"Jim Shelley's music is full of wide ranging emotions, solid songwriting, and musical variety and depth that you rarely find coupled with such creative muscle and talent. Any of his releases come highly recommended."
--GAJOOB magazine



Note: Jim never made it much of a priority to send his albums to music magazines to be reviewed and indeed stopped the practice altogether in 2007. These are all the reviews that I've been able to collect over the years, though it must be noted that several (for example, the infamous MAXIMUM ROCK'N'ROLL review of BLOOM OR DIE?) have apparently been lost for good. If you perchance might happen open a review not included here, why not send a copy to jnipe@aol.com? Thanks!

Jordan Williams's extensive reviews of Book of Kills releases through 2005's I CAN'T GIVE YOU ANYTHING BUT LOVE can be found here.


Bloom or Die

'Checked the box, found this one's been sitting there since 1989. Oops! Guess Jim found a subtle way to remind me to review it (with his letter concerning the viability of homemade music.) Anyway, glad he did. Shelley produced this cassette at home with his Portastudio "and a lot of cheapo effects." Got to say it's not the best recording I've ever heard - a lot of stuff crammed on that skinny tape - but it's fun nevertheless. Jim likes abrasive/primitive psychopunk, with lots of acidic chainsaw guitar and Lydonesque vocal squalls. Once again, energy, guts and superior material prevail over technical limitations.'

--Alternative Press (Issue #33)

'Bloom or Die? is the first tape from Book of Kills, which is hometaping extraordinaire James Shelley. Recorded in 1989 on a Tascam 244 Portastudio, this recording consists of 11 tracks on which Shelley plays all the instruments. Most of the songs have a late 70s-early 80s pop/punk sound. The musicianship is rather impressive, especially considering that this is a one-man show. The continuous use of distortion, along with a so-so production make the whole recording sound a bit fuzzy, and this becomes redundant about mid-way through the tape. Nevertheless, Bloom or Die? includes some Shelley standouts such as "The Night John Lennon Died," "Girl Can't Help It!" amd "(I Just Wanna Be) Normal," which makes it a must-have for Shelley fans and also a good introduction to the man himself.'

--Kim Ware-Mathews (Gajoob 7/4/97)

For the Good of the Cause

'Okay, I want to wrap up with two new efforts from artists we've heard from before. First up is Jim Shelley a.k.a. Book of Kills, whose new tape, For the Good of the Cause is available on his own Ain't Records label (PO Box 313, Dayton, VA 22821). Side one features Jim's original songs, many recorded as demos for his abortive deal with MiracleWorks Records. Recording quality varies, but for the most part these songs are great, framing smart and cruel works within classic pop and rock arrangements. I loved "Simple World," a surreal, paranoic and darkly funny folk song. Side two is a collection of real folk songs; blues, ballads and gospel numbers which Jim has tugged like screaming, rocking newborns into the 90s. The way the old words come alive is miraculous and inspiring; I haven't heard the likes of this since the Byrds. Ya gotta get it.'

--Alternative Press (Issue #45)

'Another tape from Jim Shelley of Dayton, Virginia. Side one is original stuff and quite good. "Simple World," "I'm Glad I'm Not a Rock Star," and "The Sound of a Door Closing" are really great, worth the price of the tape alone. Side two is a masterful collection of deconstructed folk songs. Absolutely unique. You need to get this tape. I don't know of another more passionate singer/songwriter in rock music today.'

--In the Underground (Issue #3)

'This reminded me of music in days gone past (Rolling Stones, Beatles, Bob Dylan, etc.) The first impression {I got} of this tape was the Talking Heads. The sound was there, the voice was there, etc. There is some very good music here and I would like to hear some current (new) stuff from Jim Shelley. Song notes: No Time For Love - I like this one the best. It's put together very well and the words are very good. Dear Annie - I think {Jim} did a good job of capturing the Paul McCartney and George Harrison angle. The vocals remind me a little of Bob Dylan. Revelation - Good tune, nice words. This tape is recorded with a low quality, so it is hard to get a good feel for the songs. I would like to hear a better quality tape as there is some good potential here.'

-- Sticks (4/19/93)

The Haunted Life

'As readers of In the Underground know, I am a big fan of Jim Shelley's music. I am delighted to report that his new tape, The Haunted Life , is his best effort yet. Shelley's first album, Bloom or Die, was an out and out fuzz fest, but For the Good of the Cause , his second, was a clear indication that he was broadening his musical scope to include a softer, acoustic side in addition to the rockers. Haunted Life owes much of its sound to Basement Tapes -era Bob Dylan, with its clever, often puzzling lyrics and its heavy reliance on acoustic guitars, quieter drums, and harmonica. At times Shelley sounds like he's even imitating Bob's vocal stylings, but I think that's as much an homage to the master as anything. "Heaven," "Fool for Love," the incredible epic 'Notes from Underground," and "In My Room" are standouts, but there isn't a clunker on the whole tape, believe me. Get this one, folks. It is one of the best albums of 1992. (****)'

--In the Underground (Issue #6)


"Unplug your ears and let some truth fill your brain! THE HAUNTED LIFE is a loopy masterpiece from one-man band Book of Kills (aka Jim Shelley). Sharp, enigmatic lyrics combine with spooky/spirited instrumentation to create an album not like anything you're probably going to hear this year and maybe any year to come!"

-- Orbital (December 13, 1992)

'Add Jim Shelley to your list of highly prolific, consistently proficient DIY artists. Shelley delivers the goods one song after another on this release. It's got a raw, Dylanesque kind of street poetry feel to it, complete with harmonica. Recorded at home, this one's got a gritty emotional muscle. And the songs are damn good, too. Highly recommended.

-- Bryan Baker - Gajoob circa 1993)

Don't Stop the Scream

'Book of Kills, Don't Stop the Scream: On this, his third and most powerful album, home recordist Jim Shelley veers from sunny pop to harsh punk, yet manages to weave both into a cohesive whole. That's because even the sweetest of tunes here has an unsettling edge, while his darkest nightmares are delivered with a leering smile. And all is squeezed through an incredibly distorted guitar such as would make Kevin Shields proud. His passionate performance is tamed not at all by the unashamed demo nature of the proceedings. Those interested in excellent songwriting in its purest, most immediate form must pick up on this guy! (Ain't Records, POB 313, Dayton, VA 22821)'

--Alternative Press (Issue #49)

Wee Jim's Blackeye

'Book of Kills,Wee Jim's Blackeye. "Sorry if I'm not what you wanted me to be," snarls Jim Shelley on "Killing Time Again," from his seventh self-release. Song titles reveal a theme: "Face Up to Your Life," "My World Turned to Black," "This World is Gonna Let You Down," "I'm So Bored," and (ominously) "Get My Gun Alison." As Shelley broods at the crossroads, frustration and doubt burrow like worms through claustrophobic walls of sawtooth guitars. Not a great recording, but this man sings from his soul. Worth hearing, kids. (POB 313, Dayton, VA 22821)'

--Alternative Press (Issue #61)

'Jim Shelley's Book of Kills is sorta like a sneering Bob Dylan with walls of distorted guitar, riffs, and solid songs from beginning to end. Shelley's output is amazing, and this is another in a long list of highly recommended releases from this hometaper. {MEDIUM: cassette (ask about cdr's)}.'

--Gajoob Magazine Online (October 26, 1998)

Through the liner notes I gather that this is a solo work from one JIM SHELLEY. All the songs were originally recorded in a 4 month period in 1993 except for one piece from this year. Weird that, makes me wonder what happened in between. I could discern no real advance between the eras so one would assume that he put the instruments down for a while. Since this is a CDR, it reminds me that we will be seeing all sorts of old material resurface. JIM must have wanted to be a songwriter back in 1993, and he wasn’t too bad either, the song writing that is. The music itself is uninspired and turns to mush after 3 or 4 songs. File under new wave too late.

od mcUB (AutoReverse Winter 1999)

In My Room: The Best of Book of Kills, Vol. One

'In My Room: The Best of Book of Kills, Vol. One: Along with F.M. Cornog, Jim Shelley belongs in the lo-fi pantheon. A sprawling, 29-song retrospective from 1988 to the present, In My Room is by turns ugly, angry, tortured, wistful and exhilerating. A handful of lost souls worship this guy. Here's your chance to join them. (Ain't Records, POB 313, Dayton, VA 22821)'

--Alternative Press (Issue #77)

'Best of tapes from cassette artists are definitely a welcome treat because they allow you to experience their stuff without having to wade through a lot of sometimes self-indulgent filler. Don't get me wrong; I think the self-indulgence is a big part of the charm of DIY cassettes. The freedom to be self-indulgent is the beauty of DIY, in fact. But best-of's are still a great opportunity to hear a consolidated testament to any hometaper's greatness. The problem with Jim Shelley putting out a 'best of ' tape is that most of his tapes already sound like best of's because he puts out such consistently good stuff. 'In My Room,' '(I'm Glad I'm Not a) Rock Star,' 'Haunted Life,' 'The Night John Lennon Died,' '(I Just Wanna Be) Normal,' and many others are all here on this 90-minute shining example of what's very cool about hometaping and you really must make it a point to get this one.'

--Gajoob (August 5, 1995)

Songs For A Gone World

'I just want to thank Jim Shelley for making music.'

--Something/Anything? (Issue #3)

'Jim Shelley claims this is his "least popular tape ever." Too bad, since as the title suggests, this is a non-stop trip through a really gone world. Perhaps that's the problem. Jim admits this tape is a bit of an anomaly given his tendency toward verse/chorus/verse songwriting. Maybe his fans are put off by such an unleashment of pure strangeness. Don't get me wrong, there are some very accessible songs here ("Thousand Voices" is particularly cool), but they're loopy in a sort of Pere Ubu way and they are scattered amongst some really adventurous collage pieces and instrumentals with sampled sounds weaving in and out. The styles shift sometimes abruptly, sometimes gradually, but always with a natural flow, making this tape a real adventure.

--Greg Mathieson (Gajoob 7/11/97)


'The next trend in modern music seems to be benign complaisance, but these guys need never worry about falling into that hole. The aggressiveness of their music evokes an inner anger which the intelligence of the lyrics only partially exorcises. Jim Shelley has released a phenomenal number of cassettes doing the Stevie Wonder thing, overdubbing all the parts, under the name of Book of Kills. Finally he's ready to take this huge body of music to the people and they're not gonna be ready for it. The new band has produced an eight song tape of which at least three songs will not get out of my head. Book of Kills will be a part of your otherwise bleak future.'

--Rip Snap Meow #3

Saint Judas (and/or Big Business Monkey, Vol. 2)

'Shelley writes, 'I think this is one of my better tapes. It's rough and sloppy but I think there are some really decent, interesting songs on it.' 'Decent' and 'interesting' are understatements, of course, as those of you with any familiarity with Jim Shelley's work both under the guise of solo artist and as Book of Kills will attest. Some cassette artists seem like they can just churn out a prolific stream of great tapes and Jim is one such artist. This sounds like rock and folk and several other things that come between. Among many excellent songs, 'I Wish I Was a Machine' stands out, along with 'That's What She Said' and, hell, more or less the whole batch.'

--Gajoob (August 5, 1995)

'A great writer of letters, Shelley has been spilling his guts to me for years, chronicling the ups and downs of a small town-school teacher-cum punk rocker. Which I certainly don't mind because he's a songwriter of the first rank. Shelley's music is raw, desperate, incisive and unsparing; if Dylan grew up a punk, listening to Iggy Pop instead of Woody Guthrie, he'd write tunes like 'Idiot Planet.' A compilation of 2 earlier and now unavailable tapes, BBM 2 features 5 songs by a live incarnation of BOK; it's crushing stuff that I wish I'd experienced live. The rest is Jim solo and even more abrasive. Saint Judas is all solo work and about the best he's ever done. Do all three of us a favor - you, me and Shelley - and check this guy out.'

--DemoUniverse (July 16, 1995)

'This tape, in from Jim Shelley (who sez he "only sends out stuff to GAJOOB & a coupla others") is truly a refreshing change. Jim sez he's a "schoolteacher who wants full-time employment in music" (to paraphrase hiz letter). Well, if I wuz doin' th' hirin' this ROCKIN' little DIY tape would get MY vote! Crisp but odd (in the tradition of Godley/Creme, if ya kin' remember THEM). If th' prospective employer got a view o' th' j-sheet (especially if that's a flic of JIM), angry black Judas against stark yaller, he'd surely have to look elsewhere. HIGH energy guitars jangle against hiz disturbing rant and rave style ov vox. This is NOT th' formula crapola ya'd hear onna RADIO! Production was fine, though I'd like to hear toonz on BOTH sides of th' tape, eh? Jim, you gotta punch out those RECORD tabz, man! Believe it or not, a simple title of "La La La La La La" really cot my ear! Good toonz, rock & rollin' FUN. SURELY GIVE Jim a JOB inna music BIZ! Let him get out AWAY from alla those snotnose KIDZ! No, this is a GREAT tape that comes MOST HIGHLY RECOMMENDED from th' Zzaj!"

--Improvijazzation Nation (August 15, 1995)

'Jim Shelley has put out a cassette of off-beat original songs here. He's done everything: writing, performing, producing, and done it well. Shelley growls out insightful, sometimes enigmatic lyrics over dense guitar, drum machine, etc. The tunes sometimes wander all over the place before settling back into the refrain, so you never know quite where you are. A distorted guitar lick might give way to an eerie synth interlude and pop back into a verse. Kind of like life, right? Then there's this song that I could've sworn was Lou Reed. Wild. It's mostly about relationships and/or coping with weird shit, always with a twist thrown in to keep it interesting. I like this tape - it's got enough of Shelley's own stuff put into it to make it worthwhile. Check it out. Not sure what Jim wants for this. But be sure to send him a note and find out!'

--Five Cent Press (Issue #3)

'This is an interesting little cassette. Mr. Shelley is evidently a well-known denizen of the lo fi world that even as you read this review has slipped into well-deserved oblivion. But. But! This is good work. Lo fi but it transcends its limitations rather nicely, thank you. Every song, with one or two exceptions, is very well-written and performed. Shelley does just about everything - writing, singing, playing - and sometimes that is not a good sign. But this is good. Like a cross between Bob Dylan and The Replacements and maybe a little Iggy. If that sounds interesting, write the fellow for a copy of his tape.'

-- The Standard (Issue #4)

BOOK OF KILLS is a one-man band consisting of one JIM SHELLEY, a High School Teacher from Virginia. According to JIM’s webpage, he has a hell of a lot of recordings out. This one came out in 1995, and also according to the webpage, he hasn’t done much since. I’ve listened to this disc three times so far and I’m still trying to formulate some kind of opinion. SHELLEY seems to like 80’s punk. (He lists SEX PISTOLS, THE REPLACEMENTS, BLACK FLAG and THE PIXIES as influences).


There is a decidedly straight-ahead rock and roll feel to SAINT JUDAS. “O To Be My Father’s Dragon” is a sort of rap with some interesting samples of someone speaking what sounds like German and a chorus that states and repeats “What the hell is wrong with you, you’re doing what you’re supposed to do.” I like the bass and guitar on this one. The violin and piano samples are a nice touch. “I Wish I Was A Machine” is a new wavy, punk rock song that reminds me of DEVO’s “Smart Patrol”. SHELLEY says, over and over that he wishes he “was a machine, I wouldn’t have to care”. I think this disc is starting to grow on me a little. “La La La La La La “ is a very poppy ode to a Punk Rock Grrrl. Terribly catchy.


JIM SHELLEY is a pretty good guitar player and not a bad songwriter. His singing isn’t terrible, but definitely not one of his strengths;  which are that he has fun and that he has a reverence for classic guitar rock and roll (and I don’t mean VAN HALEN). “That’s What She Said” has a cool slide guitar and hand claps that remind me of T.REX. “My Date With Kim Deal” is hilarious! (Is it supposed to be?). The question I found myself asking was: “If this guy was playing in a bar and I had a couple of beers, would I dig it?” The answer is “Yup!”

mikadams (AutoReverse Winter 1999)

"La La La La La La"/"Simple World" Single

'Martini number three...ah, Jim Shelley! My man! Who else would go for the big hole in his first single? As if it weren't hard enough to get singles played...sigh. "La, etc." is timid by Shelley's standards, but the tune's got charm to spare and a chorus to die for; lo-fi freaks will tear their hair out in jubilation. Shortest, greatest guitar solo in Rock History here! The bizarre "Simple World" wasn't written by Lennon, but it shoulda been.'

--Jim Santo's DemoUniverse

'Personally I've never been able to get over the inconvenience factor inherent in seven inches. It's a hassle enough to get up and turn over a record every twenty-four minutes or so let alone every four. Side A of this seven inch is well worth the hassle. The music is almost unbearably catchy for most of the song, but near the end it becomes almost unbearably evil for a short time. Nice. The bass line is really inventive. The lyrics are cool, especially since I think I know the person for whom it was written (starts with an "M"...?) The music on the B side is nice--cool keyboards and harmonica, but the lyrics are, umm...awkward. Jim wrote, performed, and produced it all.'

--Tranquil Breezes (#1)

'7" of two great songs from this Virginia artist. Acoustic guitar pop with great hooks. The songs are cute without being nauseating. I was singing along after the first turn around the table. Buy it, you'll enjoy it.'

--Gajoob (August 30, 1997)

Splendid Trigger

'Jim Shelley is back! And omigod, he's written a rock opera. Wait, don't run away! I've been raving about the guy for, geez, eight years now, probably at some cost to my professional reputation (such as it is), but you gotta believe me when I tell ya this is his best ever. (I know I say that everytime. So sue me.) Stepping outside his depressive-manic-depressive self to creat an alter-ego has freed Shelley from the shackles of his comfortable but tortured existence: he takes more chances, and succeeds as never before. Although loosely tied to the sad tale of Glow Boy, the songs on Splendid Trigger aren't saddled with pretentious themes or orchestral affectations. Rather, this is just (just!) a collection of outstanding songs, sequenced to tell a story but strong enough to stand alone. Whazzit sound like? Not the Who, that's fer sure. How 'bout: Lou Reed, Bob Mould, Neil Young, GBV, John Lennon, Bob Dylan...and fookin' Book of Kills. Comparisons are an insult. The man is an original, and if you chumps don't pick up on it, that's your loss. He and I will get on jes' fine.'

--Jim Santo's DemoUniverse (October 1, 1997)

So Far in Every Direction

'Jim Shelley's newest finds him in a quiet, contemplative mood, and among the subjects he's contemplating is love, happy and otherwise. "Angels on the Lam," "Especially for You," and my pick hit from this set, "Turn My World Around," explore romance in poignant and melodious ways. But Jim's not gone all mushy on us; "This Time (Maybe)" delivers a rare dose of psychedelic BOK, "Starchy" experiments with electronics and Angry Jim checks in with the smoldering "Fire in Brooklyn" ("The path to glory/leads to a locked door/and every one of our dreams/is rotten to the core") and the Dylanoid "When You Wish Upon a Star." I'm continually amazed by Jim's gift of melody; his cover of Bob Pollard's "Kisses of the Crying Cooks" pales by comparison with the song that follows, "Free Assembly," a gorgeous tune with a surfy guitar that reminded me of Echo and the Bunnymen. That no label, major or indie, has seen fit to put the man in a proper studio is case-closed evidence of the intrinsic bankruptcy of the music business. Are they all deaf?"

--Jim Santo's DemoUniverse (November 29, 1997)

'Veteran home taper and reviewer, Jim Shelley has been there and done that. That his own music should be so good should come as no surprise. His lyrics are sharp and his folk rock style befits him. To me, occasionally he sounds melodically like The Cure but frankly his music is more compelling. Well produced and uniquely delivered.'

--Don Campau, No Pigeonholes (January 1999)

'...Jim Shelley's last homemade CD is what I have been using as a picture in my head of what homemade music is all about. I've been using it as a goal to aspire to when making my own first homemade CD. From packaging to recording to everything, his latest CD is the best homemade music I've seen and heard this year.'

--Bryan Baker, Homemade Music (March 1999)

'Book of Kills is the one-man recording project spearheaded by Jim Shelley.  Shelley is a longtime home-taper who is a true musical chameleon. This compilation of 21 tunes is culled from Jim's cassette releases, and what a compilation it is. One minute he sounds like Neil Innes...the next minute it's Tommy James...and yet a song or two later he sounds like John Lennon. But whatever the comparison, the thing that shines through clear and true is a man who has a genuine knack for writing sincere and moving introspective pop tunes. The arrangements are sparse, allowing the listener to fully appreciate the melodies and chord changes. This is so much more real than most of the doodoo being squat out by record companies. This is, perhaps, because the idea isn't to sell product...but to produce truly quality music with integrity. There's no e-mail to give or web site to share (isn't THAT a fresh idea?)...only an address. Ain't Records, 206 High St., Bridgewater, VA 28812. This is worth going out of your way to obtain. An excellent obscure delight. (Rating: 5 Babysues.)'

--BABYSUE Magazine (July 1999)

'Book of Kills – SO FAR IN EVERY DIRECTION: This is Jim Shelley’s first digital effort (that I’ve listened to, anyway). We reviewed his earlier works (way back when) were impressed then... but this collection of 22 toonz’ will have you in pure bliss if you love well-crafted lyrical adventures. There are sections where he reminds me of George Harrison’s early solo albums (which is a GOOD thing), but pieces like “Turn My World Around” track 12’s “Yeah, Yeah, Yeah” are without question all original compz that will make you a fan instantly! For fans of finely crafted lyrical folk music with both acoustic electric guitar(s), this gets a HIGHLY RECOMMENDED. Since this is a HOMEMADEMUSIC Association (fellow) member, I’m giving the cover/label art a rating (first ever, Jim) too... it gets a FIVESTAR ***** for exceptionally clean graphics, nice layout & perfect label placement. Contact at Ain’t Records, 206 High St., Bridgewater, VA 22812, at his shop on HOMEMADEMUSIC.com (http://www.homemademusic.com/artists/aint ), or via e-mail to bookofkils@aol.com.'
Rotcod Zzaj, aka Dick Metcalf
Perpetrator Instigator, Zzaj Productions
5308 65th Ave SE
Lacey, WA 98513

--Improvijazzation Nation (November 1999)

'One of the reasons we started Homemade Music was our growing frustration at knowing many true artists whose work had little exposure and no real champion. This release was a sort of centerpiece for us because of the sheer magnitude of Jim Shelley's (aka Book of Kills) and that feeling that So Far In Every Direction was, we felt, a culmination of what motivates hometaping artists to continue to create beautiful music in spite of it all. This is a must-have addition to any homemade music collector's collection.'

--Written by Bryan Baker of GAJOOB as an introduction to SO FAR IN EVERY DIRECTION (August 2000)

This latest release by BOOK OF KILLS is a wonderful thing. The melodic bass lines and drum machines remind me of the best of Brit-pop circa 1981. This is easily one of the best homemade products that I’ve heard all year.

Mad Monkey (AutoReverse Winter 1999))

Zherebilov (a very limited edition 'best of' collection)

'I have no idea how to describe this guy's music. He's all over the map. As soon as I think I have it nailed down as a cross between 70s Eno and Allice Cooper, he comes out of nowhere with a Dylanesque tune. I definitely can't use my standard complaint - "All the songs sound the same" here!'

-- Fresh Cow Pie (Issue #1, Spring '98)

If I Should Fall

'The first Book Of Kills CD is an important event, and not just because Jim Shelley's songs are finally enshrined in a semi-permanent, hi-fidelity format after years of brilliant but ephemeral cassette releases. Comprised of re-mastered cuts from 1997's So Far in Every Direction tape plus "some outtakes from an album that I just could never finish," If I Should Fall presents the BOK aesthetic -- a masterful merger of beauty and pain, in perfect pop songs with lyrics as hard and bright as diamonds -- in one convenient, easy-to-digest digital pill. This is your best chance yet to get with the program. Listen, was I right about East River Pipe? Sport Murphy? Trust me, I won't steer you wrong.'

--Jim Santo's DemoUniverse (November 1998)

"Jim Shelley is the quintessential home taper."

--GAJOOB (March 1999)

"Beautifully conceived homemade music from diy legend, Jim Shelley. As I write this review, I'm listening to If I Should Fall for the third time in a row.  I feel sort of like I'm sitting in the same room with Shelley while he weaves his magic on his little Portastudio just for me.  Well-recorded melodic rock featuring intelligent lyrics combined with a snappy pop sensibility and a dollop of dissonance.  Check him and his band, Book of Kills, out at bookofkills.com.  You can thank me later."

--Big Muff (August 1999)

1999 Listeners Club Holiday Compact Disc

'Date received: 12/11/99
In the spirit of the holiday EPs distributed to Beatles Fan Club members back in the Jurassic era, Book Of Kills (a/k/a Jim Shelley) gave away this five-song CD to members of his Special Listeners Club. Included are covers of "I Don't Want To Walk Around With You" by the Ramones, "Never Talking To You Again" by Husker Du, "Rain" by the aforementioned Fab Four, "She's The One" by obscure Philly punk band Dr. Bob's Nightmare, along with a BOK original, "(Everybody) Do The Wipe Out." The sound is sloppy and murky, he admits, but adds: "If you ask me, the sloppier and murkier the better." BOK archivists doubtless have this puppy already, but if you missed it, drop Jim a line.'

--Jim Santo's DemoUniverse (August 2000)


'Attention Book of Kills fans! It is finally ready. The much anticipated BOK CD, appropriately title EP, is mixed, mastered and ready for public consumption. Although the title is a bit unimaginative, this extended play CD is anything but. Rather, it is a milestone effort for HHS's original alternative band. Jim Shelley (a.k.a. Professor James Nipe) has produced a live six song studio recording that showcases the BOK diversity. Jane Firkin's vocals and acoustic guitar add a folk-punk flavor on "Cave In" and "So Wicked." (Thanks, guys, for letting me sit in on banjo on the latter.) The familiar "Caroline," which can be sappily slow to furiously fast, is done here at a more moderate tempo emphasizing both its power and beauty. "Fade" is the heaviest song on the album; suffice it to say, it ROCKS!!! Lisa Van Fossen's bass lines literally explode in your chest while Casey Firkin's frantic drumming constantly pushes the pace. Vocally, Jim is Jim, which is a good thing. The last cut, "If You Want It, Take It!", is poppy but hot. If you don't dance to this new Shelley tune, "you ain't got no legs!"

BOK fans know that Jim has produced dozens of albums through the years. EP is his first effort with a live band in a studio setting. It is, in my opinion, the best yet. If you are interested in purchasing this $5 masterpiece, check online at www.geocities.com/jnipe. If you can't remember the web address, just use Yahoo and search "Book of Kills." A few copies of EP are also available at Town and Campus Records. Check it out. You'll be glad you did.'

Gary Bugg - News Streak staff writer (February 2001)

Book Of Kills


Date received: 3/8/2001

'After decades functioning more or less as a nom de cassette for Jim Shelley's solo recordings, Book Of Kills is finally a real band. The first clue to this astonishing fact is the person singing the first song: it's not Jim Shelley! It's a shock to hear a female voice emanating from a Book Of Kills record, but a welcome one. Guitarist Jane Firkin not only shares lead vocals, but also takes writing credit on two of the five songs on the band's debut EP. The change has audibly unburdened Shelley; he's not sounded so happy in years. Backed by Casey Firkin on drums — geez louise, Book Of Kills with real drums — and bassist Lisa Van Fossen (since replaced by Bill Bird), Jim and Jane romp through a short but crackling set of crunchy, jangly rock. Shelley's done more than his share of soul-searching in recent years, wrestling with the reality of his persistent obscurity; to hear him so invigorated is inspiring.'

Jim Santo - DemoUniverse

Hoggett Heads

'Many so-called lo-fi home-taper types wear their solipsism like a badge, recoiling at the prospect of letting others into their world, or at least holding them at arm's length with long-distance postal collaborations. Not so with Jim Shelley. He's released many a fine solo recordings under the Book Of Kills moniker but has always yearned for a real band to give his tunes life, a desire repeatedly frustrated over the years as one combo after the other fell apart. At last, in late 2000, Jim hooked up with Jane and Casey Firkin and Book Of Kills "The Band" was born. With Lisa Van Fossen on bass, a debut EP arrived in early 2001, offering the dual treats of live drums, courtesy of Casey, and vocal and writing duties shared with guitarist Jane. The brief but rockin' EP bade well for BOK's future, and now here comes the full-length follow-up, Hogget Heads. Kids, this is rrrrrrrreal rock n' roll! From "Abandoned", the slammin', biblical opener, to the wild, cathartic cover of Lou Reed's "I Can't Stand It", Book Of Kills rocks like a house on fire. With Bill Bird taking over on the bass and the addition of second guitarist Randy Simpson, BOK soars and roars with classic garage-rock fury. Jane Firkin's aching, country-blues inspired numbers (and her whiskey-and-cigs voice) mesh wonderfully with Shelley's acerbic steamrollers; truly he has found his musical soul mate. Hogget Heads is not without flaws — the cover of The Beatles "Rain" never finds its center and Shelley's "Just An Average Day" is just an average song — but the many high points here are well worth the price of admission — especially considering you can buy it for just eight bucks!'

Jim Santo - Demo Universe (April 2003)

All About You

Date received: September 17, 2002

'A little life advice from ol' Jim Santo: When entering a romantic relationship with a songwriter, make every effort to ensure it ends well. Take special care If the songwriter is as talented as Jim Shelley. I'm not privy to this album's back story, but all that's important can be found in every line of an intensely felt work: "When your table's feast has grown thin/Will you still hunger for a taste?" "I'm lost in fading yesterdays." "How many days can you regret/How long do I wait until I can forget?" "She never fails to fail me/And she has finally jailed me/In the darkest corner of her heart." Tough stuff, but it is really no surprise that Shelley, one of America's great "unknown" songsmiths, traverses this perilous emotional terrain without dipping a toe into self-pity or cruelty — both of which lurk at every turn and either of which would have sunk All About You into the netherworld of mopey losers at love. It's a sad record for sure, but also stirringly melodic, with songcraft that more than stands up to "Then I Kissed Her," a reverse-polarity cover of the Crystals classic that Jim renders with perfect poignancy. Seldom has suffering sounded so sweet. I hope he's feeling better by now.'

Jim Santo's Demouniverse (October 2003)

'Home taping veteran throws down another quality set of personal rock. Hooky, crafted and sincere. Jim's got it all.'

Don Campau's No Pigeonholes (January 2004)

Songs For A Played Out Generation 
(The Splendid Ezine Featured Review)


"Jim Shelley is something of a cult hero as far as home-recording goes. His 36th (yes, you read that correctly!) release, true to his inhuman level of productivity, is a consistently strong album that features nineteen tracks and clocks in at well over an hour.

Opener "What Never Was", though mellow, is instantly catchy -- by no means an easy task. The low-key vocals prove to be a perfect match for the strummed acoustic guitars and electric lead lines; overall, the tune recalls recent Ween material, implying a sort of classic rock pastiche. Elsewhere on the disc, Shelley's vocals skew Neil Young-ward -- particularly in "Heaven" and "I Fell Inside". The latter, much like "What Never Was", meshes simple electric guitar themes with minor key acoustic chord progressions.

Shelley isn't all about polish: several of these Songs take a more distorted, borderline punk-rock approach. "I Start to Fall" is the best of them, with a propulsive drum beat (programmed, as is the case throughout the disc, though it isn't as distracting as you'd expect) and a Pixies-aping guitar riff. For even greater variety, a handful of tracks include piano and keyboard accents; "See You Again", for instance, layers in a beautifully subtle piano theme into its chorus.

As the song titles suggest, Songs for a Played Out Generation has a melancholy vibe, though Shelley never allows the material to get oppressive. If anything, an indescribable sense of innocence permeates much of the work here, giving rise to the image of Shelley as some sort of man-child, toiling away in his basement studio.

Although Songs for a Played Out Generation is a home recording, the sound quality is quite good. Shelley achieves a warm, full sound, even with programmed drums, and the electric guitar's dirty tone is particularly effective in the more aggressive tracks. If more home-recorded efforts demonstrated the care and refinement Shelley demonstrates here, DIY music might not be an outsider artform.'

--Garrett Splain - Splendid Ezine (February 2004)

WASP 51!

"Jim Shelley
Wasp 51!

Date received: September 11, 2003

I've been singing Shelley's praises for so long — since before the beginning of the Universe in fact — its become a routine:

  1. Jim sends me a fantastic homemade rock record;

  2. I implore the invisible hordes not to ignore this one;

  3. They ignore it;

  4. Shelley sends me an e-mail swearing off music forever;

  5. I congratulate him on his wisdom;

  6. He disappears for a few months;

  7. Back to #1

So here we are again with Wasp 51!, a solo effort that is — believe it — his best work since 1995's Saint Judas cassette, and that's saying a lot. Shelley's customary touchstones — Dylan, Lennon, Young, Bowie, Pollard — are polished to a gleam as this matchless lyrical alchemist turns rock into gold: "I'll take the high road/And you'll take a pass/The shadow king of rock/Is slowly fading fast/Such a starry ride/But these things seldom last/In this worst of all possible worlds." Man, this album gives me the chills. Oh sure, the drum machine grates at times, but will ya listen to those chords? Those melodies? Those words? Oh Jesus, those words...

You know what? Fuck you people. You can't have Jim Shelley. You don't deserve him. Go away! He's mine."

--Jim Santo - DemoUniverse (June 2005)

"(WASP 51!) really is incredible. It's just unlike anything I've heard and unlike any of (Jim's) other releases.  It's all so supremely crafted.  Jim speaks of musical crudeness a la Lou Reed, etc, but WASP 51! contains some very challenging, interesting structures that stooges like Dream Theater or whatever "technically unlimited" band couldn't touch. The disk taps a vein of originality and progress that can't be attained with "technical advancement".  I feel that's true for all of Jim's work (all of which has more technical prowess than I can touch with a ten foot pole) but WASP 51! is a great example of how songs can be "simple" and stick to your soul like peanut butter.  I mean, I was singing along to every song!  That means something (to me at least)!"

--Billy Brett - Buck Gooter (June 2007)



The Jordan Williams Reviews (Part One)

Those of you who've followed Jim Shelley's musical career since the 1983 release of his first cassette album (there must be at least three or four of you out there besides me), know that any effort to chronicle everything he's brought out under the Ain't/Head Hot Records logos would be a daunting, if not impossible, task.  (By last count, Jim had issued over one hundred different editions of his work!)  So, perhaps unavoidably, this attempt at a comprehensive overview of  Shelley's oeuvre isn't nearly as complete as I might wish it to be. Missing are the numerous extremely limited edition e.p.'s and albums that Jim has given away in special contests over the years, his vinyl single, and the obscure compilations to which he has contributed a song or two. Also, as you might or might not know, Jim re-issued in 1997 many of his cassettes, sometimes combining two albums on one tape, with additional rare tracks; I have chosen to ignore these cassettes (with a few exceptions--read on) in deference to the original versions of each album.


To further complicate matters, Jim acquired a compact disc recorder in 1998, recently deleted his entire cassette catalog, and began the long (but laudable) process of converting every one of his tapes to the cd-r format. At the time of this writing, Aint' Records has put out five discs (all of which feature some fine outtakes, live tracks, and just generally rare stuff), and I will consider them the definitive versions of those albums.

It seems very unlikely to me that there are many stranger, sadder tales of unwarranted neglect in the annals of rock music than Jim Shelley's. Now a middle-aged teacher/ex-football coach at a small town high school in Virginia's Shenandoah Valley, he spends much of his spare time (when he's not coaching his son's little league baseball and basketball teams) writing and recording homemade albums in a garage behind his house, sweltering in the summer and freezing in the winter. And while he has achieved an extremely modest degree of notoriety among home taper devotees (most notably former Alternative Pressdemo-guru Jim Santo, and Gajoob Magazine'sBryan Baker, both of whom have championed Jim's cause over the last decade or so), Jim labors on to this day in undeserved obscurity, selling perhaps a hundred albums a year through his internet page and a few local record stores.

He still attempts to throw a band together on occasion, but it would seem a terribly difficult chore to find in a town of 35,000 the sort of intelligent, sympathetic musicians he needs to adequately interpret his material live. He has complained often that he must rely on younger players who are aware of his ability to draw rather fanatical crowds to his local performances and who see playing with him as a chance to advance their own "careers," but who also have at best a very narrow appreciation for the breadth and depth of his vision. Book of Kills has never been about playing it safe, about carving out a niche and hunkering down for the long haul. No two BOK albums are very similar. And that's how it should be:  Any truly vital musician constantly pushes against the boundaries of his audience's expectations.  That's a hard concept for most younger players to accept.

If he were not such an intriguing lyricist; if his melodies didn't soar quite so often as they do song after song; if he weren't able to master so many different styles from folk to psychedelia to pop to hard rock to industrial to ear-searing white noise; if his music just wasn't so goddamned passionate and yet intellectually stimulating, then perhaps it would be easier to justify his invisibility in the music business--"Are they all deaf?" Santo, in a recent DemoUninverse review, railed about the some 80+ record companies who've rejected Jim's demos in just the past five years--but justifiably or not, the fact remains that for a variety of reasons Jim Shelley is, and will likely stay, a musical non-entity on the very outermost fringes of public awareness.

That said, I will get on with the job of providing you with an admittedly subjective and biased review of twenty-one Jim Shelley/Book of Kills albums containing some 250+ songs, most of them recorded in just the past eight or nine years. It seems something that is long overdue and (just perhaps) useful to someone:

Noiz :: In his catalog, Jim describes this tape as "...a collection of crazed guitar sounds and pots and pans banging with weird backwards voices." That's as good a summation as any. If we can take him at his word, Shelley made these recordings when he was twelve; though it seems unlikely that someone of so tender an age could come up with thisstuff, anything I suppose is possible. Apparently he has reels and reels of this material, recorded out of frustration with his inability at the time to actually play real chords on his Silvertone electric. Considering the date of this release (no later than 1974), this now deleted album, in some respects, seems today amazingly prescient.  Parts of these tapes have been preserved on the Bloom Or Die/Noizdouble album released in 1997.

This Is My Letter To The World

Although released after 12 Songs,this (now unavailable) album is actually a compilation of various early recordings from the late 70s and early 80s, and all of which predate 12 Songs, when Shelley was composing material on a reel-to-reel, using the machine's sound-on-sound layering capacity. Much of this material is negligible and darn near unlistenable, but it remains of interest to anyone who wants everything by Jim, including the stuff from his formative years. Included are early enlightening renditions of "Dear Annie" and "Abandoned."

12 Songs

After reading the first two entries in this article and then giving a cursory listen to 12 Songs, you might be tempted to question many of the positive things I wrote about Jim in the introduction above. Patience.  Initially, the songs here seem somewhat too careful and mechanical and often rather derivative, particularly of the Cars ("Over You!") and the Beatles ("Dear Annie"--a strange, though spot-on, homage to Paul McCartney.) A tinny drum machine and the overbright, almost shrill, lo fi production initially made this album a tough listen for me. But I eventually latched on to the subtle pop thrills of "Bright Lights Tonight," "No Time For Love," "Dark Side of Tomorrow," and especially "Turn My World Around,"-- all four of which I now would rank among Shelley's better compositions-- and the overall off-kilter freshness of the lyrics. Of note is the twangy surf guitar intros to "Heart of Gold" (no, not THAT one), "Dark Side," and "I Can't Hide My Love," a signature ingredient of Shelley's later, more mature sound. This is an album deeply rooted in the pop conventions of late 60s Beatles and early 80s new wave with perhaps a little late 70s punk 'tude tossed in for good measure; in the end 12 Songs remains an interesting, though hardly breathtaking, first step.

Bloom Or Die?

After the release of 12 Songs in 1983, Jim ceased writing and recording for six years. Why the long absence? Jim refuses to give us an explanation. But my how things changed in that time!  The album opens with one of BOK's more memorable pieces, "The Day John Lennon Died," a fiery, poetic blast of chiming minor key guitar arpeggios and a great double tracked vocal. It is one of Shelley's seminal recordings, important because it seems to blaze a trail into any number of stylistic possibilities and it sounds unlike almost anything else that was going on in 1988. Imagine Sonic Youth backing Bob Dylan singing a long lost John Lennon song and you might get the picture. The rest of the album never quite measures up to that great song, but it's not for wont of trying on Shelley's part. The best of the rest: a Pixie-ish "I Hang Heavy" which became a sing-a-long favorite of Book of Kills' live shows, the rollicking Beatles cum Husker Du "Girl Can't Help It," and the astonishingly nihilistic "(I Just Wanna Be) Normal" in which Shelley free associates one angry broadside after another at the empty materialism of modern life in America while two insanely distorted guitars fight for prominence with an overdriven drum machine (can drum machines be "overdriven"? Well, this one is!) Though Bloom or Die runs a scant 31 minutes, it is an exhausting listen partially because of the unrelenting distortion in every song and partly because Jim has let his unbridled rage bleed into the lyrics of every single song. In 1997, Jim paired this album with a collage of material from Noiz as well as snippets of songs that he'd recorded in the late 70s or early 80s. Fascinating and energetic.

For The Good Of The Cause

Jim only managed a few songs in 1990 and didn't release anything that year. During the summer of 1991, he became fascinated with old folk music from the 30s and 40s (particularly Virginia's Dock Boggs) and decided to adapt some of the songs from that era to modern arrangements. The album that emerged in August was actually two vastly different eps cobbled together on one tape. Jim Santo of Alternative Press excitedly proclaimed (about the second, "folk" side of the album) that he hadn't heard anything like this material since the Byrds and he was right. Years later, it would become all the rage to wax ecstatic over the golden days of American folk, but in 1991 only Book of Kills seemed interested in dragging those seminal works into the modern age with one miraculous revisioning after another. (The only clunker is "If The Light Has Gone Out," a shameless rip off of the Violent Femmes.) Side one's not too shabby either, featuring the deliciously malevolent "(I'm Glad I'm Not A) Rock Star"; a stellar remake of 12 Songs' "No Time For Love" and Bloom or Die's "Girl Can't Help It!"; the ominous apocalyptic psych-drones of "The Sound of a Door Closing" and "Revelation"; and the excruciatingly funny ode to paranoia, "Simple World." Made on a cheap Tascam four track, the sound is overpoweringly lo-fi, but this is a classic album of the hometaping genre.

Don't Stop The Scream

The next album opens with the ferocious industrial blast of "Abandoned," long perhaps Book of Kills' most galvanic song in live performances. The tone is set immediately: Whereas Jim had previously almost seemed ashamed to have to rely upon a drum box for rhythm on his albums, now he seems to revel in the brutal, soul-less mechanics of the machine. Jim has said that For The Good Of The Causewas the first tape where he felt as if he knew what he was doing, but it is Don't Stop The Screamthat finally seems to give Shelley a certain artistic maturity and focus that was lacking in previous work. Not that you could pigeonhole the music into any one genre; far from it. In fact, the songs are all over the place stylistically, but somehow everything seems to fit together because there is a clear (if despairing) vision inhabiting every note, every word, of every composition. It doesn't hurt that this is the best recorded work Shelley has yet produced, though it is a bit over-bright for my tastes. By April of 1992, he had purchased a used eight track cassette recorder and the expanded possibilities the extra four tracks offer Shelley seem to liberate the sound. The arrangements are more carefully considered, fuller, with more space between the notes. And the sequencing of the songs is masterful. Listen how naturally you progress from the robotic nastiness of "Abandoned" to the pure rock howl of "Don't Stop the Scream" and "Before and Ever After" to the Lou Reed-ish surrealism of "Safety in #'s" and finally to the folky (twisted) pop of "Religion is that I love you" and "Cara Anne." After the last vibrations of "Cara Anne's" brilliant ending guitar solo fade, the album wavers a little. "Party's Over" seems ill-conceived and contrived. "Even Peace Becomes Warfare" is overheated blather. But Jim sets things right by scoring with three more strong pieces: The Vasolines-y "Pulling Strings"; the monumental valentine to fuzz boxes everywhere, "When Your Dreams"; and the affecting distorto-ballad, "No Scars." The compact disc re-issue also contains the better material from 8 From the Attic and five odd but technically well-done techno/jungle/avant garde selections from the recent one-of-a-kind contest disc, I Know What Love Is + 4 Others. Essential.

8 From The Attic

This tape "e.p." was originally given away to charter subscribers of Notes From Underground, an Ain't Records newsletter that Jim published on and off for some six years until expenses got the better of him. It features superior remixes of some BOK chestnuts, including "Cara Anne," "Religion is that I love you," and "Wild Hog in the Woods." Of greater interest is a balls out cover of Jonathan Richman's "She Cracked," a long, slow remake of "Abandoned" that sounds not too unlike Elvis Presley backed by Neil Young's Crazy Horse, and an early live acoustic version of "Turn My World Around." Sadly, this one has been deleted. Portions of it turn up on the cd reissue of Don't Stop The Scream.

The Haunted Life

Things started getting weird on the next album, released just six months after Don't Stop the Scream . In more than one interview, Jim has said about The Haunted Lifethat it is the sound ". . .of a man having a nervous breakdown. . ." and if it were possible to record a human mind imploding I think it might very well sound like this. Almost every song aches with the pain of betrayal, spiritual longing, and abandonment, and a kind of spooky (okay--haunted) aura of madness and self-loathing hangs over the whole affair. The album features some of Shelley's most eloquent, incisive lyrics; I doubt that anyonewrote a more erudite album in 1992. It is clear that Shelley is becoming more adept at arranging and recording his compositions: The sound, driven this time more than anything by muted keyboards, mouth harp, and acoustic guitar, is clear, spare, and dynamic, though sometimes uncomfortably claustrophobic, particularly on standout tracks like"In My Room," "Heaven," "Blue Man," and "Fool for Love." The Haunted Lifeowes a very clear debt to Bob Dylan, and in fact, if one could criticize Shelley for anything on this album, it would have to be that on at least three songs ("New James Shelley Blues," "Notes From Underground," and "Haunted Road Blues") he very nearly oversteps the bounds of artistic homage and flirts dangerously with parody (though come to think of it, that might have been his intention all along.) The original album ends rather incongruously with the delightful "She's the Kind of Girl," a three minute bit of pop fluff that feels like a first welcome gulp of fresh air after you've held your breath for forty minutes. The cd reissue adds a couple of outtakes, the best of which is "That's the Life for Me" in which Jim intones with deadpan seriousness that he wishes he were "a cow standing in a field/stupid as stupid can be." Essential.

Wee Jim's Blackeye

Amazingly, this was Jim's fourth album (if we count 8 From the Attic) of original material in just seventeen months. With a running time of over sixty minutes, there were bound to be some weak spots, but to his credit Jim scores far more than he misses. "Face Up to Your Life," "I'm So Bored," and "Falling Down," are interesting sonic experiments perhaps but none of them hold up lyrically and come off mainly as filler, but there are manymemorable BOK songs collected here: the Talking Head-ish "Bad Person" ("I'm a bad person/I was born bad/I live a bad life/I'll probably die bad"); the raging hard rock "Killing Time Again" with not one but two absolutely manic free jazz-inspired guitar solos and its terrific, twisted surf guitar lead-in riff; the Nirvana-inspired "Lost;" the lilting guitar drone of "Susan Says;" the surreal "My World Turned to Black" (with yet another memorable ringing guitar riff that surfaces again and again throughout the song); and the slow, scary "Lullabye" ("And if you should die before I wake/I pray some god your soul to take.") A cross between the subtle menace ofThe Haunted Lifeand and the angry howl of Don't Stop the Scream, Wee Jim's Blackeyestrikes me as sort of a summation of Jim's career up to this point in time, a look back more than a step forward. By April 1993, Jim Shelley seemed to be at a crossroads with no clear notion of what direction (or directions) he'd take next.

Big Business Monkey, Volume One

After having written and recorded over fifty tunes in a year and a half(!) perhaps it would have been a good idea to take a vacation, but it was as if Jim thought he'd lose the tiny group of devotees he'd garnered since 1989 if he went more than a couple months without releasing another album: And so in July of '93 he issued Big Business Monkey(the title taken from an old Daniel Johnston song), a hit or miss collection of new material, outtakes and alternate versions of previously released songs. Conceived of as an outlet for material that just didn't fit on his "regular" albums, this proved to be the first in a continuing series of interesting, if not entirely essential, compilations. Most notable: the wacky, polka whirl of "If I Went Mad," the noisy tribute (pilfered lyrics and all) to Brian Wilson, "Brian;" a newly recorded version of one of Shelley's teenage compositions, "They Teach You;" a nice cover of Wire's "Reuters;" and the sad, bare-bones "I Wish I Was You." Nothing to write home about, but considering Jim was selling his tapes for the ridiculous sum of just $2-3 each, well. . .what do you want? The White Album?

In My Room: The Best Of Book Of Kills, Volume One

To coin a phrase, if you can only bring yourself to buy one Book of Kills album for now, then you probably should make it this one, though I'm sure more than one fan of Jim Shelley's music could argue the point. (In his review of In My Room, Gajoob's Bryan Baker writes "...the problem with Jim Shelley putting out a best-of collection is that all his albums sound like best-of's...") Featuring numerous remixes and some unreleased material, In My Roomis a sprawling 90+ minute compendium of things BOK from 1988-early 1994. Most of the previously released material here has benefitted by a new remix and the unreleased stuff--the nihilistic "Shapes of Things," the Pink Floyd inflected "Sometimes I Get Happy," a solid 'live in the studio' version of the old folk standard "Shady Grove," and the spare "...Like Me," in particular--is generally pretty good. Though you could quibble about the selection (where are "Abandoned" and "My World Turned to Black"?), this is a very generous, if not entirely representative, sampler of Jim Shelley's better work. The insert features an affecting, appreciative essay by artist/photographer Aaron Farrington.

Songs For A Gone World

The truest luxury of the home taper's musical life is that he pretty much has absolute free license to do whatever he damn well pleases artistically and Jim (here masquerading as "Angel Toot Boy") certainly takes that philosophy to heart on this very tripped out, very difficult album. While there are plenty of songs here (some of them pretty good--the galloping, psychedelia of both "Sleeping Would Be Great Shakes" and "3 Chrs. 4-Ever" and the psycho-rap of "1000 Voices" in particular come to mind), almost every one of them is sandwiched between relatively complex instrumentals and dense, flowing sound collages that must have been difficult to assemble and are certainly difficult to sit through more than a time or two unless you're really into this sort of noise thing. Easily Jim's strangest album ever, there is nothing else like it in his oeuvre.  Bring your headphones.


By November of 1994, Jim had formed perhaps his best live band and was playing local and out-of-town gigs on a semi-regular basis. This now deleted tape, featuring four cuts by the group plus five more with Shelley handling all the instruments himself, served as a good documentary of that time. That band, a weird conglomeration of mid-80s punk, early 70s heavy metal, and early 60s free jazz, never really seemed able to put on tape the essence of its live show, but the band tracks here (old BOK standards "I Hang Heavy," "Lost," and "Killing Time Again," plus the loony "Fat Woman in the Road") do sizzle. Of the studio cuts, Jim's crazed portrait of an arsonist, "Because Because"; "Jesco White," an indescribable sort of jazz/psychobilly tribute to the cult classic film; and the roiling, angry blues skronk, "Welcome to the Idiot Planet" are standouts.

Big Business Monkey, Volume Two

The second in the BBM series and easily the strongest, this album collects all the material from the deleted Detritus and adds many strong, previously unreleased songs. Highlights are an absolutely killer band version of "Because Because" (inexplicably left off Detritus), the Stones influenced "Never Be Like You" (a defiant statement of artistic independence), and "I Start to Fall" and "Fade" (probably the two best musical tributes to the late Kurt Cobain we'll ever have.) There are a few weak cuts scattered throughout, but this is a fine addition to the BOK canon and well worth searching out on tape until the compact disc version surfaces some time in 1999. As critic Jim Santo notes in his review, "crushing good stuff."

Saint Judas

This is not a disc you want to miss. Every song is a winner, with several in the running for best BOK cuts ever. By the spring of `95 the band had split and Jim seemed determined to prove he could do better without them, thank you very much. Perhaps Book of Kills' most coherent, focused album yet, the lyrics reflect the dispiritedness and exhaustion of a man who has spent too many years pouring his heart and talent into a huge body of work that has been too long ignored. In what long ago became a sort of tradition, the opening song, "O To Be My Father's Dragon," is easily the album's most adventurous: A five minute free flowing collage of voice and music samples, surging electric guitars, jazzy piano, and a few simple rapped lyrics bemoaning convention and apathy. Many highlights follow: The pounding, metal pop of "I Wish I Was a Machine;" the soaring, sweet confection "La La La La La La" (`I heard you're in a band and they say you play a mean guitar/Come to think about it, you kinda look like Johnny Marr'); Jim's affectionate tribute to the Velvet Underground, "That's What She Said;" the infectious J. Mascis-influenced "I'm Not Gonna Walk Away This Time;" and the utterly unique, utterly weird "Waiting on a Friend" which features Jim's uncanny vocal approximation of Plastic Ono Band John Lennon. Introspective meditations on aging and rejection will probably not appeal to most younger listeners, but this is a mature, intelligent piece of work that  ranks among the better of 1995's rock releases. Essential.

Writing On The Wall (Big Business Monkey, Volume 3)

After Saint Judas, Jim transplanted his family and his studio from Dayton to Bridgewater, Virginia and the move seems somehow to have deeply affected his music. Writing On The Wall is the first case in point: According to Jim, the songs on the first half of the album--the second half features an only partially satisfying 1994 concert atrociously recorded by an audience member on a boom box--are part of a never-completed album (presumably abandoned intellectually during the move) which show the artist moving away from the largely high energy rock of his past on to more contemplative, muted compositions that seem to reflect a musical spirit ever more troubled (and perhaps subdued) by rejection. Most of the stuff here simply doesn't measure up to the best of BOK's earlier work; too much of it seems half-finished, even tossed off, though there are a few exceptions. Probably the standout track here is the sadly ignored "Live for Love," an absolutely gorgeous, sensuous tune that layers instrument upon instrument as it builds for seven minutes to a gentle droning climax and then fades into the ether. It has an appealing Spaceman 3-by-way-of-John Lennon feel to it that I wish Jim had spent more time exploring.

Splendid Trigger :: Over a year passed before we heard from BOK again, but when we finally did! I'll be damned if the boy didn't go and write himself a genuine 92 minute rock opera! Now wait a minute! If you'll just stop laughing long enough to listen to Splendid Trigger, you might change your mind about these sort of affairs only being an excuse for bored rock musicians to go all high-falutin' and uppity-like on us. Yes, this is certainly a seriousalbum, but it's not so full of itself or devoid of humor that it becomes a chore to listen to. And no, it's not the best thing Book of Kills has ever done, as more than one critic claimed, but it's a darned good piece of work. The story is simple: Young and innocent Glow Boy gets bored with small town life and runs away to the big city where he meets a nice girl who falls in love with him. It's all down hill from there as boy meets bad girl and ditches good girl and...well, you can uncover the rest of this sad tale yourself. This is a bit of a turning point for Jim in that he collaborated with several other musicians in the writing of the lyrics and music. Consequently, the arrangements are quite varied and often somewhat fussier than what we've come to expect from Book of Kills. For the most part, the songs are sturdy and hold up well on their own as individual compositions, but I must admit that I don't feel an emotional investment with Splendid Trigger in quite the same way I do with, say, Don't Stop The Scream or Saint Judas. But there are enough great tracks here ("We've Got Our Boy Back," "I Fell Inside," "Heaven Hates Who It Hates," "The Alien Girl," and F#@%ed Up World," are exceptionally fine) to make this a necessary addition to anyone's music collection.

Nothing You Can Say

Jim formed another band in October of 1996, but they gave few live performances ("We were a great practice band") and lasted barely half a year as a viable group. They did put together one e.p. of nine songs, seven of which were recorded in one seven hour marathon session in the bassist's basement. The rush to complete so many tracks in such a brief time shows in the final product: Almost everything hurtles by at breakneck speed as though the band can't wait to be done with one song so that they can get to the next one before they forget how it goes. Of these seven, the best are "Placebo," a jaunty, deceptively simple little tune with a great sing-a-long chorus, and a funked out re-visioning of the Beatle's "Paperback Writer" that has to be heard to be believed. To be fair, the youthful enthusiasm of the band is infectious, and as always it's good to hear our reclusive hero having some fun with real musicians.  The two best pieces on the album though are a live rendition of "Lost" which must've been a gas to have experienced in the flesh, and the brilliant "If I Should Disappear" which would show up again later in a slightly different mix on 1997's So Far In Every Direction.

So Far In Every Direction

A great disc this is, with a ton of great songs. Is it Jim Shelley's best? No. It gets a bit soft towards the middle (don't we all?) before regaining its form with one final brilliant burst of energy, but that's enough to keep it from a perch at the very top of my list of great BOK albums. This is not to imply that, if you haven't already, you shouldn't do whatever it takes to procure a copy of So Far In Every Direction NOW! The first seven tracks are as good a stretch of eccentric, melodic songwriting as you're likely gonna come across during these dark last days of rock and roll. Jim has been honing his craft now for years and it shows in the effortlessness with which he switches musical gears, moving ever so smoothly from one sonic idiom to another. My faves: the soaring, acoustic "Port;" Jim's dead-on tribute to Syd Barrett, "Stanley the Steamer," complete with scorching faux-David Gilmour solo; the twin spiral drones of "If I Should Disappear" and "Free Assembly" (those trademark surf guitar riffs--to die for!); and the exceptional "Angels on the Lam," with its inscrutable Dylanish lyrics wrapped around a loping soundtrack right out of the Echo and the Bunnymen songbook. When you add the eight(!) unreleased tracks found on the recent compact disc reissue, you've got yourself one sweet piece of work. Yes, essential.

Reject :: The title says it all. This one was pulled almost as soon as it was released and for good reason: The only thing of real interest is a live segment from the early 90s in which Jim careens his way through three Dylan songs with a reasonably competent pick up band; the rest is dreck. Avoid.

If I Should Fall

Somewhere along the line, "If I Should Disappear" was retitled "If I Should Fall" for this extended (22 minutes) e.p. It doesn't matter: It's the same great song, but on this e.p. it seems to have a certain fullness and definition that the version on So Far In Every Direction doesn't quite achieve. Ditto "Free Assembly" on which Jim has added additional vocals and just generally tidied the sound up a bit. Add seven additional cuts and this is a fine little disc to add to your collection. Includes the striking tone poem, "Lost Puppy Flyer," and the beautiful fractured ballad, "Caroline."

(c) 1998 by Jordan Williams


For The Good Of The Cause

The Jordan Williams Reviews, Part II

Since 1998's delightful If I Should Fall, Jim Shelley's musical career has been more than a little inconsistent.  We've been presented with such underwhelming fare as the Welcome To Concrete and E.P. cd's as well as a stirring comeback of sorts with the double triumphs of 2003's All About You and 2004's sprawling Wasp 51.  In between, Jim formed a couple of bands that seemed to concentrate more on live performances than recording albums featuring fresh, interesting material. Jim's most prolific (and arguably, most fruitful) period--roughly from 1992-1997--during which time he issued an astounding fourteen albums featuring at least some new material on each, stand in rather stark contrast to the spotty releases of the seven years since we were graced with So Far In Every Direction.  Still, Jim produced sturdy, often inspired, work from 2002-2004 in the form of a so-called trilogy:  2002's All About You, 2003's Wasp 51! and 2004's I Can't Give You Anything But Love all of which serve notice that Mr. Shelley is far from finished as a musician and songwriter.



By the summer of 1998, it was apparent that Jim was struggling to find a new direction or, even more troubling, just the energy and inspiration to create new material. In July, he released a second "greatest hits" album (this time two discs comprising thirty-seven songs) with one new song (a rough demo actually) on it. Artists usually release best-of’s for one of two reasons: to make some easy money off recycled work or to buy some time before having to issue fresh material. Since Mr. Shelley, like most home musicians, sells only a handful of albums with each new release and makes little if any money from them, we could easily assume he was purchasing time, perhaps in the middle of a burgeoning case of writer’s block. This compilation is certainly extensive, but little thought seems to have been given to sequencing and somehow I find it difficult to listen to. Besides, I have never been one for best of albums. One misses so much by focusing only on an artist’s so-called "greatest hits".



This ep from August ’99 confirmed that indeed problems existed in BOK-land. Though it’s a fun little disc, it seems to signal that Jim is struggling to come up with any substantial new material. An interesting and revealing "Banquet", a rousing cover of Tobin Sprout’s "Little Whirl", and a sloppy but energetic "The Danger That Can Drive You Home" stand out (though "Danger" had already appeared on Never Be Like You.) Also of interest is a short, bare-bones version of "See You Again", a song that would resurface in fuller glory on 2002’s All About You. But truthfully this felt more like something Jim released because he thought it was expected of him.



Jim’s third release in just four months was simply further proof that he was struggling, though of the three ’99 records this one is the best. It’s a strangely disjointed affair: half the record features new material apparently recorded in a rush immediately after Welcome to Concrete but the other half consists of eight songs from the June ’96 release, also called Writing On The Wall. Nothing that you’d write home about but more than a few interesting compositions and lots of (as per usual) excellent lyrics make this an album you ought to get if you’re a fan. And it showcases Jim’s first experiments in constructing entire songs from samples.



Released just 19 months after Never Be Like You, this two cd set was at least a more coherent survey of Jim’s better work and came in a far better designed package with extensive notes on each song by Jim. Best of all, it included a new song called "Truth Is A Scar", the finest sample-driven song Jim had issued to this point.



Perhaps sensing that he needed the company of strangers to kick start his muse again, Jim began looking for musicians to form his first new band since March of 1997, Sometime in early 2000, he found Casey and Jane Firkin (drums and guitar respectively), a brother and sister duo from Luray, Virginia. Eventually honey-voiced Lisa Van Fossen joined up on bass and backing vocals and the foursome produced this six-song cd with two songs from Ms. Firkin and four ‘old’ ones from Jim. The performances are a little clumsy at times and the recording itself is definitely quirky, but it was good to hear Jim making music with other humans again and the band never embarrasses itself. This was the first truly interesting cd from Jim in almost two years, even if he didn’t offer up any new material.



And then, after a year’s wait, we got…yet another "Best Of" album, this one the first in a supposed three part series. Interesting only for the fact that the first 25 copies of the record came with a four song ep of new material, which was actually okay, if not superlative. The problem with all of these compilations is that they are each largely direction-less hodgepodges of songs. What we still need is a definitive collection that moves the listener from the first BOK album to the last in chronological order so that we can truly see how Jim has grown as a writer and musician over the years.



It turns out that Jim and Casey and Jane Firkin had moved through any number of bass players in the sixteen months since E.P. saw release, playing an occasional live show but mainly doing lots of drinking before finally latching onto bassist Bill Bird from Jim’s hometown of Harrisonburg, Virginia and a few months later guitarist Randy Simpson, also from Harrisonburg. It had been four long years since Jim’s last really good album, If I Should Fall, so it wasn’t hoping for too much that after all this time he had been able to come up with some solid new songs. Unfortunately, he’d written the achingly beautiful "To Dream A New Dream" but apparently not much else. While Hoggett Heads (don’t ask me what it means) is a balls out rock and roll fun fest with an occasional slower introspective tune from Jane, it features just that one new song from Jim, not counting an excellent reinterpretation of Lou Reed’s ‘Can’t Stand It’. But there are credible re-workings of some classic BOK stuff ("Abandoned", "Accidentally Naked", "Bad Person", etc), and several excellent tunes from Jane ("Cave In", "Sweet", Running" and "Gemini".) Better recording facilities and a real producer would’ve probably yielded a more focused album, but it’s always a treat to hear Jim interacting with real musicians, even if all involved never rise above inspired amateurism.



Less than four months later, Jim released another cd, his first full album since 1997’s So Far In Every Direction and what turned out to be the harbinger of a late career renaissance. In fact, I would argue that All About You heralds a period of musical industry and inventiveness second only to Jim’s first great run from 1992-1998. And am I the only one to notice that Jim’s greatest work tends to come in the periods immediately after a band he has been in disintegrates? Cases in point: Jim writes a fat fistful of good new songs for Book of Kills in late 1994, which the rest of the band by and large rejects. The band breaks up in early 1995 and that summer Jim records what many (I’m not one of them) still believe to be his greatest album, Saint Judas. Next summer he produces the double disc rock opera, Splendid Trigger. The second (Or third? Who can keep up?) version of BOK comes together in late 1996 and falls apart in the spring of 1997. That summer Jim releases another favorite, So Far In Every Direction. There follows a relatively long, fallow period until yet another BOK line-up comes together in early 2000. Two years later, as (predictably) this group also falls by the wayside, we get All About You. This album reminds me greatly of So Far In Every Direction. Both records wear their broken hearts on their sleeve, both feature songs with a distinct electronic flavor, and both tend to be top heavy with Jim’s best songs of the moment, get a little flaccid in the middle and recover with a couple of strong performances at the end. "What Never Was", "This Sacrifice", a delightful techno version of the ‘50s chestnut, "Then I Kissed Her", and the majestic re-working of "See You Again" (originally found in a lesser version on Welcome To Concrete) are the highlights of a strong set. And Jim turns in some of the most literate, heart-felt lyrics of his career. Does anyone know how seriously great a lyricist this guy is? Oh…and the drum machine doesn’t seem to grate as much this time as it has on occasion in the BOK back catalog simply because most of the songs beg for the artificiality of a beat box.


Released April of 2003. Featuring 21 songs. Ahem.

WASP 51!


Twelve months later, fifteen years into his "career" as a prominent homemade musician, and way past the age when most musicians are still producing relevant—let alone good—rock and roll, Jim delivered what is arguably his greatest record. Yet another all-Jim-all-the-time opus, with Wasp 51 we get a consistently solid, perfectly paced and sequenced, twenty-one (if ya got the special edition) track, forty-five minute disc. New Shelley classics include the scathing putdowns of the so-called Baby Boomer generation, "Not Like A Mirror Image" and "You Go To You And I By Me"; the equally acerbic Lennon-esque attack on nihilism and hopelessness, "Things You Can’t Be"; the introspective faux ‘80s new wave anthem, "Ah! Ahh! Ahhh!"; and the absurdist electro jungle romp as filtered through Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band rock, "Scrapezoid" where Jim chants "We’re just two rock and roll fuck up’s/That’s all we’ll ever be" over and again while knocking off some of the better lead licks of his career. Wasp 51!is also notable in that it marks a turn in Jim’s lyrical focus towards more of a politicized, though never didactic, world view where even falling in love is an act fraught with political complications. And never has melancholy and a sense of loss been more pronounced (and so elegantly addressed) than on this album. The arrangements are generally stripped down to a couple electric guitars, perhaps an acoustic or keyboard for texture, and drums and bass. In fact, the sound harkens back to mid-nineties albums such as Saint Judas and Splendid Trigger. Surely one of the better rock and roll records of 2003, even with the occasionally over-loud drum machine. Jim, you’re good on that thing, but how hard would it be to enlist the help of a real drummer or to at least turn the goddamn thing down? (Still, it’s not the instruments one uses, but rather the way one uses the instruments at one’s disposal to craft quality performances of good songs that counts.)


Jim took the summer of ’04 off to paint his house. Really. However, he had made contact during the previous winter with his talented old band mates, drummer Dustin Bugg and bassist Brian Temples, along with an exceptional lead guitarist with metal leanings by the name of Mike Chiarello, and reformed Book of Kills. The band only played one poorly promoted (as usual) show as well as a live radio broadcast at a local college, after which they splintered almost before they had properly begun. Unfortunately no studio recordings of this line-up were made. Predictably, this seems to have yet again spurred Jim to begin writing material for a new album (see above) which would prove to be the third in a trilogy of excellent records. I Can’t Give You Anything But Love is a deceptive little piece of work. At first Jim’s lyrics seem to be more basic than recent previous efforts, but the more you study them the more they disclose layers of meaning not readily discernable. Many of the songs ("A Space Where You Can’t Go" being the best example) deal with Jim’s disenchantment with life in a material world (‘Everything you think that you own owns you/Filling up a space where you can’t go’—"A Space Where You Can’t Go".) Others ("The Long One", "Somebody Told Me") clearly reveal his growing bewilderment and cynicism over his music’s lack of an appreciative audience and what he apparently perceives to be the inability of those who still do listen to him to accept his growth as a writer and performer. (‘They told me I better hold on to yesterday/I said no thanks I’d rather just go away’—"One True Passion Died".) Compared to recent previous albums, the arrangements and playing this time also seem almost elementary, though a deeper listen reveals a consistent, elegant complexity throughout. These songs have a thickness about them that I don’t think I’ve heard before in Jim Shelley/Book of Kills music. And yet they’re never muddy. Just listen to everything going on in the excellent A Space Where You Can’t Go to see what I mean. The album ending "The Long One", which rockets Abbey Road-like through six song fragments, bodes well for future experimentation that stays within the bounds of listenability (unlike, say, much of Songs For A Gone World.) All in all, it’s good to see our hero still slogging away. That he continues to quality material is just delightful icing on an already scrumptious cake. As some of you know, there was a time not too long ago when my faith in Jim Shelley and Book of Kills faltered when it seemed that Jim was no longer willing to challenge himself or even care enough to produce music at a level he was capable of maintaining. My faith, however, has been restored in the last four or five years by the sound of a man finding the courage to evolve, and perhaps more importantly, to simply continue in the face of stifling indifference and ignorance just because he loves music. Because he must make music. And because he knows he’ll never be like me…or you.

(c) 2005 by Jordan Williams

Jordan Williams -- a pseudonym used by the author at his request -- passed away in 2012. Besides being Jim's friend and an ardent admirer of his music, Jordan was a philanthropist and a highly successful businessman.

Think you know your Jim Shelley & Book of Kills? Answer the three following questions correctly and send your answers (along with your mailing address) to Jim and you'll receive a five track compact disc with previously unreleased live performances!

(a) What's Jim's favorite Beatles album?
(b) What's Jim's favorite guitar brand and model?
(c) Who has collaborated on the most songs with Jim? (Choose one): Jane Firkin, Amy Bugg, George Nipe III, Aaron Farrington