2003 Music Awards

The readers spoke, and the RFT music staff listened. Find out who's large and in charge on the St. Louis music scene.

Best Garage
If there'd been an RFT Music Awards category this year for Band Most Likely To Star In Its Own Zany Sitcom, the Reactions would have won it hands down. It's easy to picture them living together in a striped house, driving around in a striped car solving crimes or something and ending each half-hour adventure with a perfect bouncy pop tune. Give 'em time. For now, the Reactions will have to be content with the Best Garage honorific. The young trio consists of nimble-fingered bass player David Rocco, guitar-hero-in-training Robert Mayfield and gravel-voiced-beyond-his-years singing drummer Jake Alspach. They've made quite an impact in only a year or so of playing out and seem to get better with every show.

Much has been made about how surprisingly good a band they are for being so young, but, honestly, calling the Reactions a "great teenage garage band" is like calling Jimi Hendrix a "great left-handed guitar player." Qualifiers aren't necessary. The Reactions are a great band, period. Already having nearly outgrown the jangling '60s-style folk/garage/pop of their (quite excellent) self-titled debut CD, the Reactions have begun delving deeper into an early Led Zeppelin-ish proto punk sound, unafraid not only of power chords and feedback but also of blues changes and non-ironic guitar solos. Hell, their usual show-ending rave-up has started including a drum solo for chrissakes. Garage purists may sniff at this evolution, as most garage bands these days usually just find a sound they like and stick with it, but the Reactions have already demonstrated that they refuse to be bound to one limited scene. They're as comfortable playing all-ages punk shows as they are playing for a bunch of drunks in a smoky bar so, until the WB comes calling and you can catch the Reactions in the comfort of your own home every Tuesday at 8 p.m. or whatever, get yourself to an all-ages punk show or smoky bar and see 'em now. -- Matt Harnish

Best Singer/Songwriter
Jay Farrar
For the second year in a row, RFT Music Award voters selected Jay Farrar as St. Louis' best singer/songwriter. Though some may grumble that Farrar, like Nelly, is not so much a local artist as an artist who happens to live here, it's highly unlikely that anyone could argue that he doesn't deserve it based on his astonishing body of work. As a founding member and principal songwriter of the seminal country-punk trio Uncle Tupelo, the 36-year-old Belleville native has had an influence that far exceeds his sales. (That might change, though: The band's four albums were just remastered and rereleased with bonus tracks, along with a new compilation called 89/93: An Anthology.) After the dissolution of UT, Farrar went on to form Son Volt, an underappreciated experimental-roots-rock outfit that made three albums before going on a hiatus of indefinite length. Just over the past two years, Farrar's released two full-length solo CDs, Sebastapol and the soon-to-be-released Terroir Blues, along with the EP ThirdShiftGrottoSlack. He's also written and performed the instrumental score for the independent film The Slaughter Rule and recently founded his own label, Act/Resist, which is manufactured through his previous label, Artemis. No doubt about it: Farrar isn't the type to rest on his laurels.

Even if Farrar's place in the local-music pantheon is debatable, he's clearly inspired and influenced by St. Louis -- its rich musical history, its elegant ruination, its deep and nourishing confluences. Terroir Blues makes this connection clearer than ever before. On "Cahokian," he links the doomed civilization with the one that's building shopping malls over the Native Americans' ancient earthen mounds: "...New Mississippians/ Under a smog-choked sun/Waiting to be undone." The mood throughout is elegiac -- Farrar has said in interviews that the songs were inspired by the death of his father, local troubadour and eccentric Jim "Pops" Farrar -- but it's never truly depressing. On one of the CD's most beautiful cuts, Farrar sings, "Hard is the fall, but your heart is still brand new." Here's to new hearts, and to new beginnings. -- René Spencer Saller

Best Rockabilly/Swing/Instrumental
Trip Daddys
There are more rockabilly acts in St. Louis than just the Trip Daddys. You wouldn't know it by the RFT Music Awards, of course: The hardest-working band on the sideburn-and-tattoo circuit has dominated the ballot box for what seems like decades. In truth, the band has been around only since 1995, and though their sound hasn't changed much over the years, they've gotten more and more confident in their foot-through-the-floor, shotgun wedding of rockabilly and punk-metal.

The reason the Trip Daddys continue to win, continue to build a regional following, is that they remain a loud, energetic, tight live band. Guitarist and singer Craig Straubinger plays with shit-kicking flair, and the rhythm section of Jamey Almond and Dave Easley is all but unstoppable. Their latest album, Double Wide, keeps the focus on a live sound while upping the ante, at least in sonic terms.

"That was a big deal for us," Straubinger says. "We recorded at Blueberry Hill Studios, a sub-studio of Sound Stage in Nashville, a big-league place. That was the first time we'd recorded somewhere that wasn't a guerrilla-type studio in St. Louis. We were intimidated, not to the point of being crippled, but we were working with people who had been tracking Willie Nelson the week before. We recorded in three days and mixed in four. Really, we were trying to impress them, rather than the other way around."

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