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HPMA Preview: The (Relatively) New Kids (Sorta) On The Block

For this preview of the Houston Press Music Awards showcase, we look at the the band's who are finally getting recognition from the Houston scene, or at least have beginner's luck and are getting shouts just a few months into their career. Some of these artists, like Brant Lee Croucher, and Steve Krase, or older hands at this kind of thing, while others like Rivers and Vivian Pikkles are relative newborns.

Recently Rocks Off has been thinking about the next class of Houston music, the one that will possibly follow the likes of Buxton, Robert Ellis, and the Moccasins into the wild blue yonder national exposure. It's all very exciting, and going to local open mics and smaller shows is like being a baseball scout at high school and college games. Hopefully some of the names and faces we have been seeing lately will be on this list come next year.

In our seventh capacity here at the Houston Press, we run the online and print music listings, and we get to see and type names every day that could one day be dominating these music awards. We remember the first time we typed Robert Ellis' name on the Mango's schedule, or when we posted a blog about the Wild Moccasins playing a Monday night show at Boondocks when the bar had weekly music. Who would have known that they all would be getting positive press from all over the country and recording on the same label as Steve Earle?

Kevin Taylor Kendrick

(BEN'S BEANS, 1302 DALLAS, 3 p.m.)

Nominated In: Best Songwriter

Kevin Taylor Kendrick laughingly describes himself as "playfully endearing," and he comes by that from having grown up as an only child. Kendrick had to figure out how to entertain himself, and he developed a rich imagination. Today, many of his songs about, say, girls, are laced with adventure and exaggerated scenery: castles and majestic mountain ranges and the like. Kendrick delivers those embellished truths with a Dylanesque style and layers the lot with folksy guitar. - Matthew Keever

Venomous Maximus

(STUDIO STAGE), 813 St. Emanuel, 4 p.m.)

Nominated In: Best Metal

Venomous Maximus gurgles with the sounds of proto-metal gods Pentagram and Blue Cheer, as well as new-school leaders like High on Fire. The headspace of the heavily tattooed group -- lead singer Gregg Higgins slings ink himself -- falls somewhere between an Alejandro Jodorowsky film and a New Orleans voodoo den. Hail Satan and pass the chicken feet. The band released a 12-inch EP, The Mission, early this fall. Square and Compass

(HOUSE OF BLUES, 1302 Dallas, 3 p.m.)

Nominated In: Best New Act

Fans of Hot Water Music and Taking Back Sunday -- and expert tap guitar -- will thrill for Square and Compass, who are relative newcomers to the Houston scene. The five-piece is a sight to see live, all arms and energy, and lead singer Thomas Heard hadn't even helmed a band before joining S&C in the summer of 2010.

The Beans

(BEN'S BEANS, 1302 Dallas, 6 p.m.)

Nominated In: Best Bassist (Daniel Taylor), Best Drummer (Brendan Hall), Best New Act

The Beans' claim to fame seems to be a song about Houston, along with several hundred young, fresh-faced Facebook friends and followers on Twitter. The music is kinda bluesy, kinda psychedelic, kinda they-haven't-figured-out-what-they-are-yet. But the kids seem to like it, as a nice-size crowd showed up at their recent gigs at Rudz and the Continental. Daniel Taylor and Brendan Hall are nominated for Best Bassist and Drummer. - William Michael Smith

Steve Krase & the In Crowd

(FOUNDATION ROOM), 1204 Caroline, 4 p.m.)

Nominated In: Best Blues

An oilfield salesman by day, Steve Krase works out his inner demons at night playing harp in front of a big, honking blues band, the In Crowd. A longtime member of the Houston Blues Society and supporter of all things blues in Houston, Krase played harp in Jerry Lightfoot's band for years before forming his own outfit. He's known for stepping up at benefits and for backing up legends like Big Walter "The Thunderbird" at his annual birthday soirees. Being a good old boy is nice, but you won't last in the Houston blues scene if you can't play, and it's Krase's ability and showmanship that keep him bubbling on the scene anywhere from Shakespeare's Pub or the Big Easy to any icehouse or biker bar that will open the doors and provide a stage. - William Michael Smith

Folk Family Revival

(FOUNDATION ROOM), 1204 Caroline, 5 p.m.)

Nominated In: Best Americana

Led by gifted singer and picker Mason Lankford, Folk Family Revival is a band wise beyond its years, with more gig experience under its belt already than most groups of guys twice their age. This year FFR released Unfolding, a surprisingly crisp and sturdy country-inflected album built around Lankford's burly tenor. FFR already plays with the swagger of guys who have been on the red-dirt circuit for decades, without the whine and pomp, so the next few decades of FFR should be a joy to watch.

Brant Lee Croucher

(FOUNDATION ROOM), 1204 Caroline, 7 p.m.)

Nominated In: Best Country

Since moving back to Houston after chasing the rainbow in Nashville and Austin, Brant Lee Croucher has produced an album of quiet Americana songs called Old Denton Roads. Another showcase performer who got his musical education at the University of North Texas, Croucher was trained as a classical pianist before turning his attention to guitar and songwriting. Lately he's spread his scope a bit and played Blanco's, the Firehouse and the Fairview, where he delivers his songs of love and loss with twanging guitars and a nice fiddle touch. - William Michael Smith

Steve Steele

(FOUNDATION ROOM), 1204 Caroline, 8 p.m.)

Nominated In: Best Rock, Best Male Vocals

While primarily a guitar instructor, Steve Steele sallies forth occasionally for a gig. But for all intents and purposes, he's primarily a studio guy, toiling away in front of or behind the knobs, piecing together albums like 2010 release The Expat, his cry of pain about existing in Houston. "The theme of The Expat is being disconnected," Steele has said. "I live in Houston, and I don't feel comfortable here at all." Steele's music is comparable to the stylized modern rock of local favorites Pale. - William Michael Smith Castle Lights

(THE DIRT, 1209 Caroline, 7 p.m.)

Nominated In: Best Song ("Paint the Stars"), Best Rock, Best Guitarist (Jeremiah Wood), Best Bassist (Aaron Eaves)

This rock trio sort of sneaked up on us this past year, beginning life as Light Parade, before getting our attention with their cover of club gal La Roux's hit single "Bulletproof" and then quickly reeling in newfound fans with their subdued Muse-style anthems. Or are they Coldplay with balls? Not sure. Come see them and decide for yourself.


(6 p.m.)

Nominated In: Best Indie / Alternative

Screwtape's name obviously sounds like they'd make rap music, both because the band's leader, Nosaprise, has been rapping in Houston for a few years now and because the moniker looks like a nod to DJ Screw's iconic Grey Tapes legacy. Instead, the band makes indie jams that coat the walls with melody, and Nosaprise manages to sound like -- gasp -- Elliott Smith on the ballads. And he does so without sounding whiny. So we understand now if your interest has been more than aroused. Get thee to this HPMA showcase slot.

Vivian Pikkles & The Sweethearts Über Alles

(HOME PLATE BAR & GRILL (DOWNSTAIRS), 1800 Texas, 4 p.m.)

Nominated In: Best Punk / Garage

Call them bratty, sexy and grimy, but don't call Vivian Pikkles & The Sweethearts Über Alles shrinking violets. This punk quartet began as a Breeders tribute group about a year back, before quickly turning into a straight-ahead gig for lead singer April Patrick -- you should remember her from GUITARS -- and bassist Anna Garza. The pair melded while working the GirlsRock camps and soon formed the Sweethearts. The band also includes Matthew Hall and Something Fierce's Niki Seven on drums and guitar, respectively.

Frankie G Da Mex

(HOME PLATE BAR & GRILL (DOWNSTAIRS), 1800 Texas, 6 p.m.)

Nominated In: Best Latin

Frankie G Da Mex is a rapper out of Fifth Ward-adjacent Denver Harbor, where he grew up with gangs, drugs and violence, and it all shows up in his lyrics, which are primarily set to Southern beats. He has some interesting production flourishes, such as the creepy yet mesmerizing voice and acoustic guitar reciting the Beatles' "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" before a neat segue into his rap, "Deep." His current release is DaMex Tape. Don't expect political correctness. William Michael Smith


(RESERVE 101, 1201 Caroline, 4 p.m.)

Nominated In: Best New Act

Young blues-metal trio Rivers reminds us of Mudhoney and Blue Cheer, with an extra dose of Mark Arm's nihilism and a healthy dash of The Cult's mysticism. Their first set of seven songs, entitled Mind Your Mind, was self-released and distributed (we got a burned disc), and will smoke out your car like Willie Nelson on the way to Whataburger.


(RESERVE 101, 1201 Caroline, 6 p.m.)

Nominated In: Best New Act

Led in part by Houston musical dynamos Dwight Taylor Lee and Sara Van Buskirk, Finnegan has to have the heaviest soft touch in Houston. With Buskirk's titanic vocals -- she's a wonder in her own solo right -- trampling down the warpaths of their compositions, they recall the Arcade Fire if only Win and Regine had a jones for volume instead of spookiness.

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