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Unwritten Law - From Music in High Places Print E-mail
Tuesday, 21 January 2003

Unwritten Law

From Music in High Places
format: CD
label: Lava Records
release year: 2002
performance: 8
sound 8
reviewed by: Dan MacIntosh

ImageCommon sense suggests that if you take amplification away from an angst-filled Southern California punk band, said act would deflate just like leaking every last ounce of helium out of a balloon. In other words, it’d be a party killer. And while Unwritten Law’s unplugged From Music In High Places adventure isn’t anywhere (sonically) close to its usual party central locale, it’s nevertheless an enjoyable release for a whole subtle range of different reasons. With this special album, Unwritten Law has replaced aural excitement with an unspoken intimacy wholly unexpected from such a usually much noisier outfit.

Vocalist Scott Russo’s songs of pain and struggle play out like whispered cries for help within this foreign setting, rather than bludgeoning the listener through punk’s expected snotty whininess. When he rasps out “Before I Go” and “Rescue Me” over strummed acoustics and only the necessities of percussion, his message gets under the skin rather than breaking through it.

Underneath all this rocking symphony of nylon strings, one can pick up more than a few hints of Unwritten Law’s island music influences. “Up All Night” matches rapid-fire vocals over a reggae-influenced beat on the verses, the casual beat of “Callin” also hints at reggae roots and “How You Feel” is sorta funky/sorta reggae, utilizing electric bass for just the right dosage of low-end groove.

In spite of these instrumental restrictions, Unwritten Law proves it is still possible to rock -- even without all the usual volume -- as “Blame It On Me” is acoustic rockabilly that brings to mind the Stray Cats around the campfire, and “Rescue Me” rocks with a herky-jerky beat. But it’s Unwritten Law’s quieter side that is the real revelation of this release. “Geronimo” is quiet folk rock that borders on jazz before it breaks into a big pop chorus, whereas “Elva” is slow and meditative. “Shallow” is the only track here that was not specifically recorded for the TV program, yet it still follows the less-is-better acoustic approach, just like this album’s other 10 tracks.

With From Music In High Places, Unwritten Law relaxes and acts naturally, and it works.

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