Big D's Great Roar

The Godzilla theme of this year's Dallas Observer Music Awards can be interpreted in many ways. Godzilla could represent the growing presence of corporate venues, their monstrous feet crushing everything in sight. Or it could represent the ubiquitous destruction/construction cycle we've seen in Big D over the past, oh, gazillion years, as developers stomp all over perfectly fine buildings to make room for cardboard apartments and cheap retail. Or maybe it reflects the misguided fear that DFW/Denton music is degenerating.

All possibilities, but we prefer to think of it this way: Sure, it's all those things, but more important, our music scene is as storied, powerful and fierce as a giant T. rex.

Nothing proved that more than the DOMA Nominees Showcase, which featured 35 performers at six different stages around Lower Greenville (see page 61 for more on that). Many of the venues were shoulder-to-shoulder packed, everyone from SMU sorority girls to pierced Tigger's denizens smooshed together to enjoy everything from funk to jazz to acoustic to Britpop to metal-punk. It was, quite frankly, a blast, but more than that it was proof that people are still interested in live music and that the available music is as varied and powerful as it's ever been.


DOMA winners

Equally inspiring: More than 4,000 of you voted in this year's contest, about 1,000 more than last year, not to mention the countless number of you who shaped the ballot by communally selecting nominees. Some of this year's winners will come as no surprise, but you will see a number of new faces in the following pages. There were some upsets too, as well as some dang close calls in the rap/hip-hop category, blog/Web site category and live venue category.

Whether you won by a landslide or just missed the cut, whether you participated as a nominee, a voter, a showcase attendee or just an interested fan, you should be proud of yourself, Dallas. Your involvement is what makes the DOMAs happen; your votes are what matter; and your enthusiasm is unmatched. Your contributions, in fact, are what make local music such a vigorous, vibrant scene of gigantic proportions. Congratulations to all—that shit is a monster, y'all. —Jonanna Widner

Chris Holt
Musician of the Year

"The last couple of years have been a matter of picking and choosing," Chris Holt says, citing his 14-month-old son as the most recent reason for paring down his musical obligations. "I had to cut it down to projects I really believe in," he says. Those projects amount to playing with Salim Nourallah and the Noise, Sorta, Johnny Lloyd Rollins, and his latest band the Slack. "Luckily, I'm able to work with a lot of guys that are really good. Salim, Trey and Johnny, they're great songwriters," Holt says, humbly excluding himself from the list.

The city's busiest musician finds that over the years—as he's obviously amassed a crazy amount of talent, musical knowledge and mastery of multiple instruments (not to mention a day-planner)—he's also come to grips with reality and the rock star dream. "As I've gotten older I've realized I want to make music ultimately to please myself." He quickly adds, "I mean, I want people to dig it and have fans but...if we're able to make a living and be happy, any kind of extra success that comes with it we're thankful for." Holt clearly has an incredibly loyal fan base and band after band requesting his services, so fingers crossed, that happiness part of the equation is working out.

As for working...on the Slack's upcoming release of Wishful Sinking, Holt offers that it's an evolution from 2005's solo effort Summer Reverb, just more accessible, but not in a "bad" way. "I don't think there's anything good on the radio. I'm not aiming for anything commercial because I don't think that's a good thing to aim for." More hours in the day, more days in the week and three functioning Chris Holt clones for restringing and tuning in between gigs? That's an entirely different story. —Merritt Martin

Sarah Jaffe
Best New Act, Best Female Vocalist, Best Folk/Acoustic

In less than a year, 21-year-old Sarah Jaffe's music has matured quickly and beautifully. Her haunting voice, though always affecting and poignant, once crackled with touches of insecurity; now it has blossomed into a mournful instrument, breaking when it's supposed to break, soaring when it's supposed to fly. Likewise, Jaffe's songwriting has proved precocious: Unlike so many unaccompanied singer-songwriters, she doesn't feel the need to fill up songs with over-strummed chords and sing-songy folk. Rather, the quiet parts of her already quiet songs are not voids but places to breathe, spaces to allow emotions and finely plucked strings to linger just a bit longer, like a lover leaving for the last time.

Jaffe attributes her recent good times—musically speaking—to some rough times, personally speaking. "I think that in the past few years I was into different relationships that took a toll," she says. "I was able to express through songwriting differently than when I was 18...I feel a lot better about my writing at 21."

Jaffe's such a talent, she needs two managers (of course, the soft-spoken artist would never put it that way) in the form of Kris Youmans and Amanda Newman, both of whom have been around the musical block in their years.

Jaffe credits her escalating success in part to these two, more mentors than show-biz handlers. "It's been awesome," Jaffe says, "especially in the last year and a half; with Amanda and Kris as my managers, I started meeting really cool people. I'm really grateful."

Maybe the Dallas music community should be grateful, as Jaffe's intense songs have brought a touch of Jolie Holland and Joanna Newsom to a testosterone-y, plugged-in scene. As Newman said of a sound guy who once insisted on drowning Jaffe's vocals in reverb, "Uh, Sarah Jaffe doesn't need atmosphere."

It's true—she brings her own damn atmosphere, and that's why she swept every category in which she was nominated, this quiet young lady in glasses and T-shirts and corduroys. As she continues to hone her craft, we have no doubt: Sarah Jaffe is going to be famous. Not, like, Beyoncé famous, but more like Cat Power famous. Which is exactly how it should be. —Jonanna Widner

Black Tie Dynasty
Best Act in Town, Best Male Singer (Cory Watson), Best Instrumentalist (Eddie Thomas), Best Album (Movements)

There's no other way to say it: Black Tie Dynasty kicked loads of ass this year. They also kicked the ass of these awards, topping the DOMA charts with more wins than anyone else. Between their fans' slavish devotion to BTD's new wave, '80s-throwback sound and the inevitable backlash—the haters dubbed them a Killers rip-off that wrote only radio-friendly songs—they had enough buzz that even the local-music ignorant were aware of who they are.

It probably didn't hurt that all their MySpace friends were bombarded with a blitzkrieg of campaign bulletins asking for votes. (Thanks, guys. Now I can finally see what other people are posting.) That, along with radio play on the Edge and shows all around the metroplex, garnered them the Best Act in Town as voted by fans and readers. "This year has been amazing. We toured a lot, and that's helped us and given us lots of momentum," vocalist Cory Watson says. Said momentum landed them a spot on the Edge Christmas show at Nokia, allowed them to tour the West Coast and will soon take them to Vegas, Kansas City and back to California. "We want to be out on the road all the time," he stresses. "Touring is a big priority for us this year. We just got back from our West Coast tour and started booking the next one. There was a lot of good feedback out there, so we're going to keep hitting it and gaining some industry buzz."

All that touring helped promote their first full-length release (for Idol Records in 2006), Movements, which boasted two local hits ("Tender" and "I Like U") that played well in KDGE-102.1 FM The Edge rotation and placed in the top 10 on local singles charts. "We didn't expect to get any radio support, so anything we got was shocking and exciting," Watson says. "We don't classify ourselves as a radio band. Radio is not the goal for us. We just want to write good music." All around, Movements is an upbeat gem of '80s-infused indie rock with a danceable abandon that distinguishes the band from all the other alternative jock rockers who bask in the expired shadow of Seattle grunge. And thank goodness. A break from the emo seemed to be the reprieve fans were looking for. And probably much to BTD's chagrin, Movements could very well have a few more—ahem—radio-ready singles. We're not really sure how the title came about, but we here at the Observer must admit that we snicker each time we mention it. Movements. Tee-hee.

Dallas found two of BTD's members outstanding in individual categories. As the driving rhythmic force behind the group, drummer Eddie Thomas is a powerhouse foundation who tricks the listener into following his heavy beat, only to disrupt it with an extra fill effective to the song and Watson's vocals. Get comfortable with him on "Once Around," follow him on "Lakes" and try keeping up with him on "Antarctica" (a song I keep thinking is about mating penguins but I may be wrong). He moonlights as the drummer for local pseudo-supergroup The Crash That Took Me, where his muscular drumming is evident (not to mention rockin') to great extent on "Star-Shaped Octagons."

Against Thomas' backdrop, along with bassist Blake McWhorter and keyboardist Brian McCorquodale, Watson was voted Best Male Vocalist. He eerily re-creates the almost monotone yet cogent vocal range of Depeche Mode, Echo and the Bunnymen, and Psychedelic Furs, never straying too high or low but never needing to either. "I never really wanted to be a singer. It was only till recently that I really gained a confidence in singing," he admits. Really? Because those long vocal runs on the CD and the oozing sex appeal he shows off while singing live could have fooled me, not to mention the haunting understated vox-work on "Devotion." "There's a passion that I exude when I'm singing. Passion is really the main statement that comes from my vocal styling. I know that every word I sing I'm believing it and not just singing to fill a chorus. The emotion comes first and everything kind of follows. That's what adds to making the song really powerful," he admits, lending to his star quality as the Freddie Mercury/Prince of the Dallas scene.

So after a banner year for the Dynasty, what's on the horizon? Well, the usual next album, though Watson says BTD wants to take a different avenue this time around. "We are already working on the next album and have half of the material for it already. We're changing direction with the sound," he says, "and we want to constantly evolve. This album will be a lot darker and more dynamic."

Now that's a bold statement to the dancing fans they accumulated with the energetic Movements. Tee-hee. —Rich Lopez

Granada Theater
Best Live Music Venue

A tight loose ship is the best way to describe the Granada. Tight, as in owner Mike Schoder runs things well. Bands start on time for the most part, the staff is friendly and briskly efficient, the beer cold and, with four bar areas, plentiful. Loose, because Schoder and his partner, Julie Garton, are friendly laid-back folks who truly care about music—be it local or national, jam band or experimental freak-out jazz—and their cool vibe can be felt throughout the venue's charmingly fading walls, ornate ceiling and chill-out balcony. The pair made perhaps the best move of any venue in town this year by hiring local music man Kris Youmans to book and promote shows there. Youmans' touch has raised the quality level of the acts that agree to play the venerable old theater on Lower Greenville, despite the constant struggle of battling big-name promoters of the Charles Attal variety. This year alone we've seen shows ranging from storied '60s legends to hipster faves to local heroes, all run through a top-notch sound system and stellar light effects. And, since Schoder scraped up enough dough to buy the joint, we don't have to worry: No one's gonna tear this sucker down and turn it into a bunch of condos. Not on his watch. —J.W.

Gorilla vs. Bear (gorillavsbear.blogspot.com)
Best Web site/Blog

Chris Cantalini's competitors in this category are as local as a 214 prefix—no daily Sarah Jaffe, Doug Burr, Faux Fox, Nouns Group and J.D. Whittenburg updates here, alas. Which doesn't mean Cantalini lacks a sizable local presence: He was the first to champion homegrown heroine Annie Clark (St. Vincent, natch) more than a year before she turned into an Entertainment Weekly/Spin/New York Times pick-to-click; he pimps Ghosthustler like he's got money invested in the band; and his regularly scheduled shows at the Cavern and the Loft at Palladium are must-attend shindigs amongst hipsters with indie-tuned eardrums. And he wasn't above dismissing the Dallas Observer Music Awards as "pretty much a huge joke," which ain't stopping us now.

It's a testament to Cantalini's taste and influence that we refuse to take offense at such comments. (He was, after all, the only person with whom we consulted before launching our own blog, Unfair Park.) Cantalini wisely recognizes that provincialism's a dead end for the adventurous music fan, for whom local music can serve as the gateway drug to faraway pleasures. He's a Sirius man, part of the satellite radio network's MP3 blog show, and he's given us far too much for us to bemoan the occasional beat-down: When we need to hear (and download to our iPods!) the latest from The Go! Team, M.I.A., White Denim, Madlib, Devendra Banhart or any other Pitchfork faves earlier than anyone else on the block, we dial up GvB. But most important, he's as much fan as tastemaker, seldom prone to the snark attacks that make the music blogosphere a dangerous place for the accidental tourist who wants to hear something new, like, now. —Robert Wilonsky

Idol Records
Best Record Label

"It's not financially viable running an independent label," says Erv Karwelis, founder of Idol Records. "I get by, but not very well."

For more than 14 years, Karwelis has managed Idol Records, putting out seminal releases from local semi-legends Old 97's, Hagfish, Funland and Brutal Juice as well as CDs by bands from as far off as Birmingham, England. Somehow, he has managed to keep things in the black while staying in the good graces of bands and fans alike.

"No one understands how difficult it is," Karwelis says. "They think the reason I've been remotely successful is that I don't promise anything that I can't deliver."

Karwelis has delivered more than 80 releases, pressing as few as 2,000 to as many as 10,000 discs per album. The next Idol release will be Orchestrated Kaleidoscope by The Crash That Took Me, a local conglomeration of folks from [DARYL], the Earlies and Black Tie Dynasty.

Karwelis seems content just making ends meet, steadfastly navigating through 200-plus emails a day along with an additional 250 solicitations from bands with MySpace pages.

"Too many people put out music now," Karwelis says. "Perhaps that has diminished the quality of music."

"But I've been lucky in Dallas," he adds. "I think I can stay afloat." —Darryl Smyers

Adventure Club
Best Radio Show

Josh Venable has hosted the Adventure Club radio program on KDGE-102.1 FM The Edge for nearly 15 years, and the follicularly challenged, golden-throated DJ is not shy about asserting the show's significance.

"The Adventure Club is very important to a lot of people, me included," says Venable. "There's always going to be folks who want to hear something different."

Whether it is his own musical heroes such as the Cure and the Smiths or more indie fare such as Austin's Voxtrot, Venable continues to be a staunch champion of music of distinction.

Every Sunday night for three hours, the verbose Venable digs deep into his personal collection and even finds time to feature a few local bands, if he finds them worthy.

"I don't try to look at bands as special simply because they are from here," Venable says. "I play local music when it's good." And whether it's a track from the hayseed heyday of the Old 97's or an obscure Shibboleth outtake, Venable knows he's doing a service to the independent-minded citizens across North Texas, those who crave the uncommon.

"I am glad to bring a small degree of happiness to listeners," says Venable, displaying a rare, but welcomed, humility. —D.S.

Lizard Lounge
Best Dance Club

What's left to be said about perennial best dance club the Lizard Lounge? Other than renaming it the Lizard King, as it continues its reign over Dallas' dancing denizens? Last year we mentioned the local and national DJs who hit the turntables, the risqué cabaret shows featuring schoolgirls and bikinis, and the established tradition of twice-a-week goth night The Church. In 2005, we wrote about pretty much the same thing. And take a guess what we wrote before that? Which goes to show, if it ain't broke, don't fix it, and Lizard Lounge has firmly planted itself as a Dallas clubbing icon. In this past year, the LL's roster has included the DJ collective Planet of the Drums, "America's favorite female DJ" DJ Irene, Telly's Trashy Lingerie Party and the fetish-fab Black and Blue Ball with U.K.'s Torture Garden. An upcoming concert by the techno dance pioneers Utah Saints lurks on the horizon. You won't find this stuff down the street at Purgatory or Blue, try as they might to be the premier dance club in the city. What other clubs in town wouldn't dare touch, Lizard grabs hold tight and doesn't let go. And after 16 years, we hope they keep holding on. —R.L.

DJ Merritt
Best DJ

For more than 13 years, DJ Merritt has been at the helm of the longest-running mix show in the country...and the highest-rated. Edge Club, airing from midnight to 3 a.m. Saturdays on The Edge, showcases Merritt's ability to play to just about any audience and spin any subgenre in the electronic music sphere. "I really don't like to claim that I have a total specialty," Merritt says.

Though he's often physically hidden behind an expansive system when he's playing out, Merritt's exuberant personality is ever-present. His humor and energy come across through his live mixes and recorded remixes and make him an obvious favorite on the electronic circuit. Recently, he's finished a round of remixes for locals Shock of Pleasure and reached out to the satellite world with mixes for Liquid Todd on Sirius.

Merritt plays the occasional one-off party or showcase but chooses not to go the resident DJ route in favor of breaking new music via Edge Club. "Dallas has always been extremely receptive to new stuff," he says. "And being on the forefront, that's what Edge Club is all about." The irony of his radio show's success isn't lost on him. "I'm an electronic music DJ. That's what I got into DJing for," he says, adding with a chuckle, "I play what they don't play on the radio." —M.M.

Best Funk/R&B

Man, you readers sure do like Sublime—er, Woodbelly. For the second year in a row, they easily carried the Funk/R&B category, likely aided in their conquest by lead singer/guitarist Cas Haley's recent appearances on the NBC hit America's Got Talent (and by the way, if you've arrived at this article by Googlin' Cas, please stay awhile and sample everything else Dallas has to offer). The band even beat out the legendary Bobby Patterson, who coasted to a nomination despite the fact he hasn't released an album of new material since 1998 (paging Shibboleth). And so it is that the funkiest dudes in Big D are apparently three chubby white boys—Cas, bassist Ben Drake and drummer Brandon Morris—with a jones for P-Funk and a penchant for wearing khaki shorts onstage. But we can't fault voters too much—these Woodbelly fellas are genuinely nice guys, with musical chops to boot. One might even say they're the type of musicians you could take home to Mom, whereas the late James Brown would have just taken your mom home. Big difference.—Noah W. Bailey

Boys Named Sue
Best Country/Roots, Best Song ("Honky-Tonk If Yer Horny")

Once again, you readers have proven that while you may know little about country music, you certainly know a thing or two about having a good time—and if you've been drunk at a bar in Dallas in the last five years, you've probably had a good time or two with the Boys Named Sue. A BR5-49 for the Jackass set, the Sues drink hard and play harder, mixing classic covers, zany originals and goofy medleys into maybe the most entertaining train wreck in town. "With the Sues, we all say, 'What is the stupidest thing we can do?'" says frontman John Pedigo. "Then someone will say, "Hey everybody! Watch this!!!" And then we all jump off the bridge."

Take for instance DOMA Best Song "Honky-Tonk If Yer Horny," which recalls the spirit of comic country classics like "Up Against the Wall, Redneck Mother," "Convoy" and "Up in Smoke" as it tells the tale of a truck-stop hooker named Clementine, "a guaranteed good time." Leading off The Hits—the Sues' proper debut—with a bang, the song proves once and for all that the Sues are the local kings of the beer-drinkin' anthem. "The Hits was intentionally conceptual," says Pedigo. "And by conceptual I mean we got together in one night with two cases of beer and a bottle of Tuaca and wrote the entire album and recorded it soon after. I don't think we recorded a song without giggling."

But it's not all goofin' off for the Sues, as The Hits also features some fine straight country tunes, from the easy shuffle of "Travelin' Down" to "Amber Friends," a tear-in-your-beer salute to the Sues' favorite liquid therapists, all spiked with the lovely, lilting fiddle lines of the band's secret weapon, instrumentalist Bobby Sue.

As for what's next for the three-time DOMA kings of country, it's anyone's guess, but it will certainly involve alcohol. "The Sues will continue to reign supreme and out-drink everyone under the sun," says Pedigo. "It's funny to watch people attempt to keep up with us. Sorry, but it's impossible. [Bassist Ward Richmond] and I alone 'beat' Australia and New Zealand and that ain't easy." And with drinkin' songs as good as these, it's hard not to believe him. —N.W.B.

Mad Mexicans
Best Latin/Tejano

There shouldn't be much for the Mad Mexicans to be angry about after this past year, according to founding member and vocalist Nelo Moa, aka El Mero Rockstar. "Winning the award last year gave us inspiration to step up the game," Moa said about the band's win for Best Latin Band. And step up they did. Since then they've played the American Airlines Center for the Diesel Fighting Championships, signed onto Headliner Artists and are planning to release The Revolution Has Begun, the follow-up to their 2005 release, later this year. And now they are two for two with fans naming them the best in town for Latin music, again. The 4-year-old rock-hip-hop-bilingual outfit proclaims itself the people's band with a party vibe and live up to that by making the fans the priority in their shows, whether it's bringing them onstage to sing or handing them an instrument for an impromptu play-along. They invite everyone to "Come get Mexicanized!"

"We make sure fans have a good time," Moa says. "We're from the old school. The fans are always first before we come first so this is really important to us." With upcoming shows at Firewater and an opening slot for Powerman 5000 at the Palladium, along with gigs in Austin, Laredo and College Station, they aren't slowing down anytime soon. Interestingly enough, no gigs lined up in Farmers Branch. Go figure. —R.L.

Hard Night's Day
Best Cover Band

As long as this talented quintet decides to remain together, they will probably keep winning this award. For one thing, they have some pretty damn good source material. I mean, it's one thing to pummel a well-lubricated crowd with AC/DC or Led Zeppelin riffs and quite another to skillfully re-create some of the most cherished songs in music history. Second, these guys get special kudos for helping Club Dada get back in business; just how vacant would an already echo-filled Deep Ellum be without the glimmer of Dada? And finally, by expanding the set list to go beyond the standard British Invasion Fab Four fare (even throwing in some great McCartney and Lennon solo numbers), these cheerful lads avoid the annoying tendency of cover bands to champion authenticity over enjoyment. Sure, Hard Night's Day still dress the part in those fey suits and skinny ties, but when it comes to keeping 40-year-old memories alive, there are few groups better than Bob Cummins and crew. Check the Internet and you will find more than a dozen Beatles cover bands using the name Hard Day's Night, but you will find only one Hard Night's Day. —D.S.

Best Rap/Hip-Hop

"It's a blessing to be a hip-hop group in Dallas," says Pikahsso, one-third of PPT, a trio of talented artists and producers who have quickly gained critical acclaim and a rabid, multi-ethnic fan base from all around the metroplex. Along with writing the official Dallas Mavericks playoff theme song and performing at a rally for Kinky Friedman, the trio found time to complete Tres Monos in Love, their impressive debut released early this year on Idol Records. "People want to like hip-hop, but they fear it," says the hyperkinetic and humorous 31-year-old Pikahsso, who insists his real name is a closely guarded secret. "PPT relates to the Dallas audience, and we can help them overcome their fear." Pikahsso is a graduate of Lincoln High School, and he met his cohorts, Picnic and Tahiti, at local nightspots. "We are a triple vortex," says Pikahsso, who claims he got his moniker because his rapping skills were so abstract. "PPT is like three tornadoes coming together as a funnel cloud, tearing up trailer parks." Already recording their next effort, Denglish, Pikahsso and crew have a leg up on the competition in that they mercifully never take themselves too seriously. —D.S.

THe BAcksliders
Best Blues

Forget records and CDs and MySpace—THe BAcksliders are a band best experienced live, preferably on a cramped stage in a sweaty club in a dubious part of town. And if you think it's unusual for a rock band to be named the Best Blues act in town, then you haven't heard Kim Pendleton sing. Imagine a much sexier Janis Joplin, all Tina Turner fishnets and Mick Jagger swagger, milking each song for all it's worth as husband/guitarist Chris Bonner, bassist Nolan Thies and drummer Taylor Young make a righteous garage-soul racket behind her. (Now imagine her doing the same thing in her third trimester, as she did earlier this year before having her first baby.) Relentless self-promoters, the band has recorded two albums and played 130 shows in their brief two-year existence—and it's doubtful even parenthood will slow them down too much. "I have little advice on rock momdom," Pendleton says. "Just be clean and find a good sitter." We'd gladly volunteer for the job, but we heard THe BAcksliders were playing. –N.W.B.

Shanghai 5
Best Jazz

Ironically, Shanghai 5 is in the process of finishing up their latest record with Earl Harvin in the producer's seat...Earl Harvin, the winner of a bajillion Best Jazz DOMAs, including last year's (at which point he was officially retired from the ballot). Reid Robinson, the angular and tree-tall Shanghai-ster, is hesitant to describe the sound of the new recorded effort for a lack of satisfactory words, but mention of the collaboration with Harvin plays to the band's "all together" style enough.

Robinson asserts that Shanghai 5's forte is really putting on and performing in variety shows. "We do better when we collaborate with people," he says. "It makes our energy better, and it's really more about the whole show than about an individual act. Those are the shows we love to have." The band has worked often with hip-hop outfit PPT, played with the odd-duck Trachtenberg Family Slideshow Players and was featured on PBS' Roadtrip Nation. They dig activist events for the sheer challenge of turning what could be an uncomfortable situation into an entertaining but meaningful occasion. Hell, they even collaborated with designer Lori Fox on a DIFFA jacket.

And all this variety only celebrates Shanghai 5's diverse grooves. The group produces a mélange of sound, with elements of cabaret (much of that coming from Amy Curnow's torchy pipes), blues, tiki/luau, lounge, rock and outright improv. By that very definition, Shanghai 5 is all forms of jazz rolled into one incredibly hardworking band. —M.M.

Burden Brothers
Best Hard Rock

When former Toadies frontman Todd Lewis and former Reverend Horton Heat drummer Taz Bentley decided to merge their angst, neither could have imagined how quickly their new band would entrench itself in the musical consciousness of Dallas. Or maybe they did. By tapping into the recognizable, male-centered passion of Soundgarden, Pearl Jam and Guns N' Roses, Lewis knew that Dallas bands are not often known for subtlety or arty pretension. Buried in Your Black Heart, Burden Brothers' 2003 debut, was meat-and-potatoes rock with riffs hammered into your skull by sweat, volume and veteran dexterity. Mercy, the sophomore follow-up, showed the band expanding its range, however slightly, mixing in some somber reflection ("Life Between") to go along with the expected snarl of "Shine" and "She's Not Home."

Live, Burden Brothers have created a buzz not heard around these parts since, well, the Toadies' halcyon days. When they play the Granada, the line stretches seemingly to Fair Park and the shows become cathartic celebrations, linking fans of disparate ages in a communal sauna of familiarity and fury. The day after a Burden Brothers performance, once the hangover subsides, fans are never too far off claiming they've seen the best band in Dallas. —D.S.

The Paper Chase
Best Experimental/Electronic

In the last year, The Paper Chase have seen a new album released (Now You Are One of Us), along with seeing Alaska (and many other parts of America), Europe and a lineup change (new drummer Jason Garner). Hell, they've even celebrated the birth of the first TPC offspring. It's been a busy year for John Congleton and the rest of the band, but they've taken it in stride, continually knocking audiences on their asses show after show.

Much of what makes The Paper Chase successful both live and recorded is a flawless combination of the beautiful and the cataclysmic. Lyrically, the band ventures heavily into the horrific and political (which, to be fair, is often horrific), and while the instrumentation supporting such lyrics ventures into minor keys and throbbing, low tones, it does so with near luxurious symphonic aplomb. The experimentation with mood via melody leaves one both frightened and feeling romantic and, at the same time, incredibly challenged and energized.

All this comes from some of the most passionate but approachable folk in the industry. Every member of The Paper Chase has his iron in more than one musical fire, but the chemistry is unparalleled when they play together and, for this, they are grateful. "Every aspect of the band, as far as how we work together, has been so healthy," Congleton says. "A lot of what's fun about being in a band is having a shared experience with these other guys. And I can feel fairly safe in saying everyone's giving everything they've got when we're playing live. It's nice to share that with other people. If other people think it's awesome, that's fucking great." —M.M.

The Valentines
Best Indie

Sigh...when is the music world gonna retire the term "indie"? Its meaning has been through so many incarnations, who the hell knows what it signifies?

For the sake of argument, let's set down a general definition. If indie means independent in spirit; if indie means celebrating the legends of the past who cared not a whit about smashing drum kits or slurring sexily into a mic or wearing tight pants; if indie means rocking roller-coaster Britpop melodies, drifting up and down over guitars that sound like the Beatles through the Smiths through the Stone Roses through the streets of Deep Ellum, then the Valentines are certainly the Best Indie band in the 'plex. With their revved-up garage dance pop and bangs-in-the-face aesthetic, this is a crew that brings a touch of Manchester, Soho (both London and New York) and the Lower East Side to our fair part of the world. Had they been born in another place at another time, there's no doubt Factory Records' Tony Wilson and 4AD's Ivo Watts Russell would have had a fistfight over their collective soul. And no matter who won, the Valentines would have told them to piss off. —J.W.

Fair to Midland
Best Metal

Hailing from Sulphur Springs, Fair to Midland have taken their share of ridicule over everything from their name to their rabid, quickly expanding fan base. Although the members can be legitimately chastised for the former, the "haven't paid their dues" critique doesn't carry much weight in these days of the digital download, where MySpace has created an audience for bands yet to form.

Working in the oddly profitable progressive metal genre, Fair to Midland are currently in Europe, touring in support of the recently released and ponderously titled Fables From a Mayfly: What I Tell You Three Times Is True. Cultivating an international following, singer Darroh Sudderth, guitarist Cliff Campbell and the rest of this instrumentally nimble-fingered quintet just keep getting better, heavier and more popular. "Dance of the Manatee," the album's single, reached No. 19 on the Mainstream Rock chart as the band continues to draw an unlikely mix of geeks, jocks, and disaffected, pasty-faced youths to their lengthy performances.

For better or worse, Fair to Midland will always be linked to the Mars Volta, but that association, despite the snickering of critics, has increased the likelihood that these local boys will be confounding audiences all over the world for many years to come. And, as Sudderth notes, they are still Texans at heart: "We put some shit in our kick," he notes. And they certainly are kicking ass to boot. —D.S.

Best Producer
Salim Nourallah

"The thing that blows my mind day in and day out is how many ridiculously talented musicians play in this city," Salim Nourallah says. "This city has a huge, untapped potential that would explode somewhere else." A family man, Nourallah has a nurturing nature that seems perfectly suited for enhancing the sounds of the city's so-called untapped. "I feel really blessed that a few of these guys seem to be finding me." That's probably because you won't find Salim Nourallah's Pleasantry Lane under "recording studio" in the phone book. He doesn't advertise, and he doesn't need to. A prolific musician in his own right, Nourallah has had a hand in some of Dallas' recorded successes by way of knobs and dials. Among his recent client roster are Sorta, I Love Math, Carter Albrecht, J.D. Whittenburg, the Cut-Off and, soon, the Old 97's.

He remains as humble and enlightening a father to his projects as he is to his own son—reminiscent of the relationship of two of his pop favorites, father and son Neil and Liam Finn. Hopefully, unlike the elder Finn, Nourallah will be lauded by more than cult followings or those in his own city haunts, but it seems that wouldn't matter to him either way. "Being nominated and winning this is better than a Grammy to me," says Nourallah. "This is my home. These are my peers! That's what means the world to me. It isn't this ridiculous rock-star-famous trip. Leave that to the rest of the world. It's a wonderful thing." —M.M.

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