brad-shame1Back before Pearl Jam hit it big, the guys that would eventually meet up with Eddie Vedder were part of the short lived rock acts Mother Love Bone and Temple of the Dog. Guitarist Stone Gossard – most famous for his ongoing part in Pearl Jam – knew drummer Regan Hagar from the early ’80s, who would go on to form the band Satchel with vocalist Shawn Smith, frequently bringing Gossard into that band when Pearl Jam wasn’t on tour. Brad is the product of this whole network of connections. Gossard formed Brad as a fun side project with Hagar, Smith and bassist Jeremy Toback, recording the cuts that would be released as Shame in 1992 and eventually returning to the studio to release Interiors in 1997.

Brad didn’t release a follow-up to Interiors until 2002, putting out more material in 2010 and 2012, so now Razor & Tie is releasing re-issues of those first two albums in conjunction with the band’s 20th anniversary. Aside for some reworked artwork – designed by Hagar and themed to make Shame, Interiors and 2002’s Welcome to Discovery Park match as a set – two originally import-only bonus tracks are included, “Séance” and “Heaven Help.” Both are appropriate rarities to include – “Séance” features Gossard stepping out a bit beyond background harmonies (though not as much as on Pearl Jam’s “Mankind”) and “Heaven Help” is a beautiful instrumental fade-out.

Despite all of Brad’s connections to ’90s grunge, neither Shame nor Interiors sound much like the defining music of that scene, instead featuring soft, nocturnal rock, giddy rhythms and glossy funk jams. More importantly, Shawn Smith’s presence defines Brad even more than Gossard’s musical contributions or inherent fame. Smith is an unusual vocalist even without the nebulous grunge influences of Brad’s apparent circle of friends; adjacent to era contemporaries like Soundgarden, Alice in Chains, Gossard and Jeff Ament’s Green River or Regan and Andrew Wood’s Malfunkshun, Smith’s honeyed falsetto starts to sound like the song of another species altogether. His generous piano and organ parts further separated Brad’s soulful tunes from the noisy, plaid-covered angst of the band’s peers. Brad’s earliest listeners wanted to hear more music from that Pearl Jam guy; while Gossard is no slouch, he’s also the most understated of Pearl Jam’s guitarists, a tactical songwriter who’s allowed Brad to highlight Smith’s Prince-esque sensibilities above all else. Considering Pearl Jam has continued to demand Gossard’s attention through the years, and Smith had enough inspiration to pursue Satchel, the two-man side project Pigeonhed and a trove of solo recordings (check out his robustly stocked Bandcamp page), Shame and Interiors still benefit immensely from Smith’s more overt influence.

While Interiors focuses much more consistently on gloomy serenades or giddy jams than more traditional rockers, both of Brad’s early releases bounce between big rock anthems and softer, somewhat experimental melodies. On Shame, the pitter-patter drums and warbling bass of “Buttercup” make for a dramatic opener. “My Fingers” comes next with pistons surging and Gossard’s guitar building up the song’s roaring acceleration. Smith really gets into the song’s momentum, and it’s easy to imagine him freaking out as he unloads the song’s distorted vocals onstage, but his strong performances become increasingly controlled, precise and sedate for most of Shame and the bulk of Interiors. He lets loose a bit as each skittering refrain rolls around on “Nadine”, and both “Secret Girl” and “Lift” feature adequate gusto to match the tempered shredding (“Lift” being an Interiors standout despite its goofy focus on skiing), but Smith’s stylistic range is broad enough to allow his performances a tonal breadth to match.

It’s not surprising, then, that Brad really shines on the more languid songs. “Good News” is produced to be evening dark and molasses rich, a smoky piano groove letting Smith build his sensual croon into a shockingly adept falsetto while Gossard jabs in the occasional well-timed outburst like lightning cutting through slow rolls of thunder and rain. “Down” broods in a way that sounds a whole lot like Alice in Chains’ “Rooster,” Toback’s vocals a compelling hybrid between Layne Staley and John Frusciante. Mid-album Interiors cornerstone “Upon My Shoulders” may be Smith’s most resonant performance, delicate piano, trembling strings and an inky organ revealing the reedy accent and unwavering strength of his quiet serenade. And the eerie cast of “Funeral Song” is equally memorable, a buzzing blues-rock sensibility coloring Smith’s polished vocal solo. Gossard gets a turn to noodle about too, his charged guitar tone a remarkable match to the more insistent points of Smith’s performance and the song’s seemingly cavernous size.

Brad’s releases have been sporadic since the ’90s, when the band released its best work to date. The initial levity of a side-project likely contributed to Shame and Interiors taking on such wildly different styles than the music being made around the band’s various constituents. An opportunity to play around and have fun, especially for Gossard (Pearl Jam isn’t exactly known for its sunny demeanor), surely brought out ideas the four wouldn’t have explored otherwise. Both albums have aged well because of that relaxed feel. Instead of being stale and dated, Shame and Interiors both are worthy of a wider audience.

One Comment

  1. Frederik

    October 30, 2013 at 3:12 pm

    Great review Michael, thanks!

    As a Pearl Jam fan, I’ve always found Stone’s role in the band underrated. On the Brad albums (and live) you can hear what a great player he really is. Plus he wrote some of the best songs of Pearl Jam.

    By-the-way Temple of the Dog was not really a band, but more a project that included Eddie Vedder as well (although he was not part of the few live performances I think).

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