In Dave Cloud’s February 2015 obituary for The Nashville Scene, writer Dave Ridley describes the locally notorious actor and musician as “someone who sent lightning bolts of manic creative energy scattering in every direction, starting fires wherever they hit”. The brief article is followed by over a dozen reader comments, troll-free and actually worth reading (an internet rarity), many offering favorite odd quotes or memories of quirky interactions with Cloud, who, by all accounts, just plain did not possess an off button. It’s the kind of homage that makes one truly regret never knowing the person being celebrated. Fire Records’ release of Today Is the Day That They Take Me Away, the final album from Cloud and his band, the Gospel of Power, offers an excellent initiation for those of us arriving late to Mr. Cloud’s sublime freak show of a career.
Cloud was the kind of outsider artist whose presence on the periphery of any artistic scene is a necessary engine, and the more straight-laced and commercial-minded the scene, the more his type of character is needed. Hence, Nashville was the perfect incubator for his twisted genius. Ground zero for the big-label music machine production of sterile country-pop for the masses, Nashville draws a collection of stubborn visionaries whose commitment to countering corporate stylistic dictates creates a fertile underground scene. Cloud was, by most local accounts, among the most infamous and beloved within that scene. This collection is a fitting epitaph, capturing Cloud in top form and a great introduction to his unique vision. The vinyl and CD versions of the release include a code that enable purchasers to download an additional ten cuts, bringing the collection’s total to a generous 27 songs.
Not just garage rock, Today Is the Day That They Take Me Away is kitchen sink rock and roll; just about every influence one can think of is present in this album’s swirling mass of sonic energy. Cloud channels Captain Beefheart with alacrity throughout, perhaps nowhere more distinctly than in his howling vocals on “DNA”, while he resurrects the late Lux Interior’s bark on Buddy Knox’s “Party Doll”. The opening build of “Shoot Me Juice, Lucy” recalls the opening of Guns N’ Roses’ “Welcome to the Jungle”, but Cloud’s entreaties in the song are both more welcoming and sinister than those of Axl Rose’s moralistic runaway fantasy. “Melt Like Butter” buzzes like Pink Flag-era Wire. “Soixante Neuf” appropriates a Stooges riff while the nearly ten-minute live cut, “Oh No, She’s Mine” opens like a Pere Ubu slow jam. “Damn Damn Damn Damn” is vintage garage rock, and the title track presents a morning-after cacophony of inner voices concluding “I must’a gotten high last night.”
Cloud’s bandmates, particularly Matt Bach and Matt Swanson, deserve ample praise for their commitment to Cloud’s sonic vision. Like Beefheart’s expert instrumental companions, the musicians surrounding Cloud inhabit their leader’s vision and ably jump from one genre to another at will. Consistently throughout, Cloud’s persona is restless and profane, his vision psychedelic and prophetic. Yet, by all accounts from those who knew him, his was a welcoming vision, an entreaty to step outside the norm, to free mind and body in the power and energy of public performance art, where any gathering could be a stage. His last words on the last cut of the full-length record, “Lebanon Road” encapsulate it all: “Join the party, baby. Join the party.”