2002 Riverfront Times Music Award Winners

Your verdict is in: Check out St. Louisí favorite local musicians.

They may not be dark or brooding, but that doesn't mean Sullen don't bring the rock in large portions: Rock & roll should be fun, and Sullen is definitely putting the rock back in fun. Or vice versa. Either way, we all win. (PF)

Fantasy Four
Best New Band

For just over a year, the Fantasy Four has been wowing local-music fans with its intoxicating mix of fuzzy garage-punk and melodic, harmony-heavy pop. Its songs are short, sweet and impossibly sticky, the kind of tunes that lodge in your brainpan and quickly worm their way down into your heart. Whether playing original hits (well, they should be) such as "Hometown Rock Star" and "Your Mirrors Must Be Mad" or unexpected covers such as Pink Floyd's "Bike," the Fantasy Four never ceases to enchant. With influences that range from Robyn Hitchcock to the Beatles to the great girl-groups of yore, the trio whips up a delectable sonic soufflé, one that's light and fluffy but also substantial, moored by simple but rock-solid riffs, interesting counterpoint and witty wordplay.

The ace in the Fantasy Four's pocket, however, may well be the formidable songwriting chops of its two singers, guitarist Marcia Pandolfi and bassist Karen Stephens. For several years before they joined forces, the two women honed their skills individually, Stephens with the proto-twee outfit Bunnygrunt and the more experimental International House of Karen, Pandolfi with the Tics and Shiny Tim. Their styles are subtly different -- Pandolfi's sensibilities are a bit more pop, Stephens' a bit more punk -- but they complement each other perfectly, creating a sound as unique as it is indelibly catchy.

St. Lunatics & Highway Matrons
St. Lunatics & Highway Matrons
Steve O & Bottle Rockets Brian Henneman and Mark Ortmann (Robert Kearns not pictured)
Steve O & Bottle Rockets Brian Henneman and Mark Ortmann (Robert Kearns not pictured)

The band's lineup has evolved over the past several months, with the Phonocaptors' Scooter Hermes replacing original drummer Jeff Hess and local rock god Jason Hutto making sporadic guest appearances on lead guitar, but the essential core of Pandolfi and Stephens remains. They've upped the decibel content, and overall they're decidedly more rocking than they were at their inception, but they've done so without compromising their bubble-icious genius, their steadfast devotion to classic pop hooks and radiant melodies. Steady gigging and a recent cross-country tour with their friends Julia Sets suggest that these newcomers could, in a year or two, turn the world on with their smiles. For now, they're our very own hometown rock stars. Long may they shine. (RSS)

Murder City Players
Best Reggae/World

That the Murder City Players are still together after nearly 20 years is impressive. That they're still at the top of their game is damn near astounding. Given the band's long history and its stellar reputation as a live act, it comes as little surprise that the MC Players have been voted Best Reggae Band by RFT readers this year.

Of course, St. Louisans aren't the only ones to have taken notice of the band's skills. All Music Guide describes the Murder City Players as among the top three reggae bands in the nation. Beat magazine regularly heaps praise on them. Even a cursory listen reveals why: The band lays down a dense, brass- and percussion-heavy style of roots reggae but manages to retain some serious pop smarts. It's a fine line, and most reggae bands have a hard time balancing it. Much of the Players' success in doing so stems from the yin-and-yang of its dual leadership -- vocalists Phillip McKenzie of Montego Bay, Jamaica and Mark Condellire of St. Louis. McKenzie's grooves tend to be slower and more menacing, whereas Condellire often favors the lighter, more loping rhythms of rock steady. The combination can be thrilling, both on record and in concert.

The Murder City Players don't play as many gigs as they once did, but they remain an active and fluid consortium. In recent months they've gained a new bass player and added another guitarist. Those changes may lead to some subtle changes in the band's overall sound, but they aren't likely to lead to any seismic sonic shifts. The Players are nothing if not consistent. Although they were recorded fourteen years apart, their two currently available CDs -- Power Struggle from 1985 and Speak No Evil from 1999 -- sound as though they might have been recorded concurrently, and that's a good thing.

When the Murder City Players formed in 1983, roots reggae looked to be on a serious ascent. Sure, Bob Marley was dead, but the music had a bigger audience than ever thanks to acts such as Steel Pulse, Black Uhuru, Burning Spear and others. These days, the landscape has changed. Reggae of the non-Shaggy variety doesn't get much in the way of mainstream media attention. But that doesn't mean that the classic roots-reggae acts have all disappeared. In the Murder City Players, St. Louis boasts one of the very best. (JK)

Trip Daddys
Best Rockabilly/Surf/Instrumental

Once again -- surprise, surprise -- the Trip Daddys have scored the Best Rockabilly/Surf/Instrumental award. Their most recent triumph is no shocker, given the band's rabid fanbase and admirable work ethic, but the fact remains: If any band deserves the honor more, we haven't heard of it. The high-octane psychobilly trio -- which consists of singer/guitar virtuoso Craig Straubinger, bassist Jamey Almond (no, not Jamie Allman, the media dude) and drummer Dave Easley -- has been working its collective tail off since 1996. They've scored prestigious out-of-town gigs -- opening for their idol Brian Setzer at the House of Blues club in Chicago -- and even sat in with local blues legend Oliver Sain. They've earned favorable notices for both their searing live shows and their third CD, 2001's Hot Chicks and Fast Kicks. As long as the Best Rockabilly/Surf/Instrumental category exists, the Trip Daddys pretty much own it.

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