In the Jukebox: The Plainfield Project 

A review of the Charleston band's new self-titled album

The Plainfield Project
The Plainfield Project
(10t Records)

The Plainfield Project avoid sounding naive, anxious, or hysterical on their debut full-length. Recorded at Charleston Sound (and produced by Jeff Hodges), the self-titled, 11-song collection demonstrates the band's technical skill and singer Ben Fagan's still-evolving lyrical and rapping style. It shows their musical influences quite clearly, too.

Lead-off track "Brand New Life" steps right up as a big-chord anthem — a grand and groovy proclamation from Fagan and the band declaring, "Get out and get it yourself ... If you don't get yours, it'll get got by someone else."

"Happy" bounces with a straight-ahead, three-chord, reggae-rock style. Divided by delicate, piano-driven bridges and a Clapton-style guitar solo (in half-time), the verses highlight Fagan's Caribbean-styled pronunciation and staccato delivery. The funkiness increases with "I Got Music" — the dynamic soul-rocker with loads of Fagan's reggae-rappin' that Charleston Sound picked as the title track for a local compilation.

Things ease up (in 6/8 time) on the soulful heartbreaker "Never Be the Same," one of several tracks that demonstrate an increasingly confident sense of instrumental balance. Bassist Matt Thompson and drummer Daniel Shahid propel the arrangements, from the low-key intro and verses through the dramatic solos and choruses without overplaying (as the Dave Matthews Band might have done in the same situation).

Fagan name-drops the local island and suburbs in the hokey "Charlitown" ("From the JI to the West Ash/Everybody hustlin' to put Charlie on the map," etc.). He practically recites from a city map in the last few lines. Is he pandering, or trying to "come correct?" A bit of both. It's one of the band's most popular live tunes, but it's the big clunker here.

Like "Charlitown," the syncopated "Better Way" pulls from the 311/Sublime blend of rock, funk, reggae, and ska. "Better Way" stands as the stronger original. In a similar vein, "Color Me In" brings more Fagan rap.

Led by a strummy acoustic guitar pattern, the heartfelt "Come Home" eases back again, allowing the extra organ and percussion to peek through as Fagan beckons, "Come home to me ... it's hard, but I know you're where you're supposed to be." Guitarist Carter West blasts one of his finest solos on the back-end of the song.

Carter's polished tone on "Tell Me" resembles Eric Johnson's Fender-ific flair, complementing Fagan's delivery and effective falsetto.

The funkiest jams include snappy "Way Out" and the closer "Keep 'Em All In Check," which find Thompson and Shahid in the kind of rhythmic tangles James Brown would have been glad to snag. (myspace.com/theplainfieldproject)


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