With the 26th annual Dallas Observer Music Awards just around the corner -- in fact, voting is open right now at musicawardspoll.dallasobserver.com -- we're looking to spend the next several weeks taking the opportunity to highlight some of the nominees for this year's awards. And when we say that these artists are the "Best," don't just take our word for it: We polled 150 local music experts to pull together the nominees this year, so they come on pretty good authority.
The first DOMA class that we're highlighting includes some of the most respected talent in North Texas: the Best Drummer category. This year's list of nominees for Best Drummer could well teach a masterclass of the instrument. Whatever you're looking for in a drummer, be it the weight of a solid backbeat or a flurry of Animal-esque textural chops, you'll find it with this year's list. Every one of this year's nominees is a force within the local music scene and deserving of their esteemed status within it.
Stefan González has been playing shows in Dallas since his early teens and is a mainstay of our city's DIY punk, grind and free jazz scenes. Outside of his avant-noise solo project, Orgullo Primitivo, González plays with jazz-rock heavies Unconscious Collective and free-jazz family trio Yells at Eels (along with his brother Aaron and father Dennis), as well as frequent touring and recording gigs. González's enthusiasm for his craft is palpable. Watch his performance during any of his groups' sets for a display of passion that's unrivaled by any musician in the area. He straddles the line between Jekyll's avant-blast freakouts and Hyde's understated, ghostnote-infused subtlety with ease. Coupled with a truly physical playing style, González casts a figure that is as imposing as his level of talent.
Grady Sandlin keeps up a prolific itinerary of local shows, usually accompanied by his partner in crime, guitarist Ryan Thomas Becker. His versatility is his biggest asset: Sandlin's playing anchors the ragged rock of RTB2 while also sitting comfortably within the self-described skunkgrass stylings of Boxcar Bandits and outlaw country of Raised Right Men. He even shines when playing with the aptly named Bar Band, covering the folk-rock repertoire of Dylan acolytes the Band. His ability to put his own stamp on another musician's body of work is a true sign of his talent and artistry. He's proven it's possible to emulate and pay tribute to another artist without sacrificing the ability to forge his own unique musical identity.
Despite gaining a name for himself through years spent in the backing band of Grammy-winning singer-songwriter Ben Harper, Jordan Richardson has carved his own identity within the Dallas music scene with his own projects and session work. A talented multi-instrumentalist in his own right, as displayed by his guitar prowess in his solo project Son of Stan, the drums are where Richardson truly shines. Richardson has contributed drums to session work by dozens of artists, displaying a professionalism and studiousness beyond his years. This all makes sense when taking into account that Richardson has been behind a drumkit for most of his life, lending a smoothness to his playing that's a sure sign of a natural talent.
Matt Mabe of rockers Quaker City Night Hawks and Big Mike's Box of Rock lays down beats as reliable and metric as they come. Mabe's rock-solid sense of rhythm is what both propels and restrains his bands: He propels them when the song calls for a driving, up-tempo feel, and restrains when a more laid-back groove is fitting. His mastery of this subtle give and take, the slight variations that make or break a song, is Mabe's calling card. Nuanced playing can be just as challenging and taxing as going a mile-a-minute, but Mabe delivers his performances with the ease of a veteran, confident musician.
Jon Teague is most well known as the rhythmic backbone in Pinkish Black, but his lineage traces back to the late '90s with legendary Fort Worth zeuhl revivalists Yeti. Teague is a master of using everything at his disposal to best serve the song at hand: His metronomic high-hat clicks in Pinkish Black create an atmosphere of imposing dread and tension, infusing the band's songs with a sense of foreboding that'd be hard to imagine without that small detail in place. A recent edition to the revamped lineup of off-kilter doom band Bludded Head, it's a foregone conclusion that Teague's contributions will be perfectly suited for the band's imposing wall of sound.
The Dallas Observer Music Awards Showcase takes place on Saturday, December 26 in Deep Ellum. Tickets are $10 general admission and $34 VIP at ticketfly.com.