Music Article

Minor-League Spring Training 2004

Do these indie acts have a shot at the big time?

The flowers are blooming, the birds are chirping -- and fat beer-swilling men across this great country of ours are ripping the shirts off their sun-neglected torsos to root, root, root for their home teams. (Mmmm. Cracker Jacks, anyone?) To get into the spirit of the 2004 season, L2T headed down to Austin to check out South by Southwest, the music conference where thousands of indie hopefuls try out for major-label scouts each year. Sorta like baseball. So with a little help from Josh Boyd, a music-savvy dude who happens to be a real scout for the San Diego Padres, we picked out some of this year's hottest prospects and broke down their playing history to evaluate their chances of being called up in time for spring training 2005. (He was a little tougher than us.) Okay, enough stretching, already -- here's a look at which players are ready to...play ball! -- Michael Endelman

HOT PROSPECT Jean Grae Whip-smart female rapper who boasts a withering delivery and bruising wit

LATEST RELEASE The Bootleg of the Bootleg EP (2003)

MINOR-LEAGUE SUMMARY She's been mired on mediocre Single A labels (Third Earth and Babygrande) for two years -- far too long.

YOU ARE A FAN IF YOU ARE A... Backpack-toting B-boy who crushes on her looks; anyone who appreciates a verbal beatdown.

READY FOR THE BIGS? OUR SCOUT SAYS... ''I heard good things about her, but truthfully, I was a little disappointed. She has some strong fundamental skills, but it came up short for me.''

L2T SAYS... It's just a matter of finding a coach who's willing to match this talent with topflight collaborators.

HOT PROSPECT Joss Stone Preternaturally deep-voiced 17-year-old soul singer from the backwoods of Britain

LATEST RELEASE The Soul Sessions (2003)

MINOR-LEAGUE SUMMARY Plays for a solid Triple A unit, S-Curve (home to Fountains of Wayne), that's already attached to a major, EMI.

YOU ARE A FAN IF YOU ARE A... Latte-sipping Volvo driver, a nostalgic soul fan, or a boy smitten by the blond belter.

READY FOR THE BIGS? OUR SCOUT SAYS... ''The best of the bunch. Kind of a no-brainer... That's the type of artist that would be on the top of my list. Definite major-league quality.''

L2T SAYS... Since her debut has passed the 500,000 mark, Stone's upcoming full-length (set for fourth quarter, 2004) is a sure bet for the big time.

HOT PROSPECT Interpol Moody NYC quartet with sharp suits and even sharper post-punk riffage

LATEST RELEASE Turn On the Bright Lights (2002)

MINOR-LEAGUE SUMMARY Their independent Double A label, Matador, has a strong legacy of discovering and nurturing talent.

YOU ARE A FAN IF YOU ARE A... Depressed art student; person still upset about Joy Division's breakup (in 1980).

READY FOR THE BIGS? OUR SCOUT SAYS... ''They are a unique talent...but for me it wasn't gonna cut it. Are they gonna have a big hit? The feeling is no. I think they'll top out at Triple A, just short of the big leagues.''

L2T SAYS... Could be a sleeper success, since their debut has sold nearly 275,000 units. Would be a smart buy for an enterprising skipper willing to take a chance.

HOT PROSPECT Ben Kweller Grunge rocker-turned-singer-songwriter on his second trip through the system at age 22

LATEST RELEASE On My Way (2004)

MINOR-LEAGUE SUMMARY Currently with ATO, the label Dave Matthews cofounded, an established Triple A club with a solid history of moving artists into the RCA system.

YOU ARE A FAN IF YOU ARE A... Graying Big Star acolyte or a power-pop fiend.

READY FOR THE BIGS? OUR SCOUT SAYS... ''Lyrically and vocally, I didn't think he was very good. I didn't think it was catchy. I was kinda turned off by the voice; I almost thought it sounded like someone trying to do karaoke...no prospects for me.''

L2T SAYS... There's no denying Kweller's talent, but is he a bit too fragile and obtuse for the big game?

HOT PROSPECT Edgewater Texas quintet that cranks out hard-rock fist pumpers that are already arena-ready

LATEST RELEASE South of Sideways (2004)

MINOR-LEAGUE SUMMARY They're with the Yankees of the indie system: Triple A label Wind-up (Creed, Evanescence) has cranked out more hits than any Mr. October.

YOU ARE A FAN IF YOU ARE A... Creed lover. Ugh.

READY FOR THE BIGS? OUR SCOUT SAYS... ''They have the potential to hit a home run once in a while, though the other bands that are similar to them, like Creed, are stronger. I'd call them a feast-or-famine type, or a Rob Deer-style talent.''

L2T SAYS... Given that this kind of anthemic post-grunge never seems to go outta style, Edgewater will be a journeyman act for the next few years.

HOT PROSPECT Atmosphere Minneapolis' MC Slug and DJ Ant, hip-hop heroes for the makeoutclub.com set

LATEST RELEASE Seven's Travels (2003)

MINOR-LEAGUE SUMMARY They recently made the move to Epitaph, a feisty Double A with a deep roster (Bad Religion, Rancid).

YOU ARE A FAN IF YOU ARE A... Straight-up hip-hop purist or a lovelorn emo kid.

READY FOR THE BIGS? OUR SCOUT SAYS... ''I think there's a lot of potential; MC Slug flashes some plus tools and abilities, but he's inconsistent...mild potential.''

L2T SAYS... Maybe, but their indie-rap ideology is holding them back; if they're willing to shift ideological positions (a la Jurassic 5), the duo could score an A-Rod-size deal.

HOT PROSPECT Kyle Riabko 16-year-old bluesy guitar prodigy from the sticks (no, no, not Jonny Lang)

LATEST RELEASE The EP (2003, only at shows and online)

MINOR-LEAGUE SUMMARY Signed to Columbia farm team Aware, which has groomed acts like John Mayer, Train, and Five for Fighting into franchises.

YOU ARE A FAN IF YOU ARE A... Canadian (he's from Saskatoon, Saskatchewan) or a still-grieving Stevie Ray Vaughan fan.

READY FOR THE BIGS? OUR SCOUT SAYS... ''My first impression was that it was lacking and a little bit short. Minor league, tops. Though some songs showed that the guy has some good guitar speed and agility.''

L2T SAYS... Prodigies are impressive at first glance, but a closer inspection usually reveals some holes in their fundamentals. Like new Rangers acquisition Alfonso Soriano, this guy could use a few years to mature.

HOT PROSPECT Le Tigre All-girl NYC electro-pop trio that makes new-wave jams for grad students

LATEST RELEASE Feminist Sweepstakes (2001)

MINOR-LEAGUE SUMMARY In the dugout for the exciting, if unproven, Double A Strummer label, led by established A&R man Gary Gersh.

YOU ARE A FAN IF YOU ARE A... Riot grrrl or DIY boy; women's studies undergrad.

READY FOR THE BIGS? OUR SCOUT SAYS... ''They have a real original sound to them and great energy. Still, I'm not sure if they would succeed as a big-market team like the Yankees. Seems to be more of a small-market act, say a Brewers or Expos.''

L2T SAYS... A total crapshoot. They've got the energy, the tunes, and the attitude, though arty new wave doesn't have a good track record in the big leagues.

HOT PROSPECT Death Cab for Cutie Seattle-based quartet poised to be the emo-rock U2

LATEST RELEASE Transatlanticism (2003)

MINOR-LEAGUE SUMMARY They are the cornerstone of the small but promising Single A label Barsuk (Nada Surf, Rilo Kiley), beloved on college radio stations nationwide.

YOU ARE A FAN IF YOU ARE A... The O.C.'s Seth, a comp-lit major, or a fragile teen nursing a broken heart.

READY FOR THE BIGS? OUR SCOUT SAYS... ''They were interesting, but vocally it didn't have what it takes for me.... It felt kind of flat, and it definitely didn't seem like something that would make it into the regular rotation.''

L2T SAYS... Could be a franchise-building act; Transatlanticism has sold 122,000 albums with virtually no radio play. Our scout be damned, they are a blue-chip act with a bright future in the majors!

Originally posted Apr 16, 2004 Published in issue #760 Apr 16, 2004 Order article reprints