Ask any twentysomething that knows a thing or two about 90s underground music their top three favorite labels of the era and I’d be willing to bet that Jade Tree would be mentioned in just about every one of them. Ask one of them that comes from the East Coast and I’d bet that the percentage would be nearly perfect. In simple terms, Jade Tree’s influence is huge. One of the main band’s responsible for this influence aside from The Promise Ring is Lifetime. The New Jersey band formed in the early 90s behind the minds of vocalist Ari Katz and guitarist Dan Yemin. From here the band went on to release two full-lengths with Jade Tree, Hello Bastards and Jersey’s Best Dancers. The band was short-lived however and eventually broke it off in 1997. However, out of the break up another band formed with Yemin on guitar and fellow Lifetime member Dave Wagenschutz on drums. Kid Dynamite, as they were called, would also release two albums with Jade Tree. While the bands had a difference in sound, their influence on the national scene is widespread and Jade Tree is one of the many reasons why. In honor of both bands, the label has compiled two retrospectives of sorts: a ninety-minute DVD look into the history of Kid Dynamite called Four Years In One Gulp and a two-disc Lifetime release featuring rare, live, and unreleased tracks titled Somewhere In The Swamps Of Jersey.
While separate reviews of each entity would be fine, it seems only right to somehow connect Jade Tree’s dedication to the past works of such important bands. Nowadays, a re-issue or a compilation of works album comes out only five months after a band’s last album. In a sense it is rather pathetic and makes such projects hit or miss. With these two, Jade Tree has surely hit, right in the sweet spot of the bat. As someone that was not around to experience the impact of bands such as Lifetime and Kid Dynamite, both projects are perfect for anyone that wants to take a look into the musicians that have influenced bands like Taking Back Sunday, Saves The Day, Thursday, Bouncing Souls, and Stretch Arm Strong. Even though Lifetime was first in the order of bands here, the Kid Dynamite DVD may be the more rewarding of the two. Not only does the DVD manage to keep the viewer’s attention, the amount of live footage, commentary, and thoughts from the band members are unlike most bland band documentaries. Seriously, they’ve even included footage from their first ever show as a brand new band in the Philadelphia hardcore punk market. The documentary starts off with how the band formed and how they got into touch with vocalist Jason Shevchuk, the narrator and person who put the piece together and ends with final thoughts and footage from the band’s reunion shows. Included between live performances are thoughts from roadies Dave Hause (now frontman in The Loved Ones) and Colin McGinniss (who has played with Yemin in Paint It Black), Shirts For A Cure founder Mark Beemer, Darren Walters and Tim Owen from Jade Tree, several bands, and a sit-down session with Yemin, Shevchuk, Wagenshutz, and Michael “Spider” Cotterman all sitting in the same living room. However, like many DVDs of this kind, the re-play value may not be that high once you have the story down unless you are thrilled with watching the live footage many times over.
As the story continues, or moves backwards I should say, we get to the Lifetime retrospective. The main feature on the two-discs is the band’s first full-length release titled Background. It takes up a better chunk of the tracklisting as the first disc contains all ten tracks remixed for a better sound while the second disc contains all ten tracks as they originally sounded as well as a nine track live set that includes seven of the Background tracks. The inclusion of the same songs over and over bogs down the package a bit but not enough to diminish its value. The disc also includes remixes of “Young, Loud, And Scott”, “New England”, “Bringin’ It Backwards”, and “Theme Song For A New Brunswick Basement Show”, all songs that originally appeared on Jersey’s Best Dancers. Besides that, many of the band’s songs that appeared on 7 inches and split releases are included. Perhaps the best part about the release as a whole is the 52-page booklet that is literally bound. It contains a plethora of photos and lyrics as well as an introduction from Norman Brannon. As a whole, Somewhere In The Swamps of Jersey puts the pieces together for fans wondering what Lifetime was about before they released their Jade Tree albums. It is a solid introduction or look-back for people new and familiar to the band, respectively.
So, what is the relevance of these two projects anyway? Well, as I write this there is speculation that Lifetime could be reuniting full-time and actually signing with a new label. While that is simply a rumor, the band has been playing sold-out reunion shows on both coasts, full of the fans they connected with all those years ago and all the ones that found out about the band after they knew Adam Lazzara had a Lifetime lyric tattooed on his arm. Lifetime’s relevance probably hasn’t been felt as much as it has recently with these shows and speculation which makes the album all the more worthwhile. As for Kid Dynamite, the DVD is simply a look back into the history of the band that debuts at a good time since Jade Tree is primarily focusing on the past early this year. As a whole, the Kid Dynamite DVD is probably a more enjoyable affair but the overall package of both is quite pleasing. Each one has its own redeeming qualities, and overall they are impressive releases that break the normal mode of terrible music DVDs and/or rarities collections.