Cautiously Optimistic

Fifteen Hopefuls Make Up Austin's Musical Class of 2001

It is perhaps the pundits who best described 2000 as the year high tech speculators went from playing Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? to Survivor. The same could be said of Austin music: If you invested in, you can now wallpaper your favorite band's rehearsal space with worthless stock certificates.

This time last year, the local music playground looked full of acts commercially viable enough to put a sizable dent in the Austin Curse. Instead, SoundScan figures offer yet more grim proof that art and commerce rarely meet and that critical raves don't always ring cash registers. To put it charitably, 2000 was a year of surprises.

Last year's consensus Most Likely to Succeed act, Fastball, came off the platinum All the Pain Money Can Buy by selling just 70,000 copies of the aptly titled The Harsh Light of Day. And while the Chronicle's annual "Class of ..." features always stress expecting the unexpected, not even Dynamite Hack might have guessed that 2000's bestselling local act would be, uh, Dynamite Hack. Their cover of N.W.A.'s "Boyz-N-the Hood" might have been a novelty, but in these parts so were their 181,000 units sold; only Willie Nelson's Milk Cow Blues came close with 131,000 sold.

Not that sales always reflect progress; it wouldn't be hard to argue that if Vallejo, Goudie, and Dexter Freebish made allies at radio and retail they could cash in next time around.

And what of Austin's musical Class of 2001? Call them "cautiously optimistic." You can also call them veterans; 13 out of 16 hopefuls profiled herein have released major-label albums before. The bulk of them say they've learned enough from their mistakes and disappointments to adjust their expectations accordingly, and the number of instantly recognizable names in this year's roll call make the bunch seem collectively promising.

Four local ladies (Shawn Colvin, Abra Moore, Kacy Crowley, and Patty Griffin) make welcome returns, as do workhorses that seem like they're here every year, even if they're not: Davíd Garza, Spoon, Alejandro Escovedo, the Damnations, and Charlie Robison. Look also for the national rollout of Bob Schneider's Lonelyland, a star-studded coming-out party for Double Trouble, and a quick turnaround from Dynamite Hack. Then there's the trio of local alt.rock rookies many scenesters have never heard of: Aware/Columbia's Riddlin' Kids, Maverick's Ünloco, and the temporarily unsigned Schatzi.

True, many of the albums in question haven't been recorded yet. Still, it seems more are in a better state of readiness than Januarys past. A few have even trickled in for advance listens, and for what it's worth, it's unlikely many will argue with Escovedo or Spoon's Britt Daniel and their assessments that they've recorded best-of-career sets. Double Trouble's Been a Long Time is a cohesive start-to-finish joy, particularly for the number of guests, while sneak peeks of Crowley, Ünloco, and the Riddlin' Kids' offerings point directly to why their labels are so excited: Each offers undeniably accessible radio fodder.

Who might be tardy to the Class of 2001? Jimmie Vaughan's Artemis debut is virtually a sure thing, while smart money might also take Pushmonkey, Monte Warden, Pop Unknown, Seed, and the Derailers. And the Butthole Surfers? Let's not even go there.

Five years of "Class of ..." features have rendered any further speculation, analysis, or psychic-consulting utterly pointless. Thus, fellow Austinites, your Class of 2001. So far.

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Kacy Crowley, Riddlin' Kids, Shawn Colvin, Abra Moore, Double Trouble, Spoon, Unloco, Damnations, Schatzi, Alejandro Escovedo, Charlie Robison, Dynamite Hack, Patti Griffin, Davíd Garza, Damnations

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