It seems inconceivable now, but back in ’91, foreseeing the impact of Nirvana’s Nevermind on America’s underground music scene, or the subsequent feeding frenzy, was virtually impossible. Overzealous major-label A&R reps stalked this nation’s bars ’n’ basements for the next few years like ravenous chickens in pursuit of an elusive grasshopper they couldn’t see but knew existed. It had to! Many alt-rock Orthopterida were snared, none of whose stridulations seemed to resonate in a manner deemed by the greedy as a prerequisite for sure-fire bankability, and thus the hunt continued. By 1995 an enterprising yardbird strutting his stuff for the Onion label (a division of Rick Rubin’s American Records) had pecked his way down the trail to Thomas Jefferson Slave Apartments. And before you could say “Coq au Vin,” a deal was struck and their sneeringly great debut LP, Bait & Switch was (ostensibly) available for mainstream consumption from Caribou, Maine, to San Ysidro, California. How well it sold is a quandary to explore on a day far rainier than this, but it was chock full of the band’s best numbers (at the time), an inexplicable Electric Eels cover, and a scabrous stab at the Rock & Hall Of Fame, which, predictably, garnered the most widespread attention. Whatever, something must’ve been working, ’cause unlike their label peers (V-3 and Stiffs Inc.), TJSA turned in a follow-up long player, Straight To Video, and it was a hummer.
But Onion had other ideas, foremost of which was a quick vamoose into the ether of non-existence. The label shuttered its doors, and in one fell swoop, the band was paid for, then handed back, their effort. And so ended TJSA’s brush in the bigs. Undaunted, they began the search for its next home, calling on labels such as Treble Kicker, Vinyl Communications, and Roadrunner, only to be ignored time and again. A pall of uncertainty loomed, with the fate of band’s finest effort hanging in the balance, when suddenly, local label Anyway Records — flush from the proceeds of winning an Ohio State pie-eating contest — stepped forward to grant Straight To Video the mortality it so richly deserved (“mortality” being code for “CD only”). Fanfare was zero. Not even a press release. However, the distribution was solid enough, but to a person, every fan of Straight To Video would tell you it was meant for the grandeur of vinyl, not the cheap vacancy of a compact disc. As sophomore efforts go, the numbers that this is better than (J. Geils Band’s The Morning After, for sure) far outweigh those it is not (Born In A Barn is a tough one to top). Ron House’s lyrics peak with his inimitable wit and wisdom, his delivery as rich as Chinese takeout for Sunday dinner. Guitarist Bob Petric tempers those pummeling, EVH-like power chords with soaring, uncanny Schenker-esque fluidity while the rhythm section of bassist Craig Dunson and drummer Ted Hattemer rudder this fucker with such precision, the best thing you can say about ’em is you almost don’t even know they’re there. – Tom Lax
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