At the risk of sounding like a broken record, or perhaps a corrupted MP3, this year's passel of showcase entries has once again proven that Arkansas is loaded with talented musicians. We had dozens of entries, and as with previous years, it was tough to winnow them down. But there's only room for 20.
This year's Arkansas Times Musicians Showcase lineup has something for just about everyone. We've got earnest singer/songwriters, electro-tinged rockers, lo-fi oddballs, hi-fi hip-hop, scrappy punkers, heartfelt indie-folk, heavy riff dealers, blooze-altar kneelers, retro-FM pop worship, prog-informed post-rock and some that don't fit into any of those tidy little categories.
At stake (besides bragging rights, of course)? Spots playing at some of the most high-profile stages in the state (Riverfest, Valley of the Vapors, Arkansas Sounds, the Arkansas State Fair); recording time at Blue Chair Studio; a gift certificate to Jacksonville Guitar; a photo session with Times photographer Brian Chilson; a T-shirt package from Section 8, and more.
We'll also be doing audience giveaways, including passes to the Bonnaroo, Wakarusa and Thunder on the Mountain music festivals, concert tickets, gift certificates and oodles more fun stuff.
We'll have a drawing for the Bonnaroo, Wakarusa and Thunder on the Mountain passes during the finals at Revolution, Friday, March 1. You can enter the drawing for each festival once at each show, including the finals. So if you really want to win, you'll help your odds by coming out to each round.
The fun gets started Thursday at 9 p.m. at Stickyz. All you not-quite-drinking-age folks take note: The showcase is now an all-ages shindig. It's $5 for 21 and older, $10 for 20 and younger.
OK, just to get this out of the way right at the outset, yes, Hampton native Annalisa Nutt is a distant relative of former head Hog football coach Houston Dale Nutt. Key word: distant. It's not like he comes to family reunions or anything. Back to the matter at hand — Nutt's spectral, spare songs, which include somber meditations on topics such as negotiating the sometimes choppy waters of love, wrestling with her faith and other evergreen singer/songwriter topics. Her voice is clear as a bell one moment, smoky and subdued the next. Check out the somber "I'm Sorry," which displays the full range of Nutt's vocal abilities, with Joni-like vocal trills and haunting reverb.
TREY HAWKINS BAND
Hailing from tiny Hamburg, Trey Hawkins got his musical start early. He was barely out of toddler territory when he sang a rendition of the Willie 'n' Waylon classic "Mamas, Don't Let Your Babies Grow up to be Cowboys" at his grandmother's kitchen table. He was hooked after that, influenced by the sounds coming out of his father's home stereo. He wrote his first song at 14, and from then on he was singing and songwriting. He performs solo and with the Trey Hawkins Band (Aaron Murphy, Mark Bolin and the Breedloves — Andrew and Jonathan), and has created a body of work informed by country and Southern rock of classic and more recent vintage and inspired by his small-town upbringing. Exhibit A: The contemplative "Purple Skies and Dragonflies," which finds Hawkins examining how our earliest experiences shape us.
COLLIN VS. ADAM
Collin Vs. Adam started as a self-described two-dude band, made up of Collin Buchanan and Adam Hogg. Last spring and summer, they added Mike Motley and Mason Mauldin, both of Sugar and the Raw, Big Boots and other Little Rock bands. They opted to keep the name the same as, opposed to the slightly unwieldy Collin Vs. Adam Vs. Mike Vs. Mason. The band's new members helped expand their sonic palette, but subdued synthesizer-infused pop remains the focus. The group's full-length album "Centuries" offers icy sonic textures and heavily delayed guitars aplenty. The new track "Aurelia" is a haunting piece of instrumental synth pop that starts off with a pinging drum machine, delicate guitar line and lush synthesizer, slowly unfolding over the course of three minutes, 15 seconds.
Fayetteville's Damn Arkansan is a relatively young band, but to listen to their full-length debut, you'd think they'd been playing together for much longer. It's clear that Will Eubanks, Chris Fletcher, Caleb Rose and Drew Walls have listened carefully and often to the Great Americana/Roots Rock/Folk Catalog. They've absorbed the work of The Band, The Dead, Bob 'n' Neil, "Sweetheart of the Rodeo"-era Byrds and more recent acts like Wilco and Old 97s. Check out the track "Hard to Sleep," which boasts some deft fingerpicking, swell pedal steel, stacked harmonies, with a propulsive rhythm and charmingly unaffected vocals. Long about the middle of the song, the tempo picks up and the harmonica joins in, recalling prime mid- to late-'60s Dylan.
Observers of the Central Arkansas musicscape are no doubt familiar with Mandy McBryde. With her band The Holy Ghost, she made it to the Musicians Showcase finals in 2011 on the strength of her barroom-rockin’ country and sharp wit.
Another Showcase alum, Grayson Shelton fronts War Chief, the standout local rock outfit which durn near won the whole kit ’n’ caboodle last year. The band has had some lineup changes but its mission remains the same: smart, literate Southern rock.
As the vocalist for metal behemoths Rwake and power-blues heavies Iron Tongue, CT (short for Christopher Terry) has long been a fixture on the Central Arkansas metal scene. Look out for Iron Tongue’s forthcoming full-length soon on Neurot Recordings.
With their band The Holy Shakes, Missile and Solleder took the top honors at last year’s showcase. Unfortunately, the band called it quits last summer, but the two are still active on the Hot Springs scene, Missile with his Ballistic Missile Booking and Solleder as one of the founders of the nonprofit Low Key Arts, which organizes numerous concerts, film screenings and events like the Valley of the Vapors and Hot Water Hills music festivals.