By Lindsay Toler
By Chad Garrison
By Brett Koshkin
By RFT Staff
By Lindsay Toler
By Riverfront Times
By Danny Wicentowski
By Pete Kotz
But 20, 30 years from now, we will still be listening to the Bottle Rockets. Why? Because the band captures the heart and soul of rock & roll -- its working-class realism, its bitter social critique, its romantic joy -- as well as any band has in the last 10 years. "Quit school when she was 17, senator on TV calls her welfare queen." So begins their first great album, Brooklyn Side, but these songs aren't sentimental portraits of the always-with-us poor. The young men from Festus know what they're singing about. They tell the stories of white-trash folks -- the only subculture it's still perfectly acceptable to stereotype and ridicule -- in their own language: The guitars howled and twanged, the rhythm section pissed off the neighbors and Brian Henneman sang with furious hope and unrepentant class conviction.
In the last three years, the Bottle Rockets have lost a great bass player, been burned by labels big and small, and seen their records slip in and out of print -- yet they've survived. In Chicago this past March, Henneman previewed new songs for a forthcoming album and assured the audience that the band had not broken up. "We're not like Son Volt," he joked. No, the Bottle Rockets, even back when they played a more deeply rooted rock, have never been quite like any band in greater St. Louis or anywhere else.
-- Roy Kasten
Best Blues Band -- Soulard Blues Band
Maybe it's time to retire this award and create a special category for the Soulard Blues Band -- and another one for everyone else playing the blues in St. Louis. After all, eight straight wins in the Best Blues category is real domination -- especially considering the number of excellent blues musicians in the area.
What's just as impressive as the eight straight wins is the fact that the Soulard Blues Band has been together for almost a quarter-century. Formed in 1978 by Art Dwyer, who was soon joined by Jim "Ribtips" McClaren, SBB evolved naturally from late-night/early-morning jam sessions that mixed these young musicians with veteran talents such as Henry Townsend, Doc Terry, Tommy Bankhead and harmonica player Big Al.
That connection to the essence of the St. Louis blues tradition has been a vital element in SBB's longevity. Despite a number of personnel changes along the way (at one point, the group even expanded to include a horn section and backing vocalists), SBB has remained true to its roots.
Both bassist Dwyer and harmonica player McClaren remain from the first days of the group and were vital contributors to such early recordings as 1978's Live at Burkhardt's and 1986's Nothing to Lose. The '90s ushered in the talents of trumpet/trombone player and vocalist Brian Casserly, drummer Benet Schaeffer and guitarist/vocalist John Mondin. More recent recordings, such as In the Soulyard, Live at the Grizzly Bear and Live in Stuttgart, showcase their contributions to the SBB sound.
Today's SBB lineup has the experience and talent to handle a wide array of musical genres -- not just the blues. The musicians can jazz things up, thanks to Casserly's versatility on horns and his swinging vocal style, and the rhythm section moves from funky R&B to down-home Delta blues to slinky Louisiana second line in the course of a single set.
Blues may be in its name, but the Soulard Blues Band brings a distinctive touch to just about any musical style around. As Duke Ellington used to say, there are really only two kinds of music -- good and bad. Evidently SBB has found the secret to producing the good kind -- year after year after year.
Best Reggae/World-Music Artist -- Javier Mendoza
Although the name of this category has changed slightly (from Best Latin/World Music in 2000 to Best Reggae/World Music this year), the winner remains the same: Javier Mendoza, who took the award last year in his first appearance on the ballot.
Mendoza certainly had a jumpstart on musical influences from a variety of countries: His father is from Mexico, his mother from Spain. Born in Virginia, he spent most of his youth in Spain before coming to St. Louis University on a soccer scholarship in the early '90s. Although family members taught him how to play the guitar and sing, soccer was his first love. When an injury to his anterior cruciate ligament ended Mendoza's soccer career, he turned to music.
When he started writing songs in Spanish as well as in English, the music really began to flow, and Mendoza signed on as a songwriter for a major music-publishing firm in 1996. But even though major Latin recording artists snatched up Mendoza's songs, he preferred to focus on performing his own music, not just writing songs for others. By 1998, Mendoza was in the studio, recording Tinta y Papel, which was released in 1999. In 2000, after forming the Javier Mendoza Band, Step Into My Place was issued.
Some personnel changes have taken place in the group -- which now consists of David Karns on bass, Jim Peters on guitar, keyboard player Daniel Backman and drummer Moises Padilla -- but Mendoza continues to make music that balances the romantic drama of Latin pop with tastes of various world-beat rhythms, as well as contemporary rock influences. He calls it "transnational rhythmic pop-rock" and eschews the tag of "world music" for "pop" -- but whatever the label, his music certainly has a strong appeal for St. Louis audiences.