The 2002 RFT Music Awards Showcase

The name has changed, but the song remains the same

4 p.m.: When it comes to CORE Project, you can't tell the players without a scorecard, so here goes. On vocals, there's Stek-Wik (Stephen Stecher) and Kammasutra (Justin Maginn); C-Rock (Chris Taggart) plays guitar; and Fingaz (Nathan Hershey) handles the keyboards, T-Mills (Todd Miller) the bass. Ton'Def (Tony Barbata) is on drums, HeistBone (M. Got) on the wheels of steel. Even if the band members aren't yet household names, their collective sound -- hip-hop (performed with a live band, natch), acid jazz and funk, with lyrics on the positive tip -- is gaining notice. They've opened shows for several major touring acts and actually hit the road with Nelly and the St. Lunatics. They also sold out the initial run of their debut album, United. A follow-up, Fluid Forward Motion, is scheduled for release next month.

5 p.m.: If anything sets Earl apart from the hordes of four-piece guitar-rockers in town, it's the wailing energy of lead singer and harmonica-blower Jimmy Kennedy, who, even when he's all but begging the audience to call the The River's request lines and ask them to play his songs, comes off as sincerely angst-ridden and passionate about four-chord rock & roll. With a chugging rhythm section and gritty, Stonesy licks from Dan Niewoehner, the roots in this rock band manage to stretch past sort-of-soundalikes Blues Traveler or Uncle Tupelo to something at least as deep as Creedence or maybe the Guess Who. Their live gigs are furious enough to annihilate a Beck cover, knock over a drum kit and generally pour out enough grit and sweat to fill a hundred working-class garages.

5:45 p.m.: It's kinda scary, the relentless charm of Celia. Though still a relative newcomer, the perky singer/songwriter has captivated hordes of St. Louisans with her winsome, wide-eyed folk/pop. Her general adorableness knows no bounds: Last year, the transplanted Kansan was nominated in both the Kansas City Klammies and the St. Louis Slammies -- an unprecedented feat, as far as we know. Whether she's singing about armadillos or a lover's ringlets, whether she's emceeing a Women in Rock show or busking on the streets of Soulard, whether she's goofing around on KDHX-FM or holding court at Metropolis' The Lot, Celia melts hearts wherever she goes. Imagine a cross between Raffi and Melanie. If the thought of such a hybrid turns your stomach, well, maybe you're one of the unhappy few immune to Celia's allure. Unless you're an unmitigated crab-ass, you'll probably find yourself grinning like a moron in no time.

6 p.m.: Fans of big and shiny modern alt-rock will find much to admire in Just Add Water, a hardworking local quintet that's already garnered airplay on The River, appeared on KSDK-TV's Show Me St. Louis and attracted the attention of several major-labels. Their self-released full-length debut, 2000's The Other Side of You, and a new four-song CD/EP nicely represent singer/primary songwriter Steve Waller's crunchy power-ballads. Drummer Peter Lang, bassist John Komotos and guitarists Brian Nicoloff and Mike Steimel all hold down their duties with admirable energy and reasonable restraint. JAW has the ambition, the work ethic and the loyal fanbase (get a load of their Web site's message board if you're skeptical!) -- with a little luck, they might end up on VH1 or MTV or, at the very least, Dawson's Creek.

In the clubs (21 and over)

Blueberry Hill, Duck Room
7 p.m.: Yes, Cobalt Blue will remind you of 10,000 Maniacs, in part because of Rebecca Ryan's husky, jazzy whisper of a voice, but also through the spacious groove and guitar jangle running through much of their debut CD, Work Song. But Cobalt Blue start to find themselves on the slow burn of "Wishes," a gorgeously harmonized soul song, the gospel-piano number "God Don't Say Much" and the psychedelic sensuality of "Gravity and Grace." Tim Redmond (who co-wrote most the songs with Ryan) and Sean Garcia lay down some dazzling electric guitar and keyboard licks, and the rhythm section can generate both an atmospheric groove and rock hard and tight enough to keep the sound from outright hippification. What's most intriguing about the band is the unpretentious air of experimentation in the lush but spare arrangements. Lots of shoe-staring rockers are looking for that moody, inventive sound; Cobalt Blue has found it.

8 p.m.: A member of such local funk/rock stalwarts as Blank Space and Filet of Funk, Dave Simon was a familiar fixture in the St. Louis music scene of the middle to late '80s. He returned to this town a couple years ago and has become just as familiar leading his latest group, the Ambassadors. The appealing trio consistently packs tiny bars such as Frederick's and the Black Thorn at Lemmons with impressively big crowds. Their self-titled debut CD, released about a year ago, showcases Simon's tasty melodies and rhythmic interests. Only Simon and drummer Jill Aboussie remain from the group that recorded the album. Simon and Aboussie are currently augmented by keyboardist Jon Parsons, formerly of Getaway Car and Nadine. "Our set is now featuring the material we plan to record after the new year," says Simon. "The new songs continue in our stylistic explorations while moving beyond the good-natured fun of the first record."

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