March 16, 2010 - Red Scare
It's not a particularly new concept, but this split acoustic album from Brendan Kelly of the Lawrence Arms and Joe McMahon from Smoke or Fire hits the spot just fine. Featuring six songs each of the respective gent's band's songs reworked in an acoustic setting, along with a cover tune from each, Wasted Potential showcases both of their strong songwriting skills.
It's no wonder the Lawrence Arms and Smoke or Fire have both become fan favorites in the melodic punk/hardcore scene; both Kelly and McMahon have a knack for hook-positive, strum-worthy ditties. Kelly, in particular, writes songs that could easily stand alone, without any need for amplification and instrumentation--just him and his guitar, sitting on the back porch, belting it out with his raspy, not-a-care-in-the-world bellow.
Easily the best moment is Kelly's stripped-down version of Jawbreaker's most infamous B-side, "Kiss The Bottle," which rivals the original for making the hairs stand up on the back of the neck. McMahon's Johnny Cash cover, "Let the Train Blow the Whistle," doesn't fare quite as well.
In fact, overall, McMahon's acoustic versions tread on the weaker side of Kelly's, providing a bit of a downer for the second half of this album. Something about his impassioned whine is mostly better suited to loud, anthem-based punk. Stripped down he sounds, from time to time, a little like a frustrated Muppet. And not always in a good way.