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Well-written songs mean the difference 

We said in this space before the Arkansas Times Musicians Showcase began that good songs don't lie. We meant that no matter the genre and no matter what the judges' particular music preferences were, they'd be able to determine the acts with the best songs. Not that it was easy picking, but it appears from this view that the four acts who have advanced to the Feb. 28 Showcase finals were just that: the ones with the best songs. Last week, the Sara Thomas Band, a tight outfit with a cute frontwoman who sounds a little like Jewel meets Natalie Merchant and a backing trio of solid musicians, advanced in the fourth semifinal round at Juanita's Cantina Ballroom. Sara and her group edged out Between the Second, Further Down and Deas Veil, a last-second fill-in. Deas Veil, fronted by Wes Blaylock, deserves high praise for rolling in from Russellville on such short notice with the Subcons had to back out because of illness, and they displayed an good original sound that figures only to get better with more time on stage. Blaylock must come by his talent naturally, since his sister, Hannah, and parents make up half of another finalist, the bluegrass-country-pop sounding Lost and Found. I personally liked what Between the Second was trying to do, which was blend a Tool or A Perfect Circle sound with what might seem like a goth, Evanescence stage appearance. I'm expecting to hear more good things about this band (they play Vino's regularly), as well as the rocking, Finger 11-like sound of Jonesboro's Further Down. Both put on impressive stage shows. Sara Thomas, a semifinalist last year but significantly improved since then, mixed acoustic driven ballads with peppy rockers, and Ben Harris' fine lead guitar work with the rhythm of drummer David Hoffpauir and bassist Chris Micheals didn't hurt one bit. The PoeBoy Society, fronted by the energetic and Jagger-channeling John Neal, won the first semifinal on Jan. 22. Fayetteville jazz- and reggae-influenced jam band Grandpa's Goodtime Fandango was the second week winner. Those two along with Hannah Blaylock and Lost and Found and the Sara Thomas Band will face off in a week at Juanita's to claim this year's title of Best Original Music Band in Arkansas. The winner will receive $200 in music equipment from the Guitar Center, food from Trio's restaurant, a web-site design by Kelly Franklin, 10 hours of recording time from Doghouse studio in west Little Rock, a photo shoot by the Times' Brian Chilson, ad space in the Times, beer from Harbor Distributing and more. But how many times have we said it's not the prizes for the winner, but the exposure; and you'll be doing yourselves a favor to catch these four diverse acts in one setting at Juanita's, starting at 9:30 Feb. 28. We'll have some juicy door prizes, including a weekend at Summit House Apartment Homes. From the "I'm gonna spell this guy's name right if it means misidentifying him" department: Evanescence diehards tell me that the dapper young man on the Grammy Award stage with the group that I identified last week as guitarist John LeCompt (no "e" on the end) was actually former group member David Hodges. Hodges actually left the band before 2003 and the debut of the CD "Fallen," but I'm told his keyboard handiwork appears throughout the record. He also is credited with co-writing "Bring Me to Life" with another former group member, Ben Moody, and lead singer Amy Lee. Besides the Best New Artist Grammy in which the former and current members accepted, the group won Best Hard Rock Performance. Evanescence was nominated for five Grammys. While in New York last week, we were caught up in all the media excitement for the Yankees' trade to acquire superstar shortstop Alex Rodriguez from the Texas Rangers. It was usually the first or second news story on the radio or television - a brutal murder in the Bronx of a Chinese food delivery boy did move it off the top part of the weekend - and The New York Times even put the news on Page 1. That paper's business section should have tackled the most interesting aspect of the trade: that the Rangers will still pay $67 million of Rodriguez's nearly $180 million salary remaining on his contract. Part of that is deferred money from the past three years, but still, it says much about baseball that a team would pay several million for a player NOT to play for them. The $10 beer at the ballgame is just around the corner. If your on a typical Arkansas wage, traveling to see the Cardinals, Rangers, Yankees or whoever may be out of reach. Maybe that will help the local Arkansas Travelers enjoy an attendance resurgence.
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