Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Review - Jelly Jam

My, what a long, long review. Not much else to add, I suppose, except that I still listen to this one now and then, a whopping ten years later. The trio just put out a new album, their third, and the rumors are that a fourth is in the works. Oh joy! Oh rapture!

* * * * *

To me, the last King's X album sounded like they were just going through the motions, hashing together ten quick songs to fulfill contractual obligations. Doug dominated the tracks, making it sound like a Pound Hound project, and Ty apparently spent most of the album in the john.

Or maybe his creative juices were busy collaborating on his latest side band, The Jelly Jam.

When the keyboardist for his first side project, Platypus, decided to leave the band, the remaining members knew that there was still plenty of magic to be mined. Working in the familiar confines of a three-piece combo, guitarist/vocalist Ty Tabor of King's X, bassist John Myung of Dream Theatre, and drummer Rod Morgenstein of Dixie Dregs have created an album of songs that far surpasses anything recorded by Platypus. Less jazzy and more rock-n-roll than their earlier work, these songs start strong and get stronger. On the first listen you may find a track or two that you enjoy but give it three more spins and it'll plow into you line an angry linebacker on steroids. So good are these tunes that I've been putting off reviewing this album just so I can justify a few more listens. Where most albums begin to lose their luster after five spins past these jaded ears, this album is well into the twenties and I still love what I hear.

Imagine crunching 70's era rock with a bit of classic prog, add Beatlesque vocal stylings, astounding guitar tones, appealing melodies, and death-defying drum work that even non-drummers notice, and you have The Jelly Jam. The first track, "I Can't Help You", is dense and heavy, charging through gritty progressive meter changes with a great in-the-gut riff. The funky wah guitar of "No Remedy" will remind fans of prime King's X while "Nature's Girl" features frenzied guitars battling to reach the half-time candy chorus. "Feeling" is the first song that broke me wide open. Lyrically set on Ty's "busted marriage", this song is packed with emotion. Loping bass lines and a complex drum figure in the verse make way for an ultra-crunchy and powerfully intense bridge. Ty's clean vocals part the waters with "Leave me my red cherry wine/ And I know I'll be doing just fine / 'Cause I'm keeping this deep heart of mine / From feeling" as the song segues into a placid, extended solo section reminiscent of "The Burning Down" from the classic Gretchen album, later rising again like the Phoenix, building more tension to unbearable levels. With no chance to recover, The Jelly Jam next hits you with "Reliving", a song slower in tempo but just as heavy with heartfelt anguish and crying, screaming guitar. The title track opens with the same guitar figure used in "Reliving" but these talented musicians turn it into a spacey six-minute impromptu jam. I'm not sure if Ty is trying to say something about his "home" band with "I Am The King" but this heavy humdinger with killer drums packs a powerful wallop, juxtaposing an angsty chorus with a calm verse. "The King's Dance" is an instrumental based on the melodies from the previous track, all of which melts into "Under The Tree". Here an Asian-influenced verse comes head to head with a crushing ball bridge full of distortion. The second half of the song is an extended, spacey solo, again like the classic early King's X albums, featuring Ty's signature guitar tone.

The flow of this album, with songs borrowing themes from one another, leads to a very coherent and always interesting album. The music is complex but doesn't reveal it's true nature unless you are listening for it, masked as it is in easily digestible melodies and great vocals. While I've made many comparisons to early King's X albums, the biggest hit is in terms of feel. There is a chemistry going on here, a spark between three musicians at the top of their craft, each excited to be a part of a kinetic creativity that can't be formulated by studio gizmos. This one's a solid 10… what more can I say?

This review first appeared in WhatzUp, April 2002.

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