¡Viva H-town!

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

Critic's pick: Drop Trio

Best Mariachi

Mariachi Imperial

Mariachi groups have it tough. Every drunk thinks he's the next Vicente Fernandez and wants to hog up the mike. (Not that drunk mariachi wannabes need mikes.) Even world-class groups like Mariachi Vargas de Tecalitlan have to contend with concert halls full of spotlight-stealing "I can do that, too!" fans. So, how does the 17-year-old Mariachi Imperial manage to stand out? By loving the music. Fans like Elsa Rodriguez flock to Imperial performances because they "sing like their heart is going to break on every sad song. They can make you cry, they can make you dance, they can make you feel like you're back in Mexico." -- Olivia Flores Alvarez

Critic's pick: Mariachi MECA

Best Guitarist

Carolyn Wonderland

"Jailbait can play some mean guitar." So said Little Screamin' Kenny many years ago, when he first heard the teenage Wonderland pick. While that was true then, it's much more so today. Some Tuesday, if you aren't already in the habit, you should head on up to the Last Concert Cafe and watch her make her co-lead guitarist Scott Daniels earn his keep. Wonderland more than holds her own -- in fact, their two-headed guitar attack reminds me of Los Lobos, with Daniels in the sophisticated David Hidalgo role and Wonderland as the bluesier, grittier Cesar Rosas. -- John Nova Lomax

Critic's pick: Carolyn Wonderland

Best CD/Record Store

Cactus Music and Video

Year after year, this lively institution at the corner of West Alabama and Shepherd takes this award. Why? Is it the many in-stores with free refreshments? The killer CD jukebox? The excellent selection, particularly of roots music? Or is it the big local music section, or cool music-related clothing? General manager Quinn Bishop has another answer: "It's my staff," he says. "They rock. I love them." -- John Nova Lomax

Critic's pick: Cactus Music and Video

Best Punk

Vatos Locos

Google this band's name, and approximately the first 50,000 hits are of gangbangers taunting each other on message boards. First-time winners Vatos Locos fit right in with that image, if not that lifestyle. Their Dickies, flannel shirts and bandannas are the classic uniform of the East L.A. barrio warrior, and the fact that they clawed their way to the top of the punk pack in Houston shows that they know a thing or two about how to fight and win. "It's wonderful," says Vato Loco Ed Reyes. "I've been on the scene for 27 years, and this is the first recognition of any kind I've ever gotten. It's really cool." And it will be even more so when Fortune and Fun, their long-awaited CD, comes out in a couple of weeks. -- John Nova Lomax

Critic's pick: Fatal Flying Guilloteens

Best Rap/Hip-hop

Mike Jones

Last week Mike Jones was dissed mercilessly by another local rapper, Chamillionaire, on his Mixtape Messiah three-CD set. In fact, Cham spent about 85 percent of disc one railing against the man, calling him "Dyke Jones" throughout. This week he takes home the HPMA for Best Rap/Hip-hop artist. You could say the man and his lazy, infectious flow are hated by few but loved by many. Neither Jones, nor any members of his camp, the Swishahouse, were in attendance to receive the award, but if they had been, they would've felt the crowd's silent reaction to his victory. It was as if they all thought quietly to themselves, "Who? Mike Jones? Who?" in unison. Regardless of what Chamillionaire and the Houston rock, blues, country and DJ communities think, Mike Jones is poised to be Houston's next shining star. Just watch. -- Matt Sonzala

Critic's pick:Mike Jones

Other Winners

Best Folk Venue: McGonigel's Mucky Duck

Best Jazz Venue: Sambuca

Best Rock Venue: The Engine Room

Best Country Venue: Blanco's

Best Blues Venue: The Big Easy

Best Regional Mexican Act: Alazaan

Best National Act from Houston: ZZ Top

Best Latin National Act from Houston: La Mafia

Best Drummer: Brian Davis (30footFALL, Middlefinger)

Best Dance Club DJ: Mike Snow

Best Female Vocalist: Norma Zenteno (see introduction)

Best Producer: Darren Roberts

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