With the 26th annual Dallas Observer Music Awards just around the corner -- in fact, voting is open right now -- 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.
Like so many other once-solid genres, folk music's boundaries have become fluid, and that's made for some interesting times in the past decade or so. Sure, Dylan plugged in back in 1965, but he didin't have a kick-drum! While the sounds of this year's DOMA Best Folk Act finalists vary in many ways, there's an important thread which ties them all together in the most folkie of ways: These artists spin a yarn and weave a tale with the best of them. The story is king in folk music, and that will never change.
At times, roots act Bad Mountain is a one-man band powered by Jesse Anderson, a former member of the United States Air Force. Other times, a Bad Mountain stage can look like a rowdy front-porch pickin' session. With distorted vocals and some seriously swinging ragtime piano, there's often a true old-timey sense of storytelling on the Bad Mountain EP, released in February from locally-based Hand Drawn Records. This isn't a hushed-tone folk act, as tunes such as "Tell Me Mama" and "A Woman Like This" are rather rocking in their respective spirits. Nate Weden, who handles drums for fellow DOMA nominee Somebody's Darling, is behind the kit here too, but Anderson's stories and sawdust-covered swagger holds center stage for Bad Mountain.The Fox and the Bird
The Dallas-based folk collective Fox and the Bird should feel rather comfy in this DOMA category. Even with fluctuating line-ups, this group featuring Dan Bowman on many of the lead vocals has reliably offered up beautifully harmonic, pastoral acoustic music for five years now. The group's most recent album, Darkest Hours, released in January picked up impeccably where 2011's Floating Feather left off. Simple folk music isn't really that simple. Just as a chef working with the most basic of ingredients, all aspects of the creation must be handled with the greatest of skillful execution. In that sense, Fox and the Bird are five-star folk music chefs.Hares on the Mountain
For the casual local music fan, it might be easy to dismiss Denton's Hares on the Mountain as "another Denton band with Denton musicians from other Denton bands." But that would be a stupid mistake. Yes, Ryan Thomas Becker, Petra Kelly, Tony Ferraro and George Neal are oft-cited names when it comes to sitting in with musical projects of all stripes, but that's because they're killer musicians, singers and songwriters. Hares on the Mountain have become more than a rustic side project, and it shouldn't take more than a casual listen to the 2014 EP Sheep or a Sunday afternoon trip to Dan's Silverleaf in Denton for one of their weekly performances to know this is an entertaining group of artists working together to create something unique.Jacob Furr
Most quality music is highly personal to its creator. For Fort Worth-based Jacob Furr, this is absolutely the case with his immaculate, heartbreaking 2014 record, Trails and Traces. In a sense, the album can be viewed as a concept record that deals with the sickness and death of Furr's wife Christina last year. He was with her every step of the way as she battled cancer and many of the album's songs were born from key moments in that unimaginable period of their life together. Furr's low, looming vocals often take on a ghostly feel, and the record never lets the listener off easily.
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Whether or not this group's being named Whiskey Folk or Whiskey Folk Ramblers is inconsequential, its brand of eclectic folk-rock has been as fine of an example of the genre as we have in Dallas for years now. Indeed, they can bust out some globally flavored tunes, or they can offer up some classic, fist-pumping roots rock. Lead vocalist Tyler Rougeux lends his tunes a dusty, sleepy quality that works against any sonic backdrop. Last year's LP The Lonesome Underground is fantastic and deserves any folk fan's attention.
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