2004 Cleveland Music Awards

Meet the MCs and metalheads that keep Northeast Ohio’s clubs jumping.

The Scene Music Awards are history.

Sure, we're still throwing our annual bash with the best bands in Cleveland this Thursday, and you're all invited, but this year it's a little different. The Scene Music Awards are now the Cleveland Music Awards, because it's all about the city and the artists who make our music scene one of the strongest in the country.

To better celebrate the best musicians Cleveland has to offer, we've introduced a few new categories as well, including Best New Band and Best Live Act. And for the first time, we'll present our Cleveland Icon Award, a tribute to the artists who have made a lasting contribution to this city's music scene.

We hope you'll join us in celebrating Cleveland's top talent. None of it could happen without you.

Best New Artist

Singer-songwriter Kate Voegele quickly catapulted from local success story to national up-and-comer when she placed in the top three in the Pantene Pro-Voice music competition. At 17, Voegele already writes country-touched rock that sounds like it was co-written by someone with a couple of gold albums under her belt.

This Moment in Black History is wonderfully irreverent toward everything -- most notably, rock conventions. The band's full-length debut, Midwesterncuttalistick, is art noise beaten into shape with a big, pointy rock. The hit squad makes an unhinged cacophony that explodes into screams, screeches, samples, and discordant guitars -- all with the kind of swagger that the best world-famous garage rock bands just wish they could have.

Roué is more emo than emo, all jangly chords and exposed nerves. Their debut, Fuckin' for the Future, evoked touchstone bands from Embrace to the Jesus Lizard without owing a clear debt to any of them. It may be too soon to call the disc a Cleveland classic, but it sounds like one.

At Wits End has been known to call itself metalcore, but don't let that label shake you. Where most punk-influenced acts are content to scream and bellyache, AWE singer Pants Pantsley loses himself in the dying arts of actual singing and songwriting. If you've been to more than one good hardcore show in the last year, you've seen At Wits End.

This time last year, Nightbreed was called Allergic to Whores. When the public failed to appreciate the sublime ambiguity that inked-up-and-morbid singer-guitarist Ray Terry hoped for, he made some lineup changes (again) and steered the reborn group into a new direction, moving away from high-speed gutter punk to a much more gothic, post-punk nether realm. And though they still draw bigger crowds away than at home, the ballsy move paid off in artistic spades. -- D.X. Ferris

Best Live Act

If you haven't yet caught the spiritual spasms of Uncle Scratch's Gospel Revival, don't worry: The band will most likely come to you. Known for throwing guerrilla shows on sidewalks, in front of the Rock Hall, and just about anywhere else it can tap into someone else's electrical supply, the duo takes its soul-saving sound to the streets. Brother Ed plays a drum kit partially fashioned out of cardboard, Brother Ant swats at a dented guitar and tells tales through a bullhorn of kicking the devil in the balls. Ol' Beelzebub had better invest in an athletic supporter.

Disengage's 10-megaton live shows have been knocking Clevelanders on their heels for close to a decade. The band feels like a semi bearing down on you: Frontman Jason Byers throws himself at the crowd, swinging his mic and his elbows, while the others sweat out towering hard rock with no frills and no quarter.

Truth be told, metal maniacs Schnauzer don't play out much these days, primarily because few clubs have the nerve to let them through the door. But each time the band does take the stage, it's always an event: These thrash instigators shred and hurl mattresses, stuffed animals, and just about anything else they can get their hands on. With its nasty buzz-saw metal that harks back to old-school ass-kickers like Venom, Kreator, and Tankard, Schnauzer off the leash is a sight to fear.

Cyde has been Akron's top rock draw since the late '90s, with a slick, in-your-face show honed at Voodoo, the band's own club. Like a Midwest version of West Coast rock pinups Lit, Cyde relies on good looks and better songwriting to consistently pack clubs.

Carlos Jones and the P.L.U.S. Band is the Cal Ripken of this category, drawing hundreds of fans to local rock hangs like the Blind Pig every single weekend for years. Soulful and socially aware, Jones is one of Cleveland's best-loved artists. -- Jason Bracelin

Best Rock/Pop Act

In the past year, Cobra Verde has rubbed elbows with George Wendt, toured with the reunited MC5, and put heavy-breathing, well-heeled rock and roll in a headlock with its excellent fourth full-length, Easy Listening. The rest of the country is finally catching up to what Clevelanders have known for a decade: Cobra Verde is one of the best rock-and-roll bands this town has ever produced.

If America has had to catch up with Cobra Verde, Cleveland has had to catch up with Brandtson, long one of the region's strongest power-pop combos. The band has a solid national following, but only a burgeoning one here in town. Its latest, Send Us a Signal, released by rising indie the Militia Group, should change all that, with its skybound harmonies, bristling guitars, and endearing earnestness.

Long one of Cleveland's most sweat-inducing live draws, rootsy Rosavelt recently brought out its first new album in six years with The Story of Gasoline, a record as combustible as its namesake. Rancorous and temperamental, it's the band's most heated effort yet, with new guitarist Jesse Bryson adding sting to the band's Replacements-style swagger.

Those with a taste for warm, beatific drone-pop can drink deep from the Volta Sound's latest, Dandelion Wine, a lively, largely acoustic sing-along with rich harmonies and lots of smiles.

Roxy Music and Bowie made their U.S. debuts in Cleveland, and Vanity Crash is doing its best to keep the legacy of whip-smart glam pop alive here. Formed on the set of Cleveland Public Theater's production of Hedwig and the Angry Inch, the band has a fondness for the theatrical, draping frontman Dan Folino's sterling tenor in candy-coated guitars, feather boas, and leather pants almost as tight as this band's chops. -- Jason Bracelin

Best Hard Rock Act

Now in the midst of a national tour, Amps II Eleven recently signed to Smog Veil Records for its debut, which the band recorded itself. Respectable as the jagged slab of granite is, it still doesn't quite capture the blow-your-hair-back quality of their live show. But it's a helluva start.

Disengage is still sitting on its long-delayed third album, and buzz on the street says that the disc is worth the wait. For now, fans are more than content with the band's locally legendary live shows -- the musical and visceral equivalent of the helicopter raid from Apocalypse Now. And yes, that adrenaline rush does translate to the disc.

Stoner-rock stalwarts Red Giant are finally starting to get their due. The band signed to Detroit-based Small Stone Records, a small-but-influential home to many of the best '70s throwback bands. (Red Giant made its acquaintance when it contributed a cover of Aerosmith's "Lord of the Thighs" to an early-Aerosmith compilation.) Which prompts the obvious question: When is rock radio going to catch up to the underground?

Punk-damaged rockers the Sign-Offs could be on the verge of major-label activity. A steady stream of live shows has proved that the band has an undiminished capacity for riffs, attitude, and velocity.

Kent's Party of Helicopters is the virtuoso post-everything rock band that expertly blends elements of stoner rock, indie rock, emo, and metal. The band is holed up in the studio, working on a follow-up to last year's Please Believe It. So you can bet that you'll see them here next year too. -- D.X. Ferris

Best Punk/Hardcore Act

The Best Punk/Hardcore category is, in fact, hard to the core. 13 Faces spent the year developing its reputation for live shows that bring out over-the-top violence in their audiences -- in a good way. The band's sophomore LP will feature a new rhythm section -- the members describe the new material as "brutal" -- by year's end.

Ringworm celebrated the year with a lovingly assembled reissue of the classic 1993 LP The Promise, which helped put metalcore on the map. Expect a new, Ben Schigel-produced LP, tentatively titled Justice Replaced by Revenge, soon.

Don Austin, Akron's purveyors of fine old-time hardcore, is so old-school that it still presses 7-inch EPs, but the throwback group is grudgingly planning a CD compilation too.

Fellow Rubber City vets the Rubber City Rebels are damn near three decades old, but the punk forebears had their biggest year ever, touring Europe and landing the title track from Pierce My Brain in a national TV commercial.

Always a reliable draw, the Vacancies play a modern-day take on traditional punk -- which is short for punk rock. And rock is what the Vacancies do. -- D.X. Ferris

Best Metal Act

In the dark ages of the '80s and '90s, "metal" wasn't exactly a precise term. In this new millennium, and especially in Cleveland, metal means exactly what it sounds like: heavy stuff forged in a blast furnace.

Mushroomhead side project (216) continues to pack Peabody's and other local sweat shops with its minimalist approach to grinding metal. The unmasked 'Heads have continued recording without diminishing the mother band's infamous mystique.

Studies have revealed that Boulder does, in fact, weigh four tons when its amps are on 10 (which is always). The atavistic metallions play as few can -- and as fewer still can endure. The band claims that its August 14 opening slot for WASP will be its final performance in Cleveland. And it won't go quietly into the night.

Soulless plays some of the best German-style, shred-and-destroy-and-shred-some-more metal this side of the Atlantic -- no small feat for guys who still play Parma bars (and that's the best place to see them).

Abdullah's new self-titled demo features a skull on its cover, and it can be lethal if used appropriately. The LP taps the best of four styles of rock (metal, doom, punk, and hardcore) at their ugliest. Don't be surprised if the self-produced effort gets a re-release from a big source.

Keelhaul's latest, Subject to Change Without Notice, drew positive national notices, progressing from heavy to heavier to heavier-than-a-falling-semi. The band recently took the show on the road to Europe (see this week's feature story); while they ponder their next move, rest assured it will be big. -- D.X Ferris

Best Goth/Industrial Act

As dire and ominous as the goth/industrial genre is often thought to be, this year's nominees run the spectrum from (mis)use of technology and the darker side of the human condition to explorations of the fantastic.

Over the course of five releases, Midnight Syndicate's Edward Douglas and Gavin Goszka have crafted memorable soundtracks for personal nightmares, haunted houses, and now tabletop gaming campaigns: Their most recent effort, Dungeons & Dragons, earned the seal of approval from Wizards of the Coast, making it a part of the classic role-playing-game producer's lineup. The Syndicate takes inspiration from classic horror and fantasy scores, and forges sweeping symphonic affairs ("Final Confrontation") and dark, forbidding moments ("The Fens of Sargath").

Nox Arcana is the latest endeavor from Joseph Vargo and William Piotrowski. The duo's debut, Darklore Manor, takes listeners into the confines of a haunted house, accompanying them with a series of eloquent gothic instrumentals and the occasional creepy narrative. Nox Arcana stands out by complementing its music with visual accompaniment -- in this case meticulous illustrations. Moments such as "Trespassers" and "Nightmare" are smartly orchestrated to lull you in, but convey enough dread to keep you on edge.

While the first two nominees establish a link with listeners by creating a sense of place and atmosphere, PlanetKillSwitch demands attention with an outright punch to the face. The band's latest, You Don't Matter, delivers high-impact industrialized metal, reminiscent of early Skrew and mid-period Godflesh. They deliver nine tracks of marauding guitars married to electronics and sampled terror, served with jarring, venomous vocals. The opening track, "Deviate," is a prime example, serving as a wake-up call to those who think the genre's gotten too dancey.

With Morphology, Chew's Eye Shop offers a no-frills interpretation of industrial rock, creating a Frankenstein's monster of sorts from WaxTrax! Records' glory days, Skinny Puppy's sonic texturing, and Front 242's rhythmic stylings. Tracks such as "New Limb" and "Toxin" unfold in creepy, deliberate manner, proving downtempo tactics can be just as effective as boom-boom club fodder. But that still doesn't prevent Chew's from delivering a potential industrial/goth-night standard in "Declivity."

Filament 38 provides the sound of militant industrial rock on its debut, Fractured. Rigid beats and dense synth workouts such as "Sacred" and "Recollection" pound the floor with mechanical precision, yet provide a head-bobbing hook that ensnares listeners. F38's tactics have earned recognition outside Northeast Ohio, picking up the eyes and ears of Industrial Nation and making its presence known on the live circuit. -- Norman Narvaja

Best Alternative/Electronic Act

Akron's Racermason, long absent from the scene while vocalist Mandy Lascko and guitarist-keyboardist Derek Lashua had a baby, returned early this year. The live-band trip-hop group played a series of club shows and festival showcases, quickly rekindling fan and professional interest.

If you dug electro-goth rockers Stabbing Westward, State of Being has plenty for you to like. Westward's Andy Kubiszewski produced the band's latest, Haywire, a nervy disc full of palpable tension, fear, and assorted sensory overloads. SOB gigs aren't just five people standing in front of keyboards; they're full-on rock shows.

Deyampert's Shapes and Colors found a warm reception on various continents through Jazzanova's Sonar Kollecktiv label. The global citizen's dark, seductive trip-hop was nominated for Album of the Year by Britain's Echoes Magazine, charted in Japan, and won props from Peter Dorfmeister of the mellow, world-class mixologist duo Kruder & Dorfmeister. Put it in during your next romantic evening, and you'll have kind words for him too.

Infinite Number of Sounds aims to live up to its name. The loose collective collaborates in-studio and live, combining the talents of Matt Mansbach (guitarist and mastermind of Nemo Nemon), Ron Tucker (Racermason and Mile One drummer), Brent Gummow, and David Mansbach (Trepanning Trio and To Box With Man). The multimedia aces are a regular presence on the Cleveland and Akron club circuits, and they have a new disc planned for the fall.

Electro duo Lisa Jorgensen and Adam Boose have been running buddies since high school, where they began collaborating as Furnace St. , doting on their analog synthesizers, cheap samplers, and other pet electronic gizmos. In late 2003, they released a remix LP -- an important rite of passage for any electro group -- with retouches by Filament 38, Chew's Eye Shop, and Thoushaltnot. This year has continued to treat the team well: They played Illinois and Washington, D.C., for starters, then moved on to Europe. -- D.X. Ferris

Best DJ

No matter how much people want to shine the spotlight on the big-name "superstar" DJs that pass through Cleveland, it would be a big mistake to underestimate the importance of the local DJs that shape our club and dance scene.

Doug Burkhart is a prime example. Sure, Burkhart has lent his skills this year to warming up crowds for such DJs as King Britt, Derrick Carter, and Johnny Fiasco, but he probably takes equal pride in his work behind the scenes as the owner of Grand Poo-bas Record Shoppe in Lakewood, where most of Cleveland's jocks go to keep their record bags fresh and full. Burkhart also co-sponsors events like 10 Hours, 10 DJs, a monthly showcase of local talent at Twist Social Club. He takes a subtle, behind-the-scenes approach to his DJing, carefully choosing tracks and tweaking levels in the mix to ensure seamless transitions from track to track. His Saturday-night sets at Karma's Sugar Room and twice-monthly Snap Back Sunday appearances at Twist start with deep, sensual selections and build throughout the night.

Mike Filly has been moving crowds in Cleveland since the early '90s, becoming synonymous with the sophisticated house soundtrack he pumps out at the Mercury Lounge on Thursday and Saturday nights. Just how he manages to keep the beats bumping is hard to say, since he seems to have one finger on the pulse of the Warehouse District crowds and another on the pulse of the international dance community at all times. Filly blends familiar songs with some of the most cutting-edge takes on downtempo, house, and drum 'n' bass. When he's not DJing at Mercury or the B-Sides Liquor Lounge (where he has a bi-weekly residency), he stays busy booking artists like John B, Tortured Soul, and Sombionx and Lyndsay for gigs at local clubs.

Mick Boogie may play a different game than Filly -- working with hip-hop jams instead of house tracks -- but the two are clearly in the same league. Boogie shows a similar penchant for balancing the best of underground releases with rap's heavy hitters. Boogie's fans can catch him at a number of residencies throughout the week, including Cloud Nine on Thursdays, Spy Bar on Fridays, Mirage on the Water on Saturdays, and Karma on Sundays. No matter the gig, count on Boogie to smoothly blend chart-toppers from the likes of Jay-Z, Bone Crusher, and Lloyd Banks with underground gems from artists like Dilated Peoples, Slum Village, and Kardinal Offishall. You can also take one of his in-demand mix-CD releases home for the nights when you can't make it out to the club.

Jugoe may not play many big-name artists during his Friday-night sets at Lava Lounge or when he's upstaging touring DJs like ?uestlove, Funkstorung, and Marques Wyatt, but his mixes of downtempo, hip-hop, and dub-heavy beats get heads nodding and rumps shaking with relative ease. Although chances to see Jugoe have decreased lately with the demise of the monthly Nitty Gritty parties at Touch Supper Club, his output has increased: Earlier in the year, he released a white-label remix of "He Needs Me" (from Popeye, the movie) that charted with DJs around the country, as well as a dub-flavored sub-woofer workout called "Collienation" on Bastard Jazz Records' Doubled Up 12-inch.

Mike Metz is one of Cleveland's house-music veterans. Metz takes his cues from legends like Francois K, presenting the best that the house spectrum has to offer and playing it the way a fan would play it, savoring each guitar and sax lick and every pumping beat. His Friday-night residency at Wish and his Saturday sessions at Twist focus on deep, soulful cuts with plenty of vocals, jazz accents, and global flourishes. Metz regularly showcases his favorites on mixes posted on his website, clevelandunderground.com. -- Steve Boughton

Best Hip-Hop/R&B Act

It's been a while since Cleveland hip-hop was nationally significant, but 2004-'05 could change that. Named after the motherland's area code, 216 -- not to be confused with (216) -- recently signed a deal with Universal Records. The bumpin' single "Yeah" is lighting up airwaves across the country, and their debut album, tentatively titled Game Is Life, is due shortly.

Well-rounded mixmaster Saj Supreme has been killin' the mixtape circuit from his lair in the northeast of the Buckeye State. New York's Cornerstone Promotions has snapped him up, so look for a proper release soon.

The New York company also made Spittin' Image's debut album, Broken Mirrors, which was a long time coming, but worth the wait. Though Image digs deep in the record crates to find tight groups to sample, it's still best known for its live shows.

Iyan Anomolie, representing the 12 Monkeys collective alongside Spittin' Image, is fast earning a rep as the city's premier conscious lyricist.

Live hip-hop is notoriously scarce in Cleveland, so Midnight Oil took matters into its own hands with the Homegrown concert series, a well-received run of summer shows at the rock fort Peabody's. Drawn from members of the Chop Shop Renegades collective, the quartet continues its delicate balancing act, creating music with both street cred and pop accessibility. -- D.X. Ferris

Best Blues

Twenty years ago, Wallace Coleman played harmonica on his lunch hour for fun. Since then, first as a member of Robert Lockwood's band and then on his own, Coleman has been hailed as a standard-bearer of the classic Chicago blues sound by publications including Living Blues and Blues Revue, and by admirers such as harmonica legend James Cotton.

At one time, James Brown may have been the hardest-workin' man in show business. For the past decade or more, West Side bandleader-harmonica player Colin Dussault has merited consideration for the title. The highly praised and frequently awarded Dussault and his musically diverse Blues Project can be found on an area stage almost any night of the week.

Whether it's 12-bar blues or classic R&B, guitarist Travis Haddix not only knows how to sing and play it, he writes the hell out of it as well. A gifted lyricist and an old-school stage performer, Haddix has recorded prolifically over the last two decades and been covered by other bluesmen.

Simply put, Robert Lockwood Jr. is one of the most influential musicians of the 20th century. A unique and masterful player who had a hand in shaping country blues, urban blues, and rock and roll, Lockwood is a worldwide celebrity and this town's musical treasure.

The high-powered Colin John Band gives the region a legit presence alongside such new-breed blues-rockers as the North Mississippi All-Stars. Guitarist John's formidable chops and considerable soul have already made waves across the Atlantic. -- Duane Verh

Best Reggae/World Act

A true world music act in every sense, Harmonia is influenced by the sounds of Romania, Hungary, Croatia, Serbia, Ukraine, and other regions of Eastern Europe. The fact that these folkies have gained a serious following outside those ethnic communities is a testament to their virtuosity. The sextet recently released Music of Eastern Europe, a disc that's gaining accolades even from international press.

Similarly, Drumplay's improvised percussion tapestries have made the group a favorite not only locally, but also in Belgium and Germany (it recently completed its third European tour). Drumplay's sixth CD, Dayshine to Stars-End, released this summer, was recorded live in France. The group remains active, despite the recent loss of poet/wordsmith Daniel Thompson to cancer.

On the reggae front, after a lengthy hiatus, Dubflex seems to be rejuvenated, with a fresh new lineup. Roots and dancehall fans alike are raving about their weekly Saturday-night stint downtown at Mardi Gras. Not one to be outdone, Ras T, the group's principal member, is finishing a solo jazz disc due out later this year.

Earlier this summer, Carlos Jones and the P.L.U.S. Band released their debut disc, Roots With Culture, after more than a decade together. Full of impassioned roots-reggae, the disc was well worth the wait. Their live performances remain a joyous occasion -- Jones is now fronting his best lineup since leading Cleveland's legendary First Light.

Although live gigs from Jamaican expat Survivalist have been few and far between, his latest release, The Art of Survival, is top-notch. A master of riddim and wordplay, Survivalist possesses dancehall's characteristic passion and addictive energy. Expect him to make waves all the way back to his homeland. -- Tommy Fox

Best Jazz Act

This year, it's back to basics when it comes to the nominees for Best Jazz Act. Leading the way are perennial sax competitors Ernie Krivda, the tenor titan from Lakewood, and Howie Smith, the alto giant from Cleveland State. Krivda plays mainstream bop extremely well regardless of the format, and his clothing style is as sharp as his licks. Smith is more adventurous, however, channeling his sax through small combos, the Bop Stop's Jazz Unit, and the electronica he frequently corrals in his annual February shows at Cleveland State. Maybe there'll be a cutting contest, and we'll be able to determine who's got better wind -- and better ideas.

The other nominees for Jazzman of the Year are Bob Fraser, the retiring but brilliant guitarist who so enlivens the Jazz Unit and the Cleveland Jazz Orchestra; Dominick Farinacci, the Solon wunderkind making trumpet waves at Juilliard; and Sammy de Leon y su Orquesta, the area's leading Latin aggregation.

Fraser is a master of the long, understated line, his phrasing evocative of Jim Hall, his harmonic sensibility akin to Bill Frisell's. Farinacci, a sweet trumpeter indeed, is the go-to guest whenever Joe Lovano comes to town. He's already recording his second CD, and Wynton Marsalis jams with him, too.

DeLeon, 42, is a master timbalero whose Con Salsa y Sabor, released on local label Azica, was one of the best Latin jazz albums of 2003. The Lorain native leads a mighty band, indeed. Don't miss a chance to catch DeLeon's group (featuring "salsa queen" Jackie Warren on piano) peppering the night with its piquant rhythms. -- Carlo Wolff

Best Country/Americana Act

Country music is the salve that soothes all the wounds made by life, love, and liquor. And no band is better at showing your troubles the door than Rambler 454, a Pabst-powered rockabilly trio whose latest, No Name Café, is half hard rock and half Hee-Haw, a hangover waiting to happen.

The Dreadful Yawns are more about beauty than bombast, coming with plaintive rural folk and Byrds-worthy rattle and strum. Their full-length debut, Early (released on Chicago's Undertow Records), is flush with pastoral psychedelia and free-range Americana. Word is, the band has inked with West Coast psych-rock label-du-jour Bomp! Records (Brian Jonestown Massacre, the Warlocks) for its next LP.

Country forebear Buck Owens once took out an ad in a Nashville rag declaring, "I shall make no record that's not a country record." Then on his next album, he played a Chuck Berry cover. Hayshaker Jones, Owens's spiritual heir, strikes a similar balance between traditional honky-tonk and boisterous rock and roll. The band all but dares you to sit still to its lone LP, The Neon Years, an album of souped-up country-western that rocks hard and drinks harder.

Hillbilly Idol frontman Dave Huddleston once described his band as "Ed Sullivan meets the Louisiana Hayride." He's not far off: The western swing of these city slickers sounds vintage and 21st-century at once. There's really no such thing as high-tech twang, though, so purists fear not: Hillbilly Idol's badass bluegrass sounds more like George Jones than George Jones has in recent years.

It's safe to say that Al's Fast Freight is the only band ever to open for both David Allan Coe and Letters to Cleo. But breadth is to be expected from an alt-country band that cites R.E.M. and Pink Floyd as influences, along with the Allman Brothers and Steve Earle. This bunch delivers blues-tinged country jams and has a local draw as big as its sound. -- Jason Bracelin

Best Singer-Songwriter

Add another award to Anne E. DeChant's mantel, and that baby will need steel reinforcement. Having been chosen Cleveland's best singer-songwriter a whopping four times by Scene readers, DeChant is one of the most decorated musicians in the area. And rightfully so: Her stirring, soulful delivery and bulletproof songwriting have won her spots on Lilith Fair, opening slots for Stevie Nicks, Train, and a dozen other big names, and even a gig at the White House's annual Easter gala.

Brian Straw is Cleveland's answer to Will Oldham, a mercurial talent with a voice as sobering as smelling salts. Straw's works range from spare, rustic ballads to loud explorations of drama and dissonance. In the past year, he's collaborated with Kent multi-instrumentalists the Six Parts Seven to further broaden the scope of his panoramic folk.

Short on years but long on talent, 17-year-old Will Bowen is one of Cleveland's most promising young troubadours. Writing songs since age 11, Bowen has already released a pair of LPs, the latest being 2003's sterling This Year's Lonely Mile. Singing songs of hope and heartache in a reflective, resonant voice, Bowen is Cleveland's answer to John Mayer.

Robin Stone jokes about being black on the inside, because folks who have only heard her jazz-inflected funk are often surprised to learn that she's a white girl. Stone's latest, RushMore, is elegant and energetic, drifting from solid Marvin Gaye and Erykah Badu covers to tasteful acoustic jams.

Inspired in part by Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass, Clarence Bucaro's latest, Sense of Light, is both haunting and astute. After signing with the notable indie Rounder Records (They Might Be Giants, Juliana Hatfield), the 23-year-old Chardon native has won national acclaim with his gripping sophomore effort. In a period of war, Sense of Light strives to be a beacon of hope.