by Keavin Wiggins
New Jersey, which gave us Bruce Springsteen
and Bon Jovi, has another notable native son who has had more than his
fair share of critical praise. I’m talking about Jimmy Gnecco, the man
behind the band Ours, whose second full length album, “Precious,” was released
earlier this month on DreamWorks Records.
Let’s get this out in the open, right here at the beginning; I’m one of
those who consider Gnecco a brilliant songwriter and singer. He has an
unmistakable ear for crafting unforgettable melodies and also providing
music with a lot of passion and power. Vocally, you will often hear comparisons
drawn between Gnecco and the late Jeff Buckley (who in fact has been accused
of co-opting Jay Buchanan – you’ll hear more about him in ’03). There is
a striking similarity between Buckley and Gnecco, especially on the slower
tracks from Ours, but they really come from different places musically
and that sets them apart from each other. That being said, Gnecco
is one of the best vocalists on the scene at the moment. He has an unbelievable
range that he fully utilizes, but where it could come off like he is showing
off his talent, his vocal gymnastics instead fit right in character with
There are some slower songs on this disc
that are real showcases for Gnecco’s vocals, and yes they do strike a similar
chord as Buckley’s music, but for the most part Ours rocks on the majority
of the tracks on “Precious,” so the Buckley comparisons end there. In fact,
this album falls somewhere between the likes of Radiohead and Vast, with
a retro leaning. On the rockier numbers, Gnecco sounds a lot like another
Orange County native, Wonderlove’s Chris Paul Overall, another stellar
vocalist who is primed to hit the big time.
This is one of those albums where you have
to listen to it several times to fully recognize its brilliance. True,
it grabs your attention the first time through, but there is so much depth
to the music here that you discover additional subtle nuances with each
This album goes against the conventional wisdom that major labels are afraid
to release music with substance in this day and age. Yes, for the most
part, label’s take the easy road and fill the airwaves and charts with
cookie-cutter--flash in the pan acts, but this album goes quite a long
way in restoring my faith that there are indeed some A&R types out
there scouting for exceptional music that can elevate the music scene to
a level of excellence above the lackluster shallowness of the current mainstream.
You may have to look a little harder for the good stuff these days, but
it is out there and “Precious” fits the bill nicely.
If you haven't figured it out by now, I'll
break it down for you; this album is a definite highlight of 2002 and should
please even the most selective audiophile.
In a dark world, we’re drawn toward fire.
But within the fire, there is danger, and a different kind of darkness.
On Precious, the new album from OURS, Jimmy
Gnecco is the fire. His voice seduces, soothes then slashes through the
skin of indifference. The songs are a shout of anger or a cry of pain,
unleashed from inches away.
The band’s debut album, 2001’s Distorted
Lullabies, also seemed wrenched from the guts of someone who, for all his
youth, had weathered a lifetime of turmoil. But Precious comes like sonic
surf from a place even more unsettled.
Though Distorted Lullabies was released only last year, to Gnecco it already
seems a century away. "By the time we were done recording Distorted Lullabies,
it had become something different from what we’d originally intended,"
Gnecco reveals, "but we learned to love it for what it had become. When
we finished Precious, we had achieved our intent Ð it came across in
It takes only a few seconds to recognize
that Precious (set for release Nov. 5, 2002, on DreamWorks Records) is
something totally different from Distorted Lullabies. It’s more focused,
with less sweetening. The band is more up-front in the mix. Gnecco, guitarist
Dave Milone, bassist Race, keyboardist Anthony DeMarco and producer/drummer
Ethan Johns reveal more rough edges, but more passion, too. Their collective
performance is so raw, so stripped to the bone, that, at times, it can
be emotionally difficult to listen to, yet impossible to ignore.
"I had such high expectations for the first
album," Gnecco admits. "I wanted it to be perfect, but that meant some
of the music started to feel suffocated after a while. Looking back, that
taught me that the really perfect take is about imperfection."
And so, as the Precious sessions began,
new creative principles were established: No computers. No sequencing.
Go for complete takes. Dive into the process. Take creative risks without
fear or compromise. Break the rules. If Gnecco could pull more out of himself
singing into a hand-held stage mic than a big-bucks studio model, screw
it Ð he held the mic. "That’s why the album is called Precious," Gnecco
says, "because it was anything but precious. It sounds like we made it
up on the spot, and yet, the performances are solid. That’s exciting to
The excitement is felt on tracks like "Kill
The Band," in its cathartic vocals and ear-bending dissonances. It’s present
in the urgency of "Realize," which Gnecco wrote in 15 minutes, between
takes, and jammed onto tape with the band moments later. It’s in "Outside,"
an enigmatic miniature, more suggestion than substance, recorded spontaneously
by Gnecco and Race on two acoustic guitars, and in a powerful reworking
of the Velvet Underground’s "Femme Fatale."
Much of the energy burning through Precious
was ignited by the chemistry between OURS and Ethan Johns. From sessions
with Emmylou Harris, Rufus Wainwright, Whiskeytown and other talents, the
young producer/drummer had earned a reputation for aggressive, intuitive
and inspired sound-crafting. According to Gnecco, he was exactly the right
guy to sit behind the glass for Precious. Perhaps even more importantly,
he proved to be OURS’ ideal drummer.
"For 10 years we’ve been searching for
a type of drummer I wasn’t even sure existed any longer," the singer says.
"But when Ethan sat down and played, we knew we’d found that drummer. He
was brought up around The Who and Zeppelin and The Beatles and The Stones
Ð these were all bands his dad [legendary producer Glyn Johns] recorded
Ð so he understood exactly what we wanted, which was to work in a contemporary
way but with the same values music had back in those days. That meant good
songs that weren’t Pro-Tooled to death and performances that stood on their
own as moments in time rather than attempts at perfection."
What resulted from this convergence are
varied emotional tributaries that share a common depth. At times they are
teasingly ambiguous. When Gnecco whips "Disaster In A Halo" into a frenzy
by repeating "Nothing really matters" over and over, is he surrendering
to nihilism or exulting in his freedom from long-held fears? And what is
the message when he spits, "I can act just like your brother/ I can dress
just like your mother" on "In A Minute?"
"That’s actually an older song," Gnecco
explains. "It goes back to when we were trudging around New York trying
to find gigs. We did everything we possibly could to get work Ð except
for pretending we were something we weren’t. That’s why this band is called
OURS, because we weren’t going to do what somebody else wanted us to do.
So this song is saying to those club owners: ÔWe’re not going to
become the next trendy thing just to play for you."
For the members of OURS, New York was a vision across the Hudson from their
homes in New Jersey. They started playing together in high school, working
out original songs, ditching classes to catch shows in the city, reaching
for opportunities that always seemed just beyond reach.
"We knew we’d have a much better time in
our little rehearsal room than we would playing in Jersey, where everyone
just wanted to hear covers of heavy metal bands," Gnecco explains. "We
wouldn’t play those gigs, so we ended up not being able to get any gigs."
For a while they broke up. Gnecco picked
up odd jobs while reassessing his work. But in 1996 the group reformed.
The energy had changed. By virtue of his unsparing self-critique, Gnecco’s
writing had grown more perceptive, less preoccupied with hopelessness.
"There was too much self-pity in my older
songs," he says. "I’ve always been a huge fan of Morrissey and The Cure,
and while they seemed really miserable, there was also something uplifting
about what they did.
"Eventually, I began to write these epic
songs that were more about feeling, with a lot of sonic elements. I’d always
write two guitar parts that played against each other to build tension,
with the drums pounding on toms to create a circular, tribal feeling. Sometimes
it’s more important to me to make a sound than to write a pop song."
Asked if this is an aesthetic direction
the band intends to explore further, Gnecco says: "We’ve never had a specific
plan. It’s always been in the moment for us. The next record may be acoustic
guitar, cellos and violins. Whatever we do, though, it will be based on
honesty and emotions."
In that sense, Precious is indeed testimony
from a band saying what it wants to say. It is honesty at its most brutal
It is … OURS.
the official site for more info on the band
To/Purchase Ours Music
photos courtesy DreamWorks Records
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