RFT Reader Picks

1998 Slammies Music Awards
Best Band
There's something truly exciting in watching a band rise from the local level to national prominence. St. Louis has seen this before, of course, but often these bands have not risen to the occasion when they found themselves on more prominent display. That hasn't been the case with the Urge, who seem to have finally come into their own at exactly the right time. Not that they haven't been a great band for several years, keeping the punk/funk/ska/hard-core fires burning until the scenes in other cities grew and the nation at large finally caught on, but with Master of Styles the group made a truly great album while the whole country was watching. They're our best band, for sure, but they don't belong to just us any more.

1. Urge (3)
2. Celery
3. Stir (8T)
4. Reggae at Will (2)
5. Vargas Swing
6. Sugardaddy (1)
7. Son Volt
8. Gravity Kills
9. Fragile Porcelain Mice (Tie)
9. Skalars (Tie) (8T)
11. UTI
12. New Patrons
13. Johnny Magnet (11T)
14. Chia Band (Tie)
14. Fairchild (Tie) (7)
14. Full on Venus (Tie)
14. MU330 (Tie) (4)
14. Sarah Cloud (Tie)
19. Bottle Rockets (18T)
20. Five Deadly Venoms

Best New Band
What's up with the funk in St. Louis? At every turn, and seemingly at every club that caters to local music, the sneaky rhythmic groove is creeping in and propelling the music. Jive Turkey are down with the funk and toss in rhymes, a smidgen of rock and a whole bunch of soul to create their dance music. No, they don't play dance music where beats-per-minutes matter as much as quality; Jive Turkey play music you can, and should, dance to, forgoing any sort of electronic flavor for the organic sounds of heartfelt hip-hop/funk. Last year's Best New Band -- Vargas Swing -- is this year's hottest band in town; here's hoping that Jive Turkey (great name, too) can take it to that next level as well.

1. Jive Turkey
2. Honeyvox
3. Trip El Ecks
4. Ashtray
5. Phono-Captors
6. Spud
7. Rabies
8. T-Bo
9. Neem
10. Simple Mary's Diary

Best Recording
It shouldn't be any surprise that this year's best band also made, in your estimation, the year's best album -- the Urge's Master of Styles (Sony). And a fine album it is, giving props to old-school masters the Bad Brains with a paint-peeling cover of "Gene Machine" while contributing several originals that can proudly stand alongside that band's trailblazing work. But the most impressive thing is the Urge's ability to seamlessly meld genres, going from a furious metal tirade to a chilled-out reggae riddim or a punkish snarl, often in the space of a single song. From the cautionary "Jump Right In" and the grinding "If I Were You" to the funked-up "Straight to Hell," Master of Styles is a great album, period, not just St. Louis' best. "The future's wide open," Steve Ewing sings on the shimmering "Closer" -- and, as far as the Urge is concerned, you just have to believe him.

1. Urge, Master of Styles
2. Celery, The Valsalva Maneuver
3. Sugardaddy, Faster
4. Gravity Kills, Perversion
5. Son Volt, Wide Swing Tremolo
6. Johnny Magnet, Still Life with Strap On
7. Soulard Blues Band, Live at the Great Grizzly Bear
8. Fragile Porcelain Mice, All This Baggage
9. Vargas Swing, Fire
10. New Patrons, New Patrons

Best Male Vocalist
In the ongoing battle between crooning and screaming, it seems that St. Louisans prefer the former. Ralph Butler always wins this award, and though he had some stiff competition from the Urge's Steve Ewing (who skillfully walks the tightrope between crooning and screaming), it wasn't enough to dethrone the original master of styles. Butler's been honing his craft in St. Louis for decades; at this point he can move on a moment's notice from soul-stirring balladry to raucous party rant. If you've never seen him perform, it's not that hard to catch him, because in any given week he's probably gigging somewhere in your neighborhood.

1. Ralph Butler (1)
2. Steve Ewing (Urge) (5)
3. Andy Schmidt (Stir)
4. Scott Randall (Fragile Porcelain Mice) (7T)
5. Donald Williams (Sugardaddy)
6. Mark Stephens (Highway Matrons) (3)
7. Brian Henneman (Bottle Rockets) (10)
8. Marcell Strong (4)
9. Pete Bold (Vargas Swing) (Tie)
9. Hudson Harkins (Hudson & the Hoo
Doo Cats) (Tie)

Best Female Vocalist
Sarah Cloud makes it look easy. She'll stand up there onstage and close her eyes, and this deep, magical tone appears as if out of nowhere. She's got it, whatever it is, that mysterious knack for standing in front of a crowd and seeming to speak to every single individual in the place concurrently. And with Heidi Dean providing sturdy harmonies behind her, the result is an aural feast. One of the most surprising things in this year's vocalist poll is the turnover: None of the top vocalists was in the top five last year. Congrats to all.

1. Sarah Cloud
2. Jessica Butler (Skalars) (4)
3. Ellen Bledsoe (Radio Iodine) (7)
4. Jill Posey (Johnny Magnet) (10)
5. Robynn Ragland (8T)
6. Fontella Bass (Tie) (2)
6. Connie Fairchild (Tie) (3)
8. Jennifer Stuckenschneider (New Patrons)
9. Cheryl Stryker (One Fell Swoop) (5)
10. Lisa Campbell (Uncle Albert) (6)

Best Folk Artist
Tom Wood has been among the top vote-getters for the past several years in the Folk Artist category, and this year he reaches the top. He's been through a lot of musical changes over his two-decade career as a performer -- moving from rock and country to reggae to folk. As a result, Wood's brand of folk music is eclectic, folding in elements from all these genres. Wood has also honed his songwriting skills (check his most recent CD, Serve Yourself and Save, for some prime examples) and has gone from absorbing different influences to finding his own unique style.

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