As for the Imperial Monkeys' inexplicable habit of garnering the winner's share of the votes in the Best Blues category -- an honor they loathe -- it looks like they'll have to suck it up. Unconditional love is a bitch. (Hobart Rowland)

Critic's Choice: Local Musician of the Year, Mary Cutrufello; Song of the Year, "Blue Lights"; Songwriter(s) of the Year, Jesse Dayton; Best Blues, Texas Johnny Brown; Best Female Vocalist, Carolyn Wonderland; Best Guitarist, Arnett Vaughn (I End Result); Best Drummer, Damon DeLaPaz (30footFALL)

Best New Act
Best Underground
Album of the Year
Middlefinger

But once on-stage, he might wear a grass skirt and coconut-shell bra with a water gun hat while exclaiming that he would like to have sex with teen R&B idol Usher. At the band's Music Awards showcase, Kelly wore just that get-up -- and made precisely that proclamation. A heavy, dual-guitar assault fuels the band's ska-punk live show and their most recent release, the EP Quickie. Mix that frantic and energetic music with Kelly's spontaneous outbursts, and chaos is bound to ensue.

Quickie is as brazen as the quartet is in concert. Mixing thrash-metal guitar breaks and stop/start ska rhythms, the six-song record brims with the confidence of a band sure of its abilities; the sound feels live but not raw. Kelly's personality, in particular, shows itself in lyrics that read like Dr. Seuss-meets-Christopher Walken -- and sound a bit like that, too, sung in Kelly's emotive and occasionally silly voice.

Averaging one and a half shows a week since its inception in January 1996, the two-year-old band has a "play anywhere, anytime" mentality; the foursome (which also includes guitarists Jason Davis and David Cummings and bassist Jay Brooks) once played three shows in 24 hours. Such hard work appears to be paying off: Besides winning this year's Best New Act and Best Underground categories, the band is rumored to be cutting a deal with a seminal ska imprint.

This summer, Davis says the group will begin working on a second album and "play many, many more live shows." Anything to give Kelly an excuse to act out in public. (David Simutis)

Critic's Choice: Best New Act, Blue October; Best Underground, Free Radicals

Best Rock/Pop
Chlorine
Chlorine frontman Mark Fain wants to be a rock star. Never mind that such ambitions aren't fashionable anymore: During the two years the outspoken singer and his crew have been playing melodic hard rock, they've been shameless crowd pleasers. Fain gets audiences to clap their hands above their heads and hold up cigarette lighters during slow songs. He asks the crowd, in big-rock fashion, "How you doing tonight?" And sure enough, the crowd roars back.

For all of this, Fain says, "We get a lot of crap. I love it: It means I'm doing my job. We are a rock band that believes in charisma. Music is at a point where there are very few rock stars. I want to be able to look at a band's album and say, 'That guy is cool. I want to be like him.' People give us a hard time because we worry about how we dress, but we're total showoffs and flamboyant."

Now that development deals with both Columbia and Mercury Records have run their course, the quartet is playing showcases for various major labels. Because of what Fain terms "slipping through weird cracks and weird luck," Chlorine left Columbia when their A&R representative changed. As Fain explains, "If you don't have a champion for your band at the label, you'll drown." As free agents, the band will soon be playing at Los Angeles's Viper Room for A&R people from virtually every record company -- all at least somewhat interested in distributing Chlorine's long-awaited debut record.

Even though the band would love to be in front of stadium-sized crowds, they enjoy adulation wherever they find it. Told that they were Press Music Award winners, Fain was ecstatic. "It's great because it's our hometown, but I really respect anyone who digs us enough to go out and vote for us," he gushes. "I was just thankful that we were on the ballot." (D.S.)

Critic's Choice: Sonnier Brothers Band

Best C&W
Best Bassist (Denny Dale)
The Hollisters

The Hollisters will be the first to admit (in typical aw-shucks manner, of course) that their perennial dominance in this category was a long time coming. And, rest assured, they earned every vote. Mike Barfield (lead vocals, acoustic guitar), Kevin "Snit" Fitzpatrick (drums) and the lovable Dale brothers (Denny and Eddie on bass and lead guitar, respectively) play loving hosts to the truest honky-tonk strains around. The Hollisters' sound is based in the crusty Bakersfield twang, adorned with bits from past associations (the Rounders, the Wagoneers, Webb Wilder, the Chris Masterson Band) and longtime influences (Dwight Yoakam, Johnny Cash, Buck Owens). It's a melange that tears up Nashville's dreary corporate output.

One of the liveliest Texas releases of last year, the Hollisters' debut CD, The Land of Rhythm and Pleasure, left other local releases in the dust, offering a refinement of the band's rollicking live sound without buffing away the sass. In the meantime, Houston audiences have finally claimed the band for their own. The quartet is one of a precious few local bands that can pack a house wherever they play, be it a country joint (Blanco's) or a rock venue (Fabulous Satellite Lounge). These days, the Hollisters are undoubtedly one of the best live acts (if not the best live act) this side of Austin.

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