Not that the Hollisters have ever let their Music Awards status -- nor the inexplicable fact that Eric "Eddie Dale" Danheim is consistently left out of the running for Best Guitarist -- steer their career choices locally and elsewhere. For them, the key to success is laid out before them for miles and miles in the form of the country's countless highways and back roads.

That said, you can bet the Hollisters had a damn good reason for missing this year's Music Awards Showcase. That's right: They were on the road -- again. (H.R.)

Critic's Choice: Best C&W, The Hollisters; Best Bassist, Denny Dale.

Best Folk/Acoustic
Sisters Morales
Granted, the folk angle may make sense to some, but Best Acoustic? Sure, Roberta Morales strums an acoustic guitar on-stage -- fair enough. But you could easily argue that the quintet's plucky personality is best defined by the rock- and country-leaning electricity generated by Lisa Morales's catchier, more upbeat compositions and the tangy licks of her guitarist hubby, David Spencer. When you get right down to it, the Sisters Morales are too country for folk purists, too rocking to call themselves acoustic, too mindful of their Latin roots to please mainstream Nashville, and too much of everything else to be neatly categorized.

But, hey, Lisa and Roberta will take their kudos where they get 'em these days. It's been rough going for the group over the last few years, so any smidgen of recognition ought to feel that much more sweet. Talk about an emotional roller coaster: There's been serious illness (Roberta's long, draining but ultimately successful bout with cancer), enormous highs (the band's signing to major label BNA/RCA), plummeting lows (their parting of ways with the company before a single note was made public) and a lot of tense and idle months in between. But Sisters forged ahead anyway, recording and releasing their own CD, the spunky, eclectic Ain't No Perfect Diamond, and performing live whenever possible.

So while Nashville may have written off the Arizona-bred Morales sibs as far too exotic for the rest of the country, they're a perfect match for Texas. We are, after all, a state full of eccentrics with impeccable taste in music. (H.R.)

Critic's Choice: Denice Franke

Best Reggae/World Music
"You know what?" D.R.U.M. bandleader Alafia Gaidi says over the phone. "I'm gonna shoot you, man. I'm gonna get a gun, hunt you down and shoot you, man."

How could this possibly be? Is the mellow, spirited founder of Houston's long-running reggae ensemble promising vengeance to someone who is bringing him news of his group's third triumphant win for Best Reggae/World Beat? Nah, he's just joshing. The last time he was quoted in these pages, Gaidi felt he gave off an ungrateful vibe over some comments about the visual presence of his previous Press award. The last thing Gaidi wants his gang to be mistaken for is ungrateful, especially after this latest win in the band's trophy case. "We treat [awards] with respect," he says. "It's a reflection of how people feel about our music."

People can feel more of D.R.U.M. when the band releases its next album, Africanexus, which is due in July. They've also gotten the call to play the North Sea Jazz Festival in Finland in the second week of July. So it looks like D.R.U.M. isn't hurting one bit. Just don't hurt us or any of our families, man. (C.D.L.)

Critic's Choice: Wazobia

Best Metal/Hard Rock
Best Rap/Hip-Hop

Oh yeah, it looks like those magnificent sons-a-bitches affectionately known as Aftershock have done it again, not only snagging another win for Best Rap/Hip-Hop but also stealing the nod for Best Metal/Hard Rock. It's the latter category that bassist Lee Leal and company feel proudest about.

"Rap, to me, is Public Enemy and the Geto Boys and stuff like that," says Leal. "And I love that. But we are a rock band. If you put a DJ in Metallica, does that make them a rap band?" Good point.

The Aftershock boys have had one slapdash year. Joining the trio of Leal, guitarist Ray "Bone" Herrera and vocalist Julio Alonzo are three new members: DJ/keyboardist Carlos M., drummer Ken Culton and rapper Que. The band also got out of its deal with Retrograde Records and is now looking for a better one. Leal says (for musicians taking notes) that you have to search in the right places to get your chance in the sun. "South by Southwest is a joke," says Leal about the much-hyped Austin-based media and music festival. "It's a good time, but it's just an excuse for executives to party. In order for a band to go and get a deal, you have to go to where the action is, like the West Coast or the East Coast or even Atlanta."

And until they make that next deal, Aftershock won't be slowing down. They'll be featured on a local-artist compilation called Houston, We Have A Problem, to be released in July. Perfectionists at heart, Aftershock aren't looking to let down their ardent fan base. "We're not gonna deprive our fans with shitty product," says Leal. "We can't lie to the kids." (Craig D. Lindsey)

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