Song of the Year
"Telephone Road" (Rodney Crowell)
Crowell's entry into the mythical Official Song of Bayou City Sweepstakes casts Houston as a place where lightning bolts split pine trees during hurricanes, and kids pulled by mopeds water-ski in drainage ditches. There are visions of frosty shakes at Prince's Drive-In and sawdust-covered icehouse floors. "Telephone Road," Rodney Crowell's ode to his eastside childhood, is (to this critic, anyway) the best song ever written about Houston. Steve Earle's epic ode to the same road was hard to beat, but Crowell has done it. A stunning invocation of place and time. -- A.H.
Critic's pick: "Kid Chemical," Groceries
Songwriter of the Year
Eric Taylor's tunes should be a songwriter's benchmark. Taylor would be the first to say that writing a good song is worthwhile in and of itself. Yet this year he delivered a masterpiece of Texas storytelling, Scuffletown (Eminent). It's a revelatory work, the result of an examined life. Taylor knows how a good tune can set things right. Take his ode to Charlie Rich, "All the Way to Heaven": "with a song like that, you make it all the way to heaven / when you can sing like that, all can be forgiven." Amen, and thank you, Eric. -- A.H.
Critic's pick: Rodney Crowell
Best Cover Band
The El Orbits
Already spinning the momentum from his Best Cover Band Pressy, David Beebe says maybe the award will sell a couple more copies of the El Orbits' soon-to-be-released live album of jazz and pop standards from the '50s and '60s, which was recorded recently at the Continental Club. Beebe, who admits he could relate to some of the stuff in Adam Sandler's flick The Wedding Singer, says that a great cover band knows how to get 80- and 20-year-olds dancing to the same song; sounds good even at low volume; and can survive lineup changes without losing a beat. More important, it can find a cool, obscure tune that older people relate to. For drummer/vocalist Beebe, that song is a version of "Talk to Me," released by San Antonio's Sunny and the Sunliners in 1962. -- G.B.
Critic's pick: AB/CD
Best Record Store
Cactus Music and Video
Here we go again: This Press Music Awards wouldn't be complete without bestowing Best Record Store to the diligent men and women of Cactus Music and Video, the Frasier of the annual contest. And once again, general manager Quinn Bishop is excited, and a little bit surprised, at the win.
"I know that the competition out there, in my opinion, is fierce," says Bishop. "There are so many great record stores -- independent music stores, certainly." Bishop points to spots like Vinyl Edge, Serious Sounds and the increasingly mighty (particularly if they keep showing those commercials with buxom bikini babes) Soundwaves chain as independent stores that constantly try to take a chunk out of Cactus's business.
For a while there it looked like Cactus might lose by default. Thanks to that cruel bitch-of-a-storm Allison, Cactus was briefly flooded with about a foot of water, damaging 15 percent of the stock and forcing the store to shut down. But with floor fans buzzing in the background, sopping up the last of the fluid, Cactus opened up the following weekend and, according to Bishop, had one of its biggest weekends ever.
So you can see what we mean when we call these folks diligent. "We really strive to be Houston's retail store for the music lovers," says Bishop. It just goes to show that not even a force of nature can stop this store from doing what it does best. -- C.D.L.
Critic's pick: Hi Volume
Best Jazz Venue
Red Cat Jazz Café
When it comes to jazz venues, Houston Press readers have been a fickle bunch of late. Not since Cody's claimed a three-peat from 1995 to 1997 has a club won so much as two Pressys. In 1998 Ovations took the Best Jazz Venue, even though it had been featuring full-time jazz for only three months. In 1999 the trendy Sambuca, which opened the previous November, won the award. And last year Scott Gertner's Skybar got the nod. It's only fitting then that the Red Cat Jazz Café, a new entrant into the jazz kingdom, takes home the award this year.
Located in a prime downtown spot, the Red Cat opened its doors late last year with an ambitious full-time schedule under the direction of keyboardist Dave Marcellin. At first the venue didn't even charge a cover on weekends, trying to lure in new customers -- and it worked. Now they pack the place regularly, even with a $10 cover, and for a jazz club in Houston, that's an accomplishment.