Project 814 - Declassified

Year of Release: 2001
Label: Cellar Records
Catalog Number: CL0057
Format: CD
Total Time: 48:53:00

I have to admit that I've given part of Project 814's Declassified extra playing time than normal prior to a review, aside from that I was also prepping for an interview. But, even still, it's not that I've necessarily played the CD any more often than usual, but that the first track, "The Speed Of My Life," is stuck in my head. For anyone who feels caught in the "rat race," who feels that the events of their life are zooming past without time for reflection, then welcome to the club. That's probably all of you out there, and I envy you if you aren't in this category. I mean, it's August 2002 already! Wasn't it just January?

Songwriter/bassist Jon Pomplin has opened his file of songs and laid them down on tape with the help of several co-conspirators, namely Todd Joos on vocals, Mark Summers on guitars, James Miller on keyboards and both Bob "Bird" Brady and Albert Hurst on drums (though mainly Brady). What will be found within Declassified are 10 tracks of rock, tinged with elements of jazz, country, metal, all with a touch of progressiveness. Even if you can't find the "prog" quotient in the music, I think you will come to not care. It is so refreshing to hear rock that is both intelligent and catchy again. The fodder being fed at radio today... well, you know how it is. Slick, overproduced...lame...empty...syrupy... even the roots rock that seems to save us from the boy bands has become formulaic -- so thank goodness for Project 814. This is solid rock, played very well. It's an album that works on two levels, the first being the music. It's catchy, memorable, accessible. The second level is the lyrics, intelligently written vignets that belie an easy description. They are lyrics that come with baggage, whether it's from you because you can relate, or from Pomplin, because you can read between the lines to see what he's not saying.

Okay, yes, you might find you here something familiar in their sound, but can you necessarily pin it down to any one artist? Um...well, in some cases I can, but it's not a bad thing. "The Demon Within" sounds to me like latter period Big Country, mainly circa Buffalo Skinners (by which time they had eschewed the bagpipe-guitars), but also specifically the track "Republican Party Reptile," (from No Place Like Home) also comes to mind. A lot of these, and throughout, is because Joos often sounds like the late Stuart Adamson. Thematically, "The Demon Within" is very dark (as you might have surmised by the title alone) - a runaway girl falls victim to a violent predator. But, theme aside, there's a great organ bit in there, too, from Miller, before a measured guitar solo from Summers.

Speaking of country, "5 And 1 (Distant The Heart)" is a country-rock tune that won't make those who hate country screech in fear. No twang, no pickups, no dead dogs... but and easy going rhythm. Actually, at times I thought of Little River Band. Joos has the right voice for this track: deep, but not too deep, warm... it's a voice that you can be comfortable with - jeans, boots, western-shirt, but a Stetson is not needed. But then again, Joos' voice is flexible enough to be just right for all of the songs tracks. Subject-wise, it's about finding love, of the "will I ever" variety, but it's a grounded, down to earth take on the subject. It's that same "about real people" feel I get from the Doobie Bros. (tracks like "It Keeps You Running," "What A Fool Believes"). Joos, by the way, got his start in Nashville, so the country connection is not at all incongruous. Later he played together with Summers and Brady in a band called Natural Touch; he started Cellar Records at the same time and produced, engineered and mastered Declassified.

"X" is an interesting track with a time change between verse and chorus... slow, somewhat skewed for the chorus, almost like slow motion, then it kicks in for the chorus. About domestic abuse, that you can sing along with it is somewhat ironic. "Courage, Honor, Glory" is the politically charged stab at America's ability to wage war, at the whole war machine mentality (treated, slightly mechanical, vocals introduce each segment). Oh, but not just the US. Because you can see any nation that chooses to kill indiscriminently... naming names is bound to offend someone, but you only need to watch the news to know who is meant. And yes, you do need to see through the spin the media puts on those events... cynicism isn't a bad thing. Like Springsteen's "Born In The USA," this track has a memorable, repeated refrain such that if you aren't paying attention sounds like a cry of solidarity rather than being an ironic statement.

"Cathode Ray Reflections" is another commentary on our times, asking the question: are television and other forms of entertainment really the corruptor of young minds? Pomplin seems to think so here, in a song with a metal edge -- a tamer Metallica, a description which doesn't quite capture it. Even if the entertainment media doesn't lead directly to violent youths, it certainly isn't making them any smarter -- are kids really watching PBS? Discover? Other than for a homework assignment? I hope I'm wrong, I hope they are as glued to that as to lesser fare. And yet... we do see so much violence on television, even implied. One wonders then can there really be that many unstable kids out there? Are these violent classroom shootings totally spontaneous or have all the other breakdowns in society allowed entertainment to be come the nuturer? Not to dwell on this point, as this is a music review, but I'm not one that thinks bringing back "religion" is going to make things "better." Admittedly, Pomplin doesn't posit that as an answer either, rather he seems to suggest that perhaps the media is the scapegoat to some degree. That it reflects the ills we have, but isn't the sole cause of those ills.

There are two instrumentals on the album as well, "Catamaran Tack" and "Episode 69 (Don't Go In There)." The first is an uptempo rocker with echoes, at least to me, of 50s classics, such as "Walk Don't Run." Summer's guitar almost jangly... and for a brief passage it's Pomplin's bass that takes the lead. Brady's drums are taut and solid. "Episode 69" is a rolling, humming, jazzy rock number -- you think you hear brass, but I the keys (no brass is credited). Summers plays a delicious guitar solo that verily screams - where else but in progressive music are you going to find that these days? I'd say very few places... For an album composed by the bassist, the bass remains relatively low key throughout this track and the album itself, not absent and not inconsequential, but not flashy and showy. Neither are the keyboards for that matter. Drums, percussion, and guitar take the lead when it's not Joos.

Well, as you might have guessed, I really like this album... to hear why, you can hear clips from the album at the band's website. Recommended.

The Speed Of My Life (5:02) / Chaos (The Test Of Time) (5:48) / X (5:01) / Catamaran Tack (3:21) / 5 And 1 (Distant The Heart) (4:03) / Courage, Honor, Glory (4:31) / The Demon Within (6:07) / Cathode Ray Reflections (5:23) / Episode 69 (Don't Go In There) (5:14) / Running Out Of Time (4:23)

Todd Joos - vocals
Mark Summers - guitars
James Miller - keyboards
Bob "Bird" Brady - drums
Albert Hurst - drums (9)

Declassified (2001)
Disguise The Limit - Redemption (2004)

Genre: Rock

Origin US

Added: August 25th 2002
Reviewer: Stephanie Sollow
Artist website:
Hits: 537
Language: english


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