Come with me, baby, to loveland
This year’s Sammies winners: Feel the love, baby
“Aquarius, and my name is Ralph. Now, I like a woman who loves her freedom, and I like a woman who can hold her own. And if you fit that description, baby, come with me.”
Perhaps channeling “Float On,” that 1977 No. 1 hit by the Floaters, the powers that be here at SN&R picked an astrological theme for this year’s Sammies. Maybe it was that this was year 12 of the Sacramento Area Music Awards, or perhaps it was that there were 12 categories, and there are 12 signs of the Zodiac. At any rate, here are this year’s winners, from Aries to Pisces, chosen by you, the readers. So, hey—float on this:
In the Aries position is Nu-Clear, which is not pronounced “new-kyu-luhr,” as far as we know. Aries is ruled by Mars, and there’s no energy more Martian in music than punk rock. Nu-Clear has been together since 1999 and released an album, titled Tree Sum, last October, which was recorded with the production help of the distinctly non-punk-rock Frank Hannon, the guitarist for Tesla.
Freight Train Riders of America
Freight Train Riders of America win a Sammie for best local country-slash-bluegrass act. Venus, which rules Taurus, would be much amused by the Freight Train Riders’ rustic beauty, which comes across most effectively on its double CD, FTRA. Sacramento has a long tradition of producing music that sounds good over pickup-truck radios, going back to Bob and Johnnie Lee Wills. Gwamba and the boys certainly fit comfortably within that tradition.
Seeing Jackie Greene listed as the Sammies winner for blues act may look like a mistake—until you hear him play. Though Greene’s a classic singer-songwriter in the Dylan mode, his style on the electric guitar owes a lot more to guys named King, such as Albert, B.B. and Freddie. And what that has to do with Cancer or crabs, we don’t know, except that one of Greene’s guitar solos may send you into lunar rotation.
The Mind Club
Mercury rules Gemini, and the democratic exchange of musical ideas called “jazz” is certainly mercurial. It’s a cerebral exercise rather than an emotional one, which is why it may be appropriate that the Mind Club wins, again, in the jazz category. Now, jazz traditionalists may quibble with the Mind Club’s style, more Medeski, Martin & Wood than Woody Shaw, but the band’s acid-jazz approach seems to be successful. And after a brief hiatus last year, the Mind Club has apparently returned to blowing, well, minds.
There’s nothing shy about Leo, the solar-powered sign that seems to represent “rock” best. And local band Victory Gin certainly embodies that particular trait. The quartet, whose album Missiouri Flat may not spell the Show Me State correctly, certainly knows how to make unabashed heartland rock. Victory Gin, left to its own devices, lists Led Zeppelin, Jeff Buckley, the Band and Otis Redding as faves. That sounds about right.
Astrologers quibble over whether Virgo is ruled by Mercury or by Chiron, an object orbiting between Saturn and Uranus that some call a comet and others call an asteroid. Such astral controversy is no stranger to Xenophilia. Once a trio and now a duo, this year’s winner for best folk act has a penchant for ferreting out weirdness and turning it into music. Xenophilia last was seen providing tunes for local troupe I Can’t Believe It’s Not Comedy.
We’re not sure what ¡Bucho! means, and we’re not sure we’d order it in a taqueria. Band singer Gerald Pease says it has something to do with a “shot” in Cuba, like maybe ordering rum—“Cuba libre,” they call it, after the sign between Virgo and Scorpio. Now, this popular six-piece may be as authentically Latin as a drive-thru quesadilla, but it does know how to make a crowd shake its collective boo-tay. ¡Bucho!’s new record for the House Cat label will arrive in June.
Real hard rock and metal is intensely scorpionic, shot through with themes of death, sex and transfiguration—no Mariah rainbows and Hello Kitty epiphanies here. Tenfold, this year’s winner for best hard-rock band, may not have been as obsessed with occult trappings as some of its peers in the genre, but it sure could rock. And yes, that’s past tense—the band recently broke up, which is sort of like death, right?
Like an archer hitting a target, Honeyspot hits the essence of pop music dead center. And any band with the smarts to title one of its tunes “Radio Pop Hit Song #1,” as this foursome did on its self-titled debut, has a pretty good idea what it’s drawing a bead on. Honeyspot’s music is sweet and infectious, jovial even, but it rocks hard enough to go straight for the jugular—and Adam Donald’s songs get into your head and stay there.
Brotha Lynch Hung
Capricorn is about acquiring material things. You know—bling bling and all that. The Saturn-ruled sign also signifies honoring what came before, and local rapping legend Brotha Lynch Hung is definitely old-school in that respect. And though he’s best known for a couple of mid-1990s discs, including 1995’s Season of da Siccness, Brotha Lynch Hung re-entered the public consciousness with last year’s Book III: Best Of.
Aquarius may be ruled by Uranus, but it isn’t necessarily the sign aligned with shaking your J-Lo. Actually, the water-bearer sign governs electricity and the unconventional, which is where the electronica genre fits in. Ergo Dusty Brown, a member of the Command Collective, a group of area musicians dedicated to delivering a live experience of electronic music with “proper sound and visuals.” (Others in the collective include Chachi Jones, Tycho, Fruitbat and Park Avenue Music.)
Deception is the hallmark of Neptune, the ruling planet of Pisces, and there are at least three different bands named Mama’s Pride. One is a Europop-rock combo from Holland; another is a Southern rock band from St. Louis. But our Mama’s Pride is different—for one, it’s a family affair, with twin sisters Kim and Tiffany backed by brothers Vince and Edward, and for another, it plays music that’s funky, in the Neptunean sense of the word.
Hall of Fame
This is how you get into the Sammies Hall of Fame: You win a category three times. Of course, to do that, you have to do something that gets people’s attention, which LUXT did for three years running. And the popular cyber-voodoo band, whose latest disc is titled American Beast, probably would have won best metal band a fourth year if it had been eligible.
Lifetime Achievement Award
For the past 23 years, Skip Maggiora has made a huge impact on local rock ’n’ roll education with a program called “Stairway to Stardom,” which is kind of like a Pop Warner Football program for young musicians. A lot of players have come through the Stairway program, and some of them have gotten old enough to play in another program of Maggiora’s called “Weekend Warriors.” Yeah, he basically wants to sell you a guitar or an amp or a set of drums, but he also thinks it might be a good idea if you learned how to play your instrument. Maggiora has been a valued patron of music education in Sacramento.And these are the critics’ choice awards, as picked by a panel of experts:
Damon Wyckoff (Forever Goldrush)
Some singers have a voice you recognize immediately, such as Damon Wyckoff, whose whiskey-and-cigs vocals go a long way to give his band its distinctive Northern California sound.
Gerri Ranta (Baby Grand)
A lot of people know Gerri Ranta as the Skirts’ guitarist, but she has another band. And as that other band’s singer and guitarist, she gets to sing her own songs, and she does—in a voice that’s sexy, sultry and, well, quite grand.
Zach Hill (Hella)
Drummers are a different breed, and this guy is a different breed, even from other drummers. One Web site compared Hella drummer Zach Hill to Barry Bonds; others marveled at Hill’s technical proficiency and math-rock smarts.
Dave Rappa (Victory Gin)
Besides being the guy who sticks around to get paid after the rest of the band takes off to go party, the bass player has to provide a solid foundation. Dave Rappa is the anchor around which this year’s Sammie winner for best rock band is built.
DJ Fedi (Beat Officers)
Spinning records is an art. As any turntablist can tell you, a lot more goes into it than slapping a record onto a turntable, dropping a needle and wanking. Good turntablists provide texture, functioning as a separate percussionist.
Eric Janssen (Lookyloos)
On his band’s remarkable debut album, titled Perhaps the Most Satisfying Joy Left to Us in an Age So Limited and Vulgar as Our Own, Eric Janssen sketched out a vision somewhere between Malibu and New Zealand, with some of the smartest music ever to come out of this town.
Virgil MacKenzie (Mixed Friction)
Having a good keyboard player can make the difference between a good rock band and a great one, and Virgil MacKenzie is an essential ingredient to the sound of his band, Mixed Friction.
Aaron Thurman (Sardonics)
Playing the saxophone is a lot like singing, and as the voice behind his jazz quartet, the Sardonics, this saxophonist has developed quite a singing voice.
Few people can play guitar like this guy—finger picking an acoustic Martin like Paul Simon and then picking up an electric Fender and pinning an audience to the back wall of a club like a young Stevie Ray Vaughan.
FM Knives, Useless and Modern
If rock’n’roll is a shared ritual with your friends, where you get together and get buzzed and make some really loud noise, this band makes real rock’n’roll, and its CD makes a really nice racket.
Call Me Ishmael
This four-man band came out of El Dorado County, moved into a house in East Sacramento and started making some smart headphone rock in a tradition that dates from Pink Floyd to the Flaming Lips.
While many budding record producers work on amassing an enormous amount of expensive studio equipment, Chris Woodhouse takes pride in having a recording studio he can pack into three or four old suitcases. He seems to like bands with initials in their titles: the A-Frames and his own band, the FM Knives. And, oh yeah, he gets a great room sound.