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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 the music. 

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 subsequent listen. 

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. 

Official Bio 

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 the music." 

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 us." 

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 and beautiful. 

It is … OURS.


Visit the official site for more info on the band

Listen To/Purchase Ours Music 

photos courtesy DreamWorks Records
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