BEST NEW LOCAL BAND
Tampa's Candy Bars are a bit of an enigma. There's no official band website, and the band's not playing out too much these days, AND you don't know what you're going to get when you do see them. Will it be guitarist/vocalist Daniel Martinez and drummer Ryan Hastings, or Martinez and cellist Melissa Castellano, or all three, or just Martinez? There's nothing puzzling about the usually-a-duo's dynamic, hauntingly original, intelligently poppy sound, though — listen to one of Candy Bars' effects-assisted live sets or more lushly arranged recordings, and it's obvious that this is an ambitious project that's already reached, and maybe surpassed, national-scene caliber. www.myspace.com/candybars.
She captured the local original-music scene's attention a couple years ago, and has admirably held it since, remaining one of the most loved, cited and talked-about artists in the area. And she's only gotten better, widening her stylistic palette in both grittier and mellower directions, while maintaining one of the most evocative voices around. Whether solo or with her fine band The Reluctant Prophets, she's a standout act on any bill, be it rock-, folk-, pop-, or jam-oriented. She should be famous, but first, can we get another album of intimate yet universal tunes, please? www.rebekahpulley.com.
BEST RETURN TO BRUTAL FORM
It's been more than 15 years, and almost as many metal-scene trends, since Slowly We Rot made Obituary one of the most prominent residents of the Death Metal Capital of the World. And it's been eight years since the group's last studio record, the prematurely titled Back from the Dead, went largely unnoticed outside a worldwide core of fans patiently awaiting the death of false metal. This past summer, however, saw the release of Frozen in Time, a nearly perfect slab of evil riff and groove that was the best heavy thing we heard — local or national — come out of the Bay area this year. www.obituary.cc.
BEST PIANO COLOSSUS
Charles Farrell's Glossolalia
Part-time Tampa resident Farrell doesn't gig locally, so people really don't get a chance to check out his rare brand of artistry. Glossolalia is a remarkable CD of free improvisation duets that pairs him with English saxophone titan Evan Parker. Recorded in London late last year, it was released this summer. Glossolalia (the word for speaking in tongues) is a volcanic encounter, where the two masters spar and feint amid a frenetic dance of notes. Farrell's piano work comes in torrents and cascades, built around dizzyingly complex patterns rather than melodies or harmonic structure. It's heavy, relentless stuff — not easy listening in the least — but it's damned amazing. www.farrellworldtribe.com.
BEST LOCAL-SCENE JACK-OF-ALL-TRADES
Some folks only know Connelly as one of the co-founders of now-reformed Bay area jangle-rock band The Headlights. Some only know him as the proprietor of Zen Recording, a St. Pete studio that consistently turns out above-average production. Others only know him as a member of relatively new act Too Many Subplots, or as an exceedingly talented multi-instrumentalist who has sat in or sessioned with dozens of other acts, or as a singer-songwriter in his own right. But most of the people who have been kicking around the local roots, rock, pop and folk crowds for any length of time know him in all of these roles, and that his contributions to many facets of Bay area music have enhanced the scene for as long as they can remember. Thanks, Steve.
BEST NEW VENUE
The Bank Nightclub & Concert Venue
St. Pete's got plenty of excellent dive bars. It's also got a couple of great medium-sized concert halls. What it didn't have until this year was a nightclub, with the big dance floor and the lights and the elevated DJ booth and all. Now it does, and it doesn't, because while The Bank has all of that shit, owner Bill Hillman is committed to doing stuff most nightclubs don't — like putting bands on his stage (and in the more intimate back bar) regularly, and creating an identity based on the scene's artists and interests. The club has a good PA that's getting better all the time, a roomy stage, and a vibe that splits the difference between scene hangout and upscale nightspot. It's a big room — the capacity is over 800 — and the locals need to support it; it would suck to see an elegy for the place in next year's Best Of issue. 1919 Central Ave., St. Petersburg, 727-898-4488, www.atthebank.com.
BEST MUSIC-VENUE UPGRADE
In one fell swoop (all right, seriously, it was probably more like a hundred little stressed-out swoops, but the mechanics aren't very dramatic), Java Junction went from being a funky, artist-friendly coffee shop out on Drew Street to being not only a full-fledged live-music room with a capacity of more than 500 (and a full menu, to boot), but also the center of the Bay area's jam-band universe. Where? Why, in the old, beloved Club More building on Franklin, that's where. Beer, wine, open mics, spoken word events, and bands of all stripes have a (sort of) new home in Clearwater — one that just celebrated its first anniversary a couple weeks back, and expects to celebrate many more. 705 Franklin St., Clearwater, 727-799-1100.