Hot Sounds in the City

The 5th Annual Houston Press Music Awards

This is truly folk music, and the folks aren't so much dirt farmers or migrant workers as the sons and daughters of dirt farmers and migrant workers who now live in the city and remember their grandparents and love listening to sweet guitars in smoky clubs. (E.S.)

Best Jazz -- Paul English
It's been an interesting year for jazz in Houston, what with Cezanne's reformatting as a subscription-based venue, and the opening of a raft of new clubs catering to the largely starved jazz crowd. Sebastian Whittaker and Dave Catney released new albums, the TestosterTones flared into mainstream consciousness and Necessary Tension continued plugging away on Thursday nights at Rudyard's.

But the biggest jazz event of the year, hands down, had to be local pianist/composer Paul English's soiree for the release of his Beauty on his own Capstone label. For the album, English recruited Yellowjackets drummer William Kennedy, Chick Corea bassist John Patitucci and homeboy-made-good Kirk Whalum on saxophone. Not only did English round up the big boys for the album, but he brought them all to town for a well-heeled concert/release party that inaugurated Rice University's Stude Concert Hall in high style.

Beauty turned out to be a quiet, subtle reading of mostly ballads that English had written over the course of almost 20 years in Houston, and it's still selling like hotcakes for a local release. Beauty, English promised, was only the first of three English releases planned for Capstone. The man is presently holed up in a Houston area studio, so more is on the way. But for now, it seems all this town needed to vote English yet another "Best Jazz" award was one long-time-coming CD, a handful of local engagements and a party that brought the jazz world's attention home to Houston. (B.T.)

Best Traditional/Ethnic -- The Gypsies
Rather more established than the name suggests, The Gypsies have been entertaining in and around Houston for 20 years. This "polyethnic" band, led by founding members Greg and Mary Ann Harbar, is a sort of living library of ethnic music. The ensemble has mastered instruments such as balalaikas, bouzouki and a wide variety of unusual horns and percussion instruments, and the Gypsies' repertoire is even more diverse. Having a party for Motown fans and friends who have to dance the Schottische? Call the Gypsies. In a certain sense, Harbar and company are real gypsies; no ethnic music or audience can lay exclusive claim to them. Sure, hours of careful study go into finding and learning much of the rare ethnic music they play, but what the Gypsies do best transcends scholarship. The Harbars are currently roving with hardworking musicians Mike Mizma, Janice Rubin, Kelly Lancaster, Barry Roberts, Pamela Bingham, Daryl Bayer, Ken Cluck and Martin Lagnford -- a group with almost nothing ethnic in common. What they do together is bring to life the joy of the people who created the music. (E.S.)

Best Guitarist -- Joe "Guitar" Hughes
When you talk Texas blues, you're talking Third Ward. And when you're talking Third Ward, you're talking Joe "Guitar" Hughes, who played the Eldorado Ballroom years before most of the people reading this were born. Joe Hughes is an authentic Third Ward bluesman right down to the last dirty detail. He plays to crowds of thousands in Europe while playing to mere dozens at home. He's never had a hit record, but he's been bootlegged from here to Singapore. And he's got hours of stories about performers who were friends of his and legends to us mere mortals. In recent years it's started to look like Hughes might be the first man to prove by example that you can live in Houston and still make a go of it in the blues business. Hughes played on both of Johnny Copeland's recent Polygram CDs -- fitting, since the two played together at Shady's 40 years ago -- and this is his second consecutive Best Guitarist award. Hughes doesn't just open Juneteenth or festivals in Europe any more, he headlines those gigs. And finally, his albums are getting airplay -- in Europe, anyway, where they're recorded and manufactured. But in Houston, for now, Hughes continues, unjustly, as one of the city's best kept blues secrets. (J.S.)

Best Avant-Garde/Experimental -- Beans Barton and the Bi-Peds
Equal parts mass-consumption performance art, one-man soapbox, and mayhemic musicianship, Beans Barton and the Bi-Peds have been quirking for Houstonians for over nine years now. Beans himself has been here since 1957 -- "Since before the bayous were paved. I watched them do it!" -- and he's only too happy to tell you about it. Or anything else, for that matter. The Bi-Peds have been noticeably absent for a while, but now, says Beans, "we're back in band mode."

So just what makes this Beans thing "experimental" per se? "Well," says the man, "it's quite a show. We do rock-and-roll. I wear about eight different suits -- all at once -- and peel them down one at a time during the songs. I've got a fine band. It's the best band I've ever had. And I paint a picture every time we do a show, so it's performance art. I've got my own personal light guy, he holds lights in his hand and dances around me. It's all very theatrical. It's rock-and-role, R-O-L-E." (C.S.)

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