Friday, September 7, 2012

Review - The Jelly Jam - Shall We Descend

Since my MP3 player crashed (a SansaClip, thank you for asking) and I bought my new one (a Sony which is merely okay) I haven't listened to this album much. Which is a shame. I'll have to load it pronto onto the new MP3 player 'cause this is good stuff! In other news, I know it's probably not what he was thinking but I can't help but think about Ron Paul during the choruses of "Who's Coming Now?"

It’s been over seven years since The Jelly Jam’s last release and I am excited, and relieved, to proclaim that with Shall We Descend they still have that intangible “it” that everyone seeks to have. Who’s this Jelly Jam, you ask? The Jam is comprised of Ty Tabor, guitarist for King’s X, Rod Morgenstein, drummer for The Dixie Dregs, and John Myung of Dream Theatre. Such a lineup would make one fear the worst… a technical wank-fest that requires a PhD from Berkeley to appreciate. However as on their past albums together the boys take the opportunity to step back from their more progressive bands to create shorter, less complicated, more instantly enjoyable songs. This isn’t to say that they aren’t able to pull out the killer riff or the jaw-dropping drum fill or the occasional twisty-meter passage when the song requires but that’s the point: the song is first and foremost with this band. In fact, like Led Zeppelin you may have jammed out multiple times to a song before you realize that they’re doing something musically interesting under the hood.

A prime example is their first single, “Who’s Comin’ Now.” This song is a masterpiece of restraint, cruelly giving you just a taste of itself and then pulling back, slowly unfolding until you find yourself straining for the band to stop messing around and to pull out the stops, which they do in an overblown bridge that builds to a final, powerful, complete version of the chorus. Only after you catch your breath will you realize that the song is in 3/4 time. In “Stay Together” Tabor emotionally pleads his case with more pathos than he’s allowed expression in years while a powerful rhythm section provide emphasis to the catchy melody. “Halos in Hell” is built around a finger picked bass melody, starting quietly but wasting no time delivering the goods with bold chunky guitar stabs and changing dynamics, naturally taking the song through a series of changes, ending with an all-too-brief guitar solo.

“Same Way Down” is meaty melodic sugar with layered vocal harmonies and clean guitars supporting Tabor’s confessional lyrics. Since I brought up lyrics, may I point out that Tabor has grown tremendously in this area? While known primarily as a guitarist many of the lyrics on this album are downright poetic, weaving complex ideas into their lines that would take up way too much space in this review to fully unravel. Aside completed. “Barometric Reign” is a smoldering ballad that is punctuated but some passages where the string players kick things up a couple of notches while the drummer goes absolutely gonzo. “Questions” is a quiet song built around acoustic guitar, providing a brief cleansing of your palate before the final two heavy hitters that close the album. As on their first album there are two instrumental tracks. “March of the Trolls” is mostly connective mood music but “Ten” is an eight minute slow simmering jam that leaves no doubt that every member of the band can play at eleven when the need arises.

Shall We Descend is a dream combination of deft musicianship and rock-solid songwriting, fitting in quite nicely with their first two albums. I can give no heartier recommendation than this: Despite the passage of seven years I still return to the trough and listen to both of their earlier albums. If that doesn’t make these classics I don’t know what does.

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