Sounds Like a Winner!

1996 Houston Press Music Awards

In truth, there's a little more to it than that. The Hollisters' Mike Barfield isn't one of those late-blooming, roots-savvy singers who grew up on a steady dose of mainstream country and rock acts before turning to the classic crooners. His childhood home in south Houston was teeming with the sort of salt-of-the-earth sounds that would likely send a wave of wistful remembrance down the spine of the most hardened rockabilly outlaw. He sang along to old 45s from the likes of Carl Perkins, Elvis Presley and, yes, the Man in Black. That informal schooling has given Barfield an appreciation of both the power and the mystery of his low register, as well as a sixth sense of where he can let go of that gentlemanly restraint and holler a little. Like an oft-traveled country byway that jolts us out of a road trance with the occasional sharp dip and fresh pothole, Barfield gives listeners familiarity, but with a trace of the unexpected. (H.R.)

Best jazz
Paul English

Seeing as he's clinched the Best Jazz category again this year, now seems as good a time as any for a Paul English update. Most of us would require a clone or two to maintain English's hectic schedule, so we won't blame anyone for not keeping track; to be honest, we have a hard time doing it ourselves. English is out of town a lot these days, which is typical for any musician and composer of his caliber; on his '96 "to do" list are a number of commissioned classical pieces. Recently, he's been laboring hard on a classical project commissioned by Palmer Episcopal Church. The piece, which English cohorts describe as one of his most demanding ever, combines pipe organ, solo vocalists, a full choir and a chamber orchestra. Its inspiration? The poetry of Gerard Manley Hopkins. A debut is set for the spring of 1997.

Among his many compositional distractions, the accomplished pianist still manages to squeeze out enough time to work on the follow-up to his 1995 CD, Beauty, put in hours at his own Capstone record label and perform with both the Paul English Quartet and his much-loved improvisational baby, PICO. The working title of English's upcoming release is World Tour. Its themes promise to be global in scope, its musical grounding jazzy and contemporary, its shadings exotic and well-traveled.

So, no, English hasn't downshifted once since last year, and he shows no signs of doing so in the foreseeable future. We wanted to ask English how he manages -- and if he really is stashing a few spare likenesses in his broom closet. But we couldn't -- he's out of town. Guess it's business as usual. (H.R.)

Best funk/r&b
best horn/horn section
Global Village

Maybe the recent hype surrounding the release of its long-anticipated debut CD gave Global Village the boost required to take this pair of categories for the second year in a row. Maybe it had something to do with the funky (and free) spring throw-down the group hosted at the Hard Rock Cafe to celebrate said release. Or maybe Bud Ice, a Global Village sponsor, simply waved its aluminum magic wand. Most likely, though, the whole thing was simply inevitable.

Global Village owns this dual honor once again for a number of reasons -- smart publicity maneuvers and sound business sense being but two of them. First and perhaps foremost, the Villagers know how to kick out the jams, and their reputation for peddling reliable, crowd-pleasing entertainment has kept the gig requests pouring in from all over Texas and Louisiana. Equally important, Global Village has found a way to keep their act together through thin times and thick. With us since 1990, they've endured only minor lineup fluctuations -- no small feat for a nine-member band. All the while, the group continues to find new ways to escape the methodical, party-band doldrums, toeing the line gracefully between impeccable musicianship and playful spontaneity. Also vital to the band's success is lead singer Chad Strader, whose giddy, soul-drenched vocals owe an obvious debt to Stevie Wonder. Strader can just about compete with the considerable blowing power of the Global Village horn section. For fans, the funk begins and ends with that airtight brass brigade, whose colorful and assertive flourishes give Global Village's music its bull's-eye-accurate grooves and its racing R&B pulse. (H.R.)

Best cajun/zydeco
Pierre and the Zydeco Dots

Even changing Pierres couldn't shake the Zydeco Dots' grip on this category, which they have won every year since the inception of the Press Music Awards. In the 12 months plus since longtime Dots frontman Pierre Blanchard left the band to start the Bayou Stompers, Pierre Stoot has shouted and squeezed and generally held down the accordion/vocals spot in front of a veteran lineup that's certainly one of the hardest-working and best-exposed zydeco units in Houston. The Dots can be found all over town, at both clubs with a long-standing zydeco tradition such as the Shakespeare Pub and the Big Easy, and at less likely venues such as the Firehouse, Crescent City Cafe and Jax Grill, where a long-running Friday gig has become the band's home base.

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