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.

Truth be told, CORE Project is actually pretty damn groovy, as well as containing a pinch of just about every other category one could possibly hurl at them. They have a definitely discernable hip-hop influence and a bit of a nod toward the jazz genre (both the "acid" and "acid-free" varieties), a big, pipin'-hot dollop of funk to keep things spicy, a shaker-full of rock and a smidge of the blues -- though the band has little to feel blue about lately. In addition to the touring stint with Nelly that both fans and detractors keep talking about, CORE Project has played with a huge variety of superstar groups from all over the popular music landscape (including Jurassic 5, the Crystal Method, Kid Koala, and Nappy Roots).

The seven members of Core Project -- emcee/ vocal duo Stek-Wik and Kammasutra, T-Mills (the "T" stands for "trouble") on bass, Ton'Def on drums, feisty turntablist HeistBone, guitarist C-Rock and keyboardist Fingaz -- profess a philosophy of "unity through understanding." Maybe that understanding comes from being in a seven-piece band and thereby having six other people to butt heads with creatively. In any event, such under-fire notions as freedom of speech and expression, respect for one's fellow living creatures and equality among all people find a home and haven in both the music and stated philosophy of CORE Project: "We think big and have been granted the wish to live life in unison, as one, the core..." Those are ideological tenets we can all get behind, whether they're manifested as groove music or rock music or hip-hop or whatever other arbitrary label critics apply. -- Jason Wallace Triefenbach

Best Roots/Americana
Bottle Rockets
"Roots/Americana" may be the least well-defined category in this reader's poll, but it's obvious the Bottle Rockets fit the term at least as well as anybody in town. The generally accepted meaning of "roots" as a term applied to music is that such music draws better than 50 percent of its inspiration from at least one form of Americana-based music, especially country or blues. The Bottle Rockets are more than a little familiar with both.

Tim Murphy

When singer/guitarist Brian Henneman and drummer Mark Ortmann were building their reputation in the late '80s with the band Chicken Truck, most of their fans described them as a cross between John Prine and Neil Young. Of course, Prine is country to a tee, but he's mostly a complex, playful wordsmith, and that's what Henneman took from him when he started writing songs. Young is a rocker who loves country music, which makes him a perfect role model for country musicians who love rock. Somewhere in there, along with dozens of other excellent stylists, these guys absorbed some ZZ Top, too, which brought some Texas blues and boogie to the mix.

Chicken Truck imploded before the end of the decade, but after Henneman achieved a solo recording deal, three-quarters of the band reformed as the Bottle Rockets. Rave reviews from the likes of Village Voice critic Robert Christgau weren't quite enough to bring the Bottle Rockets commercial success. The band has released five full-length albums on four different labels in the last ten years. If the members ever get the rights to assemble all this music under one roof, their eventual greatest-hits compilation could turn out to be one of the best listening experiences in the history of the alt-country field they helped to create.

The last year has been eventful for the Bottle Rockets. They issued a stellar tribute to the late Doug Sahm, digging deep into his catalog to bring attention to some of his lesser-known trips through American roots music. Soon thereafter, longtime rhythm guitarist Tom Parr left the band. Augmented by members of the Rockhouse Ramblers (also nominated this year), Henneman and Ortmann began gigging around St. Louis in a '70s-influenced country band called Diesel Island while they prepped for the future of the Bottle Rockets as original artists. With the addition of Rockhouse Rambler mainstay John Horton as second guitarist, the band is preparing to tour in the fall, in support of its new album -- insider rumblings suggest it's going to be fantastic.

The Bottle Rockets have been a great band for a long time -- more than 20 years if you go back to Henneman and Ortmann's earliest gigs together. Odds are they'll continue to delight Americana fans for years to come. -- Steve Pick

Best Pop
Javier Mendoza
Javier Mendoza's recent move from the Best World Music category (you can stop scratching your head now) to Best Pop comes as something of a relief to readers of the RFT Music Awards. It's not that Latin music hasn't been a part of Mendoza's sound; it's just not what even a dedicated listener would take away from his records and live performances -- at least not lately. Pop may be the most meaningless of all categories, but there's no denying Mendoza's appeal to a mainstream audience. Take a cute, charismatic frontman, a tight if somewhat predictable rhythm section and some songs that stick in your head without meaning much of anything. Presto! Instant pop star.

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