By Victoria Wasylak
The New England Music Awards at Patriot Place was a rocking roller coaster ride celebrating the region’s best bands and solo artists. If you’re looking to expand your playlist, check out these winners and nominees. Your ears will thank you.
Album / Song of the Year
In the wake of a big career leap, Will Dailey seems a bit more relaxed and it shows. The Boston singer-songwriter earned two more trophies for his crowded awards’ shelf (he’s a five-time Boston Music Awards winner). Winning NEMAs for Album of the Year and Song of the Year, Dailey’s latest gem of a release, National Throat, is insightful pop-rock tied together by sharp melodies and well-constructed songs. And his popular, radio friendly single “Sunken Ship” is an ode to breaking away from a major record company for true independence with his own label.
Band of the Year
For the second year in a row, a country band took home NEMA gold for Band of the Year. The Shana Stack Band belts out everything from popular hits to original music written by the band’s rhythm guitarist, Ed Leavitt. From full Texas swing to powerhouse ballads, Stack is soulful, confident and sassy. Check out the band’s killer cover of “Turn On the Radio” by Reba McEntire, where Stack nails McEntire’s hit with no inhibitions.
Male Act of the Year
Boston songwriter Dan Blakeslee has got a firm grip on the eerie-cowboy genre. His song “My Lightening Valentino” is a Western vigilante number that stands out with a violin and an ominous acoustic strum. His album Owed to the Tanglin’ Wind is an old-fashioned compilation of rustic country that goes down as easy as southern style sweet tea — with a little spike.
Female Act of the Year
If Anna Lombard’s voice doesn’t catch your attention, then her brilliantly mastered tracks will. The Maine songstress, who edged past her fierce competition, can pull off vocal magic that is at once, both sweet and powerful. Her most recent release, Head Full of Bells, is an indie opus drawing influence from the likes of Aimee Mann and Susan Tedeschi. Opening track “Leave Town” flaunts perfectly layered guitar riffs and breezy vocals.
New Act of the Year
Hartford Connecticut’s up-and-coming band West End Blend brings a party to the stage. Between booming saxophones and soulful keys, the 11-piece hip-hop and funk band knows how to fill a room with heavy beats. “Take Down,” from the EP What It’s All About, is rich and raw, and seemingly made for sipping champagne to in a speakeasy-style lounge.
Rock Act of the Year
Despite narrowly missing the title of the Last Band Standing last fall, We Were Astronauts has been tearing up the local scene since the competition gave them a well-deserved boost in popularity. These Boston rockers are working on their sophomore EP to follow up “Golden,” their first swing at modern pop. The title track is a lively summer anthem with a jumpy bass line/drum beat combo that’s begging to be played on mainstream radio.
Hip Hop Act of the Year
Lady Essence, a.k.a. Sarah Violette, is a rapper from Portland who commands modern R&B beats. On her 2014 release, The Root of It, she spits out verses with absolute ferocity. Kicking and pushing against the status quo, her original tracks have her rapping over everything from moody piano to thumping electronica.
Best in Massachusetts
The High Hopes Band churns out a mix of soulful beats and socially conscious lyrics that harken back to the golden age of ‘70s-era reggae. Their newest single, “Big Brother,” plays out like a catchy public service announcement about the government’s ever-watching eye.
Best in New Hampshire
Gretchen and the Pickpockets is an offbeat mash-up of jazz, soul, and rock. Lead singer Gretchen Klempa’s rich, velvety vocals soar on “Swimmin’ in the Sea,” a track off their self-titled album with swirling guitars that build into an epic groove fest.
Vick’s Picks (winners & nominees)
Taking cues from Amy Winehouse, Sloan is sassy, witty, has powerhouse pipes and knows her way around a piano.
Dan and The Wildfire
A fun and brassy manifesto of indie pop rock that sounds even bigger and better live.
This 15-year-old songbird plays the ukulele and keys with a confidence well beyond her years.
The Rare Occasions
Rhode Island rock in the raw, born from basement shows and the love of loyal fans.
The Meadow Brothers
Best in Connecticut, these acoustic cowboys kick up more dust than a southbound train.
NEMA Songwriter of The Year breaks out an enigmatic and unorthodox blend of soul and rock best described as stoner garage folk.
Los Sugar Kings
An intoxicating blend of rock guitar, hot Latin beats and gurgling baritone sax that equals one fun summer dance party soundtrack.