A city's music scene is about more than which artists get radio play. We're fortunate to have a wealth of talented artists representing the region across the entire spectrum of genres. We've got money players at every position and a deep bench to boot.
But the scene is also lucky to have you, the fans, who scan these pages and support the bands when they play out.
This issue gives you a handy guide to the artists that are the best of their respective genres. The top vote-getters from June's online and paper balloting will be announced at Scene's Cleveland Music Awards on Friday, July 14, at the House of Blues.
In the meantime, here are the nominees. -- Chris Parker
Respect from the music industry may have been a long time coming for Mushroomhead, but there's never been a shortage of love here at home. While lesser lights streaked across metal radio, the bandmates have remained true to their blueprint of intricate, melodically rich, goth-inflected metal, refusing to dumb it down for Limp Bizkit fans. Why should they? With their dramatic sense of songcraft and arresting stage show, it was only a matter of time before a major scooped them up.
That happened in 2001, after the release of their third album, XX, on Eclipse Records. Universal snatched it up and rereleased it, and two years later the eight-piece band emerged with its major-label debut, XIII. After a decade of building an audience from scratch, Mushroomhead wasn't about to change its approach, and XIII is everything we've come to expect -- a tour de force of industrial, punk, goth, rap, and metal, puréed into a distinctive, surprisingly atmospheric, raging sound.
With a new album ready for release in a few months, Mushroomhead has graduated from fixture to legend. In honor of its dozen-plus years as lord of the local metal and hard-rock heap, it's been named winner of Scene's 2006 Cleveland Icon Award for lifetime achievement. The band's steadfast adherence to its own style continues to serve it well and makes Mushroomhead one of the most idiosyncratic acts in metal. -- Parker
Like a hot-wired F-150, the Whiskey Daredevils mix country twang with spirited rock rebellion that's fast, wild, and illicit. Singer Greg Miller channels the King's brogue, while guitarist Bobby Lanphier's razor-wire leads cut a wide swath. Their country-rock rave-ups really thrive, thanks to healthy doses of humor and irreverence.
If you rose with a Good Morning Valentine, you'd immediately feel refreshed by the warmth of the melody. The Akron quartet ranges from jangly pop to gentle, near-twee Belle & Sebastian sway, drifting across a watercolor landscape of melancholia and longing. It's a sad trip, but the scenery's fantastic.
And to your left you'll notice a View From Everest, the crisp wash of radio-friendly midtempo pop-rock melodies enveloping singer-guitarist Chad Armstrong's impassioned croon. The breezy guitar sustains bouncy choruses through the eight tracks on the band's Contagious EP, which combines the pop classicism of Foreigner with the modern-rock style of Matchbox Twenty. Disregarding the trucker-capped hipsters, the local trio pursues the broad populist appeal of lovelorn ballads.
Formed in the first spastic moments of emo, Brandtson has delivered driving power pop with a dense, textural churn and catchy rhythmic snap for almost a decade, so the dramatic shift represented by the group's sixth full-length, Hello, Control, may well have been due. Bassist John Sayre's departure proved fortuitous in that his replacement, Adam Boose (Furnace St.), has imbued the band with a dance bounce. Joined to the already tight musicianship and the nervy vocals of singer-guitarist Myk Porter, Brandtson's sound dovetails nicely with the indie new-wave revival.
Akron's answer to those color-coded candy stripers from the Motor City, the Black Keys twist the blues -- not so much with garage-rock ferocity as primal power and sloppy elbow grease. The duo of singer-guitarist Dan Auerbach and drummer Patrick Carney deserve credit not only for the continued excellence demonstrated on their latest -- the slightly more lysergic Chulahoma EP -- but also for their support of the thriving Akron scene through their Audio Eagle record label. -- Parker
Best Solo Artist
Chris Allen's solo debut, Goodbye Girl and the Big Apple Circus, continues in the roots-rock vein he mined for a decade in Rosavelt, though it also employs a lazy, nightclub vibe, heard in the Velvets' "Pale Blue Eyes," which he renders as a foot-tapping alt-country tune.
To say Patrick Sweany is just a blues musician is like saying Coke is just a soft drink. A Sweany set can veer from soulful, slow burn, John Lee Hooker-style blues to swampy, delta-country pickin' to white-hot rockabilly. A solo fixture in Akron from the Lime Spider to the Zephyr Pub, Sweany also fronts a combo, the Patrick Sweany Band, which just released its second full-length, C'mon C'mere.
With more talent and assurance than her tender age might suggest, lithe Mentor teen Jami Ross has the potential to be on TRL a year from now. Performing at the House of Blues during the Cleveland Music Fest, she sounded even better than she does on her debut, Figure Me Out. She's backed by a crackerjack band that offers swooning pop-rock, over which Ross struts with more attitude than the typical pop artist and less "Oops, I did it again."
The defending champ two years running, Anne E. DeChant is working with Andy Ackland (Jason Mraz, Joss Stone) on her fourth studio album, which is due for release later this year. Her deep, resonant vocals have a breezy, engaging quality that skates alongside her urgent acoustic strum. While ostensibly a folkie, DeChant can tease a little pop or kick the roots-rock door, as necessary.
When Xe La says, at his Myspace site, "performing covers & originals that have no limits or gimmicks . . . just the raw art of music and songcraft," he puts it pretty succinctly. The offbeat singer-guitarist defies easy categorization, responding to the shifting demands of his musical id. There's something of a child's unmediated glee on his tracks. -- Parker
Best New Album
Patrick Sweany Band, C'mon C'mere: From the sad, R&B-flavored sway of "World of Love" to the old-timey twang of "The Waterfall," Sweany flashes a lot of low-key versatility. While he's a scorching guitar player live, on the album Sweany is a little more measured, taking a slow-grooving circuit through rockabilly juke joints ("Step Outside") and Chicago blues ("The Hornet"), but never losing sight of the song's heart.
Interfuse, Closed Doors, Open Tracks: In hard, throttling cacophony molded into bite-size bits of angularity, Interfuse's guitars squeal with a noise worthy of Sonic Youth, but the lurching rhythmic pace is far more informed by punk experimentalists such as Mission of Burma and Wire. The result vibrates with taut muscularity.
Ringworm, Justice Replaced by Revenge: An unrelenting local hardcore fixture, the Cleveland quintet celebrates 15 years of no-holds-barred brutality captained by vocalist the Human Furnace (James Bulloch). On this, the best album of the band's career, 13 tracks of feral intensity strike a balance between Helmetesque metal churn and bottom-heavy hardcore breakdowns.
Coffinberry, From Now On Now: Comparisons to the Pixies are nearly inevitable in light of the careening post-punk attack of singer-guitarist Nicholas Cross' indie-rock croon. The quartet is noisy, for sure, but that's just the thorns on the stem of its blooming, off-kilter melodicism. Sparkling pop songs, such as the vaguely Pavement-ish 80-second track "Cruise Control Psycho," demonstrate an uncanny ability to slice to the beating heart of a tune.
The Vacancies, A Beat Missing or a Silence Added: For its second album, the Cleveland quartet jumped from Chicago label Smog Veil to Joan Jett's Blackheart Records and got production help from Ms. "I Love Rock and Roll" herself. It delivers the old-school punk-rock goods, from punchy, hard-charging songs such as the anthemic "Radio Revolution" to the blistering drug ode "Children of the Century (Gone to Waste)." -- Parker
Black Diamonds, "Cold Cold Heart": It'd be difficult to overstate the heft of this chunky slab of blues-boogie heaven. From the chucka-chucka-chucka of the rhythm line to the John Paul Jonesish walking-bass riff to singer Chad Van Gils' vocal swagger, this number exhibits a classic balls-out rock rumble. It's topped like a sundae by guitarist Dylan Francis' mid-song wah-pedal freakout. Did we mention these guys just graduated high school?
Whitechapel, "Love Goes": A little taste of '80s darkwave, the Cleveland trio slithers with a pitch-perfect take on the Brits' icy romanticism, as singer-guitarist Ben Childs intones, "As far as love goes/This is all right/I'm not saying that I could/Stand you all night." The guitars jangle like New Order, the synth throbs over cascading snare beats, and there's a thrum of ambient shimmer, like someone's playing the Jesus & Mary Chain in the background.
Trendy, "S&M (Breakfast of Champions)": A refreshingly honest paean to man's one-track mind, this three-minute blast tumbles headlong over a ska-punk beat, as the singer suggests that while "you treat me like shit," he's "horny and needy" and willing to "let you beat me in bed." He's actually given it a bit of thought, and offers a variety of abusive, degrading options from which to choose.
Balomai Brothers, "And Every Single Song Is Gonna Go Like This": It's not a tribute to glammed-out garage rockers so much as a musical complaint that takes as its source the Bo Diddley-style riff underpinning Jet's ubiquitous "Are You Gonna Be My Girl." The Balomai Brothers don't want to be their girl -- they want to slice and dice them with shards of old Stooges vinyl and feed them like sushi to the record execs who churned them out.
Gel, "Shoulder Work": A percolating little call to action, it shot to No. 1 on the Billboard rap-single chart and No. 7 on the pop chart, thanks to its club-ready sound. The dark, creeping synth line gives it something of an old-school West Coast flavor, as Gel (Nigel Allen) calls out his peeps to find they're "locking shoulders." It won't be too much more work now; a beatboxer in the old days and a producer since way back, Gel is ready for the spotlight. -- Parker
Best Reggae/ World
To keep up his kind of schedule, B.E. Mann really has to be "the Energy Man." According to his website, Mann has released an astounding 18 full-length albums since 1987, scored No. 1 hits in eight different European countries, and played more than 2,400 shows. His silky vocals are just part of the appeal; Mann's also a charismatic performer who plays on a truly international stage.
Ever wondered what hillbilly reggae sounds like? Neither did we. But as it turns out, it's actually pretty cool. Copperfoot is pioneering the genre -- imagine a lost Allman brother who smokes too much, delivering a southern croon over a banjo and a lazy skank. Trust us: It works, and it works well.
Carlos Jones' smooth, inviting voice is as soothing as the roots reggae he plays. Eschewing dancehall and the pop trends for a style grounded in the spirituality at the center of the Rastafarian faith, Jones makes music that's uplifting and soulful. No wonder he has attracted such a large and devoted following throughout the region.
I-Tal was Cleveland's first reggae band, spearheading a movement that would rule the local club scene in the late '70s and early '80s. It bowed out in '93, after 16 years on the scene, but 4 years ago, the band reformed. It remains a training ground for many of the area's best reggae musicians, including Carlos Jones.
Terrence D. Reynolds (alias Ras T. DubFlex) and his quartet, Dub Flex, have been keeping Cleveland awash in reggae vibrations for 15 years. The quartet's repertoire reaches beyond the legendary music of reggae progenitors Peter Tosh, Toots & the Maytals, and Bob Marley to embrace such island styles as dub, dancehall, and even jazz. Besides an extensive list of classic covers, the band has released four albums, the latest of which is 2003's Breathe. -- Parker & D.X. Ferris
Best Tribute/ Cover Band
Breakfast Club might have Cleveland's widest selection of '80s hits. Members have played with Risque, Moonlight Drive, Kidd Wicked, and P-Funk, and now they're a regular guest at Sly Fox, the Blind Pig, and McCarthy's, where they draw a loyal pack of traveling fans who scream for nuggets like "I Will Follow," "My Sharona," "Jenny (867-5309)," "Blister in the Sun," and "Here I Go Again." Like Frank the Tank, we're all just working for the weekend.
Named for the key year in the development of pop metal -- after the arrival of Guns N' Roses, but before Warrant -- 1988 blasts through a set that could be the soundtrack to a wild night at a strip club. Its repertoire includes a couple of inspired left-field choices, including Beastie Boys' "Fight for Your Right" and the Smithereens' "A Girl Like You, " but it's become a top draw in Cleveland by chasing hair-band classics from Poison with harder tunes from AC/DC. And the GNR medley brings the house down.
The Spazmatics take the stage dressed in bow ties, thick plastic glasses, and flood pants, shaking up some of the area's top night spots with all the presence of Revenge of the Nerds' Lamar Latrelle. The group plays primarily '80s hits, concentrating on the Top 40 and new-wave favorites such as Dead or Alive, Billy Idol, Soft Cell, and Thomas Dolby. When the Spazmatics are onstage, it's always safe to dance.
Superband is here to save the day. Mild-mannered superheroes by day, its members take the stage at night, keeping the city safe from the evil forces of sobriety. Superman, Batman, and Captain America used to play in their civilian fatigues, but now they come ready for action, rocking out with hits by the Gorillaz, Run-DMC, and Journey.
Pink Floyd tribute band Wish You Were Here could only happen in Cleveland, where classic-rock radio proudly boasts "Nobody plays more Floyd." That's how insatiable Northeast Ohio's taste for trippy, stadium-scale rock is. No wonder this eight-member coed lineup has become one of the city's favorite live draws. -- Ferris
Best New Artist
The father of Black Diamonds lead guitarist-producer Dylan Francis weaned him on a steady diet of classic rock, and Mr. Francis has reason to be proud of his son and the company he keeps. The Black Diamonds exploded onto the scene this year, playing big, bawdy rock that sounds as if it were recorded around the Bicentennial, and are quickly becoming a fixture at the Beachland and Hi-Fi. The Perry teenagers now face the tough decision of continuing to kick ass or going to college. We hope for the former.
Cactus 12 frontman Sam Getz has been slinking around the city's rock and blues scenes since he was 14, and his band's raucous live shows have the energy of a teenager in heat. Getz plays his six-string like he's having rough sex with it, twisting it behind his head, tossing it to the ground, spastically having his way with it. He can inject his music with emotion just as impressively.
A man about town, Ryan Humbert truly came into his own this year. A former staffer for indie alt-radio station WAPS 91.3 the Summit, he now plays music just as evocative as the records he once spun. Versed in rock, bluegrass, country, and folk, Humbert applied his diverse background to his band's recent Hangman LP and is currently collaborating with Akron's Tracey Thomas.
Plasma for Guns plays live-wire postpunk and has the musical chops to trade roles on guitar, bass, drums, and vocals. This unpredictable crew whips up a whirlwind of noise that never drifts too far from the central groove, even when the feedback crackles like thunder.
Crawling from the bubbling goo that is modern post-punk, Cleveland's Who Killed Marilyn? has spent the last year lurking around Peabody's, setting up its own record label (Ghost Lab Records), and unleashing a full-length debut, Escape From the Scene, an eclectic mash-up of brawny metal riffing, pop-punk swagger, and emo self-awareness. -- Ferris
Best Live Act
The New Lou Reeds bear a closer sonic resemblance to Pere Ubu's art rock than the onetime Velvet Underground frontman, but no matter. The Cleveland trio uncorks tales of twisted beauty salvaged from the city's urban wreckage. It's blues from the rubble, rock in the rust, and punk in the place dreams go to die.
Know this about Nine Shocks Terror --though you'll have guessed it early in the band's riotous live set: Its hardcore lifers are huge marks for pro wrestling, and they show it by going apeshit. This year, they've trailed each others' blood from the Grog Shop to Japan.
We would describe This Moment in Black History, but this e-mail we received says it best: "Frontman Chris Kulcsar is a madman. Jumps around like a psychotic rabbit . . . A synth got trashed by a flying can of Pabst."
The demented duo Uncle Scratch's Gospel Revival isn't humble -- but it's on a mission from God, so it's OK. "LORDY, LORDY, WE ROCK! We are the two-headed beast that's gonna kick the devil in the balls," declares the band's mission statement. Wearing cheap ball caps and cheaper sunglasses, Brothers Ant and Ed are as explosive as M-80s, playing inspired, twisted honky-tonk. By show's end, you'll be a believer.
In an alternate universe, the Whiskey Daredevils' antihipster anthem "Ironic Trucker Hat" is the national anthem, and happy hour lasts all day. The Devils formed from the warm ashes of the Cowslingers and uphold their reputation as a dusty, bourbon-soaked, country-punk band.
Not only does Wish You Were Here recreate the music of Pink Floyd -- Wish does everything it can to recreate perhaps the most beloved live production in the history of rock. Since last year, the Cleveland sensation has graduated from sold-out clubs to major venues including Blossom Music Center, bringing along a huge airborne inflatable pig, a towering wall of white bricks, and a giant video screen showing the same footage Floyd used. -- Ferris
Best Punk/ Hardcore
American Werewolves' sophomore LP, 1968, takes its name from a landmark year in horror, and the band's distinct brand of hardcore is imbued with an eerie, creepy edge. Hulking frontman Trevor Moment is one of the most recognizable figures in the scene, even when he's not crooning violent ballads.
Nine Shocks Terror was stomping and thrashing to tribal beats when most Warped Tour attendees were in diapers, lurking in Cleveland like a junkyard dog since '96. Think the scene's elder statesmen can't hang with the younger breed of pit ninjas? Please feel free to show up and heckle them -- and learn why they titled an LP Zen and the Art of Beating Your Ass.
Playing grimy gutter punk in the tradition of the Dead Boys, the Sex Crimes run with classy-monikered bands like Lower Class Brats and Clit 45. The members of this mixed-gender lineup wouldn't know a frill if they spat on it. In tunes such as the sleazy "36 Matches," they sing about dying young -- and mean to do it by the end of the song.
Trendy frontman Aaron Wilson has been picked out of a concert crowd by Green Day frontman Billie Joe Armstrong twice -- which is both a remarkable coincidence and proof that high-caliber punks can sense their own. This powerful trio cut its teeth in the Green Day paradigm of tightly coiled wiseass punk, but has come into its own on the new Stupid Generation album.
The Vacancies' vintage sound is no-bullshit rock and roll. And they're learning from a master: The tattooed sensations signed to Joan Jett's Blackheart Records for their album A Beat Missing or a Silence Added. The band is on tour with Boston's Street Dogs and old-school Cali-punk legends the Adolescents. -- Ferris
Best DJ/ Electronic
At 29, Deviant has compiled a lifetime's worth of credentials. Which is why he was chosen for inclusion in the Balance Record Pool, a collective of the top 40 progressive DJs in North America. His latest release, "That Marijuana Track," was a top-selling internet hit. Meanwhile, Deviant stays busy composing original tracks and remixes while spinning at Abasso.
Jugoe knows how to bring downtempo out of the chill-out room and onto the dance floor. Known as Jude Goergen to his mother, the DJ is still getting rave reviews from underground heads for 2005's The Rustbelt EP. Residencies at the Lava Lounge and the Mercury Lounge continue to elevate his profile.
Mick Boogie is one of Cleveland's hottest exports. The ace hip-hop DJ is the Midwest's go-to guy for hellified mixtapes of heavyweights like Mobb Deep, Kanye West, and Busta Rhymes. Boogie also hosts the successful League Crew Radio show on Sirius Satellite Radio and moonlights during basketball season as the official DJ of the Cavaliers.
The variety emanating from Misterbradleyp's turntables keeps clubgoers on their toes. The DJ has two residency gigs at Fusion, spinning reggae on Wednesdays and downtempo, deep house, and Latin rhythms on Thursdays. Misterbradleyp also teams with Jugoe for the monthly Nitty Gritty party at the Touch Supper Club.
The members of Whitechapel modestly claimed to be better drinkers than musicians. Over two years, the constantly gigging band has released three stellar EPs and a well-received full-length, Under a Grey Sky, before disbanding a couple months ago. Unlike many bands with New Order and Joy Division obsessions, Whitechapel's dance-rock sounded fresh and forward-thinking. RIP. -- Matt Gorey
The Life and Music of Sam Cooke (State Theatre, November 5-6, 2005): The Rock Hall tribute shows are always a good time, and this kind of event offers the potential to lure more people to Cleveland. This year's festivities paid tribute to the legacy of Sam Cooke, best known for his 1957 hit "You Send Me." The shows featured a diverse bill, from Elvis Costello to Aretha Franklin, and sadly, hosted the last area appearance for Lou Rawls, who died in January.
Coldplay and Richard Ashcroft (Quicken Loans Arena, March 20, 2006): Coldplay fever may have cooled a bit, but Clevelanders turned out in droves to see Mr. Gwyneth Paltrow and crew. The band mixed past hits and album favorites with plenty of material from its latest release, X&Y. Former Verve frontman Richard Ashcroft was a great pick for an opener, offering a solid set of songs from his new solo release as well as old Verve favorites.
Foo Fighters and Weezer (CSU Convocation Center, October 8, 2005): Weezer banged out a set of old favorites and a healthy serving of tracks from its latest release, Make Believe. But the night clearly belonged to Dave Grohl, who served up one of the year's highlight albums with the ambitious double-CD In Your Honor. The Foo Fighters' set list was loaded with hit after hit -- and even a few future hits.
Nine Inch Nails (Gund Arena, October 9, 2005): Trent Reznor rolled into his adopted hometown for a concert at Gund Arena that certainly had teeth and proved that Nine Inch Nails is still one of the circuit's best live bands. The night's secret weapon was Queens of the Stone Age, ripping off a fiery, hit-loaded opening set that went above and beyond the call of duty.
U2 (Quicken Loans Arena, December 10, 2005): On the heels of its well-received How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb, U2 offered a show that could have been titled "How to Keep a Bunch of U2 Fans Glued to Their Seats for Two Hours." -- Matt Wardlaw
Best Metal/Hard Rock
Amps II Eleven capped 2005 by scoring the highly coveted opening slot for the Dead Boys' anniversary show. The band's filthy hard rock, dispensed with a PBR-induced swagger, has earned comparisons to Zeke and Camarosmith. After enduring lineup shake-ups in early 2006, the Parma group is recording a new album for Smog Veil.
Audiblethread concocts lengthy epics and has even been known to play an occasional acoustic set. The band plans to release an EP titled Polar Shifts: Vibrations in September before breaking ground on a full-length.
If Dead Even's vicious metal has a timeless quality, it's probably because of the band's pedigree. Vocalist J.C. Koszewski and guitarist Matt Brewer are former Integrity alums, and the band has shared the stage with the likes of Hatebreed, Terror, and Shadows Fall. After putting out a split CD with Michigan neo-thrash outfit Dissonant this spring, the band is working on its second album.
Welcome to Bangkok offers blazing hard rock that could serve as the soundtrack for a biker bar in hell. The band crams tunes full of greasy classic-rock riffs and adds an endless barrage of scorching solos for good measure. Sonic Swirl Records will release its debut later this year.
Barely a year old, Years of Fire is already lighting up the local metal scene. The quintet sounds as if it's on a mission to recover the thunder stolen from American metal by Scandinavians and math geeks. Thorp Records will release the quintet's debut, Visceral Departure, on August 8. -- Matt Gorey
Best Goth/ Industrial
Composed of former members of Shenoah, In Winter creates a wall of sound impressively thick with harmony. Vocalist Kara Hill leads each song with a sultry voice that makes being tortured sound hot. In the wake of the release of its album, Murmur, the band has split with keyboardist Doug Bjornholm, but continues making potent goth anthems.
Disown is an industrial-gothic gem, a band so tight it can open for the likes of Orgy and HIM, then turn around and cover a Depeche Mode song. Currently entrenched in its "Disown the Nation" tour, the group melds urgent vocals with no-hope guitar riffs.
Keratoma is the new face of the industrial music scene. Chunky guitar riffs accompany brutal vocals spat from the mouth of the imposing Christopher Simmons between swigs from a bottle of whiskey. No wonder these guys opened for Lamb of God.
Jonny Sayre had his time in the majors with Erase the Grey, which was briefly on Universal. Now he finds himself belching out razor blades in VentanA, a fierce combination of nü-metal and industrial. The group also features Mushroomhead DJ Rick "Stitch" Thomas and Dope's Dan Fox, making it clear that this is nothing short of a supergroup. -- Matt Chernus
He may be the last of a dying breed, but get it straight: Jack Schantz is no anachronism. A trumpeter who played with some of the best swing-era orchestras, Schantz serves as musical director of the Cleveland Jazz Orchestra. His mini-big band, the Jack Schantz Jazz Unit, offers creative, engaging compositions in the vein of Wayne Shorter and Thad Jones.
One of the most active players in Ohio, pianist Joe Hunter does it all, from the cool school to the early avant-garde, from swing to fusion to Brazilian. Following in the hepcat shoes of Nat "King" Cole, Hunter's genial, easygoing takes on standards have appeal beyond his loyal jazz audience.
The surging tenor sax of Ernie Krivda has graced songs by Quincy Jones, the O'Jays, and Ohio cult rocker the Human Switchboard. Since the early '90s, he's been leading the Fat Tuesday Big Band and keeping alive the inspirational flames of Count Basie and Eddie Sauter.
Since before "world beat" became a marketing term, Roberto Ocasio's Latin Jazz Project has been playing jazz, funk, and Latin for enthused crowds. While guitarist Roberto Ocasio died in 2004, his eclectic, driven spirit still pilots the Project that bears his name.
The Up Ensemble, a local threesome (Chris Burge, tenor; Beau Lisy, drums; Matt Charboneau, bass) not only upholds the "sax trio," a jazz institution, but bridges eras and styles of jazz and pop, from Irving Berlin to the Beatles. -- Mark Keresman
Sam Getz Band: Young upstart guitarslingers keep the world of blues-rock spinning. Sam Getz is the area's most recent gift to the pantheon. Hitting bandstands since his peers were hitting Little League grounders, Getz has gone yard at area blues clubs and on regional festival stages.
Mary Bridget Davies Band: In the post-Norah Jones universe, jazzy divas thrive. Channeling Janis Joplin to the satisfaction of the departed blues mama's old band and to patrons of the play Love, Janis, Davies hints at an unlimited range. She's one good producer away from chart success.
Colin Dussault's Blues Project: It's hardly fair to compare the work habits of blues survivor Colin Dussault with those of other musicians. First making it to the stage at the end of the '70s, the burly Lakewood-bred harmonica ace has barely stopped since. While a blues band at its core, the CDBP can please a crowd of any persuasion.
Walkin' Cane: The hardest lesson for aspiring blues artists is finding one's own identity. Hard for some -- but apparently not for Austin Charanghat, also known as Walkin' Cane. Live and on disc, the West Side guitarist-vocalist-composer has covered blues from the Delta to Chicago, with stops in Memphis, all the while sounding like his own big-bellowed self.
Acme Blues Rockets: In the blues lexicon, "bar band" is by no means disparaging. Festivals are fine, but it's in sweaty, steamy bars that the blues makes its home. The blue-collar sound of the Acme Blues Rockets, highlighted by searing slide guitar courtesy of Sonny Williams, evokes just-cashed-the-paycheck Friday nights. -- Duane Verh
Best Roots/ Country
With a rhythm section known only as Jesse and Cooter, Rambler 454 plays its deceptively huge rockabilly like there's no tomorrow. Focusing on "chicks, beer, and rock," guitarist Dan McCoy and company are true working-class heroes.
With a rebel yell, Hillbilly Idol offers acoustic rockers and honky-tonk steeped in tradition. That juke-joint sound is "hard to fake and fun to make," as they say; word is that even William Michael Albert Broad (the real Billy Idol) digs their neo-Appalachian tunes.
Sassy, sexed-up punkabilly has been the staple of every Lords of the Highway gig since '92. There are songs about drinking and "lovin' till it hurts," and onstage, upright bassist Sugar makes a scene all her own. The duo just announced the arrival of a new drummer -- Joey Hissem of Slack-Jawed Yokels -- and is still riding high on last year's Degreaser.
Lawless is one of the hardest-gigging country bands in Cleveland. Consider it a soundtrack for Redneck Yacht Clubs across the U.S.A. These disciples of Skynyrd, Allman, and the Eagles specialize in melody and harmony that'll break your heart.
Lovers of bucolic rock and honest songcraft should check out Roger Hoover & the Whiskeyhounds. The quintet's world-weary Rust Belt melancholia, energetic live shows, and raw, real-world anthems have met with critical acclaim. The band's third album, Jukebox Manifesto, was recorded by Ryan Foltz of the Dropkick Murphys and pays tribute to Dylan, Cash, and Springsteen. -- Peter Chakerian
Best Indie/Alt Rock
This Moment in Black History has funky, MC5-like punk pathos, critical kudos, and a great sense of humor. Unrepentantly blissful, especially live, this righteous, groovin' four-piece has got fire to spare.
Started by singer-guitarist Mikey Machine, Machine Go Boom lurks in punk-pop's outer limits. The group's been compared to the Pixies, but the sugary layers of drugged-out punk, anti-rock, and folk whimsy borrow from Tin Pan Alley, Neutral Milk Hotel, Captain Beefheart, and Syd Barrett.
Call your dentist and make an appointment to get your fillings reset before you head out to see Roué. Once its members have opened up the noise-rock throttle and delivered their punishing brand of post-punk riffs (with shades of shoegazer bliss), they'll finish you off with a 10-minute epic like "Static Attraction."
The buzz remains for Coffinberry's moody "adult-punk."The group is fronted by Nicholas Cross, the catalyst for their post-New Wave, modern-rock discord. These guys eschew conventions, even as their artsy-pop taps Sonic Youth.
Houseguest is a group of five self-professed "tennis bums" from Akron. Their nostalgic blend of twee- and surf-infused pop songs comes with Magnetic Fields perplexity. But to hell with academics: Underneath those tennis sweaters, these dudes are raging pop freaks. -- Peter Chakerian
Best Hip-Hop/ R&B
Garbs Infinite and Vincenzo are the city's hottest hip-hop dynamic duo. Garbs has been getting attention from several DJs and radio stations since he and fellow crew member Davinchi created a track that flipped Busta Rhymes' "NY Shit" to "Cleveland Shit." Partner Vincenzo dropped his debut recording (produced by Garbs) and is garnering positive reviews.
Saj Supreme isn't going to be giving up his crown anytime soon. Having just finished filming a feature film, he released a new mixtape with Mick Boogie, titled Basic Training, which showed the Cleveland-born rapper at the top of his game. With two more albums due later this year, Saj is one of the area's finest -- and hardest-working -- talents.
One-half of Edotkom, one-fourth of I.V. League, and one-twelfth of the infamous 12 Monkeys, Siege has been venturing into solo territory in the past year. He has the chops and lyrical diversity to hold his own with the area's best. At home both onstage and in the studio, Siege has proved that he belongs among the cream of Cleveland hip-hop.
The trio of Krossword, Verbal, and GAB -- also known as Spittin Image -- has been hitting new highs. Each of the three emcees has sharpened his game for what looks to be their best year yet.
Cleveland-born producer-emcee Eric Wilson has been creating music since the age of four. Adept with several instruments, he uses his deep musical background to create fresh and unique beats as backdrops for his lyrical flow. Having collaborated with the likes of Dungeon Family, Flesh N' Bone, and Layzie Bone, Wilson is no stranger to talent. His 2006 LP is titled The Warm Up, and this guy is ready to be a starter.
216 has finally extricated itself from its production company and is set to release its major-label debut. The Cleveland duo has been at it for years, and hopes the forthcoming album, The Game of Life, can put the city back on the hip-hop map. The first single, "Hey Hey," was produced by Scott Storch (50 Cent, T.I.), and the album features appearances by Fat Joe, Hitman, and Butch Cassidy, among others. -- Joe Minadeo