Jawbox has been one of those bands that I never really LOVED to death, but always appreciated. When I was in college, one of my roommates had most of their albums. I'd have to say the only ones I'm really familiar with are the first 2 albums. The last marked the beginning of a major record label debut, and the dwindling of a band's career.
One of my questions about this release is why? It's not like anyone would release a tribute for the Counting Crows? What? Someone put out a tribute to the Counting Crows? Well shit. I guess it's time for 90's comeback Novelty! (I'm sorry. I really had to make that horrible joke.)
One of the things about Jawbox is the subtlety. At first listen, especially amidst all the shit that was being pumped out at the time of the Jawbox demise, the band seemed like a bit of a pink elephant. No one knew exactly what to do with them. I saw them on their last tour, with a band called Nada Surf opening up for them. Nada Surf were riding on their hit Popular, which inspired the Pi Kappa boys who showed up at the show to crowd surf the audience and then promptly go back to the dorm room, leaving Jawbox all to ourselves. This was the beauty of the band, as well as an analogy for their dissolve.
Jawbox's sound was tightly controlled and focused, intricate, melodic, and beautiful. Perhaps a little too technical for what they were being pimped out on MTV as. Perhaps a little too soft by the end of their career. The earlier albums were released on Ian Mackaye's Dischord Records, which is often associated with progressive minded punk oriented music and radical leftist literature. This sets the tone for the animosity original Jawbox fans might have felt towards the band's jump to a major.
However, I praise the band for bringing themselves to the masses, as gritty as it was to do. What happens in this case is the band is discovered by music fan on a major first, then said music fan buys entire back catalog of band- including earlier small label releases, and is then infatuated with the underground music network, and thus begins a music fan's magical journey.
Overall, this is a very satisfying compilation. I thoroughly enjoyed the covers, although I'm not familiar with Jawbox's entire catalog. This is an excellent foray into the reissues of the 2 last albums (more info below.)
The first track is a dead on cover of Cooling Card by Retisonic. It's a proper beginning that is very well played and tightly executed. The next track, 68 by Pilot to Gunner, demonstrates how Jawbox tunes can be subtly changed and have a totally different feel to them. Track 3, U-Trau, showcases Jawbox's trademark dueling vocals and penchant for progressive time signatures. This track by Riddle of Steel is a little anemic, but strong enough and true to the original. It's followed by Tools & Chrome by Black Cross. This one is another right on cover, with a bit more forceful vocal approach.
Then comes Green Glass by the Life & Times. This one seems a little slower than the original, which appeared on For Your Own Special Sweetheart, the 3rd album. As an added bonus, Life & Times' singer sounds just like J. Robbins! Great Lake Wrecks then contributes Empire of One. It's another faithful cover, but with an interesting keyboard track. Overall a weaker version than the original.
The seventh song is Static by the Actual. This is hands down my favorite track on the album. The band takes the song and truly brings it into POP territory, showing the underlying beauty of Jawbox's songwriting. I like this because the band is doing something different with a familiar tune, and it's both very interesting and inspiring. I think Jawbox would be flattered by the emotion displayed by this band performing their version of the song. The original track appeared on Novelty.
Afterwards, we get another powerful cover in the form of Spit-Bite, albeit with less distorted guitars. Instead Collosal's version has more of a "jangly" guitar sound than the dual buzzsaw attack of the original. Actionslack then contributes another very interesting cover. Iodine originally appears on Jawbox, the final album. This is very brooding song, accented with a piano track, that truly shows how under appreciated the band was at the time. Honestly, I'm not too familiar with the original, but this cover ensures my purchase of the soon to be reissued final 2 albums on Desoto Records.
Breathe is a very familiar Jawbox song, this time performed by Ourselves. It's very faithful and perhaps a little more aggressive than the original. Still it's very appropriate for the compilation. Track 11 is Cutoff by Red Animal War. This band is a bit heavier than the other bands on the compilation, with metallic, chugga chugga muted guitar riffs. The song showcases what was developing at the time Jawbox was on their way out. And it's a good cover! Even if that's not your bag, at least it's Jawbox they're playing.
Traindodge puts a bit of a classic rock spin on Tracking. They incorporate a cowbell, spacey guitar pedals, keyboards, voice box (do I hear a xylophone?) and a power chord anthem. It's very chaotic and interesting. Fate Heroic's version of Consolation Prize is a little bit too Rush-like for my tastes, but interesting nonetheless, displaying the options for interpretations from a band as intricate as Jawbox. This track features flanger from hell guitar effects and a slightly effeminate vocal performance from a dude. Nothing wrong with that, but a little to theatrical for a Jawbox cover, in my humble opinion.
The compilation ends with Whitney Walks by Heros Severum. This band sounds a lot like Jawbox. I don't know that the song itself sounds just like the original, but the band has got the spirit card played right on. Interesting male/female dueling vocals, and a screaming chorus. There's just enough underlying noise throughout the entire track for me to make a dead on band comparison. Perhaps the best choice for a closer on a very satisfying cover album.
So I recommend this to all Jawbox fans, and if you're interested in the band, definitely check out this CD. It's a very appropriate introduction to one of the East Coast's most underestimated bands.
A few final notes. Two Sheds Music is an Atlanta based record label, and we should all thank them for having the idea and putting the compilation album out. It must also be said that the label is, in the spirit of the band Jawbox and their ilk, contributing $2.00 of every sale of the CD to The Lupus Foundation of America. There are some track listing errors: band names and song titles are swapped in a couple of instances. Also, the last 2 Jawbox albums are to be re-released through Bill Barbot and Kim Coletta's record label Desoto Records some time this Fall.
Finally, Jawbox's final drummer, Zach Barocas, inspired me to really hit my drums really hard, leading me to break a lot of cymbals and drum heads. Seriously, I've still got the cymbals and they look really crazy and sound kinda cool. I am sure that all of my neighbors have appreciated the drumming intensity i learned from Jawbox!