Critics’ choice winners

Best male vocalist
Damon Wyckoff (Forever Goldrush)
Anyone who has heard the dusty baritone of Damon Wyckoff knows his voice is a big reason for the success of Forever Goldrush. Wyckoff has carved out a unique personality in the local music scene; his voice speaks of a weary wisdom that belies his relative youth. Combined with his deft touch with lyrics, Wyckoff’s singing can evoke dim-lit bars, open fields, small-town life and loves lost and found—all inside the treasure chest of your head. He purrs, growls and does just about everything he can to drag you inside his songs, and he always succeeds.

Best female vocalist
Allyson Seconds
The beautiful voice of Allyson Seconds brings added richness to any song she sings. These days, unfortunately, that’s saved for the occasional show with husband Kevin Seconds, as their former band Go National broke up late last year. It’s hoped that she will resurface in a new project somewhere down the line. For now, Allyson has devoted her time to helping establish the capital city’s hippest new hangout, the True Love Coffeehouse on J Street, where patrons are treated to an occasional impromptu tune or two from this lovely waffle princess. You might want to drop in, on the off chance she’ll top off your waffle with a song.

Best guitarist
Greg Baxter (Magnolia Thunderfinger)
About damn time! Greg Baxter—GB to friends and fans of Magnolia Thunderfinger—has been one of the best guitarists on the local rock scene for years now. This guy can whip out a kickass guitar lick faster than you can say, “You guys rawk!” Not only does he do some of the best dang leads in town, he also does it with that Magnolia Thunderfinger panache. In other words, in-your-face rock ‘n’ roll while striking some of the best rock guitar-god poses you’ll ever see. And, thanks to his wireless connection, he can kick butt playing guitar while walking on top of the bar or running around in the middle of the street—feats he’s done a number of times at Finger shows.

Best bassist
Gerry Pineda (Mind X)
It takes a special kind of talent to lay down a consistently fat bass line behind the music, and Pineda is that man. As bassist for Mind X, an unrepentant fusion band that has no problem mixing jazz, acid rock, Afrobeat, bluegrass and any other genre that stumbles within earshot, Pineda is called to come up with a unifying thread to tie it all together. This, he does—and he cooks, too.

Best drummer/percussionist
Brian Machado (Trouble Makers, Decibels)
Last year’s SAMMIE-winning drummer pulls off a repeat, and deservedly so. Machado is not only one of the top rock drummers in Sacramento—he’s a show unto himself. But people don’t watch Machado simply because of the physical manner in which he attacks his kit; they watch him because he’s also a great drummer. Machado often draws favorable comparisons to the late Who drummer Keith Moon. And that’s a compliment to Moon.

Best reed/brass/ woodwind player
John Killebrew (Acme Rocket Quartet)
John Killebrew is no stranger to these awards; he’s been honored in this category before. That bespeaks of a talent that has delivered a wealth of enjoyment to local music fans for quite a while. Killebrew’s work with Acme Rocket Quartet is the icing on the group’s quirky jazz cake. His economical playing style always fits exactly with whatever Acme is playing at any particular moment of any particular song. And is that not indeed the indicator of a great player?

Best keyboard/ synthesizer player
Jeanette Faith (Park Avenue)
Jeanette Faith’s keyboards are a crucial element in the atmospheric textures that have made Park Avenue a popular attraction in the local music scene. Faith’s feel for the harmonic helps to fabricate Park Avenue’s layered tapestry of electronic sound. Add her ethereal vocals to the mix and it becomes apparent that she is truly one very talented musician. For locals not satisfied by such genres as pop, rock and punk, Faith offers hope that the scene is large enough to embrace Park Avenue’s self-described “electronoisepopsalad.”

Best DJ/turntablist
DJ Larry Rodriguez
While, these days, the turntable is spun as a rhythm or textural instrument, historically it’s been a major tool for keeping a party groove on track. And, in that channel, no one blasts off from an old-school-governed launching pad like DJ Larry, who cooks on both burners at the Press Club on Sunday nights with ingredients drawn from the finest R&B, funk and barbecue-jazz sides.

Best songwriter
Noah Nelson (Las Pesadillas)
Where do you begin in trying to describe the songwriting style of Las Pesadillas’ Noah Nelson? His retro-progressive-Western swing-pop tunes can just as easily remind you of Frank Zappa or Tom Waits as they can Disneyland’s Haunted Mansion ride. Nelson covers a lot of territory, but somehow makes it all come together in a unique package that’s really earned him and his band a growing buzz on the local music scene. Although it may be difficult to categorize the genre of his music, Noah Nelson writes great songs.

Best new local band
Freight Train Riders of America
Come and listen to my story ’bout a man named Gwamba? With due apologies to Jed Clampett, these Sacramento Hillbillies haven’t struck it rich with Texas tea, but they’ve struck a rich musical vein that appeals to many in the cap city. We’re talking bluegrass here, folks, as served up by Gwamba, Clovis, Gene Smith, Damian MacHulsted and Ken Killian. These five have played with such bands as Okra Pickles, Kai Kln and Las Pesadillas, but they’ve also found they can rock just as hard on acoustic guitar, bass, mandolin, fiddle and banjo as some bands do with stacks of Marshall amps. Together for only a few months, FTRA has already become one of the more popular bands in town.

Best local CD
Two years ago, Popgun won a SAMMIE for its debut, when it was known as 100 Acre Wood. The band has topped that effort with this most recent release. Chock full of the kind of music that bespeaks of some of the best pop tunes of the 60s and 70s, Popgun is the kind of CD that tests the durability of your CD player; it’ll hook you with upbeat danceable tunes or cozy ballads that will make you snuggle closer to your significant other. Take a listen to “Super Duper Friends” then just try and get that impossibly catchy chorus out of your head. Or listen to the band play “She’s Right There” and watch all the women around you sigh and go dreamy-eyed over Mark Harrod’s crooning. Indeed, Popgun hits the pop bull’s-eye on every track on this disc.

Critical achievement
Harley White
Harley White is a very talented guy. Although he first came into local prominence as a jazz bassist, perceptive listeners have discovered that he also has a great repertoire of cool pop tunes and Brazilian music, he has a good singing voice, and he can play with such musicians as diverse as David Houston and the Tattooed Love Dogs. White is also active in running Joe’s Style Shop, a hub of learning for kids interested in music. This couldn’t come at a better time, either, with all the cuts schools have been forced to make in arts education in recent years. What White is trying to promote at Joe’s is the idea of giving kids access to playing music, thus nurturing the future performers of tomorrow. Providing the people of Sacramento with good music today and helping ensure good music tomorrow is what Harley White is all about.