1999 Houston Press Music Award Winners

People who say awards are meaningless are usually those who a) have never won any, or b) possess such low self-esteem that anything more than a pat on the back stirs feelings of guilt in their stomachs. Hopefully, the winners of this year's Houston Press Music Awards fit neither such profile. Hopefully, these lucky folk will share intimate moments with their trophies, even if that includes cradling them like puppies around the house all day and calling them by nicknames. "Hey, lil' Pressy. Wanna go the car washy-wash with daddy-dad today? Hmm? HMM?" Hopefully, these significant selectants will be, in a word, grateful.

Not that it takes much. Just a "thank you" will do. And it's not the hard workers at Music Awards Headquarters to whom those two kind words should be directed. No, no, no. The thanks should go to the various folk who spent last Sunday going from venue to venue down around Bayou Place, listening to this music. The thanks should go to the droves of music lovers who cast ballots -- lots of ballots -- for their favorite performers, retail stores and clubs, and who helped Jennifer Hamel from Clandestine edge out perennial fave Carolyn Wonderland for best female vocalist, catapulted the Free Radicals to top honors in three separate categories and welcomed newcomers Jug O' Lightnin' to the local scene by awarding the band Best New Act. The thanks should go to the 4,000-plus people who made up the crowd at Harlon's, Spy, Aerial Theater and the six other participating clubs. The thanks should go to the fans.

To say there's not much support for local music in Houston is to contradict fact. There is. Case in point: last Sunday. Also, one Press awards concertgoer confessed to me that in the two years he has been living in Houston, the thought of paying money to see a live local act never even crossed his mind. Now, he said, he might not ever pay to see a touring act again. "What does a national band have that I-45 doesn't? Or Texas Johnny Brown? Or Japanic?"

In a word, nothing. See you next year. (Anthony Mariani)

BEST FUNK/R&B
BEST JAZZ
BEST DRUMMER (Nick Cooper)
Free Radicals

Whoever wrote in the Press Music Awards primer a couple of weeks back that Free Radicals "jumps on that Chicago-Blood-Sweat-and-Tears sound of the Age of Aquarius," the band wants you to know it didn't appreciate the comparison. "That sounds like a Chronicle thing to say," complains drummer Nick Cooper. "It sounds like one of those old music critic remarks, like what [former Chroniclecritic] Marty Racine would say."

After recently embarking on a national tour that included stops at New Orleans's Mermaid Cafe and New York City's famed Knitting Factory, the boys are busy gathering material for the follow-up to their debut, The Rising Tide Sinks All. The title: Our Lady of Eternal Sunny Delights. With titles like those, how the hell could anyone possibly compare them to Chicago? (Craig D. Lindsey)

CRITIC'S CHOICE: Best Funk/R&B, Tkoh!, Best Jazz, Malcolm Pinson's Jazz Warriors, Best Drummer, Nick Cooper

BEST ROCK/POP
Blue October

Just last year, Blue October was the Houston Press's Critic's Choice for Best New Act. But who would have thought that the act would take home this award so quickly? In a rock/pop era dominated by simplicity, this band seems a throwback to moody, intelligent art rock. There's even a violinist.

Singer/guitarist Justin Furstenfeld, formerly of Last Wish, writes literate lyrics about topics such as drug addiction and religion. And Ryan Delahoussaye, who plays that violin, capably assumes the role usually reserved for lead guitarist and, in so doing, creates timbres rarely heard in rock music. Blue October has been building a loyal following throughout Texas and may be on the verge of cracking the national scene. Count this win as one more step toward the big time. (Paul J. MacArthur)

CRITIC'S CHOICE:Coterie

BEST COVER BAND
Texas Guinness Lovers

Though not necessarily in love with the cover band mantle, Texas Guinness Lovers, according to singer/songwriter Kilian Sweeney, does appreciate the growing profile the tag has brought the band. And rest assured, this act doesn't bear much resemblance to your redneck, Richmond-strip-cruising buddy's band-o-choice.

For one thing, TGL mixes a healthy dose of originals into its repertoire. Sweeney, in fact, has been honored for his songwriting. And for another, the pool from which the band's covers are pulled includes honky-tonk, Irish drinking songs, western swing and polkas. And TGL doesn't feel particularly compelled to make sure you know which songs are which. This isn't cover band as jukebox. Rather, it's a group of musicians playing music they like and making it their own.

The band first came together in the summer of '96, with the current lineup in place by early '98. There are six members, including folks that play such atypical rock instruments as tuba and violin. This band also plays weddings. But they are happiest wherever they can pack out a dance floor. Their mission: "to honky-tonk-a-fy the world." (Chris Smith)

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