What is it with Frederick and horns? It seems like for every run-of-the-mill cover band that prides itself on covering “Iron Man” and wearing stone-washed jeans on a Saturday night, there is some group of youngsters rocking and rolling away in a downtrodden garage as someone stops by and says, “Hey, my name is Johnny. I play the saxophone!”
Not that there is anything wrong with such a thing, per se. One of the strongest aspects of musical composition can indeed be a solid horn section. Even more telling is the perception that because playing any type of horn-centric instrument will make somebody — or some band — stand out in a crowd, you don’t have to be an expert at the craft to land a gig in some type of pseudo funk band, or even more so, a reggae-fueled outfit.
And much like The Knolly Moles, who are another Frederick-based band that allows horns to lead their way through an eclectic musical blend, the best part about Lemon Jacks’ most recent offering, “Jade Burial Suit,” is without question the presence of a simple saxophone. As for the rest of the release … well …
First the good. While it’s impossible to tell who is singing what and when, the vocal trio of Tim Scott, Tony Gianni and Daniel Kollars provide nice-enough performances that veer between the gravel of Tom Waits, the rasp of Less Than Jake’s Chris Demakes and the plaintiveness of Pink Floyd’s Syd Barrett or even David Gilmour. Surprisingly enough, the three even combine for a couple memorable harmonies (such as on the short “Find That Girl”) that truly suggest something far more interesting underneath all the ruckus that this release provides.
Which, naturally, leads us into the bad. Not only is “Jade Burial Suit” excruciatingly borderline un-listenable and under-produced, but it’s also so scatterbrained, you would have an easier time trying to figure out what’s ultimately going to happen in “The Wire” than you would trying to pin these guys into a specific genre. Case in point: “Freight Train” and “Passage.”
The former — which also happens to be the disc’s first track — is a bluesy romp that suffers immensely from the band’s lack of continuity. Lo-fi or not, hearing the rhythm guitar refuse to line up with an already unreliable drum performance quickly forces any listener’s defenses to be drawn, expecting the rest of the record to be mind-bogglingly disappointing.
But the latter, well, the latter isn’t all that bad. A two-part instrumental that begins in the same vein of “Freight Train,” “Passage” is the only time this group comes together in a satisfying manner. The song’s second act is an Afro-inspired ditty that showcases a side of the band you simply never thought existed. Darryl Brenzel’s saxophone shines wonderfully over an array of percussive sounds that echo a town that probably sits at least 15 miles away from Graceland.
That world-music vibe continues on “Tramp Blues” and “Eyes Of Green,” the instances in which “Jade Burial Suit” comes the closest to bluegrass that Lemon Jacks have probably ever been. Both songs make the strongest case for kicking Tony Gianni’s drums out of the group once and for all, if only because these are the tracks that he’s not featured on.
“Tramp Blues” inexplicably evokes Elvis Costello’s Sugarcanes and their 2009 effort, “Secret, Profane & Sugarcane,” partly because the voice in front of it sounds a bit like Declan MacManus himself, but also partly because the plucking and strumming eerily resembles at least a few moments from that record.
“Eyes Of Green,” meanwhile, is a simple acoustic number that barely eclipses the two-minute mark and proves itself as memorable because of the “less is more” approach that really does suit this band best.
But unfortunately what suits this band best isn’t prominently displayed throughout most all of “Jade Burial Suit,” making this a product that proves to be hard to sit with (the nearly-25-minute joke that is offered as a secret track to round out the disc is proof enough of that conclusion). The production value is bad. The songwriting is too much of a smorgasbord to seriously consider. And while that saxophone does add a layer of something worth paying attention to, the performance aspect of it all is at times cringe-worthy.
It all combines for something that is as low-budget as you’ll ever find locally. No, Lemon Jacks aren’t the worst band you could ever come across in the history of the world. But they could be the worst band you hear in Frederick … with a horn.
* 1 1/2 STARS OUT OF 4 *