RFT Reader Picks

Best Blues Artist
And the winner is ... the Soulard Blues Band. No, this is not a recording from previous editions of the Slammy Awards. The Soulard Blues Band maintain their place at the top of the St. Louis blues scene by winning the Best Blues Artist designation for the fifth straight year -- and, judging by the voting, SBB aren't likely to lose their No. 1 ranking anytime soon. And there are plenty of good reasons. Some of the members of the Soulard Blues Band have been playing music together since the late 1970s, and the core of the band has been working together for at least the past decade. The result is a band that's about as tight as possible -- and that can be as loose and swinging as it wants as well.

1. Soulard Blues Band (1)
2. Oliver Sain (2)
3. Tom "Papa" Ray (5T)
4. Uncle Albert (7)
5. Tom Hall (Tie) (8T)
5. Hudson & the Hoo Doo Cats (Tie)
(8T)
7. Rondo's Blues Deluxe (4)
8. Pennsylvania Slim Blues Band (3)
9. Tommy Bankhead
10. Bennie Smith

Best Country Artist
What once seemed like the easiest music genre to define, or know what to expect from, country now ranges from polite Nashville conformity to reverent liberty-taking, a la the No Depression sect. In the best possible way, this year's winner for Best Country Band, Belle Starr, falls somewhere in the middle. Kip Loui has been on the St. Louis scene as long as just about anyone (save Bob Reuter of the wonderful Kamikaze Cowboy, who rode in at second) and his growth from starry-eyed popster to urban cowboy has been as beautifully gradual as that of a yellow rose. The St. Louis area has established itself as the holy land of the new alt-country, and Belle Starr proudly take the torch -- but they run with it in a brand-new direction.

1. Belle Starr (1)
2. Kamikaze Cowboy
3. New Patrons
4. One Fell Swoop (Tie)
4. Orbits (Tie) (2)
6. Flying Mules (3)
7. Deathrow Bodine
8. Wildhorse Creek
9. Michael Christopher (5)

Best Pop Artist
Sarah Cloud's music may not be the very cutting edge; she seems to prefer concentrating on the song itself rather than diverting attention away from it and into murkier waters. But the esteem in which she holds her songs is obvious when you hear her perform: each part intricately designed to carry an equal amount of the overall weight, each hook constructed to veer the song off in a slightly different direction, each instrument providing just enough momentum to keep the melody moving forward. The results are smooth and easy pop songs, sturdily built to withstand pressure.

1. Sarah Cloud
2. Slapdash
3. Ninekiller
4. Bunnygrunt (Tie) (3)
4. Robynn Ragland (Tie)
6. Sun Sawed in 1/2 (2)
7. Colony (7T)
8. Starnineteen (9)

Best Reggae/World-Beat Artist
As St. Louis evolves into a more ethnically diverse community, music arrives along with the immigrants, and as soon as the boxes are unpacked the music starts up, washing the area with new sounds. But one thing remains constant: Reggae at Will wins this category. They're a landmark outfit in St. Louis, constantly packing them in and getting the positive vibe flowing. They're a mainstay at Blueberry Hill -- you can find them in the Elvis Room every Saturday night -- and provide seamless reggae at every turn. The rest of the list is heavy on the Latin-based sounds, again reflecting the flavor of the city.

1. Reggae at Will (1)
2. El Caribe Tropical (2)
3. Goza (7)
4. Joia (4)
5. Yard Squad (5)
6. Dubtronics (6)
7. Solucione Latina (8)
8. Dangerous Kitchen

Best Hard-Rock Band
OK, rock & roll may not be dead, but hard rock sure is. Just try finding a true practitioner on the radio in this era of plastic-surgical remixing and EstroGenX grrrl folk. Therefore the genre must be redefined -- or, at least, more loosely defined. "Hard rock" fits this year's winner in the category, Celery, descriptively, if not classically. With jabbing funk-by-way-of-punk riffs and an undercurrent -- sometimes it's on top -- of pure satire, the slowly rising Celery has grown to a stalkable level, weathering personnel changes and a lull in momentum. It's the DIY ethic: punk energy planted with bare, working-class hands (well, at least pizza-making ones) and cultivated into a sound that crunches with aggression.

1. Celery (5)
2. Gravity Kills
3. Colourspace
4. Fragile Porcelain Mice (2)
5. Johnny Magnet (3)
6. T-Bo
7. Clearglass Religion
8. Dogfight (7)
9. Circadian Rhythm
10. Full on Venus

Best Rock & Roll Artist
For the third year running, Stir snatches the honors in this category, a testament both to their massive popularity and to their ability to bang home their musical point. And, actually, the already blurry line that separates Best Rock & Roll and Best Hard Rock gets even foggier when it comes to Stir; they're hard, but a rollicking energy inside necessitates the extra signifier at the end. Elsewhere on the list is a more discernible twang, be it the psycho-twang of new comers the Trip Daddies or the punky twang of Stillwater. Most important, though, Stir has beaten some tough competition; St. Louis is awash in fantastic rock & roll bands these days.

1. Stir (1)
2. Trip Daddies
3. Bottle Rockets (2)
4. Full on Venus
5. Stillwater (9)
6. Belle Starr
7. Highway Matrons (4T)
8. Kamikaze Cowboy (4T)
9. Free Dirt (3)
10. Prisonshake (Tie)
10. Tinhorn (Tie) (8)

Best Alternative Artist
You won't find a band that's more eclectic -- and offers more of a musical alternative -- than Autumn's Child. The group's sound is centered on Mark Holland's Native American cedar flute but also includes eclectic instrumentation such as cello and a host of Third World percussion mixed with guitar and bass. Over the past two years, Autumn's Child has built a solid following through concert appearances and the release of two CDs, A New Awakening and Born Out of Silence. Listening to the music of Autumn's Child, you'll hear some interesting new sonic combinations -- and after all, isn't that what alternative music is really supposed to be about?

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