Critics’ Choice winners

Male Vocalist and Songwriter

Rusty Miller
Rusty Miller’s voice is heartbreaking. He has just enough smoke and moan in his not-quite-husky vocals to make you feel every tragedy and triumph along with him. His voice could make “Hokey Pokey” feel like an emotional roller coaster of conflicting desires; right foot in, right foot out, what is it all about?

Despite the ever-increasing success of his band Jackpot, Miller is not yet in a position to hire the big-wig songwriters who might have put him on MTV long ago with “The Hokey Pokey Blues.” This is a good thing, as Miller’s own songwriting suits his voice so well.

Miller’s tunes are distinctive enough to be instantly recognizable while baring deep roots. In Jackpot, his songwriting runs the gamut from morphine-laced country to folksy rock numbers that get the crowd dancing. (Imagine a more countrified Mazzy Star that wasn’t afraid to get pissed once in a while.) Miller fronts the Sammie-nominated rock band, handling vocals and guitar, but he also lends himself to several side projects including Two Sheds and Prairie Dog. It’s easy to see why this year’s Sammies critics needed two awards to honor him properly.

Female Vocalist

Jeannette Faith
Best known as half of Park Avenue Music, Jeannette Faith’s deep, sensual voice lends a wonderfully human feel to the electronic duo (comprised of Faith on vocals and keyboards and her husband, Wes Steed, on computers and homemade synthesizers). Faith has been playing piano since she was seven, and was invited to solo with the Sacramento Symphony when she was only 14 years old. She soon discovered that she had a way with her vocal chords as well as her fingers. Bringing such a classical background into a genre defined by innovation leaves Faith and Park Avenue Music with few peers. This is Faith’s second critics’ choice award for female vocalist and odds are it won’t be the last.


Stuart Nishiyama
If Glenn Gould was in a punk-rock/new-wave band with a bunch of kids in their early twenties, he’d probably play exactly like Stuart Nishiyama. Classically trained and a current student of music at UC Davis, Nishiyama is the rhythmic and melodic counterpoint to Didley Squat’s spastic, sonic weirdness. It’s enough to elicit praise from SN&R contributing writer Keith Lowell Jensen, who called Nishiyama “a huge part of what gives [Didley Squat] such a distinct sound. He’s as much a maniac on stage as his bandmates, despite having a more grounded instrument.” Glenn Gould would be proud.


“Oh my gawd! Last night I went by Old I and the Finger were playing. Dude, GB walked out of the club into the middle of the street. He climbed up on top of a freakin’ cop car and was tearin’ it up. He was rockin’ so hard the cops started rockin’.” Sacramento’s musical lore is rife with the many legends of GB and his former role as guitar-monster for over-the-top rockers Magnolia Thunderfinger. These days, GB graces nightclub stages with a supergroup of local musicians called the Carousers. His sound has mellowed a bit, but it’s all the better to let him show his rootsier chops.


Gerry Pineda
Gerry Pineda is one of the most in-demand bassists in the area, a man whose presence has become so important that one wonders how we ever had a jazz scene without him. Currently performing with the Ross Hammond Trio, Mind X, the Tony Passarell Quartet, and the Doug Pauly Trio, Pineda is known for his fretless electric improvisations, his stretching and melding of genres, and his melodic, expressive performance style. Pineda is that rare local musician who is unafraid to hit the stage with no clear plan of action and just let the music flow.


Matt Kanelos
As a member of one of Sacramento’s most notable bands, Th’ Losin Streaks, drummer Matt Kanelos has received plenty of accolades from members of the local press. SN&R contributing writer Christian Kiefer called Kanelos, “The glue that keeps Th’ Losin Streaks together.” Kanelos, also known as Matt K. Shrugg (a name he took while playing with his first “proper” band, the Shruggs), taught himself how to play the drums at the ripe old age of 13. Since then, he’s been seen tossing the sticks (we hear that he can really get some air) in numerous bands, including the Lizards, the Groovie Ghoulies, Sunshine Smile, the Zodiac Killers and the Brutals.


Darius Babazadeh
Darius Babazadeh knows a little something about lady luck. After all, this Sacramento-native’s day job has him frequenting casinos around the world. Babazadeh, one of Sacramento’s finest saxophonists, has spent quite a few years (18 to be specific) as a touring member of Paul Anka’s orchestra—a job that has taken him all over the United States, Europe and Asia. When he’s not on the road, Babazadeh can be seen playing with his group, the D Baba Project, a jazz quartet which features bassist Rob Lemas, drummer Jon Chengary and keyboardist Scott Collard.

DJ Turntablist

Shaun Slaughter
We’ve had our sights on Shaun Slaughter ever since he launched his wildly popular weekly dance party, Lipstick, an indie-rock and electronic-music club inside Old Ironsides. That was in 2000, and since then Slaughter has gone on to create a number of successful club nights, including Party Suicide (at the Distillery) and Vicious (at Old Ironsides)—not to mention a slew of other now-defunct clubs (like Fuck Fridays, Electricity and I Want Some). No matter where you catch this this man spinning, rest assured that the dance floor will be packed with those paying homage to his craft.

Local Act and Local CD

Las Pesadillas
“This award-winning stuff is all quite surprising,” said bassist Jon Mack upon hearing that Las Pesadillas had captured critics’ choice awards for its Quantum Immortality CD and for a year of live shows that included a CD-release party of epic length, a movie premiere at the Crest Theatre, and amazing classical covers at Old Ironsides’ Dead Rock Stars show.

“It makes me feel a little weird, because we’re just doing what comes naturally,” violinist Damian Sol added. “However, it also makes me happy because it means we can express ourselves fairly naturally and all sorts of people get it.” The notoriously hard-to-define Las Pesadillas have won six Sammies since 2001, proof that the public likes what they’re doing.

But rather than rest on the success of previous endeavors, the band is focused on the new Flyin’ Dog EP. Drummer Jason Cox said, “It was always envisioned as an EP, to feature some songs that didn’t quite fit with Quantum Immortality, but it’s quickly spiraling into mini-album territory.” (Yes, Las Pesadillas released the area’s best CD and a follow-up EP in less than a year. Makes you wish you watched less TV, doesn’t it?)

“I had a dog that went on to golden pastures,” singer Noah Nelson explained. “He’s on the cover as Icarus, flying too close to the sun. On the album is a mixture of old and new stuff, and some areas we’ve never touched before.” Does this mean Las Pesadillas is mixing genres again? Perhaps the Sammies need a new category: Best Undefinable Act.