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"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.

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