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Nashville Scene The Gospel Truth

Dave Cloud is an American original

By Heather Nelson

DECEMBER 7, 1999:  Dave Cloud has lived in Nashville for decades, but his name is likely familiar only to late-night regulars at Springwater. They know him as the wide-eyed, middle-aged man singing love songs with lyrics that sound like a perverse cross between Neil Diamond and Tom Waits. Of course, lots of people can climb onstage and croon a ballad to a pretty girl, but Cloud is a singer with a difference. In a town teeming with would-be stars, he's a born entertainer. He knows all the rock-god poses, he knows how to work a crowd, and he exudes charisma.

Cloud's well-tended beer gut might belie the superstar image he so gleefully toys with, but that's the point: Anyone can be a star--if only to a handful of people in a dingy beer hall. Cloud will admit that his stage persona is a put-on, that his legions of followers barely number in the double digits, but his evangelical enthusiasm convinces listeners to join in the illusion. For what is rock 'n' roll without a frontman, a seductive personality who takes us along for a three-minute ride?

Obviously, theatrics are involved when Dave Cloud takes the stage, but he isn't just camping it up. He is a rock musician, but with a twist. He betrays a unique sense of melody with his deep throaty growls, and his band takes the tired three-chord formula and transforms it into something at once droning, dissonant, and strangely catchy--love songs played at full rock 'n' roll volume.

Dave Cloud's Gospel of Power includes frontman and guitarist Cloud, guitarist Paul Booker, drummer Matt Bach, bassist Matt Swanson, and trumpeter Brian Boling. Though Cloud began performing around town four years ago--as part of the freewheeling duo C.O.B.S. with James Clauer--only now is he releasing his first CD, the 19-song Dave Cloud Presents: Songs I Will Always Sing. Recorded by Swanson on a four-track, the disc mixes explosive electric tunes with a few pared-down acoustic numbers, among them an upbeat cover of Herman's Hermits' "I'm Into Something Good" and a mournful version of Bob Dylan's "Lay, Lady, Lay."

Most of the songs, however, are Cloud originals, such as the alarming, albeit amusing, "I'll Run the Jack on You," in which he warns an ex-lover, "You broke my heart baby.../one way to get away/I'll run the jack on you now." In "Sleep All Day," Cloud rails against an "abusive boyfriend [who] won't get out of the way" and then reenacts a kung fu fight scene.

But not all of his songs indulge such violent fantasies. Take "Teenage Bossman," in which Cloud's wage-slave disillusionment gives way to his sense of humor: "Sorry, I don't know how to listen to a teenage bossman.... I'm doing just fine--I've got my wine." Love songs comprise the majority of the material, and it's here where Cloud most indulges his lounge lizard role, as in the following lyrics from "Living in Your Love": "I'm grooving on your scene/I'm hip to every single thing you do/Because I love you so.... /I'm living in your love." This is the rare man who appreciates Engelbert Humperdink and Black Sabbath.

Songs I Will Always Sing may be stuffed with more than an hour's worth of material, but there were plenty more songs that didn't even fit on the CD. When asked about his favorite song that didn't make the album, Cloud mentions the tune "Insatiable."

"There's a funny thing about 'Insatiable,' " he booms. "I saw a porno movie, and I don't like porno movies much, but this one had a theme song. I stole all the words from the theme song and put it to different music, and now it's called 'Insatiable.' I taunt the porn people to claim a copyright. I will sing anything from a porn tape I want to sing. I don't want to alienate anyone by saying that, but music comes from everywhere. It comes from the gutter, it comes from heaven, and it comes from Springwater--which is the perfect equidistant point between the gutter and heaven."

Like a street prophet, Cloud doesn't pause or grasp for words when he speaks. Grandiose phrases and ideas just tumble out in his low, gravelly voice. Speaking in long, run-on sentences, he explains the Gospel of Power:

"If Dave Cloud's Gospel of Power ever had a gift to give," he begins, "it was the gift of self-actualization.... Every week across the flagstone floors [of Springwater], our sound, in a polished and undiminished capacity, soaked into the bodies of some who had doubted that life held real promise. But after our shows, they affirmed us as vessels of God's forgiveness and affirmation.

"We were glad to own up to this, because we were drinking a lot of beer and spending a lot of time in our cars [at Springwater], which could have been transplanted from Tunica, Miss., to the entrance of Centennial Park. And you know, I'm not quite sure it wasn't. Sometimes we go on at 1:50 in the morning to five people, but those people need us. We bear a human obligation to sustain their life force which is on the very cusp of total dissipation, and we've got to reenergize them so they can continue to drink Natural Light beer."

Now, that's a man who understands his mission. At the same time, Cloud goes on to muse philosophically that he's not even sure what a song really is. He finally seizes upon the notion that a song grows from a free association of visual imagery, moods, and attitudes. That description just about sums up his own music, the source power in his Gospel: Cloud assumes a rock pose and erupts into a musical frenzy with blazing guitar licks and undeniable charm. And somewhere in there is a song--one just waiting for some believers.

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