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Sounds Like a Winner!

1996 Houston Press Music Awards

Houston music fans are nothing if not reliable. Year in and year out, they stick by their favorite local artists; for evidence, just take a gander at the names that have proven themselves hardy perennials in the Press Music Awards. It's hard not to be in awe of such unfettered loyalty -- though at times, we must admit, we wish that voters would glance beyond the acts they've grown to love. There are a lot of worthwhile musicians out there who labor in unfortunate obscurity merely because listeners are wary of anything new. And while we agree there's a certain comfort in consistency, getting out and experimenting every now and then can be fun, too. It only stings a little -- really.

None of that, however, is meant to diminish the considerable achievements of this year's Music Awards winners. They're consistently atop the Houston heap for a reason -- if not always for their trailblazing natures, then at least for their strong work ethic and proficiency on-stage. And as many of the multi-year victors would likely admit, knowing how to campaign and work a mailing list aids invaluably in the quest for votes.

Though the bulk of the 1996 honors went to the circuit's old guard, the up-and-comers weren't completely shut out. The race for best new band was a fairly close one, which implies that some Houstonians are indeed breaking free of routine to sample fresh talent. Also promising was the number of newer bands (four) that captured respectable chunks of the vote in this year's Best Rock/Pop category. Throughout the ballot categories -- from Best Folk/Acoustic to Best Rap/Hip-Hop to Local Musician of the Year -- new names not only popped up as write-ins, they vied for top honors.

Yet another hopeful sign was the impressive turnout at the July 28 Music Awards Showcase. Unhampered by last year's soggy weather, music lovers showed up by the thousands, packing clubs to see a wildly eclectic roster of 45 bands. (Where else in town but at the Press showcase could you witness the Afro-roots strains of Wazobia sandwiched between the metal thrash of Saddlebag and the raging vatobilly of the Flamin' Hellcats?) No doubt encouraged by a tight core of venues all within steps of one another in Shepherd Plaza, spectators this year were less inclined to plant their derrieres on a single barstool for the duration, and milling about between venues was constant throughout the evening. So revel in the results of your utmost participation; you've earned it.

(Profiles by Brad Tyer, Mitchell J. Shields, Hobart Rowland, Craig D. Lindsey, Greg Barr and Jim Sherman.)

And the winners are...

Best New Act
The Hollisters

Best Rock/Pop
Hadden Sayers

Best Metal/Hard Rock
Galactic Cowboys

Best Alternative/Non-Commercial
Jinkies

Best Cover Band
Toy Subs

Best Rap/Hip-Hop
Geto Boys

Best Blues
Carolyn Wonderland and the Imperial Monkeys

Best Funk/R&B
Global Village

Best Folk/Acoustic
Shake Russell/Jack Saunders

Best Jazz
Paul English

Best Traditional/Ethnic
The Gypsies

Best Tejano/Latin
La Mafia

Best C&W
The Hollisters

Best Reggae/World Beat
Beat Temple

Best Industrial
The Hunger

Best Cajun/Zydeco
Pierre and the Zydeco Dots

Best Classical Performer/Ensemble
Houston Symphony

Best Act That Doesn't Fit a Category
Flamin' Hellcats

Local Musician of the Year
Carolyn Wonderland

Best Male Vocalist
Mike Barfield (The Hollisters)

Best Female Vocalist
Miss Molly

Best Guitarist
Joe "Guitar" Hughes

Best Bassist
Chris King (Carolyn Wonderland and the Imperial Monkeys)

Best Drummer
Leesa Harrington (Carolyn Wonderland and the Imperial Monkeys)

Best Pianist/Keyboardist
Ezra Charles

Song of the Year (Local)
"No Really, I Can Drive," Carolyn Wonderland andthe Imperial Monkeys

Best Horn/Horn Section
Global Village

Songwriters of the Year
Carolyn Wonderland and the Imperial Monkeys

Release of the Year (Local)
Play with Matches
Carolyn Wonderland and the Imperial Monkeys

Best Local Label
Justice

Best CD/Record Store
Cactus Music & Video

Best Rock Venue
The Fabulous Satellite Lounge

Best Blues/R&B Venue
Big Easy

Best Jazz Venue
Cody's

Best Folk/C&W Venue
McGonigel's Mucky Duck

Best Latin Venue
Elvia's Cantina

Best Classical Performer/Ensemble
Houston Symphony

If you go by raw numbers, the Houston Symphony didn't just win its category, it won the whole shebang: it got more votes than any other group or individual on the Music Awards ballot. And they didn't even have to play the Press showcase to come out on top. (Though it might have been interesting to see the 98 players with their 62 strings, 16 woodwinds, 14 brass instruments, a quintet of kettle drums and a grand piano crowd into, say, the Rhino Room. Note for next year: you are more than welcome to join the other performers.)

Of course, we must admit to harboring a touch of skepticism when we saw the votes pile up. It's not that we suspected any ballot stuffing (we know who stuffed, and no, you did not win). It's just that we wondered if folks might have voted more out of obligation than appreciation, voted for an ensemble they thought they should have heard rather than one they had heard. If so, you folks were right: this is one group you should have heard lately (kids' concerts while you were in school don't count). If you haven't, march straight down to Jones Hall and get your ticket. They're not to be missed. World-class is one of those public relations phrases tossed around with way too much abandon, but under the direction of Christoph Eschenbach, world-class is exactly what the Houston Symphony has become. (M.J.S.)

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