Hot Sounds in the City

The 5th Annual Houston Press Music Awards

When you launch into a rpoject like a music awards, issues that have been lying disconnected throughout the course of the year come to the fore. In the process of celebrating and recognizing the musical life of the city, you find yourself in need of a coming-to-terms with just exactly what it is that's being recognized and celebrated.

"Scene" is probably the buzzing-est of the buzzwords that get tossed around in the music press, and the one that has the least application here. Whose scene are you talking about? Is it the indie rock scene that continues to flail about inside the Loop? Or is it the clique of jazzers hanging on by their talented fingernails? Is it the cover band crowd out on Richmond? Or is it the middle-of-the-road pop acts that, sooner or later, end up in commercial-friendly Austin?

According to the feel-good words promiscuously bandied about in these "scene" discussions, what the scene needs most is community and support. Support from club owners willing to take a risk with a new act. Support from other musicians willing to check out the new stuff and pass the word through the all-powerful grapevine. Support from local labels who are willing to do the hard work of development without leaving a bad taste for the bidness in a young musician's mouth.

Most of all, of course, the scene needs support from an audience. It's got to be an audience with an adventurous spirit, willing to brave the geographical barriers of Houston to seek out sound. It really should be an audience that doesn't refuse to recognize that the largest independent rap and R&B label in the South (Rap-a-Lot) is right here in Houston. It should be an audience that notices that Houston's got a truckload of stylistic diversity -- it's not a rock city, it's not a blues city, it's not a rap city, it's not a jazz city, it's not a country city and it's not a folk city. It's all those things on any given night in any given corner, and it's more often than not worth checking out. And that's what the Houston Press Music Awards set out to recognize and celebrate. -- Brad Tyer

Stories on following pages by Brad Tyer, Jim Sherman, Edith Sorenson and Chris Smith.

Best Country and Western -- Sisters Morales
Song of the Year -- "Teardrops" by Lisa Morales
Blame it on the Osmonds. Family acts come with a built-in prejudice: long on cute, short on talent. But the Sisters Morales, the winners of this year's Best Country and Western Act and Song of the Year awards, have spent years building a reputation for originality and talent -- and, occasionally, someone will notice that Lisa and Roberta are also quite attractive. Craig Jones, editor of a Montgomery County entertainment guide, raves about the sisters, who have been performing together for five years and playing together all their lives. "They're great. They have a little 3-piece band [David Spenser on lead guitar and triple-neck steel, Rick Richards on drums and Roger Castle on bass] that is as tight as a drum. They have it all."

Like many performers with a wide range of influences and a mostly original songbag, the Sisters Morales are hard to categorize. Lisa explains their classification in the country category by saying, "Nobody ever knows where to put us, and since country's changed so much, everybody figures we fit better there than anywhere else. Once you get through experimenting, you wind up where you're from."

It's a broad base to return to -- a father's enthusiasm for Johnny Cash, an older brother who was playing Beatles covers when the sisters were preschoolers, a grandmother who played classical piano, a family that sat around the table and sang traditional Mexican songs. Country definitely fits Song of the Year "Teardrops," a broken-heart love ballad that immediately brings to mind Patsy Cline. Lisa describes the song she wrote as being "about breaking up with somebody, all the pain, sadness and anger."

There's talk of a new CD to supplement the Sisters Morales cassette, and a tour of Europe is a possibility later this year. The songs the sisters have written are constantly being polished; many, such as Lisa's "I'm Coming Home for Christmas," exist in both English and Spanish versions. And while the big breaks are still in the wings, fans across Houston responded to Lisa's simple declaration of "we like to work" by saying, "We like your work." (J.S.)

Best Rap/Hip-Hop -- Planet Shock!
Hispanic rock-rap hybridizers Planet Shock! shot out of relative obscurity last year with a one-two punch of appearances at the University of Houston's prestigious Perpetual Park Party and last year's Houston Press Music Awards showcase (this year's version of which you may have attended on Monday). Those high-visibility gigs, along with a locally televised interview on Channel 11, introduced a broad audience to music with broad appeal, and the combination has made for one of the quickest climbs up the scene ladder in recent memory.

Planet Shock!'s appeal lies in the melding of wall-of-sound power-chord guitar rock, hip-hop rhythms, live instrumentation, industrial sampling and positive-tip rap. It doesn't hurt that the band matches its cross-cultural musical acumen with a marketing effort the Flintstones would kill for. T-shirts, tapes, stickers, bracelets, necklaces... there's even preliminary talk of a band-driven marketing concept/peace philosophy called Herb Life. If rap's myriad permutations -- jazz rap, Jewish rap, Hispanic rap, white rap, Irish rap -- are no longer much of a surprise on the contemporary music scene, Planet Shock!'s rock-rap meltdown might just get its shot at a day in the sun by virtue of its lack of gimmick. Because when you take away the Hispanic identifiers and the "tasty-blend-of-blah-blah" metaphors, Shock!'s music is still there, heavy as a brick and outfitted for dancing. (B.T.)

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