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Local CD Review

Jag Star
The Beginning

The violin has one of the saddest voices of traditional music. Its fluid lines can be mournfully elegant in a classical context, and even the liveliest fiddle tune usually has an undercurrent of melancholy. On Jag Star's debut CD, The Beginning, Erin Tipton's exquisite violin combines with Sarah Lewis' soaring vocals to add a lush, moody texture to otherwise competent folk-rock, rescuing a collection of predictable, somewhat maudlin, love songs.

In a Metro Pulse interview last fall, Tipton said Jag Star's music "is in a class of its own...What do you call it?" Well, it actually has plenty of precedents: the Dave Matthews Band, Rusted Root, Tori Amos, the Lilith Fair circuit—it's no wonder that the band has developed a considerable following in a college town. So the band's originality is not really its most striking feature. Nor are Lewis' lyrics, which tend toward break-up songs, a noteworthy element of the disc. "You know you've made a brave mistake/I'm letting go just for my sake," Lewis sings on the gloomy opening track, "Gone Again."

But The Beginning is a well-produced, promising release that demonstrates plenty of potential and even offers rewards of its own. Lewis' strong voice, used like an additional musical instrument, makes the weak lyrics almost an afterthought; her timbre and range give the clichés a surprising weight and add to the dark atmosphere of the disc.

The rest of the band—Lewis' husband, J. Lewis, on guitar, bassist Kenner Rawdon, and drummer Rafael Harris—adeptly handles the support chores, offering nimble underpinnings of jangly folk-rock to the disc.

It's the instrumental "Siberia" that highlights both the strengths and the shortcomings of the band's songwriting. Beginning with a staccato, Eastern European-tinged martial rhythm, the song shifts to a slower, epic sweep, with Tipton's violin swirling above crunchy electric guitar. Then, abruptly, a third refrain of rock-guitar riffing starts. After that, the same sequence is repeated, then the end. It's a collection of good riffs and disparate elements that fit well together, but it's not much of a song.

As a record of where Jag Star stands after only a few months together, The Beginning is an interesting document. Fans of the band will appreciate its clean, professional production and will probably enjoy hearing the songs they've heard live, which they can do at the CD release party at the Bijou on March 31. Jag Star, however, hasn't quite pulled off what they seem to be trying to do. But it might be fun to watch them try.


It's a heavy burden being the Zipster, but somebody's gotta do it. As of late, my popularity has soared to such a height that I've had to be choosy over exactly where I go in public, lest I be mobbed by throngs of well-wishers wanting advice, an autograph, a handshake, a kiss, or something more, ahem, intimate. It's lonely at the top.

There were lots of rock shows last Saturday and I thought it might be best to go for something a little bit laid back. A relaxed evening at Manhattan's seemed promising, and watching a set by The Plaid turned out to be just what the doctor ordered.

The Plaid fall into the category of your basic bar band, and I think that classification would probably be A-OK with them. They played a well-balanced set of original material, seemingly influenced by a wide range of sounds over the last 30 years of rock. The Plaid touched base on blues, rock, and pop, all delivered with the verve of accomplished veterans. They are excellent players and didn't miss a lick.

It's refreshing to see a band play their music competently and passionately for the mere joy of doing it. After all, isn't fun what it's all about on a Saturday night? The crowd at Manhattan's sure seemed to think so.

Checking In

It's been a long and winding road for Knoxville-expatriate Brian Waldschlager, but it seems that his persistence in the music biz is paying off. Known locally for his work fronting bands such as The Dirtclods, 5 Twins, Wh Wh, and even the first incarnation of Smokin' Dave & The Premo Dopes, Waldschlager has now been in Nashville so long that you could probably call the Music City his home. He's already made his presence known there as a member of Shinola and Five Bucks and as a sideman on a recent Dolly Parton album, not to mention an ill-fated romantic dalliance with Lucinda Williams that provided plenty of grist for the rumor mill.

At present, Waldschlager is involved in many Nashville-based projects, most notably The Brooklyn Cowboys, who are set to release a CD in a few weeks. "The record was actually recorded last year, so it's actually a re-release," says Waldschlager. "I got to sing a lot of backup vocals and play some acoustic guitar on the record. But I think when we play live I'll be doing some more electric guitar playing and I'll get to sing lead on a few songs."

Waldschlager is joined in the Cowboys by (among others) former members of Five Bucks and guitarist Walter "Magnet and Steel" Eagan. Waldschlager has also been turning heads as a guitarist and backup singer for The Walter Eagan Band. "That's been a real cool thing to do," says Waldschlager. "Walter's just kind of taken me on to play rhythm and we do some harmonies singing together."

On a more local level, Waldschlager will soon be releasing his own solo album on Knoxville's Disgraceland Records. "Hopefully the solo album will be out in about two months," says Waldschlager. The album is already recorded and all that is lacking is the cover artwork—an important consideration because Waldschlager's chiseled good looks are indeed a selling point.

Waldschlager plans to do an album release show for his solo debut in Knoxville in May. As of yet, his backup band is not yet assembled. "I have the revolving door band at this point," he says, laughing, "I want this to kind of evolve into a set band. I do think I'm gonna have some guys from Five Bucks playing with me and probably Billy Mercer on bass."

—Zippy "Light That Candle" McDuff

March 30, 2000 * Vol. 10, No. 13
© 2000 Metro Pulse