Brendan Kelly / Joe McMahon - Wasted Potential (Cover Artwork)
Staff Pick

Brendan Kelly / Joe McMahon

Wasted Potential (2010)

Red Scare / Anchorless

You guys. YOU GUYS. There's this new CD out called Wasted Potential being joint-released on Red Scare and Anchorless Records. It is an acoustic split CD between Brendan Kelly and Joe McMahon. Kelly is a guy from a band that is called the Lawrence Arms. They are a punk band from Chicago that writes songs about drunks. McMahon is in Smoke or Fire, a punk group that is secretly from Massachusetts but pretends to be from Virginia. They also write songs about drunks, but sometimes they also write songs about important issues like equal rights. Both of these bands are very good and I like them very much.

And, you guys, they have just delivered on to mine very ears an acoustic collection of sexcellent proportions. See, they took songs from their bands and played them all stripped down, with a cover concluding their respective sets. It's like MTV Unplugged except it ups those emotionally fragile creatures, the punx. Kelly goes first and, by his own admission in the liner notes, his takes are rough. "Blood Meridian," a revised version of "The Redness in the West" from last year's succulent, juicy Buttsweat and Tears, sounds almost completely different. Perhaps because there's no full band to contrast with the guitar/vox opening verse this time out, Kelly's vocals sound a lot more ragged this time. It's less dynamic, but it's still TLA.

But while it's cool to hear "Like a Record Player" or "Quincentuple Your Money," the song that will probably get most folks stoked is Kelly's cover of Jawbreaker's "Kiss the Bottle." I didn't realize it was in the track listing until the album showed up in my mailbox. If you listen, late at night when the world we think we know is quiet, somewhere, blowing over hills and through trees and caressing the hair of the sleeping, you can hear the awesomegasm I had upon seeing this song listed. You might also hear me scream "Aw nah!" soon after, since Kelly questions the recording quality of the original in his notes. Sure, it's the most overrated JB tune, but there are some things you just don't say, man. You keep that between you and your blog.

That said, Kelly's cover is good. In the interest of preserving Blake Schwarzenbach's lyrics, he delivers a modest, melancholy arrangement that highlights the story's hopelessness. Someone should use it in a montage sometime.

McMahon, by contrast, dazzles more with his originals than his cover. Part of this is because his take on Johnny Cash's "Let the Train Whistle Blow" originally appeared on the Johnny Cash tribute album All Aboard, which I already own. It's a solid rendition, but I could've used something different. His reinterpretations of SoF tunes is stellar, though. "Beauty Fades," from the Worker's Union EP which came out back when Smoke or Fire was still called Jericho RVA, starts off simple with just guitar/vox, but then light percussion and organ creeps into the margins near the end, delivering a stellar finish. "Filter" gets one-and-a-half performances, first on Kelly's "Blood Meridian," and again by McMahon. "What Separates Us All" was always a rousing up-with-the-people anthem, and this acoustic folky setting hammers that point home. "Irish Handcuffs" slows down the tempo to make the song's tale of alcoholism sadder. It's not a perfect take--McMahon fumbles the words at one point--but it still delivers, making the split a great listen from one side to the other.