As a part of the third-annual Connecticut Music Awards, we asked readers in April to vote for their favorite bands and artists from around the state. Here are the results. Thanks for voting, and congratulations to the winners.
Album of the Year: James Maple, 'American Dreams'
Dreams are funny things: chase them long enough and you just might catch some. Mystic singer-songwriter James Maple has been performing original music for several years (as half of the duo Graverobbers, Maple performed at the 2012 Newport Folk Festival). All that work pays huge dividends on "American Dreams," where Maple surrounds his pleasantly creaky voice and down-home phrase-turns with warm B3 swells, agile guitar-playing and country-funk grooves. (Maple does ballads too; check out the loping waltz-time "Mount Morris," for example.) Others have traveled his road, but Maple takes it in with fresh eyes and shares what he sees.
Song of the Year: Elison Jackson, '2009'
Connecticut's favorite song of 2014 refers to a time five years ago when New Haven-based Elison Jackson frontman Sam Perduta croons that he "lost his mind." The track features a primal stomp/clap backbeat, acoustic guitars, bass, a playful vocal melody and a short harmonica solo. Elison Jackson continues to be one of the hardest-working bands in the state.
Best Overall Band: 1974
It was bound to happen: after winning back-to-back Best New Band and Best Rock Band awards, Newington prog-rock quintet 1974 took home this year's Best Overall Band trophy on the strength of its sophomore album, "1974 & The Death of The Herald," its brazen, concept-heavy live shows and a devoted fan base. Most likely you'll see them top some other categories next year, or they might just invent a few new categories.
Best Punk Band: Lost Riots
Genre-bending is common these days, and many bands are difficult to classify, but not the Lost Riots. They're from New Haven and they play punk rock. Period. Their songs pay tribute to the likes of the Dead Boys and the Heartbreakers and their patch-covered sleeveless denim jackets tip you off to what they sound like before you even hear them strum a power chord.
Best R&B/Soul/Funk: Stepkids
The Stepkids are somethin' else. Their chill, danceable and musically advanced compositions have been a breath of fresh air for their hometown of Bridgeport and the country at large — they're locally based but by no means a local act. And their light show is killin' too. They just played the Sasquatch Festival in Washington State, and they'll be appearing at Glastonbury in the U.K. in June.
Best Reggae: Mystic Bowie
Mystic Bowie splits his time between his homeland of Jamaica and his adopted hometown of Fairfield. For his authentic island flavor, he goes right to the source, finding influence in friends like the great Toots Hibbert, of Toots and the Maytals. Bowie is joyful, energetic and genuinely making the world a better place through his music and his actions. (His Mystic Bowie Cultural Center is a charity dedicated to enriching the lives of the children of Jamaica). He's also a member of Tom Tom Club.
Best Indie Rock: The Morning On Fire
The Morning on Fire consists of brothers John and James Flynn and drummer Jared Dewick, a New Haven-based, post-punk, post-hardcore, post-everything band with angular and moody tunes inspired by groups like Cursive, Explosions in the Sky, At the Drive-In and Modest Mouse. John Flynn is also known in these parts for creating Connecticut's quickly-ballooning Fauxchella festival, which has been going strong for three consecutive years and promises to be even bigger in 2015.
Best Folk/Traditional: Milksop: Unsung
Mandolins, banjos and upright basses are still all the rage with neo-folk acts, but New Haven's Milksop: Unsung uses them as tools for more mischievous purposes. Their self-described psycho-folk involves original songs offering spastic interpretations of an old-timey vibe with nefarious titles like "Cyanide Kool-Aid Acid Test," "Mudbutt" and "Farty Caboose."
Best New Band: Branchwater
Branchwater is a rock 'n' roll quartet that hails from Litchfield County. They've got a multi-genre-spanning set peppered with covers and a debut album called "When the World Seems Cold." Their dual lead guitar players lead to a healthy dose of improvisation to their playing, but influences come from all over the place, touching upon the blues, jam, funk, soul, jazz, rock and hip-hop.
Best Blues: The Balkun Brothers