Best Local CD

Stace England

Stace England's Greetings from Cairo, Illinois was a gigantic accomplishment. England managed a rare feat-- he crafted a concept album that actually holds together, with individual parts that nearly all stand on their own. The Who's Tommy doesn't do either, folks-- let that give an idea of how impressive Greetings from Cairo really is. The disc's stellar supporting cast and outstanding songs take listeners through the history of Illinois's troubled southernmost river town, but the disc rarely feels like a lecture and only in one instance ("Grant Slept Here") does England sound like he's forcing an important part of the story into a song. Otherwise, Greetings from Cairo is simply a joy to hear, even if some of the harrowing stories it tells may deeply disturb listeners. Credit the explosive rock of "Prosperity Train" (with vocalist Jason Ringenberg) and the gorgeous closing track, "Can't We All Get Along," with the angelic Chris McKinley's background vocals lifting the song from what could have been flat cliché into an appeal worthy of Heaven's rapt attention. Anyone who does not own this CD is poorer for it.

Honorable Mentions: Nathan Clark George's Slam the Door is wonderful, an extremely subtle Christian disc with James Taylor-caliber arrangements and John Fahey-quality guitar playing. The Accelerators' fantastic Overhauled is a powerful affirmation of punk-rock's roots in social and political commentary, while the Copyrights kept up punk's often-ignored love of melody (and in this case Carbondale history) with the four-song Nowhere Near Chicago. The Kevin Lucas Orchestra's Ancient Skies is a gorgeous art-rock album, perhaps the best such local disc since La Makita Soma left town. Two words about RognboB's Calling in Well: hi-lar-i-ous. The compilation Roam Home to a Dome, which benefits the restoration of Buckminster Fuller's old geodesic dome into a museum, contains no end of great music by both local artists and those who frequent Carbondale, all of whom wrote or performed Fullerine material, or who have special connections to the great futurist who used to teach at SIU; in addition, it features short spoken-word clips by Bucky himself. Finally, Mister Michael Productions compiled an ace CD of material by twenty-one bands from the area, The Trinity Fell, which explores the region's heavier music.

The Best of 2005

by Chris Wissmann

What a year-- Zacc Harris left town, grounding with his departure his tremendous new bands, the Mothership Funk Orchestra and G-string Hypothesis. Lyric and It Burns broke up, and Jimmy Salatino left town, taking down Triple Dose. And wherefore art thou, Revis?

Locally, hip-hop still remains a largely underground phenomenon-- the inability of fine local recording artists like Xpeezy to reach wider live audiences is simply baffling. The same is true of metal, though grassroots efforts like the Southern Illinois Metal Collective have managed to organize large if occasional shows. Plenty of women do play in the local-music scene, but mainly in folk-oriented groups-- lamentably, though girls can kick ass (see Big Muff's white-hot track on the Bucky Fuller benefit compilation), few play in harder-edged bands. Meanwhile, while out-of-town groups such as Cornmeal have established in Carbondale a regular and successful tour stop, local jamgrass groups seem to have run their course.

Finally, Nightlife readers should worry more than a little about efforts that would in effect bar local beer gardens from offering live entertainment. Keep an eye to the city of Carbondale's website, in particular the Liquor Advisory Board and City Council agenda pages, for mention of changes to the city's noise ordinance. Meanwhile, let elected representatives (of which this writer is one) know how potential changes to the noise ordinance could damage arts and entertainment opportunities, legitimate businesses, and SIU enrollment.

So what good came of Carbondale in 2005? Hot trends in Carbondale music remain jam bands and pop-punk. The Carbondale music scene saw the emergence of more great new bands than even music-scene professionals like this writer can keep straight [see below]. Studios kept humming, turning out about a dozen noteworthy CDs more than are listed here. Few sectors of the local community gave more of their time and souls than local musicians did to help raise money for Hurricanes Katrina and Rita relief efforts. And the Lab Kids continued to push the music scene toward wider multimedia presentations.

So the glass is at least half-full. So let's take a deep chug from it in toast to 2005, but first, a quick note: bands that have broken up are not eligible for the following awards.

Musician/Band of the Year

Rum Runners

In 2005, the Rum Runners released not just one, but two full-length CDs. Who do they think they are, the Woodbox Gang? While neither Lock the Door nor This Little World ranked among the best local discs of 2005, that was more an indication of the extraordinary quality of countless other local CDs than any deficiency on the part of the Rum Runners, who documented on their CDs their deep passion for reggae and ska.

Honorable Mentions: Stace England, the Copyrights, the Bourbon Knights, and Hyphenate (who has a much-anticipated CD in the works). Mandat really established themselves in 2005. Aujalyn continues to tour and score impressive warmup shows, as they did with Trapt last week. And here's an extra-special mention for the Woodbox Gang, who survived the loss of two key members while retaining their distinctive style. In the same vein, Jimmy Salatino's departure did not leave St. Stephen's Blues dead (or Dead)-- the group also deserves kudos for using this and other member changes as an impetus for freshening their sound.

Best New Musician/Band

Community Service

No new group has worked harder to establish themselves than Community Service. The band's excellent lyrics and funky tunes have attracted a substantial audience in a remarkably short time, and quality gets equal credit with hard work-- they spent 2005 recording a CD and playing everywhere from bars to beer gardens to wineries, here and (slightly) abroad.

Honorable Mentions: In terms of this writer's music preferences, two great bands are worth personal recommendations: the Clap and the Soothsayers. The Clap have a wonderful stage show, intelligent songs, fantastic melodic songwriting, and ferocious punk power. The Soothsayers, meanwhile, rescue old jug-band songs and expand the tradition by adapting modern and classic tunes to the rollicking genre. The activity, quality, and popularity of the New Ledge Band merits a mention here. The States have taken up the instrumental-rock traditions of former Carbondale groups La Makita Soma and Bear Claw, even starting off as if they were an experienced band. Defined Perception, the John Brejc Project, the Moon Buggy Kids, and the Himalayas round out the honor roll of impressive newer groups. And they all ensure that Carbondale audiences will hear a lot of great music long into the future.

Music-scene Alumni/a of the Year

Though nobody truly stands out in this category, many people with Carbondale roots keep up and expand the reach of our scene's reputation.

Joe Swank returned to Carbondale at the beginning of the semester with a fantastic new group, the Zen Pirates. Eric Howell keeps threatening to release his debut full-length solo CD, and meanwhile was heating up Chicago's airwaves with humorous song parodies based on the White Sox World Series run. The YellowHammers, consisting of former Modern Day Saints, released a wonderful new CD (Satellite), as did underground hip-hop artist Serengeti (Gasoline Rainbow). Finally, Spare Parts and Alan Vasquez continue to tear up the road.