The Best in Local Music 2007

by Chris Wissmann

Nightlife can run the following statements every year, almost verbatim, without shame or any fear of inaccuracy: This paper's annual review of the year's local-music offerings, as always, is a staggering reminder of how much incredible live and recorded music is available in Carbondale and the surrounding area. The following awards are entirely subjective, but this statement is pure, objective fact: No city in the United States produces more or better music per capita than Carbondale. No city of this size-- especially one so isolated from a major metropolitan area-- boasts a music scene of such vitality. Turn on WDBX, surf the web, or head out on any given weekend (and more than a few weekday nights) and the evidence is always there, usually at a bargain price.

As always, Nightlife surveyed a selection of the area's music-business professionals for nominations in the below categories, then narrowed them down to find the winners. So here's (to) a few of the year's highlights.

Best Local CD

One of the most-difficult categories to judge due to the sheer volume and stylistic breadth of the material that has come out this last year. Depending on what a person counts as a local CD, thirty-some releases hit the shelves this year, in addition to a handful of seven-inch vinyl records. To narrow it down, Nightlife will only consider full-length CDs by groups that remain active.

Even then, it's hard to keep the number of great releases manageable.

A good place to start: Two CDs not only by local musicians, but largely, even entirely, about this area. Stace England's Salt Sex Slaves explores the fascinating legends and tall tales of the Old Slave House in Equality. If the subjects don't fit so neatly into rock 'n' roll songs as England's previous concept album, Welcome to Cairo, Illinois, Salt Sex Slaves rocks with great Keith riffage. Horsepower! Horsepower! by Skinny Jim and the Number Nine Blacktops, meanwhile, fires on all eight cylinders as it describes the joys of Little Egypt dive bars, pretension-free scene-making chicks, and the local music scene.

Somewhere between Prince and Dave Matthews is the party/pop/funk of Mathien's Head, Heart, and Hands, while Carlos Alberto's magnificent Mosaic Sky heads into traditional flamenco music.

Runners Up: Defined Perception's Open Your Eyes needs a little better sound quality. Ivas John's Street Music is smooth blues that could use a little more explosiveness. Secondary Modern's Vanilla to an Englishman is slightly cold, la Radiohead, if well-versed in pop and new wave and quite creative. The DNA Vibrators' The Shape of Things to Have Come and Gone and The Result of Continuous Exposure to Radiation brought the incredible bassist and songwriter Roger Pugh out of retirement with a series of loud funk songs. Meanwhile, Pugh's The Akademiks... Rock! is a Schoolhouse Rock-style CD of geology pedagogy-- rocks set to rock, as it were, with the wonderful horns in "Sweet Geology (The Mineral Song)" bringing some old-school funk.

Honorable Mentions: JoBu, Assemble; the Hell, The Hell; the Accelerators, Haven't You Heard!; O'Fallon, Finish; Hang 'Em High, The One, the Only, Hang 'Em High; Motive for the Soul, Unlock Your Mind; Annihilate the Hero, Betrothing Dejection; Himalayas, Numbers are Against Us.

Musician(s) of the Year

Hard not to give this honor to the Woodbox Gang, a band whose accomplishments make them a perennial local favorite. This year they played at the Telluride Bluegrass Festival and the Kennedy Center, and signed to the iconic Alternative Tentacles record label owned by Jello Biafra.

Then again, Stace England and the Salt Kings have charted in several European nations with Salt Sex Slaves, a concept album about the Old Slave House in Equality, Illinois, and did so before the CD's official release. They're also slated for a couple of shows at South by Southwest this March.

Another local group that charted this year was art-rock group the Kevin Lucas Orchestra, which hit number twelve on the New Music Weekly college chart (and the top twenty and the top forty on the publication's hot adult-contemporary indie chart and adult-contemporary main chart, respectively) with "I Can Dream." The current single, "Carol of the Bells," is also moving on some charts.

The ferocious Skinny Jim and the Number Nine Blacktops, however, deserve special mention for an amazing, blazing CD of original hotrod rockabilly, Horsepower! Horsepower!, and their deep bow to Warren Batts, who Jim and company helped reestablish as a local rockabilly legend. (A Southern Illinois native, Batts backed Bill Haley on guitar for a number of years.)

Honorable mentions: The Himalayas, the Ivas John Blues Band, Carlos Alberto, and the Moon Buggy Kids.

The beat goes on...