Best of Nashville 2011: Arts, Music & Entertainment Writers' Choice 

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BEST LOCAL BAND: THE FEATURES
What more do we have to do to prove to you that longtime Middle Tennessee indie-pop gurus The Features are among Nashville's most valuable resources? We sang the praises of July's Wilderness, a lively, thoroughly engaging record that was released on Kings of Leon's imprint, Serpents and Snakes. We invited them to headline the sold-out fifth anniversary party for our music blog, Nashville Cream, at Third Man Records. We invited them into our office to participate in the Cream's video series, Conference Call, where they performed intimate versions of two of our favorite songs from Wilderness. Do we have to officially proclaim them the best band in Nashville, fan votes be damned? Fine. Consider it done. D. PATRICK RODGERS

BEST LOCAL BAND SIGNED TO A NON-LOCAL LABEL: PUJOL ON SADDLE CREEK
Arguably the best rock 'n' roll act ever to come out of Tullahoma, Tenn., PUJOL got a well-deserved heightening of their profile when a Jack White-produced single hit the shelves courtesy of the Third Man Records Blue Series. We don't know for sure how frontman Daniel Pujol decided among the labels that subsequently came calling, but he settled on a deal with Midwestern Bright-Eyes-launchers Saddle Creek. Maybe it was just that the words "Tullahoma" and "Omaha" create a certain ring together — Tullahoma-ha, anyone? — but whatever it was, we're proud to see our native sons do well, with support from the land that gave us the Buffett Rule. STEVE HARUCH

BEST MELTDOWN: VINNIE VINCENT
If Middle Tennessee rock fans didn't know that reclusive former KISS guitarist Vinnie Vincent — aka Vincent Cusano, aka "The Ankh Warrior" — was living among them (in Smyrna, no less), they found out in late May, when his domestic violence arrest made headlines worldwide. Reports from the Rutherford County Sheriff allege that Cusano beat up his wife Diane, repeatedly throwing her to the ground and dragging her through broken glass by her hair. Following the arrest, authorities found the entombed carcasses of four dead dogs on the couple's property. While Pet Adoption Welfare Services determined Cusano wasn't to blame for the demise of the fidos, the Ankh Warrior sure screwed the pooch as far as future Googling of his name goes. ADAM GOLD

BEST GARAGE-ROCK COLLABORATION: THE PARTING GIFTS
One fan recently observed that The Parting Gifts "aren't really a local band." While half of the duo resides here (Ettes singer Coco Hames), the presiding genius of their exquisitely crafted and infectiously tuneful songs (Greg Cartwright of Oblivians and Reigning Sound) is a longtime Memphian and current North Carolinian. Nevertheless, underserved Nashville garage fanatics might want to claim his work for our town. Last October's Strychnine Dandelion is a perfectly appropriated blend of Nuggets rock, girl group and country, conveying yearning and angst as Cartwright and Hames trade lyrics with Dolly-and-Porter sass. EMILY BARTLETT HINES

BEST METAL ALBUM: ACROSS TUNDRAS, SAGE
We're pretty sure this is the only metal record in town that has trombone on it, so even if we weren't way into the dusty, psychedelic songs on Sage, the album would still win. We love trombones. Sage is an album of dystopian gun-fighter ballads, an artifact of an alternate history where The West was never won and Ennio Morricone wrote the national anthem — rife with monster riffs and epic soundscapes. SEAN L. MALONEY

BEST NEW COUNTRY BAND: PISTOL ANNIES
For anybody but Miranda Lambert and her Pistol Annies bandmates Ashley Monroe and Angaleena Presley, Dixie Chicks would be a hard act to follow. All of the Annies are truly gifted, country-to-the-bone songwriters, two of them criminally overlooked until now. Their debut, Hell on Heels, backs up badass attitude with witty, sharp-eyed storytelling from a housewifely perspective. It's the perfect antidote for the plasticized, privileged housewives of reality TV and the dearth of female voices on country playlists right now. JEWLY HIGHT

BEST NEW OUTLAW BAND: SUNDAY VALLEY
On this year's amazing debut full-length To the Wind and on to Heaven, Sunday Valley frontman John Sturgill Simpson makes like a freight-train-speed Southern rocker with roots in the Appalachian moan of Sturgill's distant relative, Dock Boggs, and the proto-country of Charlie Poole. The Kentucky trio recently relocated to Nashville, where they've perfected a super-boogie style suggestive of The MC5 with a Bluegrass State-size case of the blues. EDD HURT

BEST TRIBUTE: PAUL BURCH
We'd love to think that in some parallel universe, Buddy Holly, now a spry 75, is looking back on a long career. Among the many birthday tributes and well-wishes pouring in, he picks up Words of Love, an unassuming album by one of his brightest disciples, Nashville singer, songwriter and bandleader Paul Burch. He puts it on, and hears song after song from his early catalog delivered with raw, spontaneous, infectious joy. Did "Love's Made a Fool of You" ever sound so stripped-down and ready to rumble? Did "Think It Over" really make that blatant (and effective) a come-on? The aged rocker grins, shakes his head, and wonders what that Burch kid might make of all the stuff on his nine-CD boxed set — packaged with a replica of a canceled flight charter. JIM RIDLEY

BEST COUNTRY ALBUM: RANDY MONTANA, RANDY MONTANA
His father is a successful country songwriter, and now Randy Montana represents a generation of ambitious young performers making new hay from old verities. Montana's self-titled debut benefits from Jay Joyce's guitar-rich production: "1,000 Faces" is a natural hit, while the Southern-rock-power-pop "It's Gone" is a catchy wonder. "Goodbye Rain" subtly rewrites Bowie's "Rebel Rebel" and soars like great pop. Montana sings like a man searching for something heroic — this is it. EDD HURT

BEST LOCAL PUNK AMBASSADORS TO THE WORLD: JEFF THE BROTHERHOOD
Over the past year, JEFF the Brotherhood has been touted in Rolling Stone, Spin and NPR's All Songs Considered. They played a party for Vice Russia in Moscow and inspired what was likely the only crowd-surfing Bonnaroo's On Tap Lounge saw all weekend. Our reaction? About damn time! JEFF's We Are the Champions isn't just an outstanding local record; it's an achievement for the Bogus Bros., who are finally getting the international attention they deserve — not to mention a recently inked deal with Warner Brothers. LANCE CONZETT

BEST COVER BAND: LONG PLAYERS
A tribute band of ace session players and sidemen who've performed meticulous, cover-to-cover, note-for-note re-creations of classic albums monthly at Mercy Lounge for the past seven years, Nashville's Long Players are the kind of local entity that makes Music City dwellers proud and thankful to call such fertile, talent-rife ground home. The band — formed by guitarists Bill Lloyd and Steve Allen, drummer Steve Ebe, keyboardist John Deaderick and E Street Band bassist Garry Tallent — celebrated tackling their 50th album back in July with a performance of The Rolling Stones' legendary Exile on Main St. double LP. ADAM GOLD

BEST MIXTAPE: OPENMIC, FOR THE REBELS
This has been a banner year for the city's hip-hop scene — mostly because this was the year the city realized it had a thriving, creative, multifaceted hip-hop scene. And no tape captures the complexity and energy of this moment in Music City quite like For the Rebels. Influenced by the classics but by no means tied to the past, FTR has been our go-to counterpoint whenever somebody doesn't believe that this city has one of the most exciting scenes in the country. SEAN L. MALONEY

BEST BEAT TAPE: DJ BURN ONE, THE ASHTRAY
Butter funk. That's the only way to describe this one. Put it on toast and watch it melt if you don't believe us. Pure fucking butter. Burn One has been behind some of the hottest national underground tracks in recent years — he's done beats for Freddie Gibbs, Yelawolf, Gucci Mane — but his solo instrumental outing The Ashtray is the sort of smoldering new-school-meets-old-school funk we dream about at night. SEAN L. MALONEY

BEST NEW BAND: BY LIGHTNING!
A few months ago, we saw By Lightning! perform at an 8 off 8th at Mercy Lounge, and the crowd was positively rapt. Featuring musicians who probably have 70-plus years of Nashville stage experience between them (including Kat Brock and several members of several incarnations of De Novo Dahl), By Lightning! delivers a brilliant, pop-rooted cacophony that's incredibly engaging. Nashville has a lot of rock bands come and go, but we're very excited about this one. ASHLEY SPURGEON

BEST STUDIO NERD MAGNET: BLACKBIRD STUDIO
When The White Stripes recorded Icky Thump at Blackbird in 2007, the presence of real-life rock stars in a local studio was a novelty. But lately John McBride's eight-studio Berry Hill facility seems irresistible to big-time rawk types looking for world-class sound without the distractions of New York and LA. In the last year alone, R.E.M., Rush, Joss Stone, Seether and others have released tracks laid down inside this unassuming suburban temple of sound. CHRIS NEAL

MOST ENTERTAINING LIVE BAND: HANS CONDOR
The boys of Hans Condor are entertainers, plain and simple. Guitarist and singer Charles Kaster performs with such passion he can't help but jump up and hang off something, make love to his Les Paul and then beat it, or kick something over. And with brothers Erik and Roger Holcombe on bass and drums, the band is tight. They recently wrapped a tour with fellow locals The Ettes and Heavy Cream — do yourself a favor and check 'em out now that they're back. JO-JO JACKSON

BEST THIRD MAN SUPERFANS: TED DANSON AND MARY STEENBURGEN
While it's neither the Cheers bar nor Larry David's country club, Jack White's Third Man Records has become quite the stomping ground for Ted Danson and Mary Steenburgen. The Hollywood power couple were spotted haunting the house that Jack built for the recent Wanda Jackson show and the Record Store Day event (along with, of all characters, actor Edward James Olmos). The Dansteenburgens have made a second home of Nashville this year, as Steenburgen was working on both her songwriting endeavors and an FX pilot called Outlaw Country. On her and daughter Lilly McDowell Walton's blog, Nell's Compass, Steenburgen proclaimed Nashville "the most effortlessly hip city in America." And speakig of hip, she'll headline a benefit for The Oxford American Oct. 14 at The Hermitage Hotel. ADAM GOLD

BEST VENUE WE'LL MISS (NASHVILLE): GLENN DANZIG'S HOUSE
In the roughly two years Glenn Danzig's House was open, the Danzigs put on dozens of shows, including a free party for Nylon and more Heavy Cream bills that we can possibly count. Danzig's House was responsible for introducing us to a cadre of up-and-coming punks from across the continent; but all good things must come to an end, and Nashville's Dead Headquarters has been vacated. Thanks for the memories, guys. LANCE CONZETT

BEST VENUE WE'LL MISS (MURFREESBORO): RED ROSE
After a great deal of hue and cry earlier this year, the historic Red Rose Cafe in Murfreesboro was unceremoniously reduced to rubble. Its heyday (2000-2003) marked the first and only time Nashvillians regularly trekked to the 'Boro for shows by indie hot shots like Les Savy Fav, Deerhoof, Cursive, The Faint, Mirah and Calvin Johnson. Romanticized rumors of a grand reopening lingered right up until the building's demise in March. SETH GRAVES

BEST PROMISING NEW VENUE: MARATHON MUSIC WORKS
True, we don't know much about this place yet. But what we do know has our interest thoroughly piqued. So what do we know? It will basically double the number of mid-sized venues in Nashville (the other, of course, being The Cannery Ballroom, if you're not counting the significantly larger Ryman Auditorium). We know that the place's official name, Marathon Music Works, beat out two thoroughly inferior candidates — "Motorworks Live" and "The Pink Elephant" — in a fan-voted contest. We know that it will exist in the old Marathon Motorworks building in Marathon Village, and we know that, if all goes according to plan, it will open in October. Color us intrigued. D. PATRICK RODGERS

BEST UNLIKELY VENUE: VFW POST 1970
VFW Post 1970 on Charlotte Pike might not seem like the most likely of venues for a rock show. But when William Tyler (Silver Jews, Lambchop, KORT, Paper Hats ... um, and William Tyler) made it the setting for the "Second Annual Fifth Anniversary" of his record label, Sebastian Speaks, it all clicked perfectly. A bill featuring KORT, surf-punks D. Watusi and Tyler's own Tyler Family Band? Cheap beers? A guestbook that dates back to the '70s and absolutely unironic mustaches? To quote a commenter on our music blog, Nashville Cream, "More shows here, please." D. PATRICK RODGERS

BEST VENUE IMPROVEMENT: 3RD & LINDSLEY
Despite a somewhat awkward L-shaped room, 3rd & Lindsley has thrived for 20 years, a testament to owner Ron Brice's savvy booking, which focuses on veteran bluesmen and -women, roots rockers, jazz bands and other acts that don't always get the love at the cool kids' clubs. But now that Brice has expanded and renovated, the club has gone from a challenging room to a first-class venue with a big elevated stage, an expanded bar, updated restrooms, great sight lines and a lot more seating (400, or 500 if the front tables are pulled out). The overhaul has been a huge hit with both patrons and the bands that play there. If you've ever had concerns about going to a show there because of the funky layout, throw those worries to the wind: The new 3rd & Lindsley is one of the best rooms in town. JACK SILVERMAN

BEST HONKY-TONK HERO: CHRIS CASELLO
There's no shortage of jaw-dropping six-string sharpshooters working Lower Broad, but few of them are as entertaining and musical as Chris Casello. If you've ever had your mind blown by a guitarist who looks a little like Silvio from The Sopranos, then you know the guy. Whether he's fronting his trio or working as a sideman (most notably, with the fabulous Brazilbilly), he stands out more for what he doesn't play: While a lot of other axmen on the strip try to wow you with their gazillion-notes-a-second chicken-pickin' virtuosity, Casello is a paragon of taste, emphasizing melody, groove and a healthy dose of musical humor, as he combines vintage country, slap-back rockabilly, blues and jazz. And he's a badass steel player to boot. JACK SILVERMAN

BEST BIGGEST SHOW OF ALL TIME: U2 AT VANDERBILT
The enormity of U2's 360 Tour hitting Vanderbilt Stadium in July wasn't lost on Nashvillians. Locals and travelers alike greeted the Music City arrival of the world's biggest band's record-breaking biggest tour of all time like a new calendar holiday — swarming the Vandy vicinity in a tailgate scene worthy of Pope John Paul II vs. The Vanderbilt Commodores. And with their first Nashville appearance in nearly 30 years, the band made up for lost time — performing their 1993 Johnny Cash collaboration "The Wanderer" for the first time, video-linking with a space station and bringing a blind fan onstage to replace The Edge during an impromptu encore. It was a performance every bit as spellbinding as the gargantuan, shimmering skyscraper of a stage it was performed on. ADAM GOLD

BEST MUSICAL TREND: LOCAL BANDS ALL UP IN BONNAROO
The Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival in Manchester, Tenn., has long been a Holy Grail of sorts for local bands looking to reach a wider audience and reap the perks of playing such a monolithic, widely reported event. In addition to the three winners of BMI's annual Road to Bonnaroo series at Mercy Lounge — Chancellor Warhol, Cheer Up Charlie Daniels and Uncle Skeleton — Bonnaroo's 10th installment saw performances from on-the-rise local punk, indie-pop and roots outfits including JEFF the Brotherhood, Tristen, The Apache Relay, Abigail Washburn and Karen Elson. More than anything, that likely reflects the boom Nashville rock has been seeing lately. It's been a good year for the locals. D. PATRICK RODGERS

MOST IMPROVED BAND OF 2011: HEAVY CREAM
Since adding drummer Tiffany Minton to the lineup, Heavy Cream has gone from "really?" to "yes!" Gone is the doubt and regret from going to see a band that was hyped up to be more than they really were. The last couple of times I've seen the girls — and boy — of Heavy Cream, I've been thoroughly pleased. The catchiness of their vintage punk-inspired songs is even more infectious now that there's a solid rhythm section you can groove to. JO-JO JACKSON

BEST YOUNG AX-SLINGERS: (TIE) J.D. SIMO, NORTHERN HEMISPHERE; JOE ROBINSON, SOUTHERN HEMISPHERE
These two twentysomethings have been tearing it up in Nashville clubs recently. Simo regularly drops jaws playing with The Don Kelly Band at Robert's Western World, honky-tonkin' on his Telecaster like nobody's business — but we dig him even more in his power trio, called Simo, where he summons the spirits of Hendrix, The Who and vintage Cream, wailing from his Marshall-style full stack like he's onstage at the Monterey Pop Festival. And as if we didn't have enough Aussies showing us up (we're looking at you, Keith Urban and Tommy Emmanuel), Robinson has been wowing audiences with his unearthly fingerpicking prowess, which won him first place on reality show Australia's Got Talent and earned him the title of Best New Talent in Guitar Player magazine. JACK SILVERMAN

BEST MASHUP ALBUM: DJ WICK-IT, THE BROTHERS OF CHICO DUSTY
When Wick-It dropped his Big Boi/Black Keys mashup "Black Bug," we listened, enjoyed and moved on — Bizkit The Investigator cranks out mashups the way some folks change underwear. How were we to know that he'd been tapped by Big Boi himself to mash the entire album, and that said album would turn into a national breakthrough, garnering praise from pretty much every corner? We hadn't even changed our underwear yet. SEAN L. MALONEY

BEST IDENTITY MAKEOVER: NBN BECOMES SOUNDLAND
Like it or not, we all knew it had to happen at some point: As long as Nashville's premiere rock festival had the words "Next" and "Nashville" in its title, it just couldn't possibly get the sort of national exposure and touring acts we all hoped for. But by scaling back, reducing the number of participating venues to a more manageable number and placing a reinvigorated emphasis on nationally and regionally recognized bands, SoundLand honcho Jason Moon Wilkins has reworked his festival's growing pains into a pretty promising little business model. Six years down. Here's to another six. D. PATRICK RODGERS

BEST NATIONAL HIP-HOP BLOGGER WE DIDN'T KNOW HAD BEEN HIDING OUT IN NASHVILLE THE WHOLE TIME: JOHN GOTTY, THE SMOKING SECTION
The Smoking Section, part of the Uproxx syndicate, is an important blog in the national hip-hop community — like, real, real important. Most of your favorite rappers owe 'em a favor or three, for sure. And we've been reading it for years. But all this time we head no idea that TSS honcho John Gotty was running that shit from our own backyard. Who knew? Check him out at smokingsection.uproxx.com. SEAN L. MALONEY

BEST ANTHOLOGY: THE WHAT FOUR
Every town has a band that released too few records and was heard by too few people — yet those who did carry those songs tucked away like love letters. In Nashville, such a band was The What Four, whose mid-'90s garage-pop gems would have fit right in on a children-of-Nuggets box set. Instead, frontman/songwriter Jason Phelan, guitarist Chad Harrison, bassist John Hudson and drummer Chris Lassiter arrived about five years ahead of the curve and tragically missed out on the aughts' garage revival — the only reason you're not hearing Phelan hailed as one of the city's best rock songwriters. You can catch up in a hurry, though, with The What Four Anthology on iTunes, a "two-disc" set that gathers their entire 20-song oeuvre (plus a blistering cover of Love's "7 and 7 Is") for $19.99. It may be that they didn't hit because they could evoke so many other bands — "David Watts"-era Kinks ("Shelly Peters"), the Beach Boys at their sunset loveliest (the stunning "Ears to the Ground," which Josh Rouse covered) — but the songs hold up so well you'll feel the loss of the follow-ups that never were. Please, somebody, get this to Little Steven's Underground Garage. JIM RIDLEY

BEST YEAR TO GET BACK IN THE ALBUM-MAKING SADDLE: 2011
As long as people are still releasing albums, there will always be the duds and the masterpieces we wish artists would hurry up and make. Roots music fans were in luck this summer. In May, Foster & Lloyd proved they've got more verve than ever on their first album in two decades, It's Already Tomorrow. A month later, Gillian Welch and David Rawlings ended an eight-year wait with The Harrow & the Harvest, an album equaling their best. And in August, Connie Smith did something she too seldom does: gave us a top-notch new batch of honky-tonk soul, Long Line of Heartaches. JEWLY HIGHT

BEST CHARITABLE COMEBACK:GARTH BROOKS
GAAAAAARTH!!! Find me an American who doesn't love on Garth Brooks' "Friends in Low Places" and I'll find you a cold, unfeeling, soulless misanthrope. Brooks and Nashville done rekindled their love affair last winter when the "Class of '89" valedictorian made a rare, out-of-retirement full-band appearance at Bridgestone Arena to raise money for Middle Tennessee flood relief. Nine appearances, actually — that's how many performances Garth & Co. had to give to satisfy the state-record-breaking 140,000 tickets sold. In the end, the concerts raised an estimated $5 million, and Nashville got to join together and sing along to modern country music's greatest working-class anthem nine times over. You go, Garth! ADAM GOLD

BEST SHATTERED SALES RECORD: GRIMEY'S ON RECORD STORE DAY
Now in its 12th year of business, flagship local record store Grimey's New & Preloved Music isn't just staying afloat financially during tough times. In fact, it's doing better than ever, thanks to a loyal local customer base, the ever-expanding resurgence of vinyl (currently the record industry's fastest growing musical format, according to Nielsen SoundScan) and the independent music retail industry's inventiveness in creating Record Store Day — a Black Friday of sorts for selling exclusive releases. On Record Store Day this year, Grimey's not only broke their biggest single-day sales record — set at last year's event — they shattered it by a jaw-dropping 72 percent. How's that for economic stimulus, Music City? ADAM GOLD

BEST HIP-HOP VIDEO: GRAY, "JUST DOIN' MY THING"
If the pinnacle of artistry is finding beauty in the mundane and the everyday, Gray's walk down Charlotte Avenue in the "Just Doin' My Thing" video has got to be a masterpiece. Seriously, footage of storage-space walls has never been so gorgeous and inspiring. And the graffiti! This city has some beautiful street art that looks amazing in the context of the minimalist vision in "Just Doin' My Thing." SEAN L. MALONEY

BEST DAMN THING TO HAPPEN TO SOUL FANS IN THIS TOWN: G.E.D. SOUL RECORDS
The Coolin' System, The Magic in Threes and DeRobert and the Half-Truths could all probably get their own categories — Best Soul Jazz, Best Psych Jazz, Best Deep Soul — but the sheer fact that this clique exists is the best thing ever. Meticulously crafted and intuitively performed, every inch of tape we've heard from the G.E.D. camp is pure soul fire. SEAN L. MALONEY

BEST MAINSTREAM ONSLAUGHT: CHANCELLOR WARHOL
When we gave Warhol the "Best Art Rap" nod for last year's Japanese Lunchbox, we weren't expecting that art to go pop. But 52 weeks later, Chance has become a staple of the rock club circuit, a Bonnaroo performer and one of the most talked-about artists in the city. His new album The Silver Factory ups the ante, exploding any notions of what art and pop can or cannot be. SEAN L. MALONEY

BEST LIQUOR SONG: KENNY CHESNEY AND GRACE POTTER, "YOU AND TEQUILA"
Drinking songs — especially beer-drinking songs — are a dime a dozen in country music. You know it's something serious when a singer name-drops the harder stuff, and "You and Tequila" is no joke. Co-writers Deana Carter and Matraca Berg have each recorded it, but it's Kenny Chesney's surprisingly stripped-down duet version with neo-classic pop-rocker Grace Potter that's become the hit. Addiction, desire, the blending and blurring of the senses, the hint of a hangover — it's all in there. JEWLY HIGHT

BEST PARENTHOOD SONG: MARTINA McBRIDE, "TEENAGE DAUGHTERS"
Country songs have a tendency to play up the sentimental side of parenthood, as though life were one long string of Hallmark moments. Martina McBride dares tell the truth in "Teenage Daughters," and cleverly: Raising teenagers can drive you to drinking. McBride's never been known as a songwriter, but she actually co-wrote this one with the Warren Brothers. Don't expect a power ballad — it's jangly alt-pop with just the right amount of sarcastic bite. JEWLY HIGHT

BEST DANCE PROMOTER: EVERYTHING'S NICE
While the folks at Everything's Nice would point out that they promote more than just dance music — rock, reggae, all-purpose good vibes for your everyday life — we are going to hold them responsible for some of the best dance events of the year. Especially the Unify Block Party on 12th Avenue back in August, 'cause it doesn't get better than bringing together 50 of the city's best DJs in one place. SEAN L. MALONEY

BEST KINDA ARBITRARY, KINDA COOL AWARD: MAYOR DEAN GIVES JACK WHITE THE MUSIC CITY AMBASSADOR AWARD
"Thank you, Nashville. Thank you, Mayor. Incredible honor. I don't really know what else to say," said multi-Grammy winner, local resident, rock star, Raconteur and entrepreneur Jack White when crowned Music City's first "Music City Ambassador" by the Mayor's Nashville Music Council — now known as the Music City Council. Despite how much it would've pleased the hundreds congregated around a makeshift stage on Third Man Records' loading bay on that cold April morning, White and Mayor Dean didn't jam together on a cover of Son House's "Death Letter." Nor was the Mayor's "historic announcement" recorded and released as an installment of Third Man's live or spoken word series. Given the setting for the proceedings, nobody in attendance seemed surprised by White's victory, though nobody — White included — seemed quite sure exactly what it was he'd won. ADAM GOLD

BEST NEW LOCAL ROCKERS: THE BLACK KEYS
Nashville obviously has no dearth of Grammy-winning performers and songwriters. Hell, you can't spill your latte around these parts without spattering some foam on a Buddy Miller or a Vince Gill, or somebody named "Cash." But as top-tier rock talent goes, we were all too happy to take in Akron, Ohio's native sons, The Black Keys. Sure, Jack White and his cadre of Third Man Records cohorts put the initial much-needed dollop of cool on top of Music City's under-sung rock scene a couple years back. But when the Keys moved here, with frontman Dan Auerbach setting up his Easy Eye Sound System recording studio within city limits ... well, that just sealed the deal. Music City now takes all kinds. D. PATRICK RODGERS

BEST HIP-HOP/R&B PRODUCER: RIO
To say that Rio has had an incredible year in the studio is an understatement — he's been behind the boards on heaters from B.C., Star Murphy, Bezzeled Gang, and there was a minute there where Nashville Cream's "Party & Bullsh*t" column could have been called the Rio Fan Club Newsletter. But we've heard his new stuff — including Big Fella's first new tracks in years — and we can tell the next year will be even bigger. SEAN L. MALONEY

BEST DEFINITION OF COUNTRY MUSIC: (TIE) BRAD PAISLEY, "THIS IS COUNTRY MUSIC"; ASHTON SHEPHERD, "WHERE COUNTRY GROWS"
We forget what a slippery concept country music can be. John Rich just made a reggaefied country album, and Music Row takes cues from Def Leppard. It's no wonder country acts feel the need to reaffirm their music's distinct identity. Brad Paisley took an anthemic approach with "This Is Country Music." His point? For its audience, country music bears the weight of reality. And Ashton Shepherd charmed with "Where Country Grows." Her down-to-earth imagery emphasized the groundedness of the music. JEWLY HIGHT

BEST NATIONAL PUB HAVING A CRUSH ON US: ROLLING STONE
Is Rolling Stone magazine still the music world's preeminent publication of record? Let's hope so, because in its April 28 "Best of Rock" issue, writer Austin Scaggs (yes, he's Boz's son) dubbed Music City the nation's "Best Music Scene." Finally. Sure — with quotes from local celebs the likes of Ke$ha, Patrick Carney, Nathan Followill and Karen Elson — RS readers might have read the piece and imagined that your garden-variety 8 off 8th lineup would feature sets from Ke$ha, The Black Keys, Kings of Leon, Cage the Elephant, Taylor Swift and a reunited White Stripes. But as far as updating Nashville's cultural touchstones from Johnny, Dolly, Tim and Faith to broader horizons, the article was the biggest single step so far in prying the city's perceived cool factor from the both-kinds-Country-and-Western pigeonhole. ADAM GOLD

BEST USE OF KICKSTARTER: THE PROTOMEN
If there's one thing you can count on — and perhaps be fearful of — it's the obsessive nature of the average Protomen fan. When the band and filmmaker Chris Pappavaselio launched a Kickstarter campaign to fund an official documentary in March, they reached their $8,000 goal in a matter of hours. By day three, they'd raised more than $20,000. When a fan spends $525 on a lock of your keyboardist's hair, does that mean your band has "made it"? Yeah, probably. LANCE CONZETT

BEST COLLABORATION WITH STEPHEN COLBERT: (TIE) THE BLACK KEYS; THE BLACK BELLES/JACK WHITE
If you caught Vampire Weekend and the newly Nashvillian Black Keys' "sell-out-off" on The Colbert Report back in January, you probably wouldn't assume that any other Nashville-residing rockers could match Auerbach and Carney's thoroughly hilarious, weapon-wielding appearance. You would have assumed wrong. Jack White's three-part interview with Colbert in June concluded with a collaboration between Colbert and Third Man Records' Black Belles — a White-produced single called "Charlene II (I'm Over You)" — that is as ridiculous as it sounds. So yes, for now we'll call it a draw. Your move, Kings of Leon. D. PATRICK RODGERS

BEST HEAD-SCRATCHER COLLABORATION: JACK WHITE, MOZART, INSANE CLOWN POSSE AND JEFF THE BROTHERHOOD
With Third Man Records' Blue Series, Jack White remains astonishingly prolific, reaching out to an eclectic body of artists ranging from local punkers like PUJOL and JEFF the Brotherhood to international crooners like First Aid Kit and Laura Marling. Which is great. But you could hear the metaphorical needle skip off the proverbial record from here to Detroit when White teamed up with JEFF and universally loathed horror-rap duo Insane Clown Posse to produce a track called "Leck Mich Im Arsch" — German for "Lick Me in the Ass" — based heavily on Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's composition of the same name. Yes, seriously. Anyone paying attention will realize that White & Co. were likely looking to push some buttons, and one glance at Third Man's Facebook page — where fans are still crying out in horror over the collaboration — will tell you that it worked. D. PATRICK RODGERS

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