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February 22, 2008

RIP Jim Jones

Jim Jones, legendary Cleveland guitarist, passed away Monday at the age of 57.  Among the many bands he played with were Pere Ubu, Easter Monkeys, and Mirrors.  John Petkovic's Plain Dealer piece does a nice job of briefly touching on Jones's many contributions to the Cleveland scene and community.

By all accounts, Jones was instrumental in spreading the word about the Electric Eels, playing various Eels tapes for others over the years following the band's abrupt demise, and ultimately leading to the release of the "Agitated" single on Rough Trade.  Basically, if it weren't for Jones's enthusiasm, it's quite possible that the Eels wouldn't be the touchstone they are today.

Even more than his great support of the Cleveland scene and his role as a music encyclopedia, Jones's guitar work will remain as a great tribute to the man.  In terms of Ubu, it's his guitars on Cloudland that make the album what it is -- Ubu's great pop record.  That lead guitar on "Breath," in particular, is fantastic . . . crisp and permanently looping in my head.  His talent found its best outlet, in my opinion, with the Easter Monkeys.  While the Monkeys had a killer rhythm section in Linda Hudson and Charlie Ditteaux and an inimitable frontman in Chris Yarmock, to me it was Jones's guitar that elevated the band to its status as one of Cle's all-time greatest.  I listened to their LP again tonight and the guitar really drives those songs.  "Take Another Pill," "Underpants," "Nailed to the Cross" . . . they all reach their heights because of Jones.  "Heaven 357" is a long-time favorite, and listening to it again I was impressed with how an essentially rhythm guitar part is able to create the tension and electricity that builds the foundation for Yarmock's vocal.  It's really something to behold.

Anyway, I never got the chance to talk with Jim, but I was lucky enough to see him play in a couple of different bands in Cleveland.  The highlight was probably a free Ubu show at the Rock Hall (I know . . . Rock Hall . . . ugh . . .) circa 2000.  David Thomas called Jones onto the stage, Jones grabbed a guitar, and the band absolutely tore through a vintage Ubu track (I'm not sure, but I think it was "Nonalignment Pact").  Through the whole song, Jones had the biggest grin in the place.

I also remember when I was in high school.  I saw an ad for the Easter Monkeys record in one of the 90's editions of Cle Magazine, and I dutifully sent in my mailorder.  A week or two later, I got the LP in the mail.  Jones had autographed the back of the LP sleeve to me, and he also sent a handwritten note (on Easter Monkeys letterhead!) thanking me for buying the record and telling me that he hoped I enjoyed it.  I've never been too much into memorabilia or autographs, but I've really appreciated, both then and now, the fact that he took time out of his day to "go the extra mile" when he could've just stuck the record in the mailer and shipped it off.  I was just a kid from Ohio ordering a record, but Jones went out of his way to do something extra for me, and that was cool.

For those of you who don't regularly read the ClePunk website, folks who are way more in the know than I -- from fans to Cle rock luminaries -- have been posting their memories of Jim Jones on the site's Bathroom Wall, and it's definitely worth a read.

Thanks for everything, Jim.

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February 19, 2008

"You just leave me alone, and be a real good friend of mine . . ."

For whatever reason, I got it in my head the other day to listen to some Children's Crusade.  Essentially the brainchild of Doug Gillard, the band was put together around '84 and only stuck around long enough to put together a cassette, a posthumous 7", and a handful of live shows.  I missed all this (gimme a break, I was just starting grade school), but I mail-ordered the 7" from Scat during the period of time when I was spending all of my spare change on the label's back catalog.  Surprisingly, the 7" is still available, though I'm guessing there can't be too many (it's a limited edition of 1500).

I go back and forth as to which I think is better.  My copy of the cassette, A Duty-Dance with Death, has always been a personal treasure of mine.  I've never seen how many copies were made, but there couldn't have been too many copies floating around.  The one I got is a dubbed copy of what was probably a 1st generation original that I basically lucked into around 10 years ago after a long time of searching.  I thought I had lost it, but I found it over the summer.

Children's Crusade -- A Duty-Dance With Death

Anyway, A Duty-Dance with Death is described by Gillard as music by "a couple 4AD/Chrome/Killing Joke-influenced high school seniors just coming out of a hardcore punk phase."  I suppose I've got to agree with his assessment, but I'll add that it has that Cleveland (or, in this case Elyria) essence about it, where it's something that people might say gives a hearty nod to its influences, but it really does transcend its influences.

The most well-known track from the cassette is probably "Lurker on the Threshold" by virtue of its inclusion on the 1985 They Pelted Us with Rocks and Garbage LP compilation (which also features Spike In Vain, Offbeats, the Reactions, the Guns, and a hearty handful of other mid-80's Cle heavy-hitters).  I think the classic is "Decade of the Worm," with its sizzling Gilliard guitar leads and vocalist Fraser Sims's rock apocalypse lyrics, featuring alternating refrains of "Underground, we are so underground" and "Bury us, bury us, our culture is dead / Bury us, bury us, dead is our culture."  Early Gillard maximum riffage highlights "Man-Gun" and we get one Sims's more dramatic performances in the first movement of "Operate/Art Student."  And if you're looking for a mid-80's Cle anthem, "Bleak Outpost" will probably do the job.

The charm of A Duty-Dance with Death is enhanced by its somewhat improbable origins.  All of the instruments --drums, bass, and guitar -- were recorded in-studio by Gillard.  Legend has it that once the recordings were complete, Gillard asked Sims to come in and add vocals.  Without having heard any of the songs before, Sims showed up with a notebook of lyrics, came up with melodies, and laid down the vocals.  Pretty impressive for anyone, let alone a couple of kids in 1984 Cleveland.

After finishing the cassette, Gillard put together a band to perform live, and it was probably during this time that Gillard and Sims really found the "Children's Crusade sound" that is present on the Scat 7", Scorpio Moon

Children's Crusade -- Scorpio Moon

To me, "Blue Venus Aflame," the first Scorpio Moon track, represents the recorded debut of Gillard's stunning lead guitar work.  It's a lengthy song, and you can tell that the time -- however brief -- spent with the full band gave Gillard and Sims the chance to flesh these songs out in a way that wasn't possible with the songs from the cassette (even though all of the instruments on Scorpio Moon, like the cassette, were played by Gillard).  The layered guitar riffs float above and around the simple, but driving, drums, pinned down only by Sims's stark, intense, almost desperate vocals.  Everything really takes off mid-song, when Gillard's lead kicks in real good.  This is the genesis of Gillard's best guitar work -- never too flashy, always melodic, and perfectly suited to the song.

The EP's other tracks might not be up to the stellar level of the A-side, but they're memorable in their own right.  "Your Time Is Through" is Children's Crusade in their most punk moment.  It's a solid, fairly straightforward rocker -- the kind of thing you need after "Blue Venus Aflame" -- and I swear you can almost hear the Dead Boys in there when the bridge kicks in.  "St. Jack's Bible" is the original version of "Gimme Your Heart" from Cobra Verde's first record.  I prefer "St. Jack's," mostly because I think Sims's feverish vocals work a little better on this one than John Petkovic's.

If you're a fan of Gillard's or Sims's later work (Death of Samantha, Gem, Cobra Verde, GBV, and a bunch of others for Gillard, and Starvation Army and some others for Sims) and you haven't heard any of the Children's Crusade stuff, you're likely to be impressed at how versatile these two guys are.  While it's still possible to get your hands on the 7", it's a bit of a tragedy that A Duty-Dance with Death has never seen a wider release.  Maybe that's because both Gillard and Sims moved on to bigger and better things.  I also tend to believe that there's truth to the story that the original tapes were recorded in a way that effectively prevents them from being replayed today. 

Still, though, I hold out hope that maybe one day someone with the money and resources (Exit Stencil, I'm looking your way) might be able to rerelease A Duty-Dance in a way that does it justice, much like what CDR did with the excellent Tommy Jay rerelease.   Until then, if you're really desperate for a copy, I'm sure you can try to contact Gillard through MySpace, and if not, you know how to get a hold of me if you want a third-generation dub.

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February 17, 2008

This weekend in Rock

Both Friday and Saturday's Donewaiting.com Fifth Anniversary shows were pretty much great from start to finish.  Here's my highlights, in no particular order:

  • The collaboration between Blueprint and Brainbow was nothing short of epic.  I'm no expert in rap-rock collaborations, but this was easily the best one I've ever heard.  Brainbow's usually outstanding on their own, but they totally jived with Blueprint last night.  There was a high level of electricity there through the whole set, and even though everything sounded spontaneous and fresh, you could tell that all involved put in a good deal of effort to make this work so well.  It was billed as a one-time only thing, but if these two ever get together again, I'm there.
  • El Jesus de Magico really shined on Saturday night as well.  Every El Jesus record is great, and this set put everyone on notice that they're getting better.  I dug seeing Jon hold court on the high stage at Skully's.  I'm looking forward to seeing them as they start to play out with more frequency in the coming months, and I'm betting their new record will be a keeper as well.
  • I though the Sinkane set took the biscuit for the Friday night slate at Carabar, which was excellent from start to finish.  This was my first opportunity to listen to Sinkane, and I was blown away.  I'm always a sucker for the 3+ guitar lineup, and this ensemble took that to great heights.  There was noise, there was beauty, there were controlled freakouts.  A record is supposed to be out this Spring -- add it to the growing list of must-hear's.
  • This Moment in Black History got Carabar jumping in ways I'd never seen before.  This was my first time seeing TMIBH live (actually, it was my first time seeing all the bands that played Friday night), and while I've always dug the records, the live set took it to the next proverbial level.  I respect how these guys acknowledge their NE Ohio predecessors -- they've recorded covers of Devo, Easter Monkeys, and Spike In Vain (all personal faves) -- and how they're able to fit so much substance into such a rockin' package.
  • Grave Blankets rocked.  High energy jams from start to finish.  This is another one I feel stupid for having never caught before (though I have heard one of their 7"s).

All in all, I can't believe we only had to pay $5 in cover charges to catch these two nights of top-shelf Ohio music.  Cheers to Donewaiting and all involved in putting on these shows.

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February 07, 2008

Twentieth Century Apprenticeship on eMusic

Lee Wadlinger's Twentieth Century Apprenticeship

As part of the celebration for the eleven-month anniversary of the release of the Lee Wadlinger Twentieth Century Apprenticeship EP, I've put it up on eMusic.  You can check it here.

And while you're there, check out the Dreadful Yawns Live at Schubas set from 2004.  I like that one, and I think it's one of those eMusic-only deals.

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February 05, 2008

Moviola: Broken Horses

To me, Moviola will always be best as a singles band.  Maybe instead of "singles band" I should say "EP band," but I think "singles band" sounds better.  Either way, I got to know this Columbus institution via the single/EP, and so they're an ace singles band to me. 

I was a relative latecomer to Moviola's lengthy mid-to-late-90's parade of 7"s that seemingly came out on every small (and cool) label from the Midwest to New England.  As a kid in Cleveland digging the Ohio lo-fi rock, I suppose it was inevitable Moviola would be right up my alley, though for whatever reason it wasn't until I picked up their Wabana split 7" with Cobra Verde that I signed up for good.  I bought the Wabana split for the CV tune, but Moviola outshined their NE Ohio counterparts.  Where Cobra Verde's gave me one decent enough late-Gillard era CV rock track, Moviola responded with three (count 'em) home-recorded classics.  This was how I liked my music: melodic and genuine, with the right amount of fuzz and general Ohio weirdness lurking around the corners.  I was sold, and from then on whenever another one of those Moviola EP's popped up in the 7" bin, I was taking it home.

Moviola's full length records have always been keepers.  I remember giving "1970" and "Wisdom Teeth" from The Year You Were Born a good amount of spins on my old Made In Ohio show on UD's Flyer Radio back in the day (and I was especially psyched when station management decreed that "Flag You Down" from the then brand-new Durable Dream would go into the station's "heavy rotation").  Glen Echo Autoharp is another personal favorite, and last year's Dead Knowledge was one of the highlights of a pretty solid year of LP's (dig the WoW review). 

Moviola's Broken Horses 

As good as those full-length records have been to me, though, I keep finding myself going back to the EP's.  I suppose that's one of the main reasons that I've been enjoying the "new" Moviola full-length so much.  Released a few weeks ago on Spirt of Orr, Broken Horses is an "early rarities" album that collects songs from across those "golden age" EP years (approximately 1994-2001).  As most of these collections do, it's got something for everyone:  For the uninitiated, there's classics like the title track and the epic "City Like This."  For the more seasoned veterans, there's previously unreleased gems like the laid back, acoustic "County Lines," "Half As Long" (featuring the trademark Moviola electric lead and high harmony), and the mesmerizing "Signals Crossed," along with a driving live version of "Bank Machine."

The common thread through everything here -- whether it's an old or new track -- is that sorta hard-to-explain "Moviola quality."  It's all pretty much lo-fi, but it's not the joyously loud and agressive lo-fi you know from your Electric Eels or Times New Viking records.  Instead, it's a cleaner, more relaxed sound.  Not sterile or antiseptic, but clearer, kind of a more organic and engaging East River Pipe-type sound, if that means anything.  I guess what I'm trying to say is that these are largely self-produced, "lo-fi" recordings, but, like the best self-produced, lo-fi recordings (i.e., those done by the likes of GBV and TNV), the sound suits the song and the band.  That means that "Greenwood" sounds crisp, airy, and subtle, with its quiet guitars and floating vocals, and "Inhalants" sounds a bit haphazard but focused, with its muddied guitars and drums that are punctuated by controled hits of distorted vocals and feedback.  Basically, the medium is made to fit the message, or something.

In a weird way, maybe the most impressive thing about Broken Horses is that its 60+ minutes are loaded with so much great stuff, even though (according to Spirit of Orr) the CD represents a mere third of Moviola's non-album material.  For every song like "Inhalants" or "Bass Kids Ears," there's an equally memorable one like "Empty Ford" or "Calling on the Line" that didn't make the cut.  There's so much here, it makes you want to head over to your local used record store to see if they might have the elusive two or three Moviola records that you need to fill in the gaps in your collection.  After all, it's all good.

Broken Horses is available from Spirit of Orr in a limited edition of 300 CDR (with handmade cover).  I'm tempted to say it's a good companion piece to Dead Knowledge, but that really wouldn't be doing it justice.  It stands on its own as a vital document of one of the great enduring Ohio bands from the last 15 years.

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