Sounds Like a Winner!

1996 Houston Press Music Awards

Best folk/acoustic
Shake Russell/Jack Saunders

Singer/songwriters such as Shake Russell and Jack Saunders wind up with some of the most loyal fans around: all it takes is a lyric that rings so true that it seems the songwriter has either been reading the listener's mind or mail for a lifelong enthusiasm to result. Not that great lyricists are guaranteed of achieving a high level of fame: for every Lyle Lovett, there are dozens of praiseworthy less-than-household names such as Steve Fromholtz, Dave Bromberg, Robert Earl Keen, Shake Russell and Jack Saunders. Still, even in a fame-driven industry, there are no skills that result in more peer respect than the ability to write a moving lyric. Over the decades, Shake and Jack (no one but a critic can call them Russell and Saunders with a straight face) -- along with their multitude of cohorts from the days when Anderson Fair was more of a spaghetti kitchen than a nightclub -- have mastered the art of intimate, up-close delivery of universal emotions and sentiments. Of the many local acts that can sell out the house at McGonigel's Mucky Duck, Shake and Jack's most common venue, it's their audiences who show the deepest familiarity with the music being played. Listener response -- the kind created by fans who have seen a show repeatedly -- is an integral part of the magic of Shake and Jack, and it's a big part of why the recent Live at the Mucky Duck is a much more accurate explanation of their art than were earlier studio recordings. (J.S.)

Best alternative/non-commercial

It's a bad thing to see the Jinkies -- who took home the 1995 Press prize for Best New Act -- winning in consecutive years, because as much fun as we all have watching them play, there's not much left to say. I mean, after you've gone over the basics -- the lineup of brothers Carlos and Mike DeLeon, Vince Mandeville and Matthew Thurman on guitar, drums, bass and guitar, respectively; the pop-pretty harmonies; the catchy songs; the irreverent attitude -- what can you add? The Jinkies aren't a band that stands much analyzing. To do so, to repeat the standard riffs, could end up making the band look like a cliche, which isn't fair, because they aren't. They try to mix it up, and what they can't swing in subtlety they make up for in volume, in the finest rock tradition. And to top it off, their drummer plays like a muppet. (B.T.)

Songwriters of the Year
Song of the Year
("No Really, I Can Drive")
Release of the Year
(Play with Matches)
Best Blues

Carolyn Wonderland and the Imperial Monkeys

Local musician of the year
Carolyn Wonderland

Okay, we give up. What say that next year we combine all these separate categories into a single one: Best Carolyn. Then Carolyn Wonderland can walk away with all the goodies, and people will be less inclined to ask, "How does she do it?" It'll be obvious how she does it. She's Carolyn. Who could be better at it?

Of course, some people might raise the objection that it's not just Carolyn; it's the Imperial Monkeys as well. As Wonderland herself isn't shy about mentioning, she may be the voice up front, but there are others who are playing their butts off as well. If you want to know who they are, you just have to check out the winners for Best Bassist (the Monkeys' Chris King), Best Drummer (the Monkeys' Leesa Harrington) and Song of the Year (written by King and Monkeys guitarist Eric Dane). Nonetheless, Wonderland's name comes first, and so does her recognition. She's even so influential that she's convinced a good chunk of the Houston listening audience that what she does is blues, even though any fool ought to be able to appreciate the context and put Carolyn and her Monkeys over in the rock category, where they'd undoubtedly do just fine. As is, the band gets Best Blues, which is a nod toward Carolyn's pipes and guitarist Dane's influences. And Carolyn gets Local Musician of the Year, which in part is a nod from the thousands of semi-employed musicians who've been made to feel at home on any Wonderland stage. They get Song of the Year for King and Dane's boozy, after-hours wind-down "No Really, I Can Drive," which is quite an accomplishment, considering that the tune is a hidden track tacked on at the end of Play with Matches, which gets Release of the Year. And Carolyn and the band get Best Songwriters.

What do the rest of us get? A chance to sit back and listen, which isn't a half-bad prize of its own. (B.T.)

Best bassist
Chris King

Chris King has a cool beard, a cool dad, some cool hats and he's an Imperial Monkey, which never hurts. When he won this award last year, helping to anchor yet another Carolyn Wonderland and the Imperial Monkeys sweep, he didn't have much to say about it. When he won Local Musician of the Year honors in '94 before passing the baton to (is there an echo in here?) Carolyn Wonderland, he didn't have much to say about that either. King isn't a big proponent of self-promotion, which is really why we didn't have any expectation of him saying much about winning yet one more time. So we'll step up on the dais for him and give the sort of heartfelt acceptance speech we're sure he'd pour out if he were a more image-minded (and less music-obsessed) performer.

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