The Seattle band Brad started life with a leg up: Stone Gossard's day job as guitarist for Pearl Jam guaranteed his side project a built-in audience, particularly since Brad began releasing records just as Pearl Jam hit its commercial apex. But Pearl Jam fans who came stargazing for the next grunge thing found something even shinier in singer Shawn Smith, whose voice is easily Brad's most distinctive feature. A soulful vocalist with a beautifully unforced delivery, Smith seems to have talented people breaking down his door: Besides Brad, he performs in Satchel (essentially Brad without Gossard), Pigeonhed (with producer Steve Fisk), and The Twilight Singers, Greg Dulli's Afghan Whigs side project. But with Brad, Smith has found his most consistent voice, both literally and figuratively. Welcome To Discovery Park, the group's first album since 1997, mostly plays to his strengths as a soulful R&B crooner, albeit with a couple of notable exceptions. Brad is at its best in mellow, the-world-is-a-beautiful-place mode: "Yes, You Are" is almost gaggingly gushy, but it works because of its sincerity, even through lines such as "It's like catching a falling star." "Shinin'" walks the same sunny, laid-back field, as does the lovely "If You Could Make It Good." The band even takes a jaunty Beach Boys/Turtles break with "Couch T-Bone." What doesn't come naturally to Brad is aggression, and a few tracks stick out like sore funk, particularly "Revolution," which suffers from inauthentic stank. It's a minor problem, however, and one nicely countered by Welcome To Discovery Park's gentle soul.
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