In the music world, the term “side-project” usually refers to an attempt by an artist or band member to break away from what made them successful and to try something completely different … a reinvention of themselves, so to speak.Â Sometimes the attempt is lauded as being superior to, or at least, on par to the original (Sebadoh, A Perfect Circle, Temple of the Dog), and sometimes the results are held in less regard (Tom Tom Club, Fantomas, Velvet Revolver.)
Seattle’s Brad can technically be considered a side project since it has served as an outlet for Stone Gossard’s non-Pearl Jam work since 1992. In all fairness, though, the band is less about pumping out Vedder-less outtakes and more about showcasing Shawn Smith’s distinctly humble and strikingly poignant vocal talent.
Smith could be called “Mr. Side-project.” His musical resume dates back to the early 1990s and bands such as Pigeonhed, Satchel, The Twilight Singers, Forever Breaks, Thunderbirds, From the North, All Hail The Crown and Fireside Gospel all hold the distinction of having him as a lead vocalist. With such a resume, one may think that Shawn would be prone to flamboyancy or hubris. By all accounts, however, he is an increasingly humble man with a talent the size of the state of Washington and a style cooler than Steve McQueen.
United We Stand, Brad’s fifth album (and the first since 2010), finds Smith and Gossard joined by the rhythm section consists of drummer Regan Hagar and bass player Keith Lowe (of Seattle’s pioneering Malfunkshun and Fiona Apple, respectively).Â The sound is unusually thick and focused andÂ surprisingly less â€œgrungyâ€ than one would expect given the band’s pedigree. Shawn describes the album as being a “testament to a band in its 20th year, a band that started with three friends getting together one afternoon to jam. The approach was a little bit different than in the past, with plenty of time to try stuff out and then to step away for a while and return fresh to see what felt good and what didn’t.”
What United We Stand feels like is a group of seasoned musicians having a good time and channeling their collective experience into a pleasurable listening experience.
The highlights include the Pearl Jam-ish â€œTea Bag,â€ the anthemic â€œNeedle and Thread,â€ and my personal favorite, â€œA Reason to Be in My Skin.â€
While Brad may never be as big as Pearl Jam, it would be unfair to label the band as merely a “side-project.” Two decades in, and they are still releasing consistently good material. The music is vibrant and real and it’s a testimony to the ability of the musicians to keep pushing out enjoyable tunes.Â It is worth a listen â€¦ or several.
United We Stand is out now on Razor & Tie.