Mondo Drag

When Mondo Drag drummer/singer Johnnie Cluney says that "we're kind of bringing in more of a pop element" to the band's new songs, take that with a giant rock of salt.

The Quad Cities-based band released its full-length debut, New Rituals, on the Alive Naturalsounds Records label last month, and it's a hazy, sludgy affair - bluesy psychedelia borrowing heavily from the 1960s and recalling the contemporary sounds of Dead Meadow.

Yet there are indeed hints of accessible melody in the massive riffs and thick keyboards. "Love Me" hides on its downslope a compelling ascending chorus with heavy vocal emphasis on the downbeat. Calling it poppy is a stretch, but it opens the door to the remainder of the song. "True Visions" has a similar late revelation, with moaning layers of keyboards and guitars as its extended coda.

The quintet - celebrating the release of New Rituals on Saturday at the River Music Experience's Performance Hall - has begun to build a national profile. The band had its session released last week, and even though that Web site is based in the Quad Cities, it certainly doesn't play favorites with hometown bands.

'Moondances Chapter One'The benefit compilation CD Moondances Chapter One begins with a song Ellis Kell wrote in memory of his daughter, and it ends with one written following his father's death. The second track, "You Can't Hurt Us Anymore" was penned for Sheltering Kevin, a documentary by Carolyn Wettstone about domestic violence.

That suggests a generosity not only of time and art but of spirit. Kell is not merely sharing his talents but also his difficult experiences and his heart. "I've always tried to draw something positive out of when these things happen, whether it was my daughter's passing or my father's passing," he said. "And we share these things with other people."

Naomi GreenwaldMany people lost a big chunk of their savings in last year's stock-market plunge, and that could have included Naomi Greenwald.

But before the markets tanked, Greenwald took her savings out. That money's now gone, but at least she has something to show for it: her self-titled debut album.

The Los Angeles-based Greenwald, who will be performing a free show at Mojo's on Saturday (in a duo with guitarist Jason Orme, who was part of Alanis Morissette's band), said that she has long been torn between school and music. She's 28 now and has just finished the second year of a five-year Ph.D. program at USC.

Ready the Destroyer

The first thing to notice about the music of Chicago's Ready the Destroyer is that singer Neill Miller's guitar has a lot to say. Some guitarists are technically proficient, but the really good ones are able to give their instruments a voice. Miller's sings.

The unsigned Chicago trio -- which will be playing at the River Music Experience's performance hall on Friday and Mixtapes on April 3 -- plays punk-ish music with a strong sense of melody on both guitar and bass, not unlike the Alkaline Trio and Interpol, and clearly influenced by Hüsker Dü. It's a lean, rigorous, muscular sound in which the guitar, bass, and voice are all fighting to be the lead instrument - a busy din but without discord.

Reader issue #710 Ask Polyrhythms' Nate Lawrence about the highlights of more than two years presenting the Third Sunday jazz series at the River Music Experience, and his response tells you a great deal about his goals.

"Lenora Helm put together a choir real quick, out of the kids, and they're doing 'Ain't Misbehavin','" he recalled last week. "Ray Blue, he had a six-piece with percussionists and whatnot, and as soon as the workshop was over, the kids just bum-rushed the stage. They sat at the piano. Some of the kids just grabbed the mic and started singing. Some kids went to the congas and started playing. The drummer got up, the kids sat down. It's hands-on. Those are the high points."

Lois Deloatch - Hymn to FreedomWhen Lois Deloatch recorded what became Hymn to Freedom in late 2006, she intended it as a tribute to pianist Oscar Peterson, a living legend.

But one of the perils of being an independent artist is that albums done right require patience. "I'm a totally independent artist," the North Carolina-based Deloatch said earlier this week, in advance of her November 16 performance and workshop at the Redstone Room. "When you're literally doing every piece of it yourself, it takes a little bit of time."

"Everybody's like, 'What happened?'"

That's Chris Jansen, artistic director of New Ground Theatre, recalling a common comment received in the months after June's New Ground production of Living Here at Davenport's Nighswander Theatre.

It turns out that something rather monumental has happened with New Ground, as Jansen and her organization have rented the Village of East Davenport's Turner Hall, and are in the process of having a number of local theatrical groups join them there. But you can certainly understand the concern of Jansen's audiences, as one of New Ground's most recent pieces appeared to be almost frighteningly prophetic.