Touting only one guy named Jon (singer/trumpet player Jon Villa; the other members are drummer James Peters, singer/guitarist/keyboardist Sergio Mendoza, singer/bassist Ricardo Custodio, singer/keyboardist/saxophonist Jason Urman, singer/trombonist Jose Barnett, and singer/guitarist/trumpeter Escubi), the band somewhat inexplicably settled on The Jons, as well as a brand-new, sexy mod-girl logo (keep your eyes peeled for their unmistakable van around town). With the new name in tow, they added a few new members, began to practice in earnest and started recording their debut album with producer Jim Waters at WaterWorks studio.
Like we said, it's a bit tough to follow the full details of the band's formation and early years, and in a way that's appropriate: the music found on the finished product, the too-short Wine at the Hilltop (self-released and out this week following a solid year of work), is stylistically everywhere at once, and joyously so.
The album opens with stomping drums and a cheering crowd, which escalates into a wailing sound--a human voice?--which finally drops out, and a nifty, pummeling guitar riff and horn section take over, with more menacing shrieks buried in the din. That's the first 1:29, then it's off to a few seconds of an ol-skool '80s synth loop, a quiet voice that informs you, "We're gonna try different things," and all of a sudden you're smack in the middle of one of the most radio-friendly power-pop songs since Rick Springfield dropped "Jesse's Girl," angelic backing vocals all over the place. There's a catchy bridge ("She's not alright," delivered in a suave croon a la the Strokes), then another bridge, with creepy harmonies answering "Come to my little house" to the singer's calls of "I'll give you my lovin," "She's really bangin'" and something or other about a father and a mother, before abruptly shifting into a funky groove with the phasers set on "dance!" Then it's over, already all embedded in your brain, despite the fact that there hasn't even been time for a proper chorus yet. We're still only at the four-minute mark.
It's a huge, unabashed pop sound that's as fresh as it is reverent, and it establishes The Jons as one of the most purely enjoyable bands in a town currently boiling over with them.
The Jons celebrate the release of Wine at the Hilltop with a CD release party at 9 p.m. on Saturday, December 21, at San Francisco Bar & Grill, 3922 N. Oracle Road. Chango Malo and Good Talk Russ open. For more information call 292-2233.
SPANKS FOR THE MEMORIES: While growing up, I was always jealous of my friends who had annual family reunions that would inevitably, if drunkenly, wind up being family jam sessions. My own family never counted among its members so much as a single musician (save my pathetic attempts at "You Shook Me All Night Long" and virtually the entire Skynyrd catalog on guitar in my basement) so I invented a fictional family that could pick and grin with the best of 'em. There was the uncle who was fond of Hank Williams, Willie Dixon and whisky, though not necessarily in that order, and the slightly loony, Betty Boop-voiced great aunt who could remember an astounding number of songs from her vaudeville days.
Austin's Asylum Street Spankers are the musical family I never had. With an ever-revolving lineup (though Christina Marrs, Wammo and the recently back-in-the-fold Guy Forsyth, singers and multi-instrumentalists all, are consistently on board), the group performs virtually all styles of old-timey American music, but keeps things in the here and now by writing songs about, say, the hypocrisy of the "war on drugs." In fact, the band once recorded an entire album, Spanker Madness (2000, Spanks-a-Lot), of odes to vices both illicit and legal.
Oh, and speaking of "acoustic," you should probably know that when the band performs live, they use absolutely no amplification whatsoever. Aside from a few clinking beer bottles, be prepared to witness the band in hushed reverence, which would probably happen even if they did have amps.
Witness Asylum Street Spankers at 9 p.m. on Friday, December 20, at Club Congress, 311 E. Congress St. Admission is $10 and, oddly, the band has requested that there be no smoking for its performance. Questions? Ring 'em up at 622-8848.
THE POLITICS OF DANCING: Calling L.A.-based musical collective Ozomatli a "political" band might be accurate, but it also sells the band's fun factor short. Ozomatli is political in the same way that Fela Kute, The Clash or even Bob Marley were; that is, all were angry, but managed to channel that anger into positive optimism, a naively (in the right way) encouraging force for change, besides sporting some pretty heady songs. In Ozo's case, those songs seamlessly blend elements of jazz-funk, turntablist hip-hop, rock en espanol, kinky reggae and Eastern flourishes, as heard through the boomin' system of your cousin Carlos' tricked-out El Cam.
Ozomatli performs on Thursday, December 19, at the Rialto Theatre, 318 E. Congress St. Slowrider opens the show at 8 p.m. Advance tickets are available for $15 at all Zia locations, at the Rialto box office, or online at www.rialtotheatre.com. They'll be $20 at the door. Call 798-3333 for further details.