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Brad - 'Best Friends' (Monkey Wrench) Print E-mail
CD Reviews
Written by Russ P   
Saturday, 11 December 2010 05:00

Brad-Best-Friends-176pxBack in 1993 I was blown away by an album featuring Pearl Jam guitarist Stone Gossard. That album was called 'Shame' and the band was called Brad and it was also my first introduction to the unique vocal talents of Shawn Smith. Quite simply the album was beautiful, soulful and funky and also bore absolutely no resemblance to Pearl Jam. The band's second album was different. It was called 'Interiors' and was rawer, more intense, punky even. I loved it. Inevitably with Stone Gossard's commitments to his other band - I'm tempted to call them the side-project - Brad often stalled. Members were taken away and members were added. They became, for all intents and purposes almost indistinguishable from one of Smith's other bands - Satchel.

 

But Brad did return. First in 2002 with the disappointing 'Welcome To Discovery Park' and then in 2005 on the confusing 'Brad vs Satchel' compilation which further blurred the lines between Smith's projects and featured unreleased songs from both bands. Did this signal the end of both bands?

 

Well no. Because 2010 is Resurrection Year! We've already reviewed Satchel's 'Heartache & Honey' and now we have in our sweaty hands 'Best Friends?' First up is 'Price Of Love'. And it's vintage Shaun Smith. It's what he does best. Sitting at the piano and singing soulfully. It's up there with the best of his solo songs.

 

'Without Regret' has a sweet understated melody sung over a sturdy wall of overdriven no-nonsense Neil Young-like guitar rhythm sounding like a Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young reunion.

 

'Rush Hour', contrarian tune that it is, feels like it's in no hurry at all. The grinding down-tuned guitars and the slow rhythm is decidedly grungy but with Shaun's upbeat melody and harmony this is no doom-fest. There is always redemption and hope in Shaun's voice.

 

Up to now the album falls a little flat when compared to Satchel's 'Heartache And Honey' which Smith released earlier this year. That album kicked off big time with 'The Return Of...' but 'Best Friends' has yet to bear its teeth.

 

'Believe In Yourself' is what I'd call another Shaun Smith gem - what he excels at. But under the Brad moniker and with Stone Gossard as your right-hand man I can't help but expect more from the partnership especially based on their stunning first two albums.

 

We have to wait until track 7 and the Gossard penned 'Low' for a glimpse of what I'm personally looking for. A dirty, funky, soulful rocker. I wish the album had more of this stuff on it. And it does. Next track 'Oh My Goodness' is cut from the same cloth with Stone Gossard finally coming more into the spotlight.

 

But these flashes remain relatively few. 'Best Friends' isn't 'Shame' and it isn't 'Interiors'. It's much more low key and laid back. There are shades of the west coast sound about it. There's a Neil Young vibe to it. And Pink Floyd in places too like in the verses to 'One Love Remaining'.

 

In all 'Best Friends' is a better album than 'Welcome To Discovery Park'. I've listened and listened to that album looking for a memorable song and, out of 15 songs I only come away with one - 'It Ain't Easy'. 'Best Friends', on the other hand, is full of memorable songs. And if this was a Shaun Smith solo album no doubt I'd be lauding it a lot more than I am here. But it's that nagging feeling of talent untapped that somehow makes this album seem less a collaborative Brad album than a Shaun Smith solo album. And that's plainly not true. The band have in fact branched out. Shaun plays drums on the album, Stone plays drums on the album. Regan Hagar, the drummer, plays keys and guitar. They're clearly relaxed and comfortable as they slip into each other's roles without a care. So, contrary to what I think this could be the most collaborative album yet. And let's hope that the guys have more in the tank for yet more albums. 'Best Friends' is available from Pearl Jam's Ten Club store.

 

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