Runners up: Solace Brothers; Deludes
Combining a Crumar synth, a drum kit, a baritone guitar and an abundance of songs written to make you smile, The Solace Brothers continue their ascendance to the top of the quirk-pop heap.
Larry Wawro's Deludes are a power trio that seem to love Nirvana, Creedence Clearwater Revival, '70s singer-songwriters and the Knack in equal measure; luckily, they boast a songwriter who can artfully pull it all off.
Best New Release (since May 2004): Always a Pleasure, Al Perry
Runners up: I Think of You, Solace Brothers; Is All Over the Map, Giant Sand; Music Video, Fireproof Your TV
Solace Brothers' debut full-length boasts song after song of goofy, giddy, catchy pop goodness that adds up to the feel-good album of the year.
A new release from the veteran Giant Sand is always cause for celebration, and here, Howe Gelb and his recent European recruits demonstrate once again the magic of the idiosyncratically adventurous, spontaneous approach to music.
Every town needs a band that crafts gorgeous melodies against lush textures on a laptop (and an Ovation acoustic), and in Tucson, Music Video is that band.
Best New Band or Artist: The Sweat Band
Runners up: The Wyatts; Campo Bravo; Fashionistas
The members of The Wyatts may share a last name and a sense of style, but they don't share a mother, which we suppose makes them something like a country version of the Ramones. We're certain, however, that they've got a dozen or so craftily written tunes of twang-pop infectiousness.
Taking a cue from the songbooks of Howe Gelb and Neil Young, Campo Bravo's Mark Matos uses deft wordplay to chronicle relationships, crumbling and otherwise.
The Fashionistas (who, due to our policy of "best new band or artist" meaning "having debuted in the last year" shouldn't really be here) manage to make old-fashioned jazz sound completely modern.
Best Songwriter: TIE, Howe Gelb, Giant Sand; Joey Burns, Calexico
Runners up: Al Perry; Dan Naiman, Solace Brothers
There was a time not so long ago when our two winners here were in the very same band, comprising two-thirds of Giant Sand. Calexico's Joey Burns, the moral storyteller, and Sand primary Howe Gelb, the mystical desert sage, share a certain mythification of the Sonoran Desert. And both are huge in Europe, which surely can't hurt those Arizona tourism dollars. Someone once said that Al Perry doesn't write many songs, but every single one is a classic. This year's inductee to the TAMMIES Hall of Fame released his first album of new material in nine years in the last year, which pretty much ensures his inclusion here.
The Solace Brothers' Dan Naiman likes pop hooks and messing with clichés, and sets about merging the two against a deceptively simple, often soaring backdrop of synth, guitar, and drums.
Best Live Performer: The Knockout Pills
Runners up: Howe Gelb; Galactic Federation of Love
Smartasses + guitars + kickass songs + vocal harmonies + punkdom = pure bliss. This is The Knockout Pills' formula for success, and who can argue with math?
Give Howe a guitar, a piano and three microphones and watch him go, veering from a Giant Sand oldie to "Moon River" to accompanying his kids on piano for their individual, charming takes on "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star."
While the members of Galactic Federation of Love may be pursuing other music endeavors at the moment, we haven't forgotten the smiles plastered on our faces each time we witnessed the sheer off-kilter pop ebullience of their live shows.
Local Music MVP: Don Jennings and KXCI
Runner up: Craig Schumacher, Wavelab Studios
KXCI is the only radio station that regularly plays local artists, and Don Jennings' Locals Only show does only that for two hours each week. There is simply no better way to get your feet wet in what's going on in local music.
Wavelab Studios head honcho Craig Schumacher is known for being one of the hosts of the annual TapeOpCon, a conference dedicated to the art of music production and engineering, and for clean, analog production, which makes him awfully valuable to local (and national) bands looking to record a reliably great-sounding album.
Hardest-Working Band or Artist: Chango Malo
Runners up: Nick Luca; Bad News Blues Band
In addition to maintaining the existence of their band through touring, recording, writing new songs and maintaining a rigorous practice schedule, the members of Chango Malo are great cheerleaders of local music, and help to promote it via their Stunning Tonto label.
If anyone figures out how Nick Luca finds the time to work as an engineer at Wavelab Studios; write, record and perform songs with his bands Luca (formerly the Nick Luca Trio) and Spacefish; and tour as part of John Doe's band, please clue us in on time management skills.
If you don't see perennial Tucson favorites the Bad News Blues Band scheduled to perform on any given week in town, that usually means they're on the road.
Best Musicianship: Calexico
Runners up: Molehill Orkestrah; Matt Mitchell
It doesn't hurt that Joey Burns and John Convertino are both music school graduates with confidence in their ability to spare, but they also have a policy of reaching out from Nashville to Germany to recruit the best man for the job on accompanying instruments.
The gypsy-music-and-beyond ensemble Molehill Orkestrah is what happens when you pair up young, talented musicians with exotic instruments and transcendent crescendos.
Guitarist Matt Mitchell is one of those guys who's always looking for a musical thrill, finding it anywhere from playing straightforward jazz to restaurant patrons to churning out metallic klezmer songs for rock club audiences--there's nothing the guy can't do with six strings.
Best Single Live Performance (since May 2004): Seven to Blue, covering Wings at the Great Cover-Up
Runner up: Chango Malo, covering the Temptations at the Great Cover-Up
Anyone who witnessed Seven to Blue's channeling of Paul McCartney and Co. at the Cover-Up, down to face paint and note-perfect replications of silly love songs, knows why this specific set took top honors.
Ditto for Chango Malo's exuberant set of Temps covers at the same event, which for a moment made us all see the band's unexpected Vegas potential.