BY MICHAEL TOLAND
With this release, Omnivore Recordings now has a Jellyfish catalog larger than what the band put out when it was alive. Amazing how a band with only two studio LPs can be so prolific in its afterlife. What’s even more amazing, though, is that these aren’t just barrel scrapings – Radio Jellyfish, like its concert predecessor Live at Bogart’s, is a substantial addition to the catalog.
Recorded during a radio station tour through Holland in 1993 (with a couple of cuts taken from Australian broadcasts), Radio Jellyfish presents the final edition of the band – anchors Andy Sturmer and Roger Joseph Manning, Jr., plus bassist Tim Smith and guitarist Eric Dover – playing acoustic versions of much of its best material from both Bellybutton and Spilt Milk. What’s makes these renditions of classics like “New Mistake,” “That is Why” and “She Still Loves Him” special is the spotlight shined not only on the band’s great melodies but also its superb vocal harmonies. Not that these things are hidden on the studio records, but the acoustic guitars-and-percussion (with occasional piano) takes on these genius pop tunes really plays them up – “Joining a Fan Club,” “The King is Half-Undressed” and “The Ghost at Number One” in particular benefit from the stripped-down format. The lack of production layers also allows the band to deliver a particularly somber and emotional performance of “The Man I Used to Be,” one of the saddest items in the Jellyfish setlist.
Of course the group pulls a couple of covers out of its stash as well, as it liked to do during live performance. The acoustic take on Badfinger’s “No Matter What” is no surprise – the band often played this power pop classic. What’s really head-turning here is the presence of the Move’s “I Can Hear the Grass Grow” – it’s fairly faithful to the original, but it’s so unusual to hear an American band take on this highly underrated British act that it’s utterly refreshing and, since Jellyfish has much the same musical spirit, delightful.
No mere collection of scraps, Radio Jellyfish offers a fresh look at familiar material, and as such becomes as essential an item to fans as any of the band’s proper LPs.
DOWNLOAD: “Joining a Fan Club,” “The King is Half-Undressed,” “The Man I Used to Be”