By Chris Lane
By Jeff Balke
By Aaron Reiss
By Angelica Leicht
By Dianna Wray
By Aaron Reiss
By Camilo Smith
By Craig Malisow
True story: In 1999, while on a business trip in Albuquerque, New Mexico, this writer crashed a folk festival and tripped upon a Houston showcase put on by the Mucky Duck. What act was blowing the roof off the joint with a serious Southern rock sound? The same one that just took home its fourth Best C&W Pressy. There is a country flavor to the good sisters' music. But they are hardly "just" a C&W band. In 1998 they took home a Best Folk/Acoustic Pressy and have been nominated in that category several times, but they could sound at home next to the Marshall Tucker Band or even the Allman Brothers. In other words, no one really knows where to put the Sisters Morales. Well, actually, we at the Press know where to put them: on your "must see live" list.
Fronted by Lisa and Roberta Morales, the group mixes Americana sounds (rock, folk, country and even a touch of Latin) with a sense of verve. Their vocals are both beautiful and genuine, and convey a sense of integrity. The music, well, that sometimes takes a turn for the rougher side as the group rips out some smoldering jams. Mix it all together, and you have one of Houston's finest groups, be it C&W, rock, folk or something in between. -- P.J.M.
Critic's pick: Davin James
Prior winners of the now-defunct Best Band Without a Category prize, the Hellcats take home the inaugural Best Rockabilly award with their patented vatobilly. What is this vatobilly, you ask? High-octane, fully automatic Uzi boogie with occasionally screamed Spanish lyrics (though most are hollered in English), as evidenced by their recent version of "Should I Stay or Should I Go" on their new CD, Comin' to Your House.
That title, when delivered by one of these dudes, is anything but welcome news. Unless you're Hunter S. Thompson or share his appetite for destruction and debauchery, you won't want these three vatos locos anywhere near anything fragile, including your ego. Call it music to massacre by. -- J.N.L.
Critic's pick: Jesse Dayton
The Tony Vega Band
"What a year it's been," says Tony Vega after learning the band won the Best Blues Band category. "We've done our work, and this is the cherry on top." There's always room for another great Texas blues band, and the Tony Vega Band is rapidly approaching that level. Catching Vega's live act is like being anointed with a blazing guitar fusillade. For Vega, being nominated alongside blues guitar heroes Texas Johnny Brown and Joe "Guitar" Hughes was a thrill. "If it wasn't for guys like that, I wouldn't be doing any of this," he says. "I wish I could share the award with them." -- A.H.
Critic's pick: Joe "Guitar" Hughes
The Free Radicals describe themselves as "a jazz, funk, ska, reggae, African music, Indian music, punk, klezmer, polka and Latin-jazz group committed to noncommercial original innovative music, political action and incessant rehearsing." In other words, these guys dig different types of music.
The Free Rads' attitude comes more out of a jam-band tradition than of jazz. They permit taping at their show, as long as you don't sell the tape and you send them a copy. They can play seemingly forever. (They once played 24 hours straight for charity.) But like jazz icon Sun Ra, the Free Rads aren't afraid to play cacophonous sounds that scare off the average listener. Their game, it seems, is mixing influences in new ways, and the moment something sounds normal, they search for a way to make it out of sight.
Will you hear the same performance by the Free Radicals twice? Not likely. The Rads' nonmainstream approach has created a bit of a commercial quagmire -- their audience is loyal, promoters like their music, and they've even been written up in The New Yorker. But some local club owners and promoters are afraid to take a risk on a band that's unabashedly noncommercial. -- P.J.M.
Critic's pick: David Caceres
Best World Music
You can't even begin to discuss the city's reggae scene without a mention of D.R.U.M. The band's long-standing prominence has paid off on several levels. The sextet has earned opening slots for Steel Pulse and other renowned touring acts. But its reputation as an awesome live unit can command a headlining gig at just about any club in town. Evidence of its prowess was in effect during a hot (literally hot, as in an overtaxed a/c system) showcase at Cabo. Despite the frat boy ambience of downtown's Tex-Mex hangout, the band tore through a succession of roots-fueled numbers. Where some acts merely stop at reggae, D.R.U.M. takes things a degree further. By incorporating jazz and funk within its worldly sound, the band's music appeals to even non-dreadheads. The Cabo show had the sweaty crowd grooving away to tight beats and hypnotic sax lines. Just when things reached a funky peak, the familiar strains of Parliament's "Swing Down Sweet Chariot" filled the room with a psychedelic air. Some dancers closed their eyes and sang along, while others merely swayed back and forth, gazing upon the hardworking musicians. The steamy, primal vibe may have affected the impact of this particular show, but the music certainly can stand on its own no matter what the climate is. -- Mike Emery
Critic's pick: The Gypsies