All of which sounds like a lot of work for an S&M freak show band. (D.S.)
Critic's Choice: Number Nine

Best DJ/Dance
Sean Carnahan
Sean Carnahan is probably the only spin doctor in the DJ biz who doesn't go by some quirky handle. Oh sure, there were some names -- among them, Bossa Nova and Travel Agent (a title he would later use for his troupe of club remixers). But those are gone now, and his use of his given name illustrates the bare-essentials mentality that has made him a DJ to respect.

An 11-year veteran of Houston's vinyl-spinning scene, the Louisiana-born Carnahan has seen his own musical taste move from conventional to experimental. Three years ago, you would've likely seen him playing the likes of lounge music somewhere. Now, he has shifted his pendulum to the digital sound, playing electronica at Club Some on Saturdays or occasional Thursday-night stints at Spy.

Carnahan and other men of the record-rotating ilk are still being recognized via a 3,000-subscriber Internet organization known as the S.C.T.C. (Social Club/Turntable Club). Look for Carnahan to announce more gigs through the Web soon. (C.D.L.)

Critic's Choice: DJ Bizz

Best Cajun/Zydeco
Zydeco Dots
Zydeco has been in and around Houston for a long, long time, but guitarist Tom Potter believes it might have been the Zydeco Dots that made it cool inside the Loop. Back in the early '80s, when the group was known as Ted and the Polka Dots, Potter remembers that it was almost impossible to get booked around Houston: "You'd have to explain what zydeco was. But it's fun music. Once you hear it, you like it."

Which explains, at least in part, the Zydeco Dots' enduring success: They finally got heard.

And they stayed together. The core members -- including Potter, Mike Vowell on washboard, Joe Hurst and drummer Joe Rossyion -- have been playing together for almost 11 years. "We always have a good time," says Potter. "More fun than the law allows." It's no wonder the Dots are one of the tightest bands in town. As Potter says immodestly, "We can make up shit and it sounds like we've been playing it for a hundred years."

Crack accordion player and vocalist Leon Sam actually joined the band only recently, but he's been playing with the Dots for years. If Potter had an open date, he'd sit in with Sam, and vice versa. Since Sam plays the larger piano-note accordion instead of the small Cajun accordion, the Zydeco Dots can now slip in an old-fashioned R&B tune every once in a while.

But their real love remains zydeco, and best of all, they love playing it live. Starting every February, the Dots play about 30 gigs a month, and even when the crawfish aren't in season, the pace barely slows. And that's why fans have had to wait so long for their new album on Mastertrack. The Zydeco Dots are just having too damn much fun playing. (S.H.)

Critic's Choice: Step Rideau

Best Male Vocalist
Jesse Dayton
Forget, for the moment, that Jesse Dayton hasn't had an album out in three years, that he's actually a native of Beaumont, and that he's spent an awful lot of time schmoozing in Los Angeles lately. The strapping, boyish singer/songwriter with a voice that can liquefy steel will always be ours, wherever he is. Remember, he got his start here with rockabilly heartthrobs the Road Kings. And contrary to rumor, he's still the marquee act for local label Justice Records. Oh, and, yes, he still maintains a residence here and can still be spotted out and about at clubs like Blanco's and the Blue Iguana, either headlining or just hanging out.

Yessir, Dayton still has a soft spot for Houston, and we have one for him. Now, if only we had a bit more of Jesse to love -- namely, that new CD that seems stuck on the back burner. Its latest title -- the third so far -- is Wayward Soul, and by all indications, it's a stone-cold country album, with an emphasis on pretty melodies, sweepingly stylized George Jones balladry and vocal theatrics that would make Presley proud. An advance copy of "Never Started Living" -- an incendiary autobiographical epic said to be the album's first single -- hints that Dayton has made the impressive leap from roughneck back-alley crooner to unconventional C&W sex symbol with his historical perspective and peerless pipes intact.

But don't take our word for it; hear the latest material live. Alas, for the time being, that's the only way to test-drive the new and improved Jesse Dayton -- that is, unless you're gullible enough to believe Wayward Soul will be out before the new year. (H.R.)

Critic's Choice: Jesse Dayton

Best Pianist/Keyboardist
Paul English
This year's winner considers himself a "musician first and a jazz musician second." But for Paul English -- equally at home on the keyboard solo, in a quartet or as part of an orchestra, you could say with even magnanimity that "it's aaalll good." And the pianist/composer/arranger enjoys the flexibility of his musical career. "The history of jazz is one of variety. Look at Miles Davis. He just grew and grew and grew. The thing that attracted me to jazz is that it's a music that's always evolving. And if you're a performer, you're not expected to play the same thing the same way every time."

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