The ‘80s was a wild decade for sure. The clothes, the coke binges, the clubs and the music were off the gnarly scale. It was a period of formation for many eclectic bands and those quirky underworld sounds were the foundation of many of the music forms that we still use today. Jack Brag is a band that has upheld that murky time tunnel of mysterious Psychedelic Furs-meets-The Chameleons genre, mixing Curtis Ian-styled vocals with Peter Bucked jangling guitars and Robert Smith fringed string arrangements, all burning bright within their poppy punk wave sound and covered with a curious outer shell of deliciously dark chamber music influence. The name Jack Brag is a curious band name as well. Jack Brag is a 19th century expression meaning “a pretender who ingratiates himself with people above him.” While the term is Oliver Twist in its presentation, I think I understand what they’re trying to convey.
Jack Brag is also one of the bands that contributed to the Winter Hours project, A Few Uneven Rhymes, with their version of “Hyacinth Girl” done smartly with the talented Deena Shoshkes, formerly of The Cucumbers (to be reviewed here soon), which they worked from their original point of view to the point that its been called a born-again hit by many fans of the original Winter Hours song. The thing I like about writer Tony Donato’s composition style is his hardcore dedication to traditional ‘80s sensibilities. Whether this is intentional or not, his approach to his music is eerie in its time-zoned accuracy.
The disc starts out with “Those Days,” a Joy Division-meets-The Police number, featuring pearlescent string melodies and echoed pianos weaving in and out of shimmering chorused guitars basing their sound on the greats and offering a view into their pop rock roots as they take off into their own direction. “Mona Lisa Smile” and “Fear Of Falling” are in the same type of vein as well, done smartly in gothwave angst without sounding monotonous or predictable. Actually “Fear Of Falling” is one of my favorites and has deep remnants of Philadelphia’s Robert Hazard And The Heros with those great off-kilter doom and gloom vocals and ethereal hip “dark shadows” guitar lines.
“Truth And Lies” and the hip upbeat of “She Waits” (a tune with an excellent trippy string bridge) are yet another couple of tunes that shine bright with remnants of the Boomtown Rats melancholy-meets-the poppy rock of The Cars, thanks to the vocals of Jim Robertazzi and the writing style of Donato. Not a bad thing to be in my book as I dig this kind of quirky and adventurous stuff. I’m happy that someone can get this close to a vital style without making me vomit from remembering just how horrid that decade was.
“Interlude” is another interesting number and brings the groups description of “vaudeville and whimsy theatrics” into play. Unfortunately that is way too short and the group launches into disc finale “Black Forest,” a rock and roll number in the vein of Billy Squire or early Zeppelin that while good, strays outside the continuity zone of a band that obviously excels in the old school CBGB’s universe. Tunes like “Time Is Mine” and “What You Leave Behind” don’t seem to gel as well as others, sounding more like early twisted Sister than Bauhaus.
Jack Brag is a budding group that shows tons of creative promise in their immediate time. This latest CD sits well alongside their contribution to The Winter Hours disc as a couple of early year highlights. If you’re into that dark and velvety ‘80s thing go check out a live show and grab the disc online. For further information go to jackbrag.com.
Jon Caspi—Eddie Knows!—A Novel Idea A good novel can be judged by the immediate set up of the story. Establishing characters, plots, locations and times are key to getting the reader involved as soon as possible. While this can also be applied to movies and television, Jon Caspi has figured out how to use this storyteller’s technique to bring his latest production, Eddie Knows!, to the front and center of the consumer’s aural palette.
The songs are created as chapters of a book or a movie’s storyboard, conveying a specific mini chapter to the listener with interwoven narration and character illustration. To be honest, I didn’t go into this with the feeling that it would work, but a few things save this disc from complete confusion.
First of all, Caspi is a first class songwriter on this disc. I could easily see where someone of a lesser talent would skimp or lose sight of the end goal on something this complex but he took his time with every tune and they’re solid. Second, he’s thought about the “puzzle pieces” of this long before he put it together and it shows in the smooth way it flows smoothly. And thirdly, he’s kept it believable. Lets face it, complex story lines and multi functional characters just wouldn’t have worked here. With 14 chapters or songs, you need to keep the listener focused with good ole’ scandalous lovin’, cheatin’, knocked-up drama and the tribulations of relationships.
From topics of betrayal to regret and recovery, Caspi rides this rustic and Americana styled disc to its inevitable conclusion. The individual compositions run the stylistic gamut from the Jersey Shore sound to the countrified high-class vibes of The Band, Bob Dylan, Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young as well as Harry Chapin. Caspi says, “It was a real challenge to write—trying to compose each song so that it fit the album narrative and emotional tone, while at the same time having each song be able to stand on its own.”
Stand out tracks were the big ballad charge of “Big Change” featuring some big ole’ greasy country lines courtesy of Caspi and the rhythm thunder of Jimmie Mizell and Ken Kraut ala Marshall Tucker style. “I Will Be There” rolls in up-tempo and utilizes ultra cool staccato pianos and the alternative countrified rock of “Anyone Else There?” blowing its golden radio-friendly smoke right in your face. “Make It A Lifetime” has a great British feel ala The Beatles or Herman’s Hermits. This is really a good offering that doesn’t come off sounding pompous or hokey and I could easily see Eddie Knows! bonding with the right independent label willing to take a risk on the risk-taker reviewed here.
Jon Caspi has taken a bold step forward with his novel-styled vision on Eddie Knows! and it’s paid off big with originality and style unlike anything else out there today. A sure-fired bestseller!
Jon Caspi is a singer/songwriter well known in the NJ/NYC music scenes. He has had his music featured on radio stations across the U.S, in films, and on MTV and the WB. For further information on the latest disc and to get live show info, head over to joncaspi.com.