Chris Dickson is a musical entrepreneur that is truly making a difference in his own way. For over five years, Dickson and his crew have been marching to their very own beat with the Rent Party presentations at the South Orange Elks Club. In a modern day world where I see bands struggling to meet club ticket minimums and bring in fat bar receipts, Chris Dickson has taken the phrase “grass roots” all the way to the bank. The food bank that is. Proceeds from Rent Party shows are freely donated to help fight the all-too-real problem of hunger that resides right in our backyards.
Rent Party has done their collective homework, bringing in quality musical pairings that include national acts such as Garland Jeffreys, Willie Nile, James Maddock and Freedy Johnston. But the main focus of Rent Party is the local Jersey musicians that have always stepped up to the plate and slammed one over the fence in the name of compassion time and time again.
That caring concern has helped Rent Party come up with several ideas aimed at helping their own. One of those programs is called “Back Pack Pals.” Rent Party volunteers step up and deliver sorely needed sustenance to schools each and every Friday. These backpacks are filled with nutritious, kid-friendly food for those who might be considered “food insecure” over the weekend. If this wasn’t enough, Kerry Miller and her volunteer staff over at the Rent Party garden grow a myriad of foods that are donated to food pantries throughout their communities.
In celebration of their powerful musical relationships and word-of-mouth success, Chris Dickson and Rent Party have released a veritable smorgasbord of original New Jersey music in honor of all who have lent much needed support. Featuring over 30 tracks donated by everyone you’ve ever heard of, and some you may not have known about, Rent Party 5th Anniversary Collection- Good Music Good Cause is a record filled with top-shelf talent.
Listening to this disc is like getting lost in an amusement park. Styles and individual colors collide with a creative passion and reach of songwriting gift rarely seen on a compilation of this size. Produced by Chris Dickson, Good Music Good Cause hits that simple nail right on the proverbial head.
It’s almost unfair to pick through this smartly produced double-disc set, but some of the selections I’ve chosen for description are listed below.
Right off the bat, Cranford, New Jersey’s Shark Hat proves that you don’t have to be from Texas or Tennessee to toss out the greasiest twang on the planet. Tight as a tick and steeped in Smoky Mountain moxie, Shark Hat uses “Long Way From Memphis” to take a big bite out of East Coast preconceptions.
Deena (The Cucumbers) pops into the mix with her pocket-thick gem “My Friend Superman.” Horns blast over organ-dominated pop bridges as she lays her sugar-laced vocals all down the middle. Listen to this girl, she’s got the goods. Guitars intertwine with rhythmic grace and Deena’s attractive tone.
The ultra-tight pop of Sad About Girls on “Another Sun Is Setting” really floored me with their habit-forming style of composition. If you dig old-school Elvis Costello, The Knack or The Lemonheads, you’re gonna love the rebellious glory of this song.
“Mona Lisa Smile” by Jack Brag immediately brings me back to the heady days of Joy Division. Glimmering, chorus-fueled guitars stamp this retrospective brand into my mind for days on end.
The Mungers lay down their satirical pop rock savvy with the hilarious line, “Just like a record song, you may not like me now, but you’ll be humming me later.” And I would have to emphatically agree with that superb lyrical statement.
New Brunswick avant-garde kings The Anderson Council hit big with “Don’t You Think.” Rumbling bass and drums make way for gritty guitars and miles of great chorus work. Combining the introspective smarts of the Beatles with the compositional hipshot of The Decemberists, “Don’t You Think” shifts straight into airplay overdrive.
The Brixton Riot throws down “riotous,” rhythmic thunder on “Signal To Noise.” Often described as “Four New Jerseyans making indie rock and power pop without skinny jeans since 2006,” Brixton Riot toss big gnarly guitars onto center stage and they had me hitting the replay button like a mental patient.
Maplewood’s own Gumwall utilize an attractive, bass heavy sound to get their point across on “Moonshine.” Gumwall’s mid-tempo pocket zones in on chimey, reverb-drenched electrics and lush vocal melodies. If you dig The Wallflowers, you’ll love “Moonshine.”
Another fine standout comes from the band Wild Carnation. Hailing from Hoboken, Wild Carnation is yet another band steeped in 1980s tradition. Combining the carefree angst of The Feelies and The Bongos, Wild Carnation spins and swirls into the constructive feel-good zone of “Cricket.” Guitars switch between Neil Young vulnerability and the traditional call and response structures of early Beatles and Herman’s Hermits.
Fronted by industry vet Neil Sabatino, Fairmont makes an impressive dent with “From High Above The City.” Combining intense, layered instrumentation with luscious harmonies, Fairmont takes a tumble into Wonderland. Thick drum kicks, killer choruses and bridges that fly into daring melodic territory are impressively handled. Choruses are memorable for days. Fairmont is indeed a band that turned my head and left a lasting impression. I’d love to see them live.
Megan Reilly shines on “Throw It Out.” Chris Isaak-style guitars shimmer and reverberate under a beautiful, melancholy feel of bands such as The Sundays. Simplistic and well-constructed, “Throw It Out” combines great choruses with highly engaging melody. Reilly’s vocals are a pristine, upper soprano focal point that leads this haunting composition straight into your heart.
Bobby Mahoney And The Seventh Son kick it old school on “Another Deadbeat Summer.” This is Jersey rock and roll at its finest. Stomping drum patterns and bass pump rebel-rousing fire to the shore town traditional scorn like nobody’s business. Guitars rip and roar across the spectrum of this ode to escaping the same old song and dance.
The Cucumbers finish up disc two with “Rent Party Song.” I didn’t realize that Rent Party had their own song but hey, good for them! Horns, organs and “Rent Party” chants kick up the dust on this swanky little ditty. Sing along, pick out the characters and volunteer for the next live show, maybe someday, you’ll be next in line for a verse mention. Deena Shoshkes and Jon Fried are seasoned songwriters and they don’t disappoint here. Guitars sizzle with Jeff “Skunk” Baxter appeal and tom toms rumble to beat the band. Even the Elks club Prez gets a mention here.
With a record this big comes the quandary of what to mention and why. This was just a thumbnail descriptive of a much bigger picture. Truth be told, every artist on this set is outstanding, and the producers took great care in making sure that specific and talented bands were picked for this project. This is a double dose of great Jersey talent and it’s going into my keeper pile.
Chris Dickson and all the great folks at Rent Party are part of a small group of New Jersey music lovers that are doing something besides lining their pockets, and it is continuing to be noticed for what it really is—an honest and compassionate get-together of people more interested in supporting a scene than just being seen.
For more information on upcoming shows, programs and where to get this amazing two-disc set of compositional excellence, head over to rentpartylive.com.