominated." He then rolls out the shit list: The band played very few concerts in 2005. That's because they were recording Strange and Sad but True, an album that is collecting dust until its official August 2006 release date. And when asked about the best act award point-blank, he's blunt: "I don't think we're even close!"

Whatever, Mr. Fartypants--the victory makes plenty of sense. The quintet's elements are among the most solid in town, from Trey Johnson's heart-on-the-floor vocals to Carter Albrecht's knows-when-to-flaunt, knows-when-to-hold-back pedal steel. More important, though, the disparate ingredients add up to a mission statement in SaSbT, an album that isn't hard rock, indie rock, country/roots or any other pigeonholed pop genre. Johnson reiterates the band's old joke: "We are Sorta, after all."

But there's no ambivalence on killer tracks like heartbreaking album opener "Buttercup" and aimed-at-the-sky rocker "Lazybones," tracks that assert the band's identity as more than a post-Wilco genre blend but the kind of genre-agnostic semi-Southern beauty that could only come from a city like Dallas. The new songs leaked onto MySpace a few months ago, which may have been enough to win over voters, and the band's reduced concert calendar brought out their largest audiences yet. Even if the past year leaves the band members scratching their heads about the victory, they know that it's been their biggest year of preparations yet.

"I'm proud of [the album] from start to finish," Balis says. "This is the best chance we've had to do something important. More important than being, you know, a local band, which, to me, isn't that bad." Especially if people say it's the best one in town. --S.M.

Chris Holt
Musician of the Year, Best Instrumentalist

"At the very beginning of [2005], I was playing with 10 bands," Chris Holt says, and the city's busiest guitarist states this with a deserved level of exhaustion. As if to rub in his man-about-town status even further, he follows with this gem: "Around the time of the [2005] awards, I whittled it down to about four. I really wanted to focus."

Jesus Christ, Chris. Most musicians would be stretched thin playing guitar for four bands simultaneously (Olospo, Salim Nourallah and the Noise, the Jones Thing, Doug Burr's the Lonelies), and that's what you call "whittling it down"? But if the title of musician of the year is this city's MVP award, then Holt's your Steve Nash, throwing assists every which way and holding his own to boot.

But even when Holt says he wants to focus on his solo songwriting, he can't help but attach a few asterisks. He's pitched in on guitar for Sorta after barely rehearsing with the band--"I already know all the songs." He'll never turn down a gig with fellow winner Nourallah--"I'm always flattered that he even wants me in the band." And even with his new "focus," Holt insists that he's still just a phone call away for bands in need of his skills.

It's not just guitar--the winner of best instrumentalist has that instrument locked, from the Brit-pop bombast he adds to the Noise to his covers-out-of-thin-air powers in Chris Holt's Jukebox to his Pink Floyd-perfect wails that propped up The Wall (or his 2006 New Year's concert tribute to it, anyway). His guitar-picking fingers take on a different identity for every act, but on his 2005 solo disc, Summer Reverb, he becomes a different band for every song. Dallas has a few amazing one-man bands, but while early Centro-matic and Deathray Davies tracks shone in spite of their lo-fi lack of polish, Holt's arrangements are a little too perfect--he nails drums, keyboards, bass and guitar as he effortlessly genre-hops from reggae-tinged pop to beer-in-one-hand alt-country to 21st-century Billy Joel and every poppy thing in between.

For this reason, the musician of the year is turning his attention back to himself (between occasional support gigs for friends, of course), abandoning his tribute gigs and rekindling Olospo as his new solo project. We can't blame him. Keep the ball this year, Holt, and dunk it. --S.M.

Salim Nourallah
Best Album (Beautiful Noise), Best Song ("The World Is Full of People Who Want to Hurt You"), Best Producer

The attached photo of Salim Nourallah on these pages isn't quite fitting. If you listen to Beautiful Noise, you know that a better photo would be a Sears family portrait--mama, papa and baby Nourallah posing in front of a painted cloud background with big smiles, the kind that would look fake if the family hadn't been through everything that inspired this year's winner for best album and best song.

In the months leading up to making Noise, Nourallah's life was shaken by trauma on both ends of the family tree--his grandfather died, and his newborn son Gavin underwent major surgery for a brain condition. "It was a period of sleep deprivation," Nourallah says. "Most people when they have kids go through that anyway, but then a lot of intense worrying and trying to get through our son's operation and not knowing how he was gonna be or not..." and he trails off. "We think about these things, dying, losing loved ones all the time, but it's not always something we want to face. It's depressing as hell. Hopefully, the record isn't."

Far from it. Noise is an album about survival, dedication and love, combining Nourallah's songwriting savvy, a Lennon-loving blend of understated keyboard and guitar songs, with his most direct lyrics yet. Rather than sob about himself, Nourallah has channeled his personal fears, worries and doubts to create a love letter for Gavin, particularly on the touching, catchy "The World Is Full of People...": "I wanna keep you safe and sound from them/I wanna keep the world from crashing in," he laments, bemoaning his powerlessness to protect his son (and, hell, himself) but holding up a shield anyway.

Just as impressive is Nourallah's slick production on the disc, an effort from his home studio, Pleasantry Lane Studios, that has racked up quite a few clients in the past year (I Love Math, Travis Hopper, Kristy Kruger, The Cut-Off) and made the man a local studio fixture. Admittedly, Nourallah will be shocked by that category win after praising the other nominees as "complete genius badasses," and his producing output was limited last year when he took time off to help Rhett Miller as bassist for The Believer, but his Pleasantry schedule is booked solid with local bands these days. Makes sense. Salim's a local fixture, a man whose kudos have been 15 years coming, a guy bands can trust to love their music and take good care of it. Added bonus: Bands can hang out with Gavin between takes. And so can Salim. --S.M.

The Valentines
Best New Act

There are two stories about how the Valentines were founded. One, singer-guitarist Joey McClellan shares while dining at Chili's: "We just started this up," he says, shyly. "We've always been doing this."

That version has an incredible lack of rock to it, especially considering the Valetines' unabashed '60s garage sound. A better story is the flaming pie-esque fable they tell on their MySpace page, involving four little boys in 1959 and a strange man in black with a bottle of Jack Daniel's. The kids, hopped up on the Jack, find "shovels made of magic" with which the quartet begins to "dig for sound" in a church playground. Unearthed are a bass for Aaron McClellan, guitars for his brother Joey and Chris Holston and a drum kit for Austen Hooks. Behold: the Valentines.

Magically fast-forward to 2006. The boys have a knack for producing raw, hard-rocking, foot-stomping songs without falling into the Strokes/Hives retro-rock trap. It's no shock that they say their main influences are the Beatles and the Stones, but unlike the bajillions of other bands with the same claim, the Valentines pay as much attention to vocal harmonies as they do their guitar lines. But if chuggy guitar rock with droning harmonies and unfiltered drums isn't your thing, the Valentines say they have lots more going for them...like the fact that drummer Austen looks like Chuck Norris and bassist Aaron has a third nipple. (Really, it's directly below his right one.) God bless a Dallas band that doesn't take itself too seriously. "There's no pretentiousness in our band," says Joey. "We're just writing songs that we like, and we're getting to share it." --Andrea Grimes

Pops Carter
Best Blues

Denton is the perfect place for a modern Delta bluesman to cultivate his legend. Born to Shreveport cotton farmers, young Tom Carter began singing with 13-piece bands when he was 13 years old. By then he'd relocated to Houston and was living with his aunt and uncle, goofing off in school but doing so well performing on street corners that club owners became envious of the crowds Carter would draw. He started touring the country shortly after the Depression, playing dives, dance halls and a prison or two. He shared stages with B.B. King, Stevie Ray Vaughan and just about everyone in between, developing a bluesy croon that is one part gravel and one part gravy. Carter eventually ended up in Little D by way of a construction job and, he says, single-handedly brought the blues to Denton in 1969. Dentonites acknowledged this contribution, giving Tom Carter the nickname "Pops." He began cherry-picking bandmates from UNT's ever-replenishing well of music students, eventually settling down with guitarist Christopher Tracey and forming The Funkmonsters in 1990. With all these experiences and achievements under his fashionable Delta blues belt, the question begs to be answered: Is the almost 90-year-old Pops ready for retirement? Not according to his MySpace profile. --Geoff Johnston

Boys Named Sue
Best Country/Roots

Name a quality beer joint in this town the Boys Named Sue haven't played and I'll give you $5. Since their humble beginnings as a side project for Ward Richmond and John Pedigo of Slick 57, a band the Sues have now outlasted, the rowdy Dallas quartet has soaked nearly every stage in Dallas in some sort of alcoholic substance, be it Lone Star, Tuaca or the Bird.

"Our rule is to never take ourselves too seriously," Richmond says. "John and I took it so seriously and so personally when people didn't like [Slick 57]. Then with the Sues, all we did was say, 'Man, who's not gonna like this shit?!'" And he's right--it's just plain hard to not like the Sues. After all, it's not every country band that can look itself in the eye unashamed after performing a live mash-up of Eminem and Merle Haggard. Sure, they're goofy as hell sometimes, but that's the point--"We're all about wanting other people to have a good time with us," Richmond says. And to those who just can't believe we would give the award for best country band to a group known largely for covers (for the second year in a row, no less), I direct you to the Sues' upcoming album of originals, The Hits, Volume One--which is sure to set the EDT (East Dallas, Texas) on fire if it sports half as many "dandies" as Richmond says it does. --Noah W. Bailey

Hard Night´s Day
Best Cover Band

When the dust settled and the votes were counted, we noticed a few DOMA categories were hotly contested, but none as much as the... cover band category? People love cover bands, sure, but two fan bases fighting for the tribute vote seems like the plot for a half-baked mockumentary. In the end, 12-year-old Hard Night's Day won yet again, defeating the Boys Named Sue by a margin of four votes.

But the Dallas quintet (yes, it takes five mere mortals to re-create the Fab Four) has certainly earned the honor this year; when they weren't re-creating the earliest, rock 'n' rollin' half of the Beatles catalog and helping Dancing Bob get his groove on, they were getting Club Dada back on its feet. With the help of investors, the band has put the Deep Ellum institution back together, but they've done more than sign a deed. Their concert calendar is trying its damnedest to mix happy-hour fare with some of the area's best up-and-coming talent. If "Happy Just to Dance With You" gets more people to listen to the likes of Fishboy, Doug Burr and Voot Cha Index, then we say bring on 12 more years of Hard Night's Day. --S.M.

DJ Merritt
Best DJ

In years past, you could find DJ Merritt spinning his inherently danceable mixes on any given night at one of Dallas' top dance clubs. Now, he's harder to find. "I've kinda quit doing all of my residencies, so I've been excited to go out and hear local music," the newlywed says. "In all honesty, it's been awesome. We go everywhere. The Cavern. The Landing. We'll even go see, what's his name?--you know, that crooner--yeah, Ricki Derek. I like to expand what I hear."

But that doesn't mean the local legend has been unproductive. In the past year, Merritt has produced releases on U.K. and U.S. labels, written and produced music for television soundtracks (including a couple of HBO pilots), had his mixes played on XM and Sirius and worked with his latest production group, Datguy. Oh, and he still cranks out Edgeclub from midnight to 3 a.m. every Saturday night on 102.1 The Edge, his sets progressing from "song-based electronic music" (Royskopp, Goldfrapp) into his inimitable dance mixes.

For more than two decades, he's been known for his guru-like mastery of the turntables, but Merritt has recently branched out into the (more) electronic world. "I've been incorporating my trusty Mac--doing stuff on the fly," Merritt says. "It's a new dimension to DJing. Do the same thing for 20 years, it gets old. [The laptop] is a breath of fresh air." And that ability to evolve, to keep his sets and mixes fresh, is what keeps DJ Merritt a fixture in the DOMAs year after year. He's energetic, ever-changing and, most important, always looking for new sounds. Get ready for your remix, Ricki. --Merritt Martin

The pAper chAse
Best Experimental/Electronic

"We're not the friendliest band,"

vocalist/guitarist/songwriter/producer John Congleton says, explaining how his band, the pAper chAse, differs from the typical sell-yourselves pop-rock outfit. "We try to be entertainers. But we're also not the kind of artists that say that the art speaks for itself and just buy the album--we actually like to play for people."

For each concert and album, the pAper chAse proves this devotion with a level of energy--and perfection--that's incomparable to many bands. They leave it all onstage, from Congleton's one-armed guitar assaults to bassist Bobby Weaver's possessed (and very bearded) stage prowl during "plugged-in" shows to the orchestral sound that comes from the trio of pianist Sean Kirkpatrick, cellist Kris Youmans and Congleton during intense acoustic sets. "There's pretty much never a show we play that I don't feel completely annihilated afterward," Congleton says.

For the last year, the pAper chAse has been working on yet another effort to scare the shit out of their fans--Now You Are One of Us, set for release from national label Kill Rock Stars in June. "We're always focused on our sound and trying to do something that sounds interesting to us, so last year was no different in that regard," Kirkpatrick says. "We spent the first half of the year working out the arrangements for the songs that would wind up being on the album. Then we spent the fall driving around the country, going to different studios for the sounds we wanted." The pAper chAse then continued to offer up live shows last year when most bands would hole up in studios satisfied to just be recording...proving that indeed, these unfriendly bastards actually like to play for you people. --M.M.

Fishing for Comets >br>Best Folk/Acoustic

Though Fishing for Comets isn't in the same category as Fair to Midland, Mugzu or even the Deathray Davies, folk or acoustic it ain't either. The band does, however, have a mandolin player and an accordion player, so you know how that goes. Add lead singer Camille Cortinas' easy vocal melodies and Sam Romero's subtle electric guitar work and it's clear why Fishing for Comets has captured the Folk/Acoustic award every year the band's been in existence (that'd be twice). The eclectic instrumentation and matter-of-fact vocals at times recall 10,000 Maniacs, but Fishing for Comets' songs are smaller, cuter and less worldly--and that's a good thing.

Started by best friends Cortinas and Romero, who also write the majority of the songs, the band's whimsical name came from a "stupid thing" Cortinas once said to her mother to explain away what she'd been doing out late the night before. Cortinas' creativity also extends to personal touches like the homemade refrigerator magnets available for sale at shows and her quirky MySpace postings. The band's only official recording, an eight-song, self-titled EP released more than a year ago, is now somewhat out of date, but with a bit of luck and a new CD due for release in August there's no reason why Fishing for Comets can't make next year a three-peat. --Sander Wolf

Best Funk/R&B

You people really screwed this category up. Do you even bother to read these ballots anymore? Dallas is and always has been about style over substance, form over function, the cover of the book being the only thing we read in this town. Now you've gone and blindly cast your votes awarding Woodbelly, a trio of panda-shaped crackas, as Best Funk/R&B Group. While they may look like rotund Best Buy employees and their reggae riffage may initially smack of a ska band that couldn't even scrape together a horn section, Woodbelly has the performance mileage, college credits and well-weathered chops to tackle a seemingly disingenuous formula with mastery and respect. Cas Haley, Ben Drake and Brandon Morris combine two decades' worth of formal education and tireless in-the-trenches gigging to produce music that is firmly rooted in an encyclopedic knowledge of their sonic ancestry without forgetting how to craft a hook that pop radio can't deny.

Despite certain inescapable Caucasoid persuasions, Woodbelly has already shown that they're in the midst of careening toward greater and grander things. It's not like they needed a Dallas Observer Music Award to solidify their street cred. Has your frumpy-ass white-dude band opened for Burning Spear lately? Didn't think so. --G.J.

Steve Austin
Best Hip-Hop/Rap

To some voters, the hip-hop/rap category is as simple as picking the artist with the best songs. By that criterion alone, this year's ballot is pretty tough, as every dude here has it, from Tahiti's mega-watt wit to Pikahsso's sing-funk insanity to Headkrack's Uzi-style presence to Money Waters' molasses-drawl porch preaching. Steve Austin's win is indicative, to some degree, of his power on the mike, but that's only a fraction of his success.

It makes sense that "the Bioniq MC" has Dallas' best shot at national rap fame right now. His nonstop networking and promoting have landed his slick, fiery rhyme style--a perfect mix of underground cred and mainstream-ready polish--on Universal subsidiary YMC Records, which he says will finally release his long-awaited 800 Pound Gorilla album in August. After proving his business savvy in Dallas' competitive mix-tape scene, Austin's definitely excited about the official album, but he's also hesitant to hype it. "I don't get discouraged, but I don't think, 'Hey, I made it,' either. If you stop working now, when you finally put that album out, it's gonna be double-wood."

Austin says he's been preparing Gorilla "his whole life," so why stop working hard now? His live show reflects that attitude, packed with dancers, video displays and his cocksure stage presence, but just as important is his love for the Dallas scene, which he believes has actually benefited from a criminal lack of attention for so long. "You've got people sitting back, so, so, so hungry for it, that all we've been doing...we have our own slang, our own mannerisms, but at the same time, we've been open-minded because we've had to receive so much over the years. Now, we have so much to give."

The only excitement Austin doesn't hold back about is the hope that any success he gets will "kick the door open" for fellow Dallas rappers. He compares it with his recent treatment for tumors in his nervous system, a subject he hasn't gone on the record about until now: "I've been a big inspiration to the people I've been in chemo with, the kids there, because I can move around," Austin says. "They can't move. They can't get up. That's the same way it is with music here in Dallas. We've been held back for so long...and we don't wanna take no for an answer." --S.M.

Earl Harvin Trio
Best Jazz

This is the very last time Earl Harvin will win this award; he's officially out of the running, retired from contention. There are three reasons for this, two being entirely pragmatic: He's been winning this accolade since I was music editor some time in the late 1960s, and kindly nudging him aside will allow room for other comers in need of the juice Harvin's allowed to take for granted; besides, he now calls Los Angeles home, and if he qualifies for a DOMA, so, too, do Norah Jones and the Dixie Chicks. As for the other reason, Harvin is no more a "jazz artist" than he is a "drummer"; the guy can do anything in any genre with any instrument, a fact he's proven time and again during prolonged stints with everyone from Seal, Richard Thompson and The The to the Pet Shop Boys, French ambient-electro-jazzbos Air and soul stirrer Bettye LaVette. He'll appear not only on the forthcoming collaboration between Air and Charlotte Gainsbourg, but also on his very own solo disc titled Oracles, due by year's end; three samples available on his MySpace page hint at something cocktail-party slinky and back-alley funky. Harvin still comes to Dallas town with his trio (featuring Fred Hamilton on bass and guitar and Dave Palmer on piano and anything else that makes noise), but this town's now but a pit stop as he moves forever forward and upward. We will just have to accept that the great man's gone for good and find other people upon whom we can bestow this tribute from here on out. No longer giving him this honor's the biggest honor we could ever think of.

--Robert Wilonsky

Mad Mexicans
Best Latin/Tejano

Considering the current immigration brouhaha and resulting protests, it would seem merely apropos that Mad Mexicans be chosen best Latino act. But for those whose stereotypical thinking relegates Latino music to mariachi bands or Shakira crossover wannabes, the in-your-face, rap/metal/ethnic noise created by these six Mad Mexicans will come as a severe culture shock. And best of all, they're not really mad, just funny as hell.

Twin vocalists Robert Garza and Rafa Badillo front an aural assault that crosses genres as easily as the two switch languages, while the rhythm section of Rogelio Martinez and El Mero Rockstar applies a thunderous backdrop. Songs that reference underground cockfights, tequila shots and local institutions such as the Dallas Tortilla and Tamale Factory prove that humor is indeed the universal tongue.

With hormonally challenged, middle school-influenced fare such as "Pinche Guey" and "Puro Chingasos," along with a Web site that sells thongs along with the requisite T-shirts and CDs, Mad Mexicans are a parent's worst nightmare. In their immature insanity, however, there are glimmers of smirking intelligence and even social activism. "En Mi Barrio," one of the best cuts from The Revolution Has Begun, their 2005 debut, is a downright thoughtful examination of life in the Hispanic community. By embracing all aspects of their culture, Mad Mexicans just might have stumbled upon a raucous reality that transcends the politically correct straitjacket they so cleverly avoid. --Darryl Smyers

Fair to Midland
Best Metal

Recently signed to Serjical Strike Records, the label headed by System of a Down's Serj Tankanian, Fair to Midland appear, despite their innocuous name, pretty close to hitting the doom-metal big-time. Their sound has been described as a "mutant offspring of Rush, Pink Floyd, Dream Theater, Gary Numan, The Mars Volta and Pantera," but it's not nearly as gruesome as all that. More in line with old-school progressive rock masters King Crimson with maybe a little classic Deep Purple thrown in for comic head-banging relief, vocalist Andrew Sudderth and guitarist Cliff Campbell go for the proverbial throat with enough steadfast seriousness to frighten even the most jaded among us.

Inter Funda Stifle, the band's ponderously titled sophomore release, embraces just enough of metal's legitimate power to make all the stage theatrics and Sudderth's unique wailing surprisingly manageable. Any guy who can manage to keep tongue firmly planted in cheek while going overboard on tracks such as "Dance of the Manatee" and "Kyla Cries Cologne" has got some major cajones. Like Queen and Iron Maiden before them, Fair to Midland is aware of the value of showmanship and the role performance plays within the genre in which they gleefully ply their craft. --D.S.

Burden Brothers
Best Hard Rock

Says on the Bros.' Web site and MySpace page and 20-percent-off bulk-mail circular there's a new disc coming down the pike in the summer called Mercy, which we'll believe when we hear it. (What is it with Vaden Todd Lewis bands and second records? Twelve presidents came and left before Rubberneck got a little brother.) Actually, turns out we did hear pieces of it a while back; some of the thing snuck out of the studio earlier in the year, and while we learned our lesson many, many years ago about too strongly judging a Lewis project whilst it was still fomenting in the shell, we weren't wrong in thinking it needed a little more time to get its leather-pants-and-black-nail-polish act together. Those tracks were likely from the Joe Chicarelli sessions from February; since last month the Bros. have been painting on the eyeliner in the studio with local fave David Castell, putting the kick back into the kick-ass the earlier stuff was lacking jes' a little bit. Fact is, Lewis and Taz Bentley and the rest of the burdensome Burdens can take all the time they want. They've earned it, Lord knows; the last thing they want to be associated with is arena rock that wouldn't fill a high-school auditorium. So we'll wait and wait some more, till they do what they gotta do; it's their time and money, not ours. Besides, they deserve the slack; these guys know from sophomore slumps and how to avoid them. Anyone who says Hell Below/Stars Above and The Full Custom Gospel Sounds of Reverend Horton Heat weren't better than their predecessors don't know dick about keeping it hard. --R.W.

The Deathray Davies >Best Indie Rock, Best Male Singer (John Dufilho)

A guy like John Dufilho can make you feel like the laziest person on earth. In the past year alone he's released two full-length LPs of original songs (The Deathray Davies' The Kick and the Snare and his first official solo album, I Remain, as Always, a Rabble Rouser From the Mountains), and just last weekend he entered the studio with the rest of the Davies to begin recording the 30-odd songs he's written for possible inclusion on the next DRD album. And that's not even counting the second album by his other band, I Love Math, which sits finished and awaiting release, as well as an as-yet-untitled project featuring Dufilho originals sung by an impressive line-up of guest singers including Ben Kweller, Will Johnson and Robert Schneider of the Apples in Stereo. "I tend to be a little overambitious sometimes," Dufilho says. His main interest is still the Davies, however, and he's excited about the progress the band's made since releasing The Kick and the Snare, which has sold better than any DRD release to date. The band's wheels-off live show has been no secret to local music fans for the past few years, but now it seems it's finally catching on elsewhere as well. "We just got back from a little over two weeks out with a Chicago band called the M's," Dufilho says. "Every night people were calling out the names of our songs, and they weren't calling out for 'Freebird' or anything...so that was very encouraging."

Despite the growing buzz surrounding Dufilho and his band, the humble winner of the best male singer award still can't believe he was nominated for it in the first place. "Honestly, it cracks me up," he says. "There's people in town that are certainly great singers. I wouldn't put myself as one of them, but I'm totally flattered that other people like my non-style or whatever you want to call it." --N.W.B.

Kristy Kruger
Best Female Singer

Forget the voice--Kristy Kruger is one hell of a kazoo player. When she lets loose live with the most underrated of all instruments on "Little Pollyanna," a standout track from her new album Songs From a Dead Man's Couch, she never ceases to impress. Her songwriting and production skills aren't too shabby, either...not to mention the fact that she also plays guitar, mandolin, keyboards, water glasses and harmonica. But it's her voice--a sweet, twangy coo combining equal parts Aimee Mann and Patty Griffin--that's the most impressive thing of all. Though she might have started out as an Ani DiFranco wannabe, the newly released Couch sees her adopting a sound much truer to her Texas roots, with a stellar cast of our city's finest (Salim Nourallah, Doug Burr, pedal steel player Todd Pertll, etc.) pitching in to help bring her music back home. Well-crafted songs like "Blackhole" and "Never Let Me Down Again" are far more likely to appeal to fans of Kathleen Edwards than fans of aggro-feminist folk music, and it's likely the new set of tunes might finally win her the attention she deserves--so don't be surprised if we're writing about how great she is again this time next year. And Kristy, if you ever need some back-up kazoo, you know where to find us. --N.W.B.

The Adventure Club, 102.1 The Edge
Best Radio Show That Plays Local Music

It's a miracle the Adventure Club is still airing on 102.1 The Edge, a station whose format has otherwise dumbed down so steadily you'd think it had been eating paint chips since birth. Josh Venable has made a 12-year career of playing good music and saying whatever's on his mind, even holding his own in playlist cool-factor against his fellow music snobs on college, public and community radio. His DOMA competitors are all great tastemakers but without the broadcast radius and Josh's mixture of enthusiasm and ironic detachment that somehow never fails to entertain. Perhaps nostalgic voters see it as the last vestige of The Edge's alternative roots. Or maybe local music supporters see the value of a Clear Channel employee with good taste in their corner. Whatever the case, it's still fun to listen to Josh. He's still the perennial smartass older brother riding along with you on a Sunday night controlling your stereo. He's just as happy turning you onto good bands, making fun of bad ones (and we agree, Josh, Four Day Hombre's a terrible band name) or recounting his most recent meal--usually Dr Pepper and Muchacos. Local bands from Hagfish to the Happy Bullets, from Radish to Radiant, can thank him for some of their earliest Dallas airplay sandwiched between hip indie and not-so-indie national acts. The rest of us can thank him for making Sunday nights less depressing. --Jesse Hughey

Texas Gigs (www.texasgigs.com)
Best Web Site/Blog

Feel like bitching about how your work in a local band is tiring and thankless? You might want to make sure Cindy Chaffin isn't within earshot...then again, you might want to clue her in. On one hand, Chaffin's years of labor at texasgigs.com would shame any whiny kid with a guitar. This music-loving mom's countless posts about concerts, albums and news are unpaid labors of love, as are the many concert bootlegs and interviews she puts on her site for all to download for free. But Chaffin's a sympathetic one as well, giving voice and advertising to more bands and genres than any Web site around town. It's a stance that has drawn criticism from other local sites, but that trait is part of what helps Texas Gigs rack up the hits--all are welcome on Chaffin's turf, which means even the whiny, tired, thankless rocker can get a little attention as he/she trudges along in the metroplex. In the past year, the site has seen a huge overhaul after merging with Pegasus News, and the added content is already grabbing headlines with big-deal promotions like the Dallas Mavericks Playoff Anthem competition. The site's breadth and scope make it a nominee, but Chaffin's dedication makes it a lock for the first-ever DOMA for Best Web Site. --S.M.

Idol Records
Best Record Label

Over the past year, Idol Records' competition has gotten feistier. Labels like Undeniable and Spune have stepped up to battle for the chance to say, "We have more headliners than you." Or, "Our bands are more indie than yours." Quantity and oddity of acts is all well and good, but it's what Erv Karwelis and his little-label-that-can provides for bands that keeps Idol winning votes year after year.

Take distribution. "Most of the stuff that comes out on Idol comes out worldwide," Karvelis says, as Idol has licensing deals in Europe, Australia and Japan. That's basic business, though--Karvelis has better proven himself on the up-and-up. "Idol was one of the first indie labels to sign with iTunes," he says, explaining that much of last year was spent forming close relationships with digital distributors and building an online presence for Idol bands. The plan seems to be working; according to Karvelis, when Flickerstick and Black Tie Dynasty songs were iTunes' "Free Single of the Week" last year, the bands received 150,000 to 250,000 hits.

Then there are the little things. Looking out from the stage and seeing Papa Erv in the audience more often than not. Knowing that he sends out mail orders twice a day even if only one order came in, because it bugs him that some kid in Oklahoma City is waiting to rock out to [DARYL]'s Ohio. Hearing your song on Degrassi: The Next Generation, Entourage or Room Raiders, or between bands on that little thing last year called Live 8. All of those things take time, effort and care. "There's a lot of people that come and go in the record business," Karvelis says. "You have to have a passion first and foremost. And you have to love music." It helps, then, that people love Idol right back. --M.M.

Gypsy Tea Room
Best Live Music Venue

Despite recent hand-wringing over the health of Deep Ellum, it's no surprise the Gypsy Tea Room won its category yet again by a comfortable margin. The club continues to draw crowds with its admirably eclectic booking, spacious ballroom and cozier-but-still-roomy tea room. A high stage, solid acoustics, competent sound engineers and bathrooms that are palatial compared to those in other Dallas clubs (and have you met those bathroom guys who sell mouthwash and gum? Nice touch!) help the Gypsy avoid the fate of its sister club, Trees, because it still books artists with fans willing to drive into Ellum and pay cover and parking any night of the week. Non-Ellum venues like the Granada and the Cavern are thriving in the decentralization of Dallas music culture and will likely make it a tighter race next year, but the Gypsy's booking clout (courtesy of Charles Attal Presents, the company behind Lollapalooza and the Austin City Limits Music Festival) should keep it in the competition for years to come.

Hip-hop, jam bands, scenester indie rock, folk, whatever--it's all here, and the club doesn't cater to any one genre at the local level, either. A wide array of name-brand local talent can frequently be seen onstage in both rooms (often opening for big-name headliners, as April Gypsy guests Salim Nourallah and the Drams can attest to), and the club has been the host of the best monthly DFW hip-hop showcase in town, Final Friday, for a long damn time as well. Dallas' music scene may not need Deep Ellum at its heart the way it once did, but it still needs the Gypsy Tea Room. --J.H.

Lizard Lounge
Best Dance Club

The black box on Swiss Avenue, standing tall since the days when people actually called dance music "techno," still pounds with electro-beats, halter tops and the occasional glow-in-the-dark accessory Thursday through Saturday. DJs of local and national notoriety (DJ Icey, Kelly Reverb, Paul Oakenfold, Mix Master Mike, DJ Merritt and others) still grace its darkly painted and intermittently lit interior. And the goths still come out on Sunday nights when the lounge becomes the Church (and 10 bucks says Shriekback's "Nemesis" is still the big crowd pleaser). Every now and then Ché Liz mixes it up with a Dita Von Teese cabaret show, a Fetish Ball or a Girls Gone Wild appearance, but basically, nothing really changes at the Lizard Lounge--which has to be the appeal. It's a multi-level dance club. It's consistently booked with popular DJs. It has under-21 admission and after-hours options. Oh, and the bathrooms, though we need an adventure guide and a machete to find them, are still quite tidy. --M.M.

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