By Sam Levin
By Jessica Lussenhop
By Sam Levin
By Timothy Lane
By Sam Levin
By Dennis Brown
By Chris Parker
By Sam Levin
Now Mendoza and his band are beginning to expand their musical sphere of influence, opening for national acts in Denver and Chicago. Earlier this year, Mendoza toured Spain. Whether he's singing in Spanish or English, Javier Mendoza seems to possess the rare ability to connect immediately with an audience. If his popularity continues to increase at the same rate, we just might someday see Mendoza appearing in -- and perhaps winning -- Slammies in other categories.
Best R&B Band -- Jive Turkey
The members of Jive Turkey need to change their name. It suggests that they're making music with a certain amount of cheese factored into it -- as though they're not taking this music thing very seriously.
In reality, Jive Turkey makes music that's remarkably focused, despite the wide range of influences that reveal themselves over the course of a set. Although the name suggests retro funk à la Dr. Zhivegas, the band draws from all over -- dub and reggae, hip-hop, jazz, R&B, funk. The posters adorning the walls of bassist Dr. Samson Q. Sneed's apartment tell the whole story: On one wall hangs visual shout-outs to funky jam band Galactic, Miles Davis, John Coltrane, a reggae band (it was all the way across the room, and we didn't want to give ourselves away), house DJ Mark Farina. Combined, the posters tell the story of a music that both honors the past while keeping up with the present; it reveals a band that's drawn to the classics and the cutting-edge, in tune with the now and merging it with the then. The result? Part Medeski, Martin & Wood, part Roots, part Galactic, part P-Funk, all rhythm and rhyme.
The first time we saw them play, they sucked. It was at Deep Cool on Washington Avenue (formerly Excape) in 1998, and they were just starting out. They were a mess, a bunch of young kids with more ideas than chops, more slop than cosmic. So we wrote them off and ignored them for the next few years. Then, last year at the Galaxy, in front of half-a-dozen people, they revealed what they'd been doing in those interim years: working their collective ass off, practicing and figuring out the funk. They were tight, they were sturdy as hell and they had learned how to play their instruments. What was best was that each musician seemed to have learned how to play not only individually but as part of Jive Turkey, so they understood each other's musical accents, where each might be headed and how they might end up there. The result: hard funk -- without the cheese -- mixed with hip-hop, grooves galore and an overall steady rhythm that works hard for its money. You can hear it in the songs from their forthcoming debut CD: They're on a roll and are already harnessing the momentum to record a follow-up.
Best Pop Artist -- Robynn Ragland
Talk about determination: Robynn Ragland has suffered more adversity at the hands of the music business than most. She's had bands split up. She's signed a record contract, only to have her label try to mess with her music. Then the label went out of business just as it was to release her debut album. She's fought tooth and nail with said label because it wanted to own her music -- even though it admitted that it couldn't release her record. You'd think she'd just give up.
On the other hand, Ragland has just been voted the Best Pop Artist in St. Louis. Her career started in San Luis Obispo, Calif., with a band called Rhythm Akimbo. They released three independent CDs, then split up. Ragland relocated to St. Louis to attend law school at Washington University, but, as is the case with so many musicians, the itch got to her, and she soon joined local band Five of These, which gigged around St. Louis throughout the mid-'90s. Unfortunately, that band couldn't survive the pressures of major-label interest and called it quits.
Back to the drawing board went Ragland, who first formed a new band, Elizabeth Einstein, then decided to perform under her equally melodious given name. Her engaging performances and catchy songs were hits with audiences whenever she played, and soon more attention from labels led to her signing a deal with Red Ant. She recorded Modern American Female Gut with talented producer Adam Schmitt and began to get radio airplay for the song "People You Know." The song was a Midwestern hit, and Ragland seemed poised to break into the mainstream.
But just when everything was in motion for her record to be released, the label went out of business, and Ragland had to argue fine details of law to get permission to put the album out herself. She won that right and topped St. Louis sales charts at both Amazon.com and Vintage Vinyl. Earlier this year, Ragland released an EP, Paragraph 13, which included "People You Know" and several previously unavailable songs; this sold well, too. She's set to open shows for Oasis and the Black Crowes in Chicago and Indianapolis, on May 20 and June 1, respectively. And now her fans have spoken, voting her the Best Pop Artist in St. Louis. Some people may have given up more than once, but Robynn Ragland seems to possess a perfect combination of talent and determination. Rewards will continue to come her way.
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