SF Weekly Music Awards 2002

A galaxy-spanning journey through space and sound!

Welcome to the SF Weekly Music Awards 2002! This year, it’s as if the Bay Area music community has finally sighed with relief. Sure, some musicians are out of work, there's still a shortage of rehearsal space, and the authorities continue to shut down nightclubs for functioning as nightclubs, but the economic stranglehold has weakened. Art lovers may partake of the (perhaps foolhardy) notion that no more musicians will be forced out of the area to make room for fusion tapas and valet parking. That is not to say the well heeled invasion has been purely detrimental to Bay Area music: It seems to me that the musicians who hung in there playing in warehouses, on street corners, at junk yards, on contaminated beaches, and at weird living room salons are some of the most talented and mutually supportive artists the Bay Area has produced in years. Evolutions in sound resonate between the bridges. One need only glance at the forward looking faces in the hip hop, rock, and electronic categories to see this. Thanks to all the music-makers for sticking around and making this a very, very interesting year. - Silke Tudor

Americana/Roots

Tom Armstrong

Old-fashioned, well-written, and well-performed honky-tonk has a cheerful new champion in San Leandro's Tom Armstrong, a modern-day master of the booze-soaked ballads that echoed throughout America's beer halls in the '50s. Hick-music patron saints such as Wynn Stewart, Ray Price, and Webb Pierce surely hover over Armstrong's personal turntable, as the soft-spoken songwriter delves deep into the sounds of a bygone hillbilly era. While many of today's crop of twangcore artists wade in waters an inch deep, Armstrong dives headlong into the swirling current of authentic pedal steel- and fiddle-driven Texas shuffles. His new record, Songs That Make the Jukebox Play, takes its title and cover design from an old album by Jimmie Skinner; his last LP featured covers of songs by Onie Wheeler, another '50s singer whose work is little known outside of the hard-country faithful. But though Armstrong has nailed the look and sound of days long past, his latest disc is packed with fab new material, original songs that are worthy of old masters like Harlan Howard and Leon Payne. These are clever, tongue-in-cheek ballads of broken hearts and romantic misadventures, performed with a nudge and a wink, and tailor-made for auditioning with a beer under your belt. For the CD, Armstrong gathered local roots music vets Mike Wolf, Les James, Greg Reeves, and David Phillips, who collectively go by the handle the Jukebox Cowboys. Together, these Bay Area pickers breathe life into a classic sound that once was called hokey, but now sounds pretty darn hip.

Dave Gleason's Wasted Days

Though the members of Dave Gleason's Wasted Days got their musical starts in '90s groups like the Loved Ones and the Glee Club, the East Bay outfit's spiritual roots go all the way back to the Nashville scene of the '70s. At that time, country "outlaws" brought a renegade, honky-tonk spirit to Music City, creating a new kind of country music that was both soulful and gritty. Dave Gleason adds his own spin to the work of that era's seminal songwriters -- Merle Haggard, Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, Ray Price, Gene Clark, Clarence White -- combining that spirit with the warm country-rock sound popularized by bands such as the Eagles and the Flying Burrito Brothers. The Burrito Brothers reference is an especially apt one, as Gleason's voice evokes a reedier, seedier Gram Parsons. But Gleason sings with more fire in his belly and a lot more heartache on his mind, an emotional quality that also comes out in his lead-guitar playing. Gleason's Telecaster work is the stuff of legend, and you'd be hard pressed to find anyone else in the Bay Area who can coax such perfectly heartbreaking notes of liquid loneliness from a fretboard. Joined by Michael Thereau on bass, John Kent on drums, and Dave Stark on tenor saxophone, Gleason has opened for acts ranging from Jerry Jeff Walker to Dwight Yoakam. Whether Dave Gleason's Wasted Days is the opener or the headliner, though, the group has a tendency to steal the spotlight, flooring audiences with its sometimes-reverent, sometimes-raucous revisiting of country music's recent golden age.

Mark Growden's Electric Piñata

Mark Growden is the kind of songwriter who only comes around once in an age. Endlessly, deliriously creative, Growden has recorded and released two full-lengths (Inside Beneath Behindand Downstairs Karaoke), written and performed a myriad of theater pieces, scored music for videos and films, and contributed to Bob Weir's Sun Ra tribute album. His work has earned him a deluge of praise throughout his career, including the Isadora Duncan Award for Best Original Music for a New Dance Piece and two Best Song awards from the Northern California Songwriter's Association. Hailed as "a contender for Beck's throne" by Alternative Pressmagazine, the restless Growden is one of those musicians who will play anything that gets in his way -- from pawnshop hallmarks such as the accordion, banjo, and saxophone, to a host of freakish home inventions and non-instruments like PVC pipes and scissors. His inventive, imaginative lyrics are as wide ranging as his instrument choices, evoking Tom Waits' ragged theatricality, but on a more charming and personal scale. Growden's stories -- about Ted Nugent, a shuttered factory that made wooden crates in an era of cardboard, and feeling like a piece of meat at a vegan potluck -- are at once contemporary and timeless, funny and heartbreaking, surreal and lucid. It sounds like an impossible set of contradictions, but Growden is born to achieve the inconceivable; for a man with his talents, the impossible is just a starting point.

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