Welcome back. It's been two years since we last polled members of the Memphis music community. A year ago, family-related leave waylaid the one-man Election Commission during the run-up to our annual spring music issue, forcing the poll to take a year off. And the two-year gap is reflected in the amount of change in the poll.
Since the last time we engaged in this exercise, bandleader Greg Cartwright has relocated two-time poll toppers the Reigning Sound to North Carolina. Perennial contenders the Lost Sounds and Snowglobe are also out -- Snowglobe largely inactive though not defunct following the departure of member Tim Regan to Knoxville and the Lost Sounds blown apart, former partners Alicja Trout and Jay Lindsey using their extra energy in an amazing variety of musical projects.
And though plenty of newer acts have emerged to fill the void, the Midtown-based indie rock scene takes a back seat at the top of the poll this year.
There's no doubt about it: Memphis music in 2006 means Three 6 Mafia, the amazingly successful, long controversial hip-hop group orbiting around the creative epicenter of partners DJ Paul and Juicy "J," who started a decade and a half ago selling mix-tapes out of their car and now have Oscars on their mantel.
Three 6 have bounced around the poll over the years, finishing as high as second and as low as 14th. This year, they finished first, and it wasn't even close. In dominating this year's poll, Three 6 fell short of the record 118 points on 28 ballot mentions the Reigning Sound garnered in 2003, but they did become the first act in the poll's history to be mentioned on more than half of the ballots received.
They earned it, of course. But, despite their impressive performance, there's an odd aftertaste to Three 6 Mafia's showing this year. When the Reigning Sound ran roughshod over the poll in 2003, they also won big in our "best album" category. By contrast, Three 6 Mafia's Most Known Unknowns, which debuted in the Billboard Top 10 and has so far spawned two hit singles, fell among the also-rans, garnering only two best-album votes.
Even more telling is the tenor of the comments. Every voter who provided comments on the group celebrated their Oscar win, but very few wrote about their music directly and not a single one mentioned "Stay Fly," the huge commercial and critical hit that, to these ears, is not only a superior artistic achievement to "It's Hard Out Here for a Pimp" but probably the most compelling chart single from a Memphis artist since Al Green's '70s prime.
What this poll reflects most is that Three 6 Mafia's unlikely-bordering-on-surreal Oscar triumph not only launched them into national consciousness but also ratified them among Memphians otherwise uninterested in their music. As another Memphis artist sang long ago, everybody loves a winner, and boosterism and bandwagon-jumping are especially unavoidable in a music scene so constantly desperate for outside acknowledgement. But the Three 6 story right now is about more than just Oscar flash or economic impact. It's about music, about art and culture, and I wish more Memphians were interested in building it up or tearing it down or just hashing it out on those terms.
If you're new to this annual experiment or just need a reminder after a two-year gap, here's how it works: Each spring we send out ballots to Memphians with a vocational interest in the local music scene -- writers and bloggers, designers and photographers, promoters and studio/label people, radio programmers and record store clerks. We ask them to list the five most "vital" in Memphis music today and their choice for best local album of the past year. Some voters get hung up on the word "vital." But vagueness is the intent: We want voters to weigh what they love against what they think is important in whatever manner they see fit.
Three 6 Mafia may have won big, but there was a tight battle for second place, with melancholy troubadour Harlan T. Bobo (a likely winner if the poll had been held last year) edging out always-a-bridesmaid Lucero (who have finished second or third in four of our five polls) and the magnificent juggling act that is Alicja Trout (whose solo votes outstripped the multiple mentions of the three-count-'em-three bands she leads).
The highest-ranking poll debut are versatile rockers Augustine, who snuck into the Top 10 while topping our typically diffuse album poll with their debut Broadcast. But most of the other new action was further down the list, in the form of second-10 finishers such as rockin' Secret Service (11th), rootsy Amy LaVere (12th), instrumental Noise Choir (14th), poppy Walkie Talkie (16th), idiosyncratic Antique Curtains (18th), and thrashy, punky Angel Sluts (19th).
The 44 voters who responded to the poll this year are the second most in the poll's brief history, though still fewer than we'd like. Those 44 voters split their picks among 85 bands, duos, or solo artists. Someone who cares a lot about local music cares a lot about each and every one of them. What more recommendation do you need? -- Chris Herrington
Best local album of the past year
Broadcast -- Augustine (Makeshift) Votes 6
Too Much Love -- Harlan T. Bobo (Goner) Votes 4
Nobody's Darlings -- Lucero (Liberty & Lament/EastWest) Votes 3
Hibernation -- The Glass (Makeshift) Votes 3
Electric Blue Watermelon -- North Mississippi Allstars (ATO) Votes 3
Makeshift #4 -- Various Artists (Makeshift) Votes 3
others receiving votes:
Tronic Blanc -- Black Sunday (Dirtnap); 12 Songs -- Cory Branan (MADJACK); Continuator -- The Gamble Brothers Band (Archer Records); Motivational Speaker -- Alvin Youngblood Hart (Tone Cool/Artemis); Lose to Win -- Jed & Kelley (self-released); Jesus Christ ... We're Superstars -- The Joint Chiefs (self-released); On a Dead Machine -- On a Dead Machine (self-released); Live at Goner Records -- The Reigning Sound (Goner); Dwight -- Ross Rice (Memphis Records); All the Seven Inches Plus Two More -- River City Tanlines (Dirtnap); The Six String Jets --The Six String Jets; Don't Throw Your Love Away -- The Tearjerkers (Sympathy for the Record Industry); Most Known Unknowns -- Three 6 Mafia (Sony); Tangles -- S.J. Tucker (Broken Strings); Hustle & Flow -- Various Artists (Grand Hustle/Atlantic)
thanks to all voters:
freelance graphic designer
Crows Feet Productions
Justin Fox Burks
Memphis & Shelby County Music Commission
New Daisy Theatre
Memphis International Records
Coffee House Concert Series
Young Avenue Sound
Young Avenue Sound
Pat Mitchell Worley
Beale Street Caravan
Last Chance Records
Broken String Records
Snax Memphis/Young Avenue Deli
Nancy Agee Tanas
1. Three 6 Mafia
2. Alicja Trout
4. Brad Postlethwaite
Album: 12 Songs -- Cory Branan (MADJACK)
1. Craig Brewer
2. Mike Condon (Wrecked 'Em Records)
3. Three 6 Mafia
5. Harlan T. Bobo
Album: All the Seven Inches Plus Two More --
River City Tanlines (Dirtnap)
1. Three 6 Mafia
2. Al Kapone
3. Alicja Trout
4. Eightball & MJG
5. Eric Friedl (Goner Records)
Album: Most Known Unknowns --
Three 6 Mafia (Sony)
1. Three 6 Mafia
2. Harlan T. Bobo
3. River City Tanlines
5. Antique Curtains
Album: Too Much Love -- Harlan T. Bobo (Goner)
The 2006 Memphis Flyer Local Music Poll
Voters were asked to name the five most vital artists or bands in Memphis music today. Forty-four voters participated, with points awarded as follows: five points for a first-place vote, four points for a second-place vote, three points for a third-place vote, two points for a fourth-place vote, and one point for a fifth-place vote.
Artist/Band Points Votes
1. Three 6 Mafia 95 23
2. Harlan T. Bobo 53 17
3. Lucero 53 15
4. Alicja Trout 50 16
(River City Tanlines/Black Sunday/Mouse Rocket)
5. Brad Postlethwaite 33 10
6. Scott Bomar 26 8
7. North Mississippi Allstars 22 7
8. Augustine 19 8
9. The Glass 18 5
10. Jay Lindsey/Final Solutions 16 6
11. The Secret Service 15 8
12. Amy LaVere 15 5
13. The Tearjerkers 12 6
14. Noise Choir 11 4
15. Jim Dickinson 11 3
16. (tie) Al Kapone 10 3
16. (tie) Walkie Talkie 10 3
18. Antique Curtains 9 4
19. Angel Sluts 8 3
20. Alvin Youngblood Hart 8 2
others receiving votes:
A Life Away, Adios Gringo, Nancy Apple, Arma Secreta, Aurora, Black Dick, The Black Hats, Barbara Blue, Cory Branan, Craig Brewer, Bury the Living, Hope Clayburn, The Coach & Four, Joyce Cobb, Holly Cole, The Color Revolt, Blair Combest, Mike Condon, Dutch Masters, Effingham & Wheatstraw, Egypt Central, 8 Days to Amsterdam, Eightball & MJG, William Lee Ellis, Esque, David Evans, Jeff Evans & Ross Johnson, Evil Army, Free Sol, Eric Friedl, The Gamble Brothers Band, Eddie Harrison, Imagination Head, Inner 61, Iron Mic Coalition, Jeffrey James & the Haul, The Joint Chiefs, Valerie June, Kazalok, Eric Lewis, Niko Lyras, Richard Martin, Jimbo Mathus, Memphix, Dan Montgomery, Mrs. Fletcher, On a Dead Machine, Reigning Sound, Ross Rice, Steve Selvidge, 7 $ Sox, Severe Severe, Jay Sheffield Sr., Six String Jets, Snowglobe, Keith Sykes, Andy Tanas, SJ Tucker, Tunnel Clones, Vending Machine, David Weatherman