I Swear My Name Is Smith
I Swear My Name Is Smith
(House Records)

If you didn't know better—if you didn't know that the band had been around for a few years now—it would be easy to write off I Swear My Name Is Smith as a knock-off of modern rock radio darlings Matchbox 20. They've got the same swampy, neo-hippie, angstful-mood-evoking thing going on, right down to the over-reaching, want-so-bad-to-be-soulful vocals. "Sister Sue," "Bordertown," and the ballad "I Won't Mind" could've been lifted straight from the Matchbox 20 fakebook—in fact, maybe singer/guitarist/songwriter Brando Marius should make sure those guys didn't steal his licks somewhere along the way.

The swaggering juke joint rocker "I Don't Know" is a nice surprise, as is the infectiously catchy "Alone It Feels," featuring the powerhouse diva graces of local blues queen Sara Jordan. Tim Haskins' guitar work, particularly on the former but also throughout the disc, sizzles with a passion that's missing elsewhere. Like in the vocals.

Although Brando Marius can certainly put together a water-tight song, his vocals are the band's weak link. You get the feeling that he's trying to summon some sort of Gregg Allman-style mojo—and every once in awhile he can come on like a stoned Layne Staley (a good thing, mind you); on most tracks, though, his craggy, forced, and not particularly tuneful style wears thin quickly.

Overall, though, I Swear My Name Is Smith has put together a tightly played—if hit-or-miss in the ear-grabbing department—record sure to please fans and even win them some new ones. And their timing is serendipitous.


Star Queen

All right, it's a rock opera. All right, it's even based on a biblical story. But John Thomas Oaks' Star Queen is about as good as a biblically-based pop opera can be (and that's not meant as the back-handed compliment it sounds like). It's not exactly Andrew Lloyd Webber, but that's not so bad, is it?

Star Queen is an adaptation of the book of Esther, a tale of courtly intrigue, exotic excess, loyalty, treachery, and belly-dancing. Esther, a Jew in the court of Persia, is chosen by King Ahasuerus as his new queen, but the king's right-hand man, Haman, slides through an edict approving the extermination of the Jews. Ignorant of his new bride's nationality, Ahasuerus signs the law, and the fun begins. In the end, the truth comes out, everybody's happy (except Haman), and "Kill a Jew Day" becomes "Some of My Best Friends are Jews Day."

The music is pretty spectacular. It's upbeat and energetic, with some moments of majesty thrown in as per musical rules. The musicians (J. Vincent Harris, Oaks, Larry Vincent, and Stuart Weed) are fine, particularly Oaks on the piano, and the singing cast (led by Oaks, Tom Payne, Nancy Brookshire, Tommy Oaks, and Jim Butterworth) is more than competent. But Oaks' music and lyrics deserve the star-studded treatment of the big city production deal he's trying to ink in New York.


After a couple of years of wreaking havoc and general chaos on the Knoxville music scene, destructo punkers the Malignmen have decided to change their name, their sound—and perhaps their image. According to bassist JAW (a.k.a. Alex Weatherly), more than a few people stumbled over the pronunciation of the band's name, inexplicably calling them the "Malig-men" or "Malig-namen." So, from now on the foursome will be known as Chaingang (and here's hoping some idiot doesn't read that as Cha-ing-ang). "We decided to get more serious about it and change our name to something more simple, more memorable," JAW explains. "The lineup is the same, most of the songs are the same—for now—but we are writing new material that's quite different from some of our old stuff. It's a lot more serious, more tough to play, 'cause we've all gotten better on our instruments and we're sick of playing three-chord stuff; not because we dislike it, but because we're bored with it. I think that's just a natural progression of a band."

Chaingang kicks off an East Coast tour beginning in April, which will take them from Florida to New York. Their next Knoxville show—and their last show as the Malignmen—takes place Sat., Feb. 28, at Neptune, along with Random Conflict and Chelsea's Chainsaw. In the meantime, you can always pick up their new disc, The Southgate Sessions, and check out their recently overhauled Web page at


A list of stuff, in no particular order, that got us through the week...

  • Gran Torino at the Bijou Theatre, Fri., Jan. 16
  • 30 Amp Fuse—especially the impromptu encore band of frontman Mike Smithers and Superdrag's John Davis and Don Coffey—at Mercury Theatre, Fri., Jan. 16
  • Ricky Skaggs, et al, at the Tennessee Theater, Sat., Jan. 17
  • advance copy of Superdrag's Head Trip In Every Key (Elektra Records; due in stores March 24). Remember these titles: "She Is A Holy Grail;" "Amphetamine." Prepare to be surprised.
  • the unexpectedly enjoyable Golden Globes, NBC, Sun., Jan. 18