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The 2001 Graham Awards
by George Graham

(As broadcast on WVIA-FM 12/26/2001)

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And now, ladies and gentlemen, patient and long-suffering listeners, it's time once again for that feature of our program that probably most induces people to ask themselves, "I wonder what's on television?" Yes, it's the Graham Awards, the 28th annual installment of one of the most widely disregarded and ineffably nugatory awards ceremonies in all of radio. Once again, we point out that these awards are selected in a completely biased and unmitigatingly partial manner by a supremely undistinguished panel of one opinionated person who happens to have access to a microphone. Since these awards are so prestigious, it is not considered necessary to notify the recipients, in the tacky manner of say the Nobel Prizes committee. Also, because of the remarkable nature of these venerable panegyrics, there is no need for anything as low-class as some little statuette. The honorees receive something much more profound -- the few seconds of incredibly valuable air-time that it takes to announce the respective winners. The winners can rest in the knowledge that the radio signal carrying their award may be heading off the planet and in many years, might reach some desolate uninhabitable star system in the galaxy.

So, with that in mind, may I have the appropriate fanfare please.

Our first is the King of Pop Abdication Award which goes to Michael Jackson, whose new CD Invincible was anything but. It did hit #1 on the charts, and did sell a million copies, but after just a few weeks, it's at #25 and heading down quickly.

Our Trying to Regain some Respectability award goes to the NARAS, the group that gives out the Grammy Awards. After a couple of years of Grammies dominated by the biggest sellers, regardless of taste, in 2001, Steely Dan were given several Grammy Awards, including Album of the Year. It's about time. But let's see how they do in 2002.

The I've Seen the Light Award goes to the bluegrass music scene. After nearly 20 years of renaissance in bluegrass and New Acoustic music, which has been attracting fans on public radio and on the festival circuit, finally because of a Hollywood movie soundtrack, wider audiences are beginning to appreciate one of America's great music forms. Let's hope it lasts, and that the amazing musicians who are part of the bluegrass scene get the kind of public attention they deserve.

The Dubious Milestone Award goes to MTV, the commercial music video channel, which marked the 20th anniversary since video killed the radio star, and indeed the quality of pop music.

Our Burned Out Light Bulb Project Award goes to the major label music industry, in the form of this query: How many record company executives does it take to change a light-bulb? The answer: approximately 33: One to take credit for the idea originated by an artist, that the light bulb was in need of replacement. The first executive in turn assigns five lower level executives to hire market research firms to determine what kind of light bulb teenage girls would find most sexy; five more executives to convene a team of writers to create a video of the event; six more to work with a public relations agency to create media blitz for the new light bulb; seven more to handle the new light bulb merchandise; two to work with the legal department to hire a team of lawyers to sue anyone who might use using their own flashlight, calling it "unauthorized light piracy;" and three more to line up a major celebrity to sing backing vocals as the light bulb is screwed in. But before anything can happen, there is another media merger, and a new senior executive is sent in from the head office to fire the original executive and bring in a new team who knows nothing about the light bulb project, and who then drop the artist who pointed out the need for the light bulb in the first place. Eventually the light bulb is screwed in at a cost of about 3.6 million dollars, without anybody realizing that it was a sunny day and the window shade had been accidentally left closed.

Here's an award making its debut this year. I'm a fan of Dave Barry's newspaper columns, and he is fond of point out curious phrases that he thinks would be good names for rock bands. Of course, over the years, there has been so shortage of whimsical names for bands, some of whom, have become household names. But this year, I thought I would give our Solecistic Sobriquet Awards to the following bands who emerged in 2001, some of whom we have featured on our program this year: Shooglenifty, who have actually been around in the UK for some years, The Sprinkle Genies, Psychokitten, Barely Breathing, Auto Interiors, AM Stereo, Collective Unconscious, Dislocated Styles, Search for George, and Cross Canadian Ragweed, which is actually made up of parts of the band member's respective names.

And now for the Johnny Art Award. A word of explanation: a new years ago, we received a CD by a group calling itself Johnny Art. It was so mind-bogglingly bad that it was hilarious, and we all dig the record out from time to time to have a little fun, in inflict some torture on an unsuspecting individual. We have never been able to determine if that CD was really serious, or meant as a joke. So each year, I have been on the lookout for CD that qualifies as so exquisitely bad that it makes one wonder whether it was serious or not. This award is generally given behind the scenes. Up to now, I have resisted the temptation to play these recordings on the air, with the idea that I did not want to encourage such a thing. After all, with the media world as it is, it's much easier to attract attention by being really bad than by being an exemplar. But I did want to share with you a bit of this year's Johnny Art Award Winner, Robert Alberg. One wonders if this is serious.

Each year, we give out awards for the most notable Comebacks of the Year. In 2001 one does stand out, John Kay the lead singer from the 60s band Steppenwolf, knows for their big hit, Born to Be Wild, returned with a very respectable mostly acoustic blues album called Heretics and Privateers, and created a number of original songs with good old-fashioned protest lyrics. Other notable returns after extended periods of absence from recording included another Sixties figure, singer Jackie DeShannon, 80s techno innovator Laurie Anderson, singer-songwriter Rodney Crowell, and there was a very nice posthumous release by the late Laura Nyro, who made the CD not long before her death of cancer in 1997, after a long period of recording inactivity.

The "You're Too Old To Be Doing That Kind of Thing" award goes to two veteran artists from the 60s who plunged into techno hip-hop influenced music with decidedly different results: Jeff Beck, whose CD You Had It Coming had some interesting moments, but the incompatibility of the genres was quite evident at times. On the other hand, jazz and fusion keyboard man Herbie Hancock, who is no stranger to funk, released a very interesting record called Future 2 Future in which he brought a good deal of creativity to the style.

And now for our semi-serious awards, our way of dispensing reluctant approbation:

Our record label of the year award is split two ways this year, to the Nashville-based Compass label, who in 2001 issued a wonderful series of singer-songwriter, Celtic, and New Acoustic releases. Virtually every one of their releases got on our Best of 2001 list. Also, Sugar Hill, the now long-running Durham, North Carolina-based primarily-bluegrass label who have released some amazing recordings from artists ranging from Dolly Parton to the members of the bluegrass prodigy band Nickel Creek. It's an excellent example of the fact that not all record labels are obsessed with the race to the bottom in musical quality.

Our Award for the Most Unconventional Instrument in a rock band goes to Campanile, for incorporating hand bells into a group. It was an interesting novelty, though I'm not sure how long they can sustain the interest. But they certainly deserve an award for their ingenuity.

The Award for the Album with the Most Fascinating Story behind it, and also notable as an art rock album, goes to Jason Becker for his CD Perspective. The young rock guitar flash, who played in David Lee Roth's band in the early 1990s had everything going for him, when he was diagnosed with ALS, or Lou Gehrig's Disease, which gradually robbed him of his ability to play the guitar, walk or even speak. As he was becoming progressively disabled, he enlisted the help of musical friends, and used computer equipment to create a fascinating, almost symphonic rock work. The CD was made in 1995, and only released this year, amazingly, on a major record label, Warner Brothers, at the insistence of his well-known friends. Almost as engaging as the music is Becker's remarkable life story, available on his website.

The Retro Album of the Year Award goes to The Diplomats of Solid Sound, for their CD Instrumental Action Soul a great organ combo in the Booker T and the MG's tradition, based in, of all places, Iowa City, Iowa.

Our Cleverest Songs Award goes to the Bobs for their 2001 CD, Coaster. The a capella group again created a thoroughly witty set of songs, including one about the cold nuclear fusion controversy of a few years ago, and a wonderful hypothetical conversation between Johann Sebastian Bach and his wife.

Very close in the cleverness department is the album I instead bestow our Most Creative Sonic Production award. Billy Jonas' CD Life So Far makes very effective use of percussion and ingenious musical juxtapositions while keeping the instrumentation mostly acoustic. I gave the CD an A-minus for audio quality when I reviewed it, but the overall sonic approach is quite creative, in a way that eschews all the annoying contemporary fads in studio technique.

Our Golden Ears Award for the best sound quality of those CDs we featured on the program during the year, goes to Matt Flinner's CD Latitude. It's New Acoustic instrumental music that really captures the clarity and intimacy of the acoustic instruments, along with their dynamic range. Also getting an award for sound quality is jazz organist Larry Goldings' CD As One, again featuring a great clarity and dynamic range.

And that brings us to our top albums list. Every year, I end up defining the list by the albums I want to put on it. So this year, I have a top 12 list, and, I do have an order of preference, though difference between closely ranked albums are not very great.

12. The Bobs: Coaster
11. Gillian Welch: Time (The Revelator)
10. Kelly Joe Phelps: Sky Like a Broken Clock
9. Dave Carter & Track Grammer: Drum Hat Buddha
8. The Diplomats of Solid Sound: Instrumental Action Soul
7. Béla Fleck: Perpetual Motion
6. Eddi Reader: Simple Soul
5. June Tabor: Rosa Mundi
4. Duncan Sheik: Phantom Moon
3. Alison Krauss and Union Station: New Favorite
2. Billy Jonas: Life So Far
1. Chris Thile: Not All Who Wander Are Lost

So there you have it, the 28th annual Graham Awards, whose winners can now bask in the glory we have bestowed upon them, knowing that their life's ambitions have now been fulfilled.

(c) Copyright 2001 George D. Graham. All rights reseved.
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