Perhaps best known as Pearl Jam guitarist Stone Gossard’s other band, Brad (Gossard, vocalist Shawn Smith, drummer Regan Hagar and bassist Keith Lowe) carries a bit of a heavy burden every time it releases an album.
The band is by far the most active of the groups outside of Pearl Jam that include members of Pearl Jam. But Gossard’s presence typically serves as a critical albatross because rock writers constantly compare the group to Pearl Jam even though Gossard insists Brad isn’t a side project, rather it is a fully realized band. The 10 tracks on Brad’s latest album, United We Stand, continue to prove the group is more than just a Pearl Jam offshoot while the group itself continues to forge its own identity based around strong melodies and the soulful and versatile vocals of Shawn Smith.
One of the big differences between Brad and Pearl Jam is that Brad has never been a high-octane band like Pearl Jam and this holds true throughout United We Stand. Smith’s vocals and introspective songwriting are the focus here and while Gossard is one of the group’s principal players he’s never really in the spotlight.
“Through the Day” and “Bound in Time” are both softer, more melodic songs that emphasize Smith’s piano notes and lyrics. They’re both refreshing reminders of how Smith’s smooth pipes can carry a song. Gossard’s presence is felt on songs like “A Reason to be in my Skin,” which is one of the album’s best offerings, and “Last Bastion,” a song built on the backbone of a fuzzy Gossard riff and closes with a searing Gossard solo.
Believe it or not, the record’s few low points come when the band kicks things up a notch. A song like “Tea Bag,” a heavier uptempo number, shows some of the band’s versatility but it sounds a bit out of place in context with the rest of the record’s more soulful grooves. The same could almost be said for “Diamond Blues” and “Last Bastion” if it wasn’t for Smith’s more controlled vocal deliveries for each song. On the former he goes full-blown blues singer and the latter he sounds a bit like a Vernon Reid knockoff, and that’s meant as a compliment in the best way possible.
Despite its few flaws United We Stand is a solid addition to Brad’s criminally limited catalog (it’s their fifth album in 19 years). The group is on the right path to breaking away from the shadow of Pearl Jam with solid songwriting and allowing Smith to keep on flexing his vocal muscles. Hopefully since this record marks the band’s shortest gap between albums there will be a more fully realized sixth studio record soon.
Brad celebrates the release of United We Stand with a performance with Thor Brinsfield and Special Explosion at the Showbox April 27. Tickets cost $15 and can be purchased here.by