Scene's Cleveland Music Awards 2005

Readers choose Northeast Ohio's hottest performers.

Let's face it, rock critics are pretty damn annoying. At least, our mothers and significant others tell us as much. So once a year, we take it upon ourselves to step aside and let you, the music fans of Cleveland, sound off on what bands you think are most deserving of recognition in this city. Which can only mean that it's time for another installment of Scene's Cleveland Music Awards.

What does it mean for bands to be nominated? It means that readers have voted online or sent in a ballot and selected the acts that have moved them the most in the past year. The Scene staff doesn't choose the winners, you do. Every week, we hype the groups we dig. Now it's your turn. Read on, then, and get to know the bands that Clevelanders have selected as the best of 2005. Winners will be announced at Scene's Cleveland Music Awards, taking place Thursday, July 28, at the House of Blues, and featuring performances by Disengage and the Whiskey Daredevils, as well as a set by L.A. cutups the Dan Band. -- Jason Bracelin

Cleveland Icon
"Is this city dying?" asks Disengage frontman Jason Byers at the onset of his band's most recent disc, Application for an Afterlife. The song diagnoses Cleveland's ills, from urban gentrification to suburban sameness. But it's not meant as a critique of the city so much as a mission statement: No matter how much Cleveland struggles, this bunch will weather the challenges and just get meaner -- as they've done for close to a decade.

Having made the rounds in town since the mid-'90s, Disengage has been voted Best Hard Rock Band at the Scene Music Awards three years running, toured the country repeatedly, and dropped three lead-dense discs that cast a shadow over this city's rock underground like a solar eclipse.

But it's on stage that Disengage has really earned its rep as one of Cleveland's most forceful acts. It all starts with the no-nonsense rhythm section of bassist Sean Bilovecky and drummer Jonathan Morgan, who lock onto one another like two opposing lineman battling for position. Guitarist Jacob Cox is a bit more subtle, splicing serpentine guitar lines with the requisite slobbering power chords. Singer Jason Byers literally throws himself at the crowd, sweating, swearing, and swinging his mic like a lasso. Together, they add up to one of the most formidable live bands this town has ever seen.

After all these years of showing their Cleveland counterparts how it's done, Disengage has earned the distinction of being named Scene's 2005 Cleveland Icon award-winner for lifetime achievement. The band is still leaving bruises and shows no signs of letting up -- just like the city it calls home. -- Bracelin

Best New Artist
Between Home and Serenity
is just one of the bands poised to be a breakout group for Cleveland-based Rust Records, the rapidly expanding indie label distributed by Universal Records. The group is already drawing bigger crowds than most visiting emo bands, and rightfully so -- it plays melodic hardcore just about as well as anyone you'll see on the cover of Alternative Press. Now it's time for the rest of the country to find out about this bunch.

Survivors of Cleveland's Signoffs and Leo, and Youngstown's Ivet, the members of A Dozen Dead Roses are Northeast Ohio all-stars, who already have more than 20,000 friends at -- and, if the pictures are to be believed, a disproportionate number of them are really hot girls. Given the band's cocksure rock, it's easy to understand why. The Roses don't have a release yet, but their Myspace page does have three smokin' mp3s.

Like an unholy hybrid of Marilyn Manson and Slayer, Keratoma is out for blood. The electro-thrash band seethes with impossible-to-keep-up-with electro beats and synth solos that'll give you whiplash. If the band develops a schedule of regular gigs, Peabody's may collapse in on itself. The band's first full-length, Of Smoke and Mirrors, is the best-produced and most abrasive debut album of the year.

Formerly known as most of the Cowslingers, the Whiskey Daredevils made their recording debut with a rock-country-punkabilly platter modestly dubbed Greatest Hits. As the album title and cover art convey, the Daredevils have all the reserve of Evel Knievel. One of Cleveland's rock's true live wires, singer Greg Miller wrote the anti-hipster anthem "Ironic Trucker Hat," which still has us cracking up.

The members of Swim have a devoted following among the club-hopping, rock-loving young professionals who can't get enough of U2 and Coldplay. How do they do it? According to the band's bio, "They pull melodies, rhythms, and the unexplainable aural magic which seems to be in the most familiar of songs, effortlessly pour them into their own tunes, polish them, and present them like a new gift!!" Rock on. -- D.X. Ferris

Best Live Act
Uncle Scratch's Gospel Revival
may elicit a lot of loud guffaws at its gigs, but you can be damn sure the devil ain't laughin'. Equally drunken and divine, Uncle Scratch consists of Brother Ant on bullhorn and guitar, and Brother Ed on drums (which are partly made of cardboard). Their shows are part stand-up routine, part sweaty rock-and-roll-hootenanny, where the duo rips through one herky-jerky, heaven-sent anthem after the next, culled from their 2003 debut, Kickin' the Devil in the Balls. Ol' Beelzebub had better invest in a jockstrap.

During Lords of the Highway gigs, stand-up bassist Sugar is known for lying down flat on the stage and cradling her instrument, while singer-guitarist Dennis Bell climbs up and plays on top of it. "When the bass goes down on her, we get a lot of hands on mouths from the ladies," Bell told Scene earlier this year. "They'll cover up their children's eyes." With songs about drinkin' and lovin' till it hurts, the Lords aren't for the young'uns, but they'll bring out the kid in any fan of revved-up rockabilly.

As the immortal Footloose taught us, dancing can be a way of shrugging off the repressive influence of the powers that be. Too bad so many overserious rock-and-rollers have lost sight of the personal liberty inherent in shaking one's ass. Thankfully, This Moment in Black History is an exception, as the punk-funk four-piece will get your hips shakin' with the same kind of righteous midwestern swing that the MC5 first unleashed four decades ago.

Speaking of overheated Rust Belt rock and roll, the Vacancies' hard-charging live gigs conjure up more sweat than the summer sun. One of the most high-energy bands in the city, the Vacancies bound about the stage like punk-rock aerobics instructors. Having recently signed with Joan Jett's Blackheart Records, the band will soon be playing out in support of its sophomore LP, tentatively titled A Beat Missing or Silence Added. When you catch their act, don't forget to bring a towel. -- Bracelin

Best Rock/Pop
In addition to gigs around the country this year, stalwart Cleveland rock legends Cobra Verde were down with O.P.M. -- that's Other People's Music. The band's latest, Copycat Killers, features a gooey cover of Pink's "Get the Party Started" and a reconstruction of New Order's "Temptation." And Verde's version of Donna Summer's "I Feel Love" is the best Cleveland take on the disco queen since Integrity's Dwid went on a glam kick.

Machine Go Boom lurks in dark and obscure Cleveland joints like Pat's in the Flats and the little room at the Beachland -- exactly where rockers worth their salt should be. Started on a whim by bored singer-guitarist Mikey Machine, the band kept absorbing other indie-rock notables, most recently Hook Boy's Mike Uva. The Machine has been compared to the Dead Milkmen and the Pixies. And as the band notes on its website, "People seem to like it." That includes us.

The old Lou Reed is busy writing rock operas about Poe poems, so Cleveland has nurtured the New Lou Reeds. Charter members in the Exit Stencil art-rock posse, the New Lous play blues-bent tunes with guitar solos so good, they don't need to be in tune.

They say that when you're bracing for impact, you should try -- against all your instincts -- to relax. A Roué show is like that: Their make-you-melt soft side is just behind a post-punk wall of distortion. And they play so loud that they'll drop you.

Saul Glennon guitarist Jack Rugan was (and is) still reeling from the first British Invasion while Oasis was blowing the rest of his band away. The group's Touchy Feely double-disc release last year was a testament to the power of DIY pop -- when you have music you love, you're glad to give some extra. Now, which one's Saul? -- Ferris

Best Hard Rock
Amps II Eleven
's 2004 self-titled debut was a long time coming, but it hit the streets like an ex-con with two strikes against him and a score to settle. The band formed from the wreckage of ugly Clevo rawkers Stepsister, Southern Trespass, and Shuteye, instantly establishing the band's bare-knuckle dirt rock as a new fixture in the city's rocky landscape.

Nightbreed frontman Ray Terry first scarred (and scared) the Midwest and East Coast with Allergic to Whores (ATW), which morphed into Nightbreed just after releasing 2003's 1331 EP, a Cleveland hardcore classic. Tired of waiting for the city to catch up with him, Terry issued Nightbreed's debut EP, Immortality Through Ashes, on his own label. On it, the band plays diesel-burning rock that's somewhere between Disengage and Danzig.

Earlier this year, Interfuse made its debut for Ray Terry's Tragic End Recordings. Led by husband-and-wife duo Lisa and Nick Cardarelli, the frantically rocking Akron band began with a Valentine's Day massacre in 1999, and if you listen closely, you can still hear the feedback from the show.

Red Giant dropped its first record for Detroit stoner-metal stronghold Small Stone Records late last year with the Devil Child Blues LP, a slab of 1978-style crank-it-in-your-van jamnation that earns the presence of a Stooges cover. Don't worry, they do Iggy proud. -- Ferris

Best Punk/Hardcore
American Werewolves
do the Misfits thing better than the Misfits have for a while now. The band is still riding out 2003's We Won't Stay Dead, but it's about to unleash the new 1968. Featuring Dion-meets-the-Ramones ballads, it'll prove that hardcore still has room for innovation.

Cleveland's charter Oi! band, the Brazen Rogues play street punk that's hard, crusty, and catchy -- like the Dropkick Murphys, but from Cleveland's East Side. The new PBR Streetgang is another document of blue-collar Cleveland life that could go into a time capsule. This is the year's best punk-firefighter album.

The cover of the Jacknife Powerbombs' Set to Go! makes the Cleveland skyline look menacing and gothic, like so many giant tombstones. Their raw-dog punk has the hints of social consciousness, but mostly they just rock, fast and hard. It's that simple.

Ringworm has been hitting Cleveland in the gut for over a decade now, and instead of slowing down, it's only punching harder. The band's new album, tentatively titled Justice Replaced by Revenge, is finished and nearly ready for release. From what we've heard, it's so brutal and relentless that it will bowl over even diehard fans.

13 Faces is at least 13 months overdue for a follow-up to 2003's These Bloody Hands, but the metalcore brutes are still fan favorites in Metal City, U.S.A. Recent lineup changes saw the group experiment with a more by-the-numbers double-bass-drum sound, but the group ultimately reunited with its original power-metal rhythm section. As the band readies its long-awaited new disc, Cleveland had better get ready to duck and cover. -- Ferris

Best Metal
isn't short for "Abdullah the Butcher," but it oughta be. The group is as nasty as the title of its proper debut, 1999's Snake Lore, would lead you to believe. The prog-doom crew has been talked up in Metal Maniacs, Alternative Press, and Metal Hammer. Brute power or no, guitarist Alan Seibert's leads are the kind of thing that made the New Wave of British Heavy Metal so memorable.

Painted up like they're going to the prom at Celtic Frost High, the members of Cleveland's Black Trinity have penned so-underground-they're-in-hell tunes like "The Onslaught of Heaven," "Bleed for Him," and "Soldiers of Hate." And they have bitchin' names, like WarghoulAxe and ViolettaUndead. The group's last recording, Demonic Pleasures, was slated for release on Satanic Perversion Records. And if you're still guessing, they're a black metal band.

Dead Even stomps all over the line between metal and hardcore, but hardcore has seen better days, so we'll call DE metal and hope the group takes it the right way. Frontman J.C. Koszewski came up through the ranks of Cleveland rock by taking notes from Integrity and Mushroomhead, and it shows. Dead Even is one of the most steady-giggin' bands in the city -- but it's about to take August and September off to finish writing the follow-up to Of Constant Rotation, the debut EP.

Want to know how metal Soulless is? The underground fave has a bassist named Dave "Metal Dave" Johnson, who was previously in the long-gone-but-still-popular metalcore cult act Ascension; some of the Soulless players were in the Cle-metal band Bloodsick; and they played the Ohio Deathfest 2005. This bunch combines elements of Bay Area thrash and Swedish death metal, moving up and down guitar necks like they're trying to choke them out.

The players in Mo Rage are old-school power-metal soldiers, fighting the good fight from one side of the galaxy to the other (in songs) and from one side of Cleveland to the other (in clubs). The band has been shredding around town since 1990, and its new CD, slated to have the evocative title Return of the Priest King, is due in August. Any questions? Didn't think so. -- Ferris

Best Hip-Hop/R&B
"Money, cash, ho's, and violence/That's all the media projects/Where the fuck's the balance?" Ghana-born MC Blitz asks on his gritty 2004 debut, Soul Rebel. On the disc, Blitz aims to restore hip-hop's equilibrium by revisiting the political consciousness at the heart of rap forebears like Public Enemy and KRS-One. Raised in West Africa, Blitz (aka Samuel Bazawule) immigrated to New York City as a teen, eventually enrolling at Kent State. With a deep, resonant delivery and songs of protest that recall the revolutionary zeal of Dead Prez, the 23-year-old rhymer has become one of the region's most powerful and promising MCs.

To call Iyan Anomolie Cleveland's Kanye West might be a bit much, but like West, Anomolie is skilled at blending the social awareness of underground hip-hop with mainstream sensibilities. On his latest disc, The Book of I, Anomolie comes with equally heady and hilarious rhymes over a playful backdrop of brightly colored beats. With it, Anomolie proves that serious politicking can also be serious fun.

Having first made his name as one of Cleveland's most lethal and legendary spitboxers, Drastic has come into his own as an artist in the past year. Drastic's latest mixtape, Cleveland's Hope, sees the young MC successfully depart from the freestyle circuit with fast and furious beats, and a flow that burrows into your flesh like buckshot.

Living up to his last name, Saj Supreme has become one of Cleveland's most consistent and hardest-working MCs. And the hip-hop nation has taken notice. Saj's latest disc, the mammoth, 44-track The Art of Word, features such big-name guests as Ghostface and Jadakiss. Nevertheless, Saj manages to hold his own against some of hip-hop's finest, with a commanding stage presence and some unrepentant, X-rated rhymes. -- Bracelin

Best Alternative/Electronica
State of Being
is as much a part of the Cleveland electronic-music scene as big black combat boots and overpriced drinks at the Chamber. The long-running quintet set the bar for emotive electro-rock in this city well over a decade ago. Late last summer, the band scored a distribution deal with Metropolis Records, industrial's biggest label, for its latest: the lush, electric Haywire. As a result, SoB's national profile has risen substantially in the past year, as the rest of the country has begun to catch up with Cleveland's signature electronic act.

Organic electronica may sound like a contradiction in terms, but you'll change your mind upon hearing Tears from the Electric Eye, the debut from Akron's 20goto10. Blending vintage, warm-sounding analog synth with an array of non-electronic instruments -- all while avoiding Pro Tools -- the trio makes brightly hued synth pop that disavows the chilliness of machine music. A rising presence in the new new-wave movement, 20goto10 humanizes robot rock with a wink of the Electric Eye.

Few bands manage to be as stimulating visually as they are musically, but Cleveland's Infinite Number of Sounds is all about sensory overload. The band's multi-media live shows are both dizzying and dramatic, with the four-piece incorporating digital video imagery into their sets and synching it up with the beat. The band's amorphous electro-rock is just as elaborate, spanning everything from experimental electronica to bristling post-rock on their latest, Time Wants a Skeleton. Bounded by nothing but the players' own imaginations, this group's sound is among the most open-ended around.

Though the electro-rock duo Furnace St. recently called it a day, the band has left behind one fine-looking corpse in the form of the group's recently released final LP, Extroversion. A blend of buzzing electronics and bloodletting guitar, the disc is both hypnotic and heartbroken. The band was nominated for the Scene Music Awards close to half a dozen times; now we bid a fond farewell to one of Cleveland's most distinctive acts. -- Bracelin

Best DJ
Dubbed the "Godfather of Cleveland drum 'n' bass" by electronic-music bible Urb magazine, Mr. Tik Tak has done more than any other DJ to keep DNB alive in Cleveland. With his Wednesday night Drum Riot series still going strong at Spy, Tik Tak (Alex Virasayachack) has been a fixture in the DJ scene for over a decade. In addition to his smooth mixing, Tik Tak built his rep with his turntable skills -- he can scratch with the best of them. His high-velocity sets, which encompass everything from hardcore hip-hop to speed metal, are capable of knocking the wind out of even the most grizzled dancefloor die-hards.

First making a name for himself at such esteemed New York City nightspots as Limelight, Roxy, Vinyl, and Speeed, Cleveland transplant Deviant's résumé is nearly as long as his hypnotic, enveloping sets. He's opened for Sandra Collins, Jondi & Spech, and John Howard, to name a few, and is a member of the prestigious Balance Record Pool, which includes Collins, Danny Tenaglia, and D:Fuse, among others. Specializing in progressive house with a taste for techno, Deviant (David Christopher) has been resident at Abbasso and is one of the founders of HeadRush Music, a promotions company that hosts shows and hypes dance music in Cleveland. HeadRush's label, Toes in the Sand Recordings, has issued releases from such well regarded DJs as Michael Lanning and Anthony Pappa, and helped establish Deviant as a national tastemaker.

Downtempo is often associated with dimly lit lounges and sleepy after-hours joints, but Jugoe's jazz- and dub-inflected beats are capable of heating up any chill-out spot. A resident at the Lava Lounge, Jugoe (Jude Goergen) has made a name for himself as one of Cleveland's premier purveyors of heady funk. His sets bob and weave from Latin sounds to avant-garde soul. Having gigged from Amsterdam to Austin and worked with such esteemed labels as Bastard Jazz Recordings and Funk Wax Recordings, Jugoe has name recognition as far-reaching as his sound.

There are few clubs in town -- past or present -- that veteran DJ Rob Black hasn't spun at over the course of his lengthy career. One of Cleveland's most well-traveled DJs, Black has worked crowds at contemporary clubs like Wish, Spy, Modä, and Twist Social Club, in addition to making the rounds at former hot spots like Trilogy, U4ia, and Aqua. He's opened for such big names as Paul van Dyke and D:Fuse, and most recently performed at the Ultra DJ showcase at this year's Winter Music Conference in Miami. A progressive house mainstay, Black has a big following and an even bigger sound. -- Bracelin

Best Singer-Songwriter
Granted, Alex "Xela" Alvarez doesn't fit easily into the singer-songwriter category. But then again, this high-energy jack-of-all-trades doesn't fit easily into any category. With a spontaneous, oft-improvised sound that veers from punk to spoken word to jazz to hip-hop, Xela's songs often leave listeners as breathless as the man singing them. An open-mic regular who also performs with art-rockers 3io, Xela is among the most prolific artists in Cleveland. He plays out nearly every night of the week, and no matter how many times you catch him, his set is never the same. He's also a graphic artist, which is fitting, as Xela's exuberant tunes often sound like a comic book come to life.

A five-time winner at the Scene Music Awards, Anne E. DeChant is more decorated than Pee Wee Herman's front lawn. She's played Lilith Fair and opened for everyone from Stevie Nicks to Norah Jones. She's starred in a local production of Vagina Monologues and performed at the White House. Listening to DeChant's latest, Pop the Star, it's easy to hear why she's in such demand. Produced by Don Dixon (who's worked with such big names as R.E.M, the Counting Crows, and Hootie and the Blowfish), the disc is an equally ballsy and affecting collection of homespun yarns that resonate with the twang of plucked heartstrings.

Early last year, J. Scott Franklin lost his job as a schoolteacher. The poet-songwriter proceeded to sell most of his belongings -- with the exception of his guitar -- before moving into his car and embarking on an impromptu 96-day tour of America. It's this sort of unflinching impulsiveness that defines Scott and his wide-open tunes. A trumpeter who once studied under members of the Count Basie Orchestra and performed with Grammy-winning arranger Willie Smith, Scott is an accomplished musician. There's a subtle jazz influence in his pastoral indie musings, which range from hushed experimental rock to tinges of old-school country. The result is an album full of big-hearted songs as inviting as the open road.

Though his personality is a bit understated, Doug Gillard's guitar-playing is anything but. The guy can conjure up the kind of wide-eyed six-string pyrotechnics normally reserved for dudes in Spandex, then craft stirring instrumental passages evocative of the forlorn beauty of Ry Cooder's best works. The ex-Guided by Voices guitarist's much-lauded playing sometimes causes folks to overlook his songwriting, though it shouldn't: Gillard can craft a three-minute pop gem with the ease of a seven-footer making a slam dunk. On his latest, Salamander, Gillard sings in a pretty, plaintive voice that sounds as if it were made of papier-mâché. The disc is both sad and exultant, regretful and triumphant, and ultimately a reaffirmation of one of Cleveland's most singular talents. -- Bracelin

Best Reggae/World
The latest from Survivalist, The Art of Survival, is a radiant, uplifting LP that gives you the feeling of being in one of those sunny Corona beer commercials. A Cleveland reggae, uh, survivor, this gruff but welcoming frontman sings songs of peace and salvation in an animated rasp. It's dancehall with a conscience -- and a smile. Save money on Zoloft, and buy this disc instead -- the results will be damn near the same.

Packing a musical geography lesson into each and every tune, Harmonia's Eastern European folk is rooted in the cultures of Hungary, Romania, Ukraine, and Croatia, among many others. An adrenaline-powered sextet that performs on authentic old-world instruments (which include accordion, cimbalom, sopilka, nai, and buben, to name a few), the band pushes the needle into the red on traditional folk numbers -- some of which date back centuries. Harmonia also crafts its own urbane, upbeat folk. National Public Radio has called the group "a musical gem." We call it one of Cleveland's can't-miss acts.

Drumplay describes its slowly unfurling, percussive jams as "rhythmprovisations," which is a fancy way of saying that the players make everything up as they go along. This is what makes the band so hard to turn away from: You never know which way the music is heading next. Still, Drumplay never get lost in self-indulgent noodling. Instead, the band's hard-to-pin-down sound -- which is a combination of African, Afro-Cuban, and Brazilian rhythms -- constantly head-fakes listeners by pivoting in a whole new direction. At the band's live gigs, you're never certain of what you're going to get -- but you can be sure that it's going to be entertaining.

Carlos Jones is to Cleveland reggae what Jim Brown is to Cleveland running backs: the undisputed champ. With Jones at the forefront of the scene for more than 25 years -- first in I-Tal, then in First Light -- this city's reggae following was practically built upon his back. Devoutly spiritual, Jones is a Bob Marley devotee who eschews dancehall for galvanized roots-reggae. Jones and his PLUS Band were voted Best Live Act at the 2004 Scene Music Awards, and they maintain a hectic pace of gigging, playing out every single weekend. As a result, the band's soulful riddims have made it one of Cleveland's top draws for close to a decade.

The Jah Messenjahs' multifaceted reggae is hybridization at its best. Though this coed troupe has a distinct Jamaican lilt, the Messenjahs are just as indebted to jazz and R&B as they navigate righteous, subtropical sing-alongs and fiery contemporary soul, abetted by buoyant keyboards and a nyabinghi beat. The band's sprawling tunes are also infused with subtle touches of rock and hip-hop; this bunch embraces just about every genre within arm's reach. -- Bracelin

Best Goth/Industrial
On their website, hard-edged Cleveland industrial rockers Disown claim that their music "gravitates towards the tragedy of life and the failure of expectations." Why this bunch is so dour is beyond us, as the band has had nothing but success since forming at the beginning of the decade. Disown has opened for the likes of Orgy, KMFDM, and Static-X, performed at the Cleveland stop of Ozzfest 2004, and broken into regular rotation on WMMS. The band's most recent disc, Requiem of One, was produced by Geoff Koval, who's worked with Marilyn Manson among others. In the wake of Nine Inch Nails and Filter, Disown is helping to maintain Cleveland's strong tradition of electro-rock nihilism.

Having sold, on its own, more than 300,000 copies of its six discs of dark orchestral music, Midnight Syndicate is one of the most successful bands ever to come from these parts. The duo is the leading act in the haunted-attractions industry, and its music is played in theme parks across the nation, from Six Flags to Universal Studios Orlando. Recently, the band dropped its finest album yet, the eerily evocative 13th Hour. It's a sweeping, symphonic disc, with spectral organ and sinister sound effects that are capable of turning any home into a haunted house.

UV songwriter-programmer Timothy Smith goes by the stage name Relic, and indeed, the guy is a throwback to the halcyon days of industrial, when the music was as cold and steely as a Frigidaire. This old-school aesthetic is palpable in UV's dense sturm und klang, though it's balanced with the more beat-driven rush of modern BPM. In the past year, this rising band has landed a tune on the Matrix DVD set and dropped its full-length debut, Codebreaker, a stellar shot of bristling Bladerunner rock.

Also intermingling EBM and industrial is Filament 38, though this bunch is far more apocalyptic than UV -- its pitch-black electro throb makes Skinny Puppy sound like the Cheetah Girls. On its latest, the aptly titled Unstable, Filament 38 actually makes the sound of women and children getting blasted by machine-gun fire something you can dance to. Rivetheads rarely smile, but they will when this disc spins. -- Bracelin

Best Country/ Americana
Hayshaker Jones
has a jones for ass-shaking. Fueled by Busch, decked out in cowboy boots, and ready to kick some, um, stuff, the boys belt out haughty country-and-western swing with high-energy harmonies. None of that ironic trucker-hat shit here.

The members of Rambler 454 play rockabilly like they just downed a pint of moonshine and its most serious effects have yet to hit them. Guitarist Dan McCoy had been performing at pubs in exchange for Guinness before hooking up with the dudes in the rhythm section, who are simply known as Jesse and Cooter. 'Nuff said.

Hillbilly Idol still gets props for its great name. Swaying between acoustic and electric barn-burners, the group is always swinging and never far from its next show. And yes, Virginia, there is such a thing as blistering bluegrass. In the band's words, "It's simple music that's easy to take, hard to fake, fun to make. It ain't your Grandpa's country music, but he'd probably approve."

After eight years and three albums, Rosavelt has called it a day, but what a day it was. Recorded with producer Don Dixon (R.E.M. and Anne E. DeChant), 2004's The Story of Gasoline led to shows with big dogs like Los Lobos, but it wasn't meant to be. Frontman Chris Allen kept the band afloat through a steady defection of founding members, but he's now going solo. Maybe Cleveland will send the band off with a six-gun salute. -- Ferris

Best Jazz
Jackie Warren
does it all: salsa, rumba, bebop, Liszt, her own tunes. A powerful pianist of surpassing delicacy, she sweats it out in numerous venues all over the area. Sometimes Warren's bag is big band, often it's solo, more often it's a trio. She's already released her own solo CD, 2004's Near You, and is about to deliver her first trio effort, with bassist Peter Dominguez and drummer Ron Godale. Look for her, no matter the format. She's as much heart as technique.

A closet romantic, the buff Cliff Habian has a spiky, unpredictable harmonic sense, an angry approach to rhythm, and a wide-ranging repertoire. He plays the canon at Nordstrom's in Beachwood and does occasional club gigs. Pick up his albums on Milestone and Azica for the standards and his tango-flecked originals.

Lakewood luminary Ernie Krivda is aggressive, plays a mean and tireless tenor, and would say he's a purist. His Fat Tuesday Big Band, a training ground for up-and-coming talent, does well, and he's recorded a gang of creditable, powerful albums.

Director of jazz studies at Cleveland State since 1979, Howie Smith is an indefatigable experimentalist, whose Concert in Progress each February is the very paradigm of creativity. Smith, who excels at soprano saxophone, doesn't record or play out enough, so by all means catch him when you can. A man of such rare talent doesn't surface often, particularly this close to home. -- Carlo Wolff

Best Blues
The blues needn't always be a three-chord copy of some Delta master. The blues can simply result from the right songsmith crafting tales of love, loneliness, sadness, or madness. Roger Hoover is such a figure, with engaging songs and a credible, Dixie-tinged vocal persona. His partners, the Whiskeyhounds, generate a simpatico sound, by turns joyful and mournful, behind Hoover's sorties; they may be the best southern band in this half of the country.

Rock guitarists figured out a long time ago that a blues chorus was a great place to stretch out and let 'er rip -- and they couldn't help but dose the blues with gobs of r-and-r energy. Akron-based six-stringer Colin John attacks the fretboard with chops and fire on par with the guitar-slinger elite -- an association listeners will be making on a regular basis, now that the Colin John Band has landed a national distribution deal.

It would be next to impossible to imagine the Cleveland blues scene these days without the formidable figure of Colin Dussault. The venerable West Side bandleader-harmonica player has kept on keepin' on for more than 25 years and has fashioned a versatile, crowd-pleasing formula that nets his outfit more than 300 gigs annually. Forget blues groups, there are lounge bands that pine for those numbers. And how many other local bands can boast their own Greatest Hits CD?

The name of Mary Bridget Davies may sound like something you remember from Catholic school, but her liturgy-of-choice is soul and R&B, and we can say a prayer of thanks for that. Possessing great pipes and a scrappy delivery that evokes Joplin minus the self-abuse, Davies also manages to add a jazzy swing to R&B standards. The guys in the Mary Bridget Davies Band are well suited to this same fusion. -- Duane Verh