Its always hard to review the annual Essentials compilation disc put out by WEJE or WXTE or WJJFabini or whatever theyre calling themselves these days. Aside from the fact that were mentioned in the liner notes after the daily newspapers, theres nothing about the CD that were inclined to criticize. Indeed, theres usually so much to praise about the disc that theres not space to say it all. Thats even more the case this year than in years past because, in our opinion, this years Essentials release is the best yet.
Sure, there's some music on here that I dont much like; there's music you wont like, too. Chaotica, just by way of example, either suit your musical tastes or they dont (they dont mine), but thats hardly the point they, like a number of the local bands that made this years cut, beat the snot out of a lot of bands of their ilk that get national airplay. Thats the point of the Essentials releases: to showcase the Fort Wayne music scene in all its breadth and depth and it does this extremely (no pun intended) well.
Whats the most fun about these releases, for me at least, is that it introduces you to bands with whom you might not be familiar. Has anyone ever heard of Pheen? I havent. Yet these kids (from their picture, they look to be maybe 16 years old) contribute one of the most enjoyable (to me, at least) tracks on the disc. Bet you havent heard of The Side Windows either. Based on the hilarious Dent, theyre picking up the mantle from Jackie Fly who, after all, did pretty well in this town. The same might be said for Corporate Circus (Im not Dairy Queen / but I treat you right.)
I have heard great things about homeless j, Black Tooth Grin (now Sfumato) and The Wailhounds but have yet to see them play. Its a pleasure to find them included here, and if they come close to matching their studio sound on stage, theyll be the next three bands I go see.
While my personal favorite on last years Essentials release was Rosemary Gates Free, it was Abraham (now Jettingham) that landed a national record deal thanks in large part to their contribution to the disc (Cheating). This year its Matthew Sturms Rusted Road (recorded with Tim Beeler and Tim Bergen) that gets my vote. I suppose that means that Sturm wont get a record deal (and we took Best Italian Restaurant off the Readers Poll ballot this year, so Matt cant win fame and fortune that way either although he has picked up a couple of votes for Best Country Music Club). Who could get signed on the strength of Essentials Five? Just about any of the 18 bands featured (Im going with Chaotica).
There are plenty of Essentials veterans here: Strut Train, Rosemary Gates, Northern Kind, Heavy Step, Buttonhead, the Sunny Taylor Band, the Shelly Dixon Band and Surface, just to name a few. Their contributions are likely to please their fans, but for me are, in most cases, pretty typical of earlier material recorded for either the Essentials series or their own discs. The exception is Strut Trains Turn Me On, which I guess youd have to call a ballad and features, of all things, a flute solo.
I've got to say, though, that its the new, unfamiliar stuff that excites me about this project, even the stuff thats not quite up my alley (aka Grumpy Old Man Road), especially since it illustrates just how deep, diverse and burgeoning the Fort Wayne music scene has become over the past few years. Bands that used to be known for covers (the Wailhounds, Sfumato) are writing terrific original music. Bands that have emerged over the past few years just keep getting better. And new bands continue to appear, bringing even greater diversity to a thriving music scene. I doubt that many other towns, even towns a lot bigger than this one, can put out an 18-song compilation that is as enjoyable to listen to as this one.
You've got to be grateful to JJ Fabini, Wil Putt and the staffs at WXTW and Soundmill for doing it again.