It's been 3 1/2 years since The Jons released their debut album, Wine at the Hilltop (self-released, 2002), and it seems like they've been working on the follow-up for nearly as long. During that period, the Tucson-via-Nogales combo lost a couple of members and gained a new one, effectively slimming down to a leaner--and yes, meaner--version of their former selves. They're now a sextet: James Peters (drums, percussion, vocals), Charlie Rodriguez (guitars, vocals, French horn), Jon Villa (vocals, trumpet, flugelhorn, theremin), Ricky Custodio (bass, guitar, vocals), Jason Urman (vocals, piano, organ, synth, theremin, sax) and Javier Gamez (trumpet, guitar, vocals). This week finally sees the release of the fruits of their labor, the tongue-in-cheekily titled Greatest Hits Vol. II (self-released), complete with cover art mimicking that of some '70s dinosaur band (and it's driving me batty trying to figure out which one).

Where Wine at the Hilltop was a snapshot of a pack of youthfully exuberant, exceptionally talented players trying to cram as much of their music collections into their songs as possible--with an emphasis on ska, rock en Español and The Beatles--Greatest Hits Vol. II still veers from style to style (or, more accurately, merges many styles at once), but it's also more assured and is far more guitar-heavy (and those guitars get pretty damn heavy in places).

First song "Mirage" opens with a flourish of horns, nearly tribal drums and staccato organ stabs, then takes a momentary ska detour that's--to use a comedy phrase--called back on the second verse. In between, there's a first verse that subtly encompasses all of the track's basic elements, and a chorus that soars expertly. And then there's the bridge, which more overtly merges the fragments of the whole of the song, with even more emphasis on the initial ska break. (I know I'm breaking it down in a rather clinical manner, but the song itself is anything but.) The word "crafted" gets tossed around all too often, but here is a perfect example of a truly crafted song that clocks in at less than three minutes.

While '80s dance-punk revivalist bands are a dime a baker's dozen these days, "Miss Yugatu" is a giddy exercise in the almost forgotten hand-clap-utilizing new wave that, in reality, was far more pervasive in those days of bad clothes and worse haircuts. "Heroes Aren't Alone" is a blazing, ballsy guitar rocker tempered by British Invasion harmonies and abetted by a treated-voice spoken-word break that reappears later in the form of public-domain reportage samples of historical events (e.g., the declaration of World War II, President Kennedy's assassination, the space shuttle Challenger's launch). "Hideaguey" could be the theme to a James Bond flick, if Bond were recast as a Mexican (I smell a pitch!); "Docteur Waters" approximates Paul McCartney and Wings on a bossa nova flight; "Counter Melody" starts out as the theme song to a circus at a jazz club before nicking the melody from Queen's "Killer Queen" (and sounding like early Chicago while doing it); "Holy's Gay" is notable, among other reasons, for being the only song sung in Spanish on the entire album.

Maybe it's down to how often they switch instruments, but The Jons have always given off the vibe, more than most bands, that they're a truly collaborative ensemble. Whether or not that's actually true, if anything, Greatest Hits Vol. II reinforces that notion--and it couldn't be more refreshing.

(It should also be noted that both Jons albums were recorded at Waterworks Studios, with Jim Waters, who is known for his extensive input on the projects he works on. It's only fair to send props his way, too, for the resulting effort here.)

The Jons celebrate the release of Greatest Hits Vol. II at Club Congress, 311 E. Congress St., on Friday, May 12. The show starts at 9 p.m. with openers The Deludes, Swing Ding Amigos and the Ten Percenters. Cover is $6, but you might want to pick up advance tickets, as it may sell out. Call 622-8848 for more details.


When Evil Beaver made the switch from chick/chick duo to chick/dude duo, they dropped much of their overt skankiness. (Early albums were called Lick It and Pleased to Eat You. Early songs: "Ass Salad" and "Chokin the Pearl.") On their latest EP, Models of Virtue (2006), singer/bassist Evie Evil and drummer Gene Trautmann (ex-Queens of the Stone Age) trot out four new songs that at least demonstrate some diversity. "Believin' Deceivin'" resorts to the Beaver of yore, which is to say it sounds like L7 if they had had a clue what a melody was. "Under the Gun" is precisely what Jane's Addiction would have sounded like if they were a bass and drums duo (complete with "mellow" break before getting loud again); their cover of "I Wanna Be Your Dog" could be a Garbage outtake from a Stooges tribute album; and "Cherry Master," meanwhile, could be an outtake from Pleased to Eat You. OK, so maybe they're still kinda skanky.

Evil Beaver perform at the Surly Wench Pub, 424 N. Fourth Ave., on Saturday, May 13. Things get underway at 9 p.m. with sets from Fukuisan Go! and Jumper. For more info, call 882-0009.


Solar Culture Gallery, 31 E. Toole Ave, has a trio of intriguing shows this week, on three consecutive days. Let's run 'em down in chronological order, shall we?

Friday, May 12: Seekonk hail from the other Portland (Maine, that is), and do that slowcore-meets-dream-pop thing that melancholy adolescent girls (and the boys who obsess about them) can't seem to get enough of. Little Black Cloud opens. $5.

Saturday, May 13: Boston's The Sunburned Hand of the Man are a somewhat mysterious collective with a shifting roster of participants that deals in an improvisational merger of freak-folk and cacophony. The Splitters (the new name for the collaboration between Amy Rude and Vicky Brown) open. $6.

Sunday, May 14: The venue hosts a four-act extravaganza. In descending order of appearance: accessible prog-rockers Aloha; former Elephant 6 poppers Elf Power; Instruments; and Phoenix electro-pop duo Peachcake. Call the number below for cover charge.

All three shows start at 9 p.m., and all ages are welcome. Call 884-0874 with questions.

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