By Chris Lane
By Jeff Balke
By Aaron Reiss
By Angelica Leicht
By Dianna Wray
By Aaron Reiss
By Camilo Smith
By Craig Malisow
Just recently they crossed a huge border over to Europe, where they performed in the Mirande Festival. They're going global. Come fall, the sisters will have a definite sound when they go into the studio. They're working on an all-Spanish album that will lean toward traditional Spanish music. -- G.G.
Critic's choice: Jack Saunders
Norma Zenteno and her band are perennial winners in this category, even though they are technically neither a salsa nor a Tejano band. Yet since they're closer to Marc Anthony than Flaco Jimenez, they fall in this spot. "This is such a widespread category," says drummer Javier Zenteno. "We're thrilled to win in this category. That means the people still like our music. However, we're certainly not a Tejano or a Spanish rock band. Norma does a lot of her material in English.
"Norma is so original, nobody has her style," Zenteno continues. "However, the best is yet to come." The group plans to record material written ten years ago, some big-band Latin tunes that have never been committed to tape and an album of father Roberto Zenteno's music, with the patriarch playing the horn.
The Zenteno family's musical roots go back two generations to Mexico, where the paternal grandparents starred in early film musicals. In Houston, Roberto fronted one of the best Latin dance bands for decades. So it's no wonder that most of the Zenteno kids ended up as professional musicians. And pretty darn good ones, too. -- A.H.
Critic's choice: Moscas
No one was more surprised than Smith when he learned that he had been nominated in this category -- much more that he won it. That's because even he will admit that what he does on the keyboards in Japanic is a far cry from the flashy or intricately skilled key pushing of other musicians. In fact, in addition to being the group's keyboardist, he's also its bassist, playing all the bottom lines on the keys. "When you look at what I'm doing, it's not really complicated or about chops," he says. "It's just how I use the keyboards in context of the band to fill out the sound. To be honest, I don't know if the nomination has something to do with just being in a high-profile band or playing in front of a lot more people than some of the others. Maybe people just like hearing something different than just the typical organ stuff."
Smith never had any formal musical training but remembers toying around with the family's piano from a young age. "I just played around with it," he remembers. He started playing in a ska band five years ago, then in a group called the Sperlings (which he is still part of), by just applying to a new instrument what he knew about playing guitar. The formation of Japanic in early 1999, however, afforded Smith the chance to pursue his favorite instrument full time. He says: "I just try to put in a lot of different sounds. And I really want to be creative." - B.R.
Critic's choice: Robert Boston
At the HPMA 2000 showcase, the Suspects looked tiny among the massive throng gathered to see the band at The Hub. The stage, crammed into the corner, barely fit the nine members. But that was okay for front man Thomas Escalante. "It was great 'cause we fed off the crowd," Escalante says. "It gave us energy." So much energy that the band didn't even use a playlist. It simply played what the crowd wanted to hear. Everybody loved it. "Our sound is a variance of everything," Escalante says. "Ska just happens to be the medium." However you describe the music, the Suspects will remain Houston's top ska band, no matter what it's nominated for next year. Escalante says with a wink: "Our horns could use a little recognition." -- G.G.
Critic's choice: Los Skarnales
Despite the name, this band does not simply cover songs favored by Irish pub denizens, although that type of tunesmithery is solidly represented in the band's repertoire. TGL is just as quick with a classic rock song, an original or an obscure ditty as it is with a tune by Bob Willis and Ernest Tubb or a piss-drunk fave by the Chieftains and Pogues. "We're not wholly a cover band, because we mix in a lot of originals," says front man Killian Sweeney. "In the folk tradition, which is what we come from, there's also no question about it: You are expected to perform songs that you didn't write." These Lovers are perennial favorites in this category, bringing honest musical skill to a style that often brings out the worst in local musicians. Plus, these players aren't afraid to tinker with a melody or lyric. Or to let the tuba player go nuts. "What makes a good cover band?" says Sweeney. "The irony is that it's originality. You have to find a fresh way to play the songs so it doesn't sound like a cover. The goal is to make the [songs] palatable." -- B.R.
Critic's choice: Commercial Art