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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.

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Noah W. Bailey
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