Bite This!

Sink your teeth into the 1997 Houston Press Music Awards

D.R.U.M. is also at home on the festival circuit, which has taken them to New Orleans for the Jazz Festival and New York for the African Street Festival. The band's infectious tribal beats and boundless energy have been captured for posterity on two local releases, Ancient Sounds of the Future and D.R.U.M., which are available at Cactus Music and at the band's performances. What's in the band's future? Well, most immediately it's for keyboardist Michael Royster to replace Kenyha Shabazz, who's departing to pursue an Afro-Cuban project, Gemini. Then it's to continue letting Houstonians in on the little secret that African music covers a whole lot of ground, just like the continent it comes from. (M.T.)

Best C&W Venue

Your typical urban cowpoke would never mistake Blanco's for a Top 40 kicker bar. Rarely flaunting its laid-back roadhouse flavor, this West Alabama honky-tonk institution remains the most authentic and low-key of Houston's established country joints. Tucked away on a gravel lot near Alabama's intersection with Buffalo Speedway, the 15-year-old club seems to grow more charming with age. The interior's U-shaped setup, with its small stage and dance floor directly in front of the bar but cordoned off from the drinkers and the socializers by wooden rails, holds firmly to the Texas dance hall tradition, as does the venue's emphasis on live original music.

Blanco's manager Karen Barnes has a real ear for authentic indigenous sounds, and though cover bands are still featured on occasion, the club remains a regular tour stop for the likes of Don Walser, Gary P. Nunn and Chris Wall. What's more, local C&W favorites Mary Cutrufello and the Hollisters might as well have their own dressing rooms in the place. Blanco's has no use for publicity, paid or otherwise -- it never has. Word of mouth has worked just fine so far. Fridays are the best bet for a great night of music, but Thursdays aren't a bad move either, seeing as there's usually no cover charge. (H.R.)

Best Cajun/Zydeco
The Zydeco Dots

Still commonly known as Pierre and the Zydeco Dots, these perennial Music Award winners have been largely Pierre-less for quite a while. It's been at least two years since accordionist Pierre Blanchard left the band and moved back to Louisiana, leaving the Dots temporarily without an accordion player. After trying out various unsuccessful replacements, good fortune arrived in the form of Li'l Jabo, son of the zydeco legend Jabo. At 22, Li'l Jabo is the real deal, even if he is a couple of decades younger than the rest of the Dots, who are all in their forties. But zydeco has never been just a young player's game, and creeping middle age has done nothing to reduce the Zydeco Dots' rigorous performance schedule, which, according to guitarist Tom Potter, generally involves playing live 300 days a year. And while the older guys may not have any delusions of sudden grandeur, one has to wonder about the young and ambitious Jabo. Who knows? Before long, we might be seeing "Li'l Jabo and the Zydeco Dots" on nightclub marquees all over town. (M.T.)

Best Rap/Hip-Hop

Houston's hip-hop scene has been expanding in a variety of directions lately. And you could argue that each of the five nominees in this year's Best Rap/Hip-Hop category are in their own way indicators of that burgeoning individualism. But only one could come out on top, and this year it was the veteran rap-and-rock configuration Aftershock.

Emerging from the rubble of the much-respected rap-metal outfit Planet Shock!, this MC5-reminiscent, turntables-and-wah-wah-pedal-dependent sextet evokes the same sort of thought-provoking, thrash-metal, hip-hop anarchy that Rage Against the Machine and 311 have milked for all its platinum-selling worth. So really, shouldn't the equally talented and capable Aftershock be hot on their heels? Apparently, the Phoenix-based Retrograde label thinks so, signing Aftershock to a five-release deal, which began with a self-titled debut last October. Now it's up to the rest of the country to get with the program. (C.D.L.)

Best Folk Venue
McGonigel's Mucky Duck

Part cozy Irish pub, part intimate folkie enclave, McGonigel's Mucky Duck has grown from the risky culmination of Theresa and Rusty Andrews's love for acoustic music of all origins into a full-fledged success story. With a life span going on seven years now (mature by local nightclub standards), the Mucky Duck is so permanent a fixture on the Houston live music scene that it's tempting to take the place for granted -- and, in a way, that's the ultimate compliment.

While the Andrews's business savvy can be credited for keeping the club afloat through the inevitable ups and downs, the Duck is much more than a financial venture for the couple; it's a reflection of who they are. The mood of both tends to fluctuate depending on a night's turnout (if the crowd is tiny, tread lightly around both of them). And with Theresa normally stationed in a rocking chair just outside the front door greeting customers, and Rusty darting around the club seating folks and working the sound board, seeing a show without running into one or both of them is damn near impossible. The Duck is, after all, the Andrews's second home, and that familial affection for their work goes a long way toward explaining why the venue has almost as many loyal performers as it does loyal patrons. (H.R.)

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