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Houston's Gone Gaaga for Haaga

A former king of the Texas metal world unites Houston's warring rock tribes and wins a passel of Music Awards

Best Record Store
Cactus Music & Video

This perennial favorite continues its stranglehold on this category for two simple reasons: They stock things you can't get anywhere else in town, and the staffers know their shit. "Some of our best-sellers have been [rare] EPs by Death Cab for Cutie, Son Volt and Queens of the Stone Age," says manager/guru Quinn Bishop, who also carries plenty of local and regional artists unavailable elsewhere. (Not to mention a well-stocked selection of CDs from the Bee Gees, who, according to Bishop's girlfriend, are his favorite band.) The store also has started a "Build a Better Music Library" sale that encourages buyers to check out original classic albums rather than best of/greatest hits compilations. And though toys, shirts, videos and knickknacks take up a good chunk of floor space, Cactus still has the widest and most eclectic selection of music anywhere in Houston -- though they may apparently need wider vintage racks. "Our vinyl business has grown significantly," Bishop adds. Time to reorder those '70s-era LP dust brushes. -- BR

Best Salsa/Reggaetón/Latin Pop
Mango Punch

You've got to say one thing for the Punch: They are versatile. Boleros, lite jazz, mariachi, Tejano, rock en español and English, merengue, swing and (of course) tropical music might all coexist peacefully in one set. But it's the dance-floor-filling cumbia and salsa music in which the Walter Suhr-led ensemble really excels, getting hot booties of all nationalities together on the dance floor. Hey, UN, are you listening? Suhr, a native of Guatemala who has made Houston his home since the mid-'80s, alternately oversees, directs and pushes his players (who include Abbie Moolchan, Chad Tumminello, Daniel Prado and Doris Rios) like a Latino James Brown into a unit that could stop on a peso and rev it right back up for both Latino and Anglo audiences. And though they have three CDs under their belts, Mango Punch is best ladled out live. -- BR

Best Blues
Texas Johnny Brown

Not only did Texas Johnny Brown write what may be the greatest blues song ever to come out of the Bayou City (Bobby "Blue" Bland's monster hit "Two Steps from the Blues"), but he can trace his lineage all the way back to Amos Milburn and the Aladdin Chickenshackers; their biggest hit, "Chicken Shack Boogie," was the rage in Houston (and nationally) in 1948.

Any blues collector could die happy if his collection only consisted of sides that included Mr. Brown. The list is staggering: Ruth Brown, Junior Parker, Buddy Ace, Lavelle White and Lightnin' Hopkins. A studio mainstay for Aladdin and Atlantic Records as well as a member of the Duke/Peacock studio ensemble, Brown didn't just play with all the greats of Houston blues guitar, he held his own with them. And he continues to write, record and, most important, play live. The man is the Man, one of our true musical treasures. It's almost a crime that there's not a statue of Texas Johnny Brown somewhere on Dowling Street or Lyons Avenue. Or on the lawn at City Hall. -- WMS

Best Pop-Punk
O'Doyle Rules

If a band credits both Weezer and Weird Al Yankovic as influences, then you can rest assured that its "concept record" won't have that highfalutin a concept. That's just fine for this trio, whose name is an in joke from the Adam Sandler flick Billy Madison. Last year's self-released No Place Else to Go takes an overplayed subject (a bitter breakup) and still manages to tell a coherent and honest story. The current lineup includes Scott Doyle (vocals, guitar), Matt Hone (bass) and new drummer Bill McGraw, and they eschew the tired Blink/Charlotte nursery-rhyme, sing-songy rhythms in favor of a mall punk with meatier guitar riffs. It's true that there's plenty of room for this act to grow and develop, but artistically, they've already broken out of the pack. -- BR

Best Rock/Pop
The Handsomes

Massive word-of-mouth and packed (actually, overpacked) shows -- often at the Continental Club and the Lounge -- have certainly paid off for this soulful quartet with their tentacles in ska, funk, and pop. Not to mention a huge fan base that will finally get a record sometime by year's end. Jordon Blackwell (vocals), David Nachtigall (guitar/vocals), Ben Stark (bass) and newest member Patrick Kelly (drums) have found that small island of confluence between the continents of college rock and party rock. "This is great. I mean, we've only been playing two years and we've won the award twice," Stark says. "I also think we've matured a lot and now know [better] about what to expect from each other as players." And though they'll tell you their name is ironic, you wouldn't know it by the amount of outrageously hot women who regularly jump on stage to dance with the group. Stark swears up and down that they will finally enter the studio in a couple of months. "It's coming!" he adds. "I promise!" -- BR

Best Metal
Sevrin

A surprise winner in a competitive category, Sevrin is known just as much for its aggressive, those-boys-need-some-Ritalin shows as its Incubus/Linkin Park/Korn-influenced sound. Singer Sam Ammash, bassist Chris Murray, drummer (and ska fan) Mike Mann and new guitarist Kyle Coffey have just released Alone, a three-song EP that actually has moody, slower, heavier moments amid the filth and the fury. "Metal is pretty big in Houston, and there are a lot of good bands," Ammash says. "But to win this -- it's unreal!" Murray adds that the addition of Coffey will make the band sound better, and Ammash elaborates that they promise to be "more commercial, but still with an edge." They've also made great use of the struggling band's newest best friend -- MySpace.com -- to spread the message. Sevrin will now hunker down and write songs on a full-length CD, which they hope to have out next April. -- BR

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