Review: Brendan Kelly and Joe McMahon – Wasted Potential

In Sound-off
Wasted Potential is out March 16

It seems that many of the Fat Wreck Chords/Epitaph punk-rock scene are turning down the distortion and unplugging their guitars. Some, like Chuck Ragan, Tony Sly and Joey Cape have abandoned their punk-rock roots for careers singer/songwriters. Others, like Tom Gabel and Greg Graffin, merely moonlight as singer/songwriters as side projects for their bands.

Brendan Kelly of the Lawrence Arms and Joe McMahon of Smoke or Fire fall into the latter category with the release of Wasted Potential.

Wasted Potential is a split, featuring seven songs each by Kelly and McMahon. It is being released on vinyl by Anchorless Records and on CD by Red Scare Industries March 16.

Kelly, The Lawrence Arms co-vocalist and front man of the punk rock super group, The Falcon, kicks off the disc. His side includes six stripped-down Lawrence Arms tracks, as well as an acoustic cover of Jawbreaker’s “Kiss the Bottle.”

McMahon’s side consists of five Smoke or Fire tracks, including “Filter” and “Little Bohemia,” as well as a track from when Smoke or Fire were known as Jericho RVA, “Beauty Fades.” It ends with a cover of Johnny Cash’s “Let the Train Blow the Whistle,” which was also included on All Aboard: A Tribute to Johnny Cash.

Both Kelly and McMahon turn in stellar performances on Wasted Potential. While nothing ground breaking, after all, this is really nothing more than stripped-down punk rock songs, both front men churn out sugary sweet track after sugary sweet track.

On tracks like “Necrotism” and “Requiem Once Again Revisited,” Kelly trades in his gruff snarl for a more soothing country sounding croon. Kelly even tackles a track originally sung by Lawrence Arms band mate Chris McCaughan, “There’s No Place Like a Strangers Floor.”

The only complaint with Kelly’s side would be the lack of any tracks off of The Lawrence Arms masterpiece, The Greatest Story Ever Told, as well as any material from The Falcon. But complaining about song selection is certainly just nitpicking.

But as good as Kelly’s side is, it’s McMahon’s side of the split that’s worth talking about.

McMahon gained quite a bit of notoriety with his solo performances at punk rock festival The Fest and Harvest of Hope. One listen to his half of the album shows the notoriety is well deserved.

Whereas Kelly’s tracks sound campfire friendly, McMahon’s tracks are at times unrecognizable as acoustic Smoke or Fire songs. “Beauty Fades” is almost unrecognizable, and sounds even better stripped down then the original. The same goes for “Filter.”

If he ever does decide to venture outside Smoke or Fire and forge a solo career, McMahon certainly has the talent to do so.

So neither Kelly or McMahon will be quitting their day job any time soon, but if they ever decided to (especially in the case of McMahon), they certainly wouldn’t embarrass themselves or disappoint their fans.

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  • Ian

    Do people even know what notoriety means?? It’s negative fame! Joe McMahon has no negative fame! If you’re going to write, you need to know the English language so you don’t write something incorrectly and thus convey the wrong message.

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