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Cover Story: CEA Nominees

Meet the cream of Greater Cincinnati's music crop this year

By Mike Breen · November 14th, 2007 · Cover Story

Bad Veins If betting on who will be the next band from Cincinnati to get signed, this engaging duo -- who make sublime, orchestral Indie Pop -- would be the place to put your money.

The Chocolate Horse Warm and artsy, The Chocolate Horse's organic Indie Rock was on glorious display within the grooves of their debut, Patience Works!, fittingly released on vinyl.

Knife the Symphony This trio's self-titled EP (released on the band's well-distributed Phratry Records) drew comparisons to Unwound and Fugazi as well as the days when Amphetamine Reptile and Dischord ruled the underground.

Pomegranates The Poms' dynamic and incredibly magnetic Indie Pop drew local and national attention almost as soon as the band formed. This year they signed with Louisiana-based indie, Lujo Records.

The Sheds It's Indie! It's Folk! It's Pop! It's brilliant! The duo released its latest (and first available as a hard CD) album, You´ve Got a Light, in March.

The Sundresses Between tour dates and local shows, this popular trio -- who sound like Jon Spencer and Stephen Foster jamming on Stooges songs -- have been working on their next CD, the two-disc Barkinghaus.

Liquid Fire Country music with a Hard Rock heart, Liquid Fire has been making waves locally and drawn attention from big players in Nashville.

Dallas Moore Cincinnati's premiere "Outlaw Country" artist and his band are local favorites and tour frequently.

Straw Boss Rockabilly meets Honky Tonk in this popular local group's highly-energized sound.

Coy Taylor Band With a Nashville sound and a "Rock-inspired" rhythm section, the CTB play New Country favorites and originals that range from ballads to upbeat rockers.

Dan Varner Band Singer/songwriter Varner started out solo but is making an even bigger splash with his eponymous band.

Mack West Nothing "Young Country" about West. Zach Mechlem and crew create unique Country & Western with a big-sky, Old West vibe.

Comet Bluegrass Allstars The house band at The Comet in Northside (every Sunday evening), the CBAS consists of numerous local Bluegrass masters.

Ma Crow and the Mother Pluckers Veteran Bluegrass singer Ma Crow (formerly of The Flock and Ma Crow Medicine Show) now flies with her band, The Mother Pluckers.

Taylor Farley and Blue Rock A little "Rock" in your Bluegrass? Farley and Co. have made a name playing Rock songs in a Bluegrass style.

Mt. Pleasant String Band Hard-working newcomers put unique spins on Bluegrass classics and play energized originals as well.

Rumpke Mountain Boys Call it Newgrass or Jamgrass or Bluegrass -- any way you slice it, this young crew has become a huge local draw.

Experimental/ Electronic
Burning Star Core/C. Spencer Yeh Widely acclaimed in the experimental music underground, Yeh has received mounds of good press and collaborated with the likes of Thurston Moore and numerous other musicians.

Diet Audio With Dream Pop vocals, Trip Hop rhythms, Electro pulsations and a sense of mystery and intrigue, this foursome released Ecrasez L´ Infame, their debut CD, in the spring.

Eat Sugar This impressive foursome (featuring former members of Chalk and the Fairmount Girls) do "Synth Rock" right, with high doses of New Wave and Post Punk.

Johnnytwentythree All-instrumental (but often more expressive than a full choir), these moody soundscapers have dropped jaws at every venue they've performed.

Evan Scott Techno lives in Cincinnati and Evan Scott is one of its finest purveyors. The DJ/producer/recording artist released the solo effort, Five Style Fists, earlier this year.

The Seedy Seeds This Indie Pop duo relies on programmed, highly-danceable backtracks, but their use of acoustic guitar and banjo (and charming melodies and harmonies) gives their sound heart and soul.

J. Dorsey Blues Band Faithfully paying tribute to old Delta Blues, Country Blues and R&B, the J. Dorsey Blues Band has an authentic slant often missing from modern Blues makers.

Jon Justice Band Giving the local Blues scene a dose of youthful exuberance, Justice and his band won the Cincy Blues Challenge this year and will represent Cincinnati at the International Blues Challenge in Memphis early next year.

Sonny Moorman Group One of the leading Blues acts in the Cincinnati area, masterful guitarist/singer/ songwriter Moorman and his crew can play authentic, pure Blues as well as they play the more modern, Rock-inspired stuff.

Ricky Nye A wizard and scholar of Boogie Woogie piano, Nye is in the local Blues clubs (solo or with various band and duo combinations) almost every night of the week. He also regularly travels overseas to perform at European Blues festivals.

II Juicy Last year's Cincy Blues Challenge winners, II Juicy (also the stage name of enigmatic lead singer Michele Feaster) make funky, soul-dripping Blues that'll keep your feet moving.

Natalie Wells This young guitarist/singer's first CEA nomination netted her a win in the Blues category in 2003. Now a relative scene vet, she's a regular in the clubs of Northern Kentucky and Cincinnati.

Folk/Americana/ Roots
Blue Rock Boys The energetic and highly skilled members of the Blue Rock Boys draw large crowds whenever they throw down at clubs in the area.

Frontier Folk Nebraska With laid-back Folk roots and soulful lyrics, these newcomers have been compared to Bruce Springsteen and Neil Young.

The Great Depression With songs that literally sound like a broken heart, this duo toured frequently in the past year, drawing attention from the national Indie scene.

The Hiders With national exposure through press and NPR airplay, The Hiders' melancholic Roots music recalls Sparklehorse and Tindersticks at their finest.

Nathan Holscher Self-described as "if Dire Straits lost an arm wrestling match to Lyle Lovett," Holscher released his Ric Hordinski-produced CD, Even the Hills, in 2007.

Tupelo Honey Inspired by artists like Patty Griffin and Sheryl Crow, this young all-female band released its seven-song debut CD in 2007.

Hard Rock/Metal
Angels of Meth Whatever drugs these angels of Hard Rock (with touches of '80s Metal, Stoner Rock and Grunge) are taking, they should stay hooked.

Banderas With hearts beating to old-school Metal mastery and rowdy, reckless Punk, Banderas has won over fans with blazing live shows.

Beneath the Sky After a couple of well-received EPs, Beneath the Sky caught the attention of infamous Punk/Metal label Victory Records, which put out the band's What Demons Do to Saints at the start of 2007.

Estuary Since 2003, this harrowing Death Metal squad has been recording for Ibex Moon Records, and they've taken their sonic brutality all over the world in support of their pair of thrashing CDs for the label.

The Host They put a more cerebral slant on Metal, having more in common with Tool, Deftones and The Mars Volta than Slayer.

Pain Link Since winning a battle of the bands contest two years ago, Pain Link has been at the forefront of the local Metal scene, releasing the enhanced EP Uncivil Servant this year.

Caterpillar Tracks Smart Post-Punk and intelligent Post-Hardcore better describe this quartet, which recently released the Scrape the Summer EP and did a few successful overseas tour dates.

Eatafetus Trio Wild-hair Punk Rock with a wild-eyed sense of humor, Eatafetus' adrenalized sound has been unleashed via two CDs, We Are the Lunch Rush and Shitty Songs for Shitty People.

Eighty Sixed Gracing stages with the likes of The Adicts, The Dwarves and The Queers, this Hamilton-based quartet nobly keeps the torch of old-school, non-Emo Punk alive in Southwestern Ohio.

The Frankl Project Wonderfully crafted and executed Punk Pop with a Ska glaze, The Frankl Project remembers the "social conscious" part of Punk, writing songs that opine on the often messy state of affairs.

Jonuh This Pop Punk trio has been germinating since 1999 (they "officially" came out as Jonuh in 2005). The band put its powerfully melodic sound to CD, releasing a well-received self-titled EP late last year.

The Read Gang of Four meets Talking Heads meets Fugazi. If you miss going to Rock shows and dancing, this knifing trio has the deep, pointed Funk undercurrent to get you moving.

Hip Hop
Abiyah The Queen of Floetry continued to show her versatility in 2007, collaborating with a diverse collective of musicians and continuing to expand her repertoire well beyond simple "Hip Hop" restrictions.

Animal Crackers Cincinnati has known that this turntable and production crew was the best of its kind for a long time. Now the world knows -- the DJs took home the title of U.S. team champs at the prestigious 2006 DMC competition.

Cross MC Cross began writing rhymes in jail to pass the time. Upon release, he found that people loved his style, so he kept going, eventually earning management and regular-rotation airplay on The Wiz, where "Sal Sal" spent time as the station's No. 1 song.

Mr. Dibbs A local Hip Hop legend, Dibbs has worked extensively with Indie Hip Hop heroes like Atmosphere and El-P. Currently, he's cross-pollinating Hardcore with Hip Hop on his Self Core Records imprint.

Ill Poetic He's half of the duo Definition, but 2007 found producer/MC Ill Poetic touring to promote his fantastic solo album, The World Is Ours.

IsWhat?! Last year's CEA Artist of the Year winners continued to promote their Hip Hop/Jazz masterpiece, The Life We Chose (released on uber-cool Jazz and vintage imprint Hyena Records), on the road domestically and abroad.

Freekbass After a bad fall last year, Chris Sherman took some time off of the road. Never one to be slowed down, this Funk maestro and his crew were back on stage as soon as he could pump his bass again.

Groove Society With "groove" in their name, you'd expect something infectiously funky and that's just what you get with Groove Society -- a sultry, organic and soulful mix that demands you shake it.

Iolite If their music was a color, this group says it would be "indigo." They blend Soul, R&B, Funk and Jazz and have been regulars at esteemed local venue The Greenwich.

Marvin and the Experience Fronted by versatile, expert showman/musician Marvin Hawkins, this funky R&B crew has been keeping crowds dancing since hitting the local a few years back.

Shades of J Crafting a stirring mix of poetic R&B and soulful spoken word, frontwoman Lady J and her band bring years of experience to their sultry, thought-provoking sound.

Kenny Smith Last year's CEA Hall of Famer rode high on the re-issue of some of his rare, classic singles from the '70s and managed a few local shows with backing from local Blues/Rock band Pearlene and friends.

Blue Wisp Big Band The longest running Jazz machine in town, the BWBB has been holding it down every Wednesday at its namesake club since 1980.

Faux Frenchmen Now five years old, this quartet plays 1930s Hot Club of France-inspired Jazz, also known as Gypsy Jazz. They put out their first CD, a self-titled affair, earlier this year.

Dan Karlsberg Group Young pianist Karlsberg and his band (bassist Steve Whipple and drummer Anthony Lee) released the superb debut CD, The Adventures of the Dan Karlsberg Group, earlier this year.

Steve Schmidt A veteran local Jazz musician with a phone-book sized resume, pianist Schmidt released his debut CD as a band leader, Red and Orange, last year.

Jason Smart Smart isn't limited to playing Jazz (he's also a rocker), but his work with national touring acts like Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey and Ray's Music Exchange (and his work around town with Jazz artists) has a strong jazzy lean.

Wasteland Jazz Ensemble Not your mama's Jazz band, the Wasteland Jazz Ensemble takes the improv/experimental side of Jazz and rides it into the noisy sunset.

Buffalo Killers The Killers play sublime '60s/'70s-inspired PsychPop so well the Black Crowes took them on tour this year.

500 Miles to Memphis They drew national attention with consistent touring and the great "Country/Punk" masterpiece Sunshine in a Shot Glass, released to the world through indie label Deep Elm.

Heartless Bastards This soulful Rock trio had another banner year, playing shows with Lucinda Williams and Wilco plus appearances at Lollapalooza and the Austin City Limits festival.

The Lions Rampant Wearing lion costumes on stage, their amazing, melodic and raucous Garage Pop is no novelty.

Pearlene This year saw the national release of this bluesy Rock crew's For Western Violence and Brief Sensuality and several national tour dates in support of it.

Wussy Emotional and raw, Wussy drew national acclaim with its debut album. This year, the new Left For Dead CD received four-star reviews in Rolling Stone and Spin magazines.

Joe Hedges Formerly of major-labelers July for Kings, Hedges' solo work takes on a slightly more artsy bent without losing any of the catchy melodicism.

Nathan Holscher Coming off like an "old soul," Holscher's songs are mesmerizing, poetic and deceptively simple.

Shawna James With her debut solo album Honey, the talented, hazy-voiced James put herself in the upper echelon of local singer/songwriters.

Jeremy Pinnell Formerly of The Light Wires and currently one half of The Great Depression, Pinnell's songs drip with melancholy and heartbreak.

Matthew Shelton Known as half of the World-inflected duo Me or the Moon, Shelton showed he's more than just a master kalimba/mbira player with his folksy solo debut, Cold Water, Hot Blood.

Kim Taylor Smoky-cool and as soulful as a Marvin Gaye record, Taylor has garnered national attention with her gorgeous songs and hypnotic voice.

Best Live Act
500 Miles to Memphis It's always a party when this "Country/Punk" crew takes the stage. Currently on their 140th incarnation (note: sarcasm), the band currently has its best lineup yet.

IsWhat?! Whether playing with a drummer and bassist or doing a duo or solo show, the many faces of IsWhat?! always impress and engage in the live setting.

Johnnytwentythree There aren't really vocals, but you won't even notice when these instrumentalists perform their multi-media-happy live show, featuring artsy film backdrops

Jon Justice Band Justice seemingly came out of nowhere this year. He and his ace Blues band wowed most everyone who has witnessed them live.

Noctaluca Uplifting and often transcendent, these rockers have been riveting local crowds for the past several years.

Pearlene Think Rock & Roll is dead? Go see Pearlene live and change your mind.

World Music
Baoku & the Image Afro-Beat Band Formed by African native Baoku Moses, this "AfroBeat" ensemble takes cues from Fela Kuti as well as Reggae, Jazz, Rock and Blues.

Duppy à Jamba This young septet, who played highlight-worthy sets at local Punk and Ska fests, blends old-school Ska, deep Dub, Rocksteady and "Punky Reggae"

Mohenjo Daro Cincy's finest purveyors of Middle Eastern sounds, Mohenjo Daro put a light Western slant on their authentic, hypnotic brand of World Beat.

The Pinstripes Modern Ska with a strong tie to the music's Jamaican roots, the Pinstripes spent much of the year touring the country.

Selecter Lively up yourself to the diverse sounds of this two-year-old crew that blends Rock and Jazz into its engaging Reggae blend.

Tropicoso You can't help but dance when this Latin music juggernaut takes the stage, as they do each Monday

Best Musical Ambassador for the City
Buffalo Killers The Killers' Alive Records debut put them on the road for much of 2007, including a stint on the Black Crowes' recent theater tour.

Bryce Dessner (The National and Music NOW) He left Cincinnati to form The National in Brooklyn, but Dessner came back to town to again curate the Music NOW fest, which brought in big-timer Sufjan Stevens at Memorial Hall this year.

Heartless Bastards Constant road presence on high profile tours and at high-profile festivals wowed new fans, who no doubt now know there's good music being made in the Queen City.

IsWhat?! They've circled the globe in support of their amazing Hip Hop album, The Life We Chose, playing to fans of Jazz, Hip Hop and other adventurous music on a regular basis.

Over the Rhine They left their "local band" status behind long ago, but this legendary duo (CEA Hall of Famers) continues to spread their name and Cincinnati's name on the road in support of their high-profile releases.

C. Spencer Yeh (Burning Star Core) Yeh is something of an "experimental music superstar," playing coast-to-coast on a regular basis.for their popular, long-running dance night at The Mad Frog.

Eat Sugar

Joe Hedges

Jon Justice Band

Dan Karlsberg Group

The Lions Rampant


The Read The Seedy Seeds

The Chocolate Horse: Patience Works! With an old drum machine and minimal acoustic and unaffected guitars on most tracks, this record would come off like a demo in many others' hands. But Jason Snell, Andrew Higley and Paul Brumm turn these short, compact songs into something transcendent. Each note is audible and crisp and the band fills the space around Snell's bruised, moving melodies with odd but tasteful sound effects -- the saw-and-bow creates a particularly intriguing, Theramin-like sound that adds an eerie element and Higley's egg-shaped French horn riffs add a melancholy elegance to the album's warm, inviting feel. Great songs with just the right amount of experimentation surrounding them makes for an amazing album in my book. Patience Works! is just that. (Mike Breen, CityBeat)

500 Miles to Memphis: Sunshine in a Shot Glass The depth and maturity that Ryan Mallott shows on Sunshine in a Shot Glass suggest a long career ahead of him. Mallott's band's debut for Deep Elm Records is as good of a "Roots Rock" album you'll hear today, as the band mixes feisty Punk spiritedness with a gritty twang (courtesy, in part, of the prominent lap steel and fiddle). But taking the album to another label is Mallott's innate songwriting ability, which carries a strong melodic sensibility. He masterfully blurs the line between Emo and old-school Country, two genres that couldn't be further apart musically, but are kindred souls when it comes to emotional, heart-tugging lyrical content. (Mike Breen, CityBeat)

Ill Poetic: The World Is Ours As heard on "Ride Thru It" from his new, self-produced CD, The World Is Ours, Ill Poetic makes distinction as an MC wanting to be relevant: "I ain't worried 'bout the 'Snowman'/ I'm worried 'bout this young kid whose thinkin' he's a grown man." Maybe you've seen him, slack-faced, boarding the No. 33 to his gig as a telemarketing manager and wondered, "God, when's this kid gonna get signed?" But judging from his seamless production on The World Is Ours and beat contributions to other spit-kickers, the Dove Ink artist already works like a major label is telling him, "Uh ... today is not a half day." (Mildred Fallen, CityBeat)

Over the Rhine: Trumpet Child Over the Rhine's latest album may well stand as the masterwork that Linford Detweiler and Karin Bergquist have danced around since their 1990 debut. Over the Rhine has always had a deep affinity for all American musical styles, and with The Trumpet Child's expansive, simple and exquisite arrangements and top-of-their-game songwriting, they prove that they are not merely interpreters of the great American songbook but a fascinating chapter unto themselves. (Brian Baker, CityBeat)

Pearlene: For Western Violence and Brief Sensuality For Western Violence and Brief Sensuality is Pearlene's most cohesive and powerful effort to date. Singer/guitarist Reuben Glaser's songwriting is now on par with many of the Blues, Soul and Rock icons he so clearly respects and loves. With its mix of rowdy barnburners and soulful anthems, the album brings all Pearlene's hinted-at potential front and center, stripping away some of the "garage band" scruffiness to reveal a unit with endless staying power. If you're bored with the same-old-same Rock & Roll of today, this album will restore your faith. (Mike Breen, CityBeat)

The Seedy Seeds: Change States The Seedy Seeds seethe joy and exuberance, like a happy, yappy puppy dog. No one hates puppy dogs and I doubt anyone who hears them would dislike the Seedy Seeds. They're Death Cab For Cutie with banjo, accordion, thumping Electro backing and acoustic guitar. Only better. Change States, their debut, is fantastic -- on record, you can make out the banjo and guitar a lot better than in the live setting, which is dominated by vocals and the backing tracks. There is an innocence and sweetness to the band's sound -- not that they are overly "cutesy," but the dancefloor-ready rhythmic pulsations, creative harmonies, inescapable melodies and wide-eyed, uplifting enthusiasm and optimism on Change States will not only make you dance, they'll make you dance with a huge grin on your face. (Mike Breen, CityBeat)

The Sheds: You've Got a Light The Sheds are singer/songwriters Paul Bunyan and Chris Haubner, and their close camaraderie is apparent in their musical output. Speaking of friends, the twosome invited many of theirs to lend a hand on the new disc, adding to the communal spirit. The Sheds are multidimensional, meaning you get a little acoustic modern Folk, a little quirky ElectroPop, some driving Indie Rock and, often, a mix of all three. While there are a lot of varying additives, The Sheds don't pile on, instead using the different elements sparingly. And, despite the electro adornments, there is a naturalness and modesty evident on every track, which makes You´ve Got a Light one of the more engaging Cincinnati releases of the year. (Mike Breen, CityBeat)

Wussy: Left for Dead If critics went ga-ga over Funeral Dress, wait 'til they get a load of Left for Dead. While Funeral Dress had an endearing "ragged glory" element to it, Dead is much more focused and better produced. Chuck Cleaver and Lisa Walker's voices couldn't be more different, but because they're both singular instruments in their own right, together they create an engrossing duality. That holds true for Wussy as a whole -- it seems to be a collection of misfit players and sounds that, when brought together, create something gorgeous and magnetic. Sophomore slump? Not by any standards. (Mike Breen, CityBeat)

Bad Veins

Buffalo Killers

500 Miles to Memphis

The Great Depression

Heartless Bastards



C. Spencer Yeh/

Burning Star Core

Find photos and web site links for all these nominees here.



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