This year, in the spirit of the election season and the general voting-fever, we decided to fold together the CT Music Awards in with our annual Best Of New Haven. They're both readers' polls, reflecting the choices and preferences of people out in the community, not the editorial staff. Congratulations to all the winners!
Album of the Year
Violent Mae - Kid
The dynamic sophomore album by Becky Kessler and Floyd Kellogg spins the sonic limitations of a guitar-drums duo format into indie-rock gold. (Also: that voice!)
Song of the Year
Michael Cleary Band – "2nd Nature"
The band credits drummer Edmund Peart as the primary song writer for this reggae-tinged ode to doing the right thing, no matter what, then added tasty horn riffs and a twin-guitar interlude.
Youthful bluesbreakers Steve and Nick Balkun churn out psychedelic boogie-rock that's never short on swagger. Live shows are life-altering.
Best Country or Americana
Singer-songwriters Sarah LeMieux and Heather Fay joined forces, adopted alter egos (Laurel and Iris Caulthorn respectively) and emerged with tightly wound two-part harmonies. It's high-concept, and also strangely familiar.
New London's premier DJ/producer has a deep catalogue of hip-hop releases, high-level collaborators (Apathy, for one) and a reputation for throwing righteous parties.
Best Folk or Traditional
A new country-tinged band (The Girls from Ruby Falls) and a rural pseudonym (Iris Caulthorn) keeps Fay, a top-shelf singer-songwriter, steeped in new ways of relating to her world.
Theresa Wright, the daughter of a preacher, is a chorister at First Cathedral in Bloomfield. She's also a veteran soul/jazz singer who can captivate an audience with power and grace.
When Batts isn't teaching or organizing shows to benefit CT's homeless population, the Hartford hip-hop icon (and everyone's #bestfriend) fronts Them, a rock/rap hybrid, or simply freestyles, out of habit.
Best Indie Rock
Meriden couple Leah Booker and Lou Lorenzo channel all the darkness, desperation and beauty of Central CT life into ambitious-sounding tracks. They also prove time and again that a great studio band can kill it live.
Best Jam Band
Like other standout branches on CT's enviable jam-band family tree, Kung Fu long ago graduated to national-level stages and far-reaching tours. Lucky for us: they return home often.
After years of backing indie rockers in NYC, New Haven's Sarah LeMieux became a bandleader. "Moments Musicaux," her quintet's second album, impressed listeners with chamber-jazz textures and nimble improvisational flights.
Glastonbury's Vengeance pummels, reliably, with guitar riffs and drums fills (and sometimes counterpunches with hushed dynamics), but the ability to deliver hard-rock hooks seem to be coded into its DNA.
Best New Band
Heather Fay and Sarah LeMieux, two like-minded, female singer-songwriters living in CT, were already sisters, in a way. As fictional sisters Iris and Laurel Caulthorn -- the Girls of Ruby Falls -- it feels as though they've simply formalized the arrangement.
Best Overall Band
If you wanted to argue that sturdy musicianship, high-concept progressive rock and youthful enthusiasm are valued assets around these parts, Exhibit A would have to be the perennial dominance of Newington's 1974 in readers' polls.
Not long ago, Jon Young, Jay Silva and Tim Donnel -- the three members of New London's Straight to VHS -- were punk newbies. They seem to have gotten the hang of it.
Best R&B. Soul or Funk
Bands whose ranks swell into double digits often have trouble managing the swirl. Every component of reigning Hartford funk/soul/jam-band West End Blend's sound seems to fit just right.
Mystic Bowie's reggae roots run deep, straight back into the soil of his native Jamaica. For decades, he's been fronting bands right here in CT, and that's fine with us.
Though its lineup may shift slightly over the years, Newington quintet 1974 remains among the most exciting concept-rockers in the state.
Fay's first-person narratives, anchored by folk, country and pop styles, have won over fans and critics. As Fay's life changes, so do her songs. You almost can't wait to hear what happens next.
Best Tribute Band
Channeling Jerry Garcia and the Grateful Dead, in front of small, ecstatic crowds, is as American as apple pie. Few bands in New England do it as well as Shakedown.