Hearing Aide: Smackdab’s “II”

A genre is nothing more than an attempt to categorize and liken one band’s sound to another. Regardless of what you want to label Jamestown’s Smackdab, their music will certainly get you moving. The band is made up of Jon-Marc Johnson on vocals, Matthew Baxter on guitar, Mark Cooper on keyboard, Ryan Ecklund on bass, and Daniel Witherspoon on drums. On their latest release II, the band incorporates influences of funk, soul, R&B, blues, and jam into their own unique sound that is garnering them more and more attention.

The opening song, “1st & Main” gets you warmed up, but it’s on “Gotychu” where the band really digs in for the first time. The clean, bluesy notes by guitarist Matthew Baxter around the three-minute mark are accentuated by the band, but letting his tone lead the way. Coming out of his solo, there’s a swelling, yet beautiful harmony of sounds that carry you through to the coda.

Immediately following is another early gem in “Shuteye.” The intro of this song has an incredible presence with a haunting melody that lingers throughout the entire song. This is the longest track on the album at just over eight minutes, yet flies by with so many great parts. The closing of the song that starts at 6:41 is one of the highlights of the entire album. The syncopation of all of the instruments is a rhythmic rush and Jon Marc’s vocals leave you constantly rewinding to listen one more time. The band has this great habit of nearly losing themselves in a deep groove before pulling out and transitioning into another section.

My favorite song on the album though is “Leave Me Alone.” The sixth track slowly builds in tension before exploding into a keyboard solo that transcends the entire album. Cooper’s interplay combined with Witherspoon and Ecklund’s tight, rhythmic phrasing is so funky and heavy that it might cause a few facial contortions. If this band can learn to harness that exact energy, watch out!

The closing track “Keep On” begins on the back of Smackdab’s talented drummer, Daniel Witherspoon. The little riff that makes its appearance shortly thereafter strikes a humbling chord. The song is led by a catchy hook and accentuated with Jon-Marc’s uplifting lyrics. After a second time through the chorus, the band transitions to a maraca-driven beat that begins the five-minute jam that closes the album. It’s easy to see why this album was named a staff favorite of 2013 when you add up all of the highlights it provides.

Key Tracks: Shuteye, Leave Me Alone, Keep On