Names like King’s X, Dixie Dregs, and the ever-worshipped Dream Theater are quite popular within progressive circles, therefore I wasn’t sure what to expect when I first sat down with ‘Profit,’ the latest and fourth album from American supergroup The Jelly Jam. The cover art alone is intriguing, with its dark Baroque style layout and hooded figure holding brass scales, along with the crossed-out play on words, “Prophet”. However, the real hook for most, of course, is the combination of frontman/guitarist Ty Tabor, bassist John Myung, and drummer Rod Morgenstein.
‘Profit’ begins rather softly with “Care,” the distant vocals hovering over the calming guitar. Once the drums and bass kick in, the song takes a turn for the 1990s, setting a precedent for the rest of the album. The chorus in particular is simple but catchy, Tabor’s vocal and guitar melodies giving off the vibe of his signature King’s X sound. The following track, “Stain on the Sun,” is one of the highlights of ‘Profit,’ taking a more acoustic approach. The easy going guitars with the backbone of the crisp, echoing snare provides an emotional yet relaxing feeling; Morgenstein’s accented hi hat never faltering, even throughout Tabor’s passionate guitar solo, preventing the tone from becoming too sombre.
“Water” incorporates many different aspects, starting out mellow, then shifting suddenly into a sludgy, heavy 3/4 riff. The light vocals give way to brief instrumental sections that are very reminiscent of early 90s grunge. Not only is this where we get the first taste of that delicious grungy flavour, but also where Morgenstein starts to show off his skill with an interesting drum fill toward the end. He opens up even more during the next track, “Stop,” which otherwise would have been somewhat lackluster, despite the summer road trip feel.
The following two tracks are worth mentioning in further detail, as they feature more captivating hooks than a lot of the others. Right off the bat, “Perfect Lines (Flyin’)” launches into what is probably my favorite part of the album, Myung finally becoming more predominant within the funky fusion that makes up the intro and verses. Between the intricately layered percussion, and what I am counting as three bars of 5/8 with an additional bar of 13/8, I wish that The Jelly Jam would explore that side of their writing more often. A short guitar solo leads into a soft bridge of Beatles-esque vocal harmonies, then the bass comes back to revisit that beautiful fusion riff. The marching snare alongside the piano works well to wind things down before one of my favorites, “Mr. Man”.
Another one of the grungy tracks, “Mr. Man” offers that heavier aspect that lures me further into ‘Profit’. Once again, Myung is more present, especially during Tabor’s classic rock style solo. The last minute really comes to life when the chorus becomes an epic 7/4 riff full of more expressive vocals, tambourine, and creative drum fills. From this point on, however, ’Profit’ loses me slightly. While “Memphis” certainly has solid moments, the basic vocal melodies and storytelling lyrics seem like a waste given the potential of the musicians involved. The same can be said for most of the tracks to come. Songs like “Heaven” and “Fallen” are tracks that could have been omitted for both time and pace, but perhaps that’s because I’m not relaxing on a beach watching the sunset. Between those, is “Permanent Hold”, a nice instrumental break in which everyone lets loose a little, Morgenstein soloing in the fade-out. The emotional final three and a half minutes of the album, entitled “Strong Belief”, would have been more of an impactful ending had the previous songs been lively enough to provide contrast.
In case it’s not blatantly obvious, Rod Morgenstein made this album, taking what most drummers would play straight, and adding personality and a disciplined livelihood to every beat and accent. Not to take away from Ty Tabor (who not only has a knack of reawakening some of the sounds that I grew up with, but is quite a talented guitar player), and John Myung, whom I would like to hear more from in future Jelly Jam material. While parts of ‘Profit’ are a bit too mellow for my taste, and I wish that they had ventured into crazier territory, I enjoyed the way they fused their personal styles together and created something entertainingly soothing. The lyrics are lacking and generic, but the musicianship is strong and the natural sounding production gives the whole album an extra push in the right direction. The Jelly Jam has definitely caught my attention, and I look forward to exploring the rest of their work.