¡Viva H-town!

Latinos come to the fore in this year's music awards

Chingo has his money (at least he says it's his money) where his mouth is. Big Chile Enterprises, the record label of which Chingo is president, CEO and mero chingón, handed out $500 scholarships to two Chavez High School students this year. Of course, Chingo made some of that money selling Torta-thongs (a.k.a. pan protectors) and T-shirts that have a copyright-infringing "Air-Chingo" logo, but hey, the checks didn't bounce. -- Olivia Flores Alvarez

Critic's pick: Chingo Bling (Best New Act, Best Latin Rap, Local Musician of the Year), Big Chile Enterprises (Best Local Label).

Song of the Year

Chingo Bling
Daniel Kramer
Chingo Bling
The Handsomes
Daniel Kramer
The Handsomes

"Suga Suga," Baby Bash and Frankie J

In all but one of the last nine HPMAs, the song of the year in this competition has either been about or had a strong undercurrent of substance abuse. The streak began in 1996 with Carolyn Wonderland's "No Really I Can Drive" and continued the next year with the Suspects' "Caffeine." After an off year, the streak commenced again with Poor Dumb Bastards' legendary "My Dad, Two Whores and a Crack Pipe," which was followed by South Park Mexican's weed ditty "High So High." In 2001 the winner was Rodney Crowell's "Telephone Road," which reminisced about getting wasted off the vapors trailing behind the Jacinto City mosquito dope truck. In 2002, Davin James's "Magnolia" took top honors, and while the drug content in that tune was minimal, it was there -- there is a line about "cool mint juleps." Hayes Carll's "Highway 87" reupped the ante: Carll's narrator drank for six straight months and had a stash of coke. And this year, Baby Bash's weed-drenched hip-hop/doo-wop number finds the rapper boasting that he loves to get blowed, has a fat sack and that he treats his Suga "like my sticky-icky or my sweet ooey-gooey." To trot out that overdone phrase one last time, Houston, we have a (drug) problem. -- John Nova Lomax

Critic's pick: "Just a Dog," Big Moe

Songwriter of the Year

Lise Liddell

Since she was attired in black jeans and matching T-shirt and not her trademark postage-stamp-sized miniskirt, it's safe to assume that Lise Liddell didn't expect to win. And all she could do once her name was announced was take the stage, brandish her award, stare myopically at the blaring spotlights and waffle on aimlessly. Winner by a wide margin, all Liddell could say later was "I wish I hadn't sounded so retarded up there." Liddell also professed to be at a loss about how it was she came to win. After all, she said, her last album had been out for over a year and "didn't sell squat," and her new one has yet to be released. (When it does come out, it will be on brother Frank Liddell's new Carnival Music label based in Nashville.) Liddell once said she doesn't write her dark, Leonard Cohen-ish lyrics "while having orange juice and cornflakes," and whatever her doubts, there seems to be a large non-OJ-and-cereal-consuming fan base here. -- William Michael Smith

Critic's pick: Hayes Carll

Album of the Year

Houston Guitar Blues, Little Joe Washington

Voters went old-school with this pick, tabbing the 1961 vintage guitar blues of the pint-sized Third Ward wildman over candidates in several more up-to-date genres. Not that this wasn't a worthy pick -- Washington is the sole survivor of a group of guitarists/neighbors that once included Joe "Guitar" Hughes, Johnny "Guitar" Watson, Albert Collins and Johnny Clyde Copeland, and this smokin' disk, which ranges from sizzling slow-burners packed with blues feeling to sophisticated, jazzy old-fashioned R&B can stand next to the best work any of them ever did. Special kudos goes to Austin-based producer Eddie Stout for catching the lightning that is Little Joe in the bottle that is this album. Sadly, Little Joe couldn't make this gig; happily, he had an even better one lined up: opening for the White Stripes in Japan. -- John Nova Lomax

Critic's pick: Houston Guitar Blues, Little Joe Washington

Best Rock/Pop

The Handsomes

After treating the Engine Room to two slices of their Sublime-esque sound, the Handsomes thanked the crowd and did a little self-promoting: "We're playing a free show tonight at the Lounge. It's on Montrose. Look us up on www.thehandsomes.com." Later, after winning their award, they again reminded the crowd about their show and Web site, prompting a hater to shout, "Get a publicist!" The thing is, they don't need one. The band of law students knows that a bit of the ol' word of mouth goes farther than anything else. Sold-out shows at the Continental, Rhythm Room and Lounge (it's on Montrose -- they're playing a free show there, look 'em up) have proved that. -- Brian McManus

Critic's pick: Panic in Detroit

Best Recurring Club Night

Rent at Union

It would be easy to look at a party like Rent -- with its buzz, its sheen and its addictive energy -- and assume the elements somehow came together effortlessly. An effusive and ever-affable Jonathan Sewell, whose breathlessness upon receiving the award could not have been faked, pointed to the realities of promotion, however: the "blood, sweat and tears" that go into making a good house night great.

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