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DS Photo Gallery: Mercy Union “White Tiger” record release w/Lenny Lashley, Early Riser and Felons (Crossroads, Garwood NJ – 8/5/22)

If you read our review of Mercy Union‘s dynamite sophomore album, White Tiger, last week, it should probably come as no surprise that even though I live in Massachusetts and the official record release show occurred on a Friday in New Jersey, I was going to be there. And I was! My “forever-plus-one” and I […]

If you read our review of Mercy Union‘s dynamite sophomore album, White Tiger, last week, it should probably come as no surprise that even though I live in Massachusetts and the official record release show occurred on a Friday in New Jersey, I was going to be there. And I was! My “forever-plus-one” and I hopped in the car, dropped our teenager off at her grandparents’ house, and made our way to Crossroads in Garwood, NJ, a club that has become a sort of home-away-from-home for us the last half-dozen years or so. (Really, if you live in the greater NYC area, you should make it a point to go to Crossroads for dinner and a show. You won’t regret it.)

Felons were the first band out of the gate on this evening. Astute followers of the New Jersey music scene will no doubt remember Zak Ferentz from Ferentz and the Felons. The Hudson County street folker retooled his band during quarantine lockdown. Now known simply as Felons, the band still features Ferentz on acoustic guitar and vocals, but he’s backed by a bass player and, well, I don’t have nearly enough knowledge of electronic music to have even the foggiest idea to know what Plantcham was playing on stage right, but I know that it combined for a really cool and weird and interesting sound. Sort of acoustic folk punk meets drone synth with all sorts of samples in the mix. Ferentz at one point introduced a song as being “about doing too many psychadelics” and I’d say that sounds about right. Check the video for “Sheep’s Wool” here for a pretty accurate example.

Brooklyn’s Early Riser were next up, and I have to say, I’m really, really glad I finally got the chance to see them. For the uninitiated, it’s safe to say that Early Riser continue the evening’s theme of bands that are tough to confine to a specific genre box. The sound is centered around Kiri Oliver’s playful vocals and small body Martin acoustic with additional texture provided by Heidi Vanderlee on cello and Nicole Nussbaum on bass. Drums are handled by none other than Mikey Erg, and all members provide harmonies. It’s like posi folk punk power-pop and it inspired a random and unexpected dance break in the crowd!

Much like yours truly, Lenny Lashley made the trip down from Massachusetts. Accompanied by frequent collaborator, the multi-talented Cody Nilsen on pedal steel, Lenny occupied the night’s direct support slot. I think Lenny is the artist I’ve seen most since Covid started a couple years ago because I tend not to wander too far away from home now, so it was fun to actually see him play a road game. Lashley bounced between acoustic (a 1937 Martin reissue, I believe) and electric (a tele-style Nacho Guitar if you’re into that sort of thing) and, while he’s got a massive catalog, stuck to songs mostly from his solo repertoire, including a few tracks from his upcoming album Five Great Egrets (more on that later). Lashley and Mercy Union frontman Jared Hart go back to the days when the former welcomed the latter’s old band, The Scandals, to Boston many years ago, so it’s been fun to watch the connection continue across state lines well over a decade later.

Which brings us, of course, to the Mercy Union portion of the evening. Hart and the gang (Rocky Catanese on guitar and occasional lead vocals, Nick Jorgensen on bass and backing vocals, recent recruit byt familiar face Matt Olsson on drums) fired up the margarita machine and fired straight into “1988,” “The Void” and lead single “Prussian Blue,” the three tracks that open White Tiger and set its sonic tone. The new material was, naturally, pretty well received from the home crowd, most of whom had clearly been listening to the album on repeat for at least the duration of release day if not, in some special cases, considerably longer. The 16-song set was heavy on White Tiger, naturally, with a few songs from their debut album, The Quarry, a couple reworked Hart solo songs, and a completely on-brand singalong cover of Goo Goo Dolls classic “Black Balloon” for good measure.

It was apparent from the earliest notes of their set that the band wore not only loaded for bear, but were having fun in the process. It is obviously a bit of a daunting task to put out an album on your own label two-and-a-half years into a global pandemic, and then to host a record release show at a well-respected club in your backyard (a club that, coincidentally, yours truly traveled to for a Scandals record release show a bunch of years ago). The night was full of smiles and gratitude and shoutouts and guest appearances on gang vocals, proving that while the sound may have branched out from traditional punk rock, the vibe and the ethos once you’re inside the four walls of a sweaty club remains every bit the same.

Look below for photo slideshows from each set of the night. You can still order Mercy Union’s White Tiger here or get it wherever you buy your digital music!





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Dying Scene Album Review: Mercy Union – “White Tiger”

I don’t normally start album reviews this way but I thought it was maybe sort of important to mention this time that I am, for the record, a big Mercy Union fan and supporter. I’ve known frontman Jared Hart for a long time and have been a fan of his solo work and his Scandals […]

I don’t normally start album reviews this way but I thought it was maybe sort of important to mention this time that I am, for the record, a big Mercy Union fan and supporter. I’ve known frontman Jared Hart for a long time and have been a fan of his solo work and his Scandals work and of sideman Rocky Catanese and his various projects (remember Let Me Run?!?) for quite literally as long as I’ve been involved with Dying Scene, which is to say well over a decade. I was at Mercy Union’s first show billed as Mercy Union (October 2017 supporting Racquet Club at Middle East in Cambridge, MA, if you were wondering) and I was at Mercy Union’s last show before Covid-19 forced us inside for a few years (at O’Brien’s in Boston in March 2020 with Secret Spirit and the Nightblinders and Coffin Salesmen if you were wondering, which I’m sure you weren’t because this is a record review and a not a list of “shows Jay has been too).

ANYWAY, all that is to say that I like Mercy Union a lot. And yet, because I’m a professional (lol) journalist with at least some modicum of integrity (not lol, I actually like to think this latter part is true) I tried to take a 30,000-foot view of the new Mercy Union album and put my personal thoughts about the band aside and listen to it objectively. And so I fired it up on the good speakers in my car went for a drive and about halfway through the album, I got so into the music and the sounds and the textures that I quite honestly got lost, having blown way past my destination. White Tiger is great, kids. Really, really great.

The band’s 2018 debut, The Quarry, laid at least a bare framework of 1990s alternative rock influences through a filter of New Jersey punk sensibility, but White Tiger surpasses it on almost every level. White Tiger, the band’s second full-length, puts any fears about a sophomore slump to bed pretty much from the opening notes of album opener “1998.” It’s an uptempo table setter with swirling guitar riffs and a giant, singalong chorus that combine to serve as an instant revelation that whatever extra time the band spent crafting this album during the doldrums brought on by a global pandemic was put to extremely good use.

The soundscape on White Tiger is both sprawling and crystal clear, and while Hart may the songwriting spearhead, it very much sounds like a collaborative, full-band record (which is not to say that The Quarry wasn’t, necessarily, but when you’ve got multiple accomplished songwriters combining forces in a newer project it’s only natural for some songs to sound like they belong to each individual songwriter rather than “the band.” Hell, The Clash very clearly has Joe songs and Mick songs and Paul songs…but I digress). Even “Basements,” which is a track with roots that extend back to Hart’s 2015 Past Lives & Pass Lines solo record is filled out with a full band treatment that creates an epic, massive feel that would have made the perfect springboard for a wonderfully cinematic video that would have been a staple on MTV back in the years when epic, cinematic videos were actually played on MTV. So, the mid-1990s.

Speaking as a child of the ’90s, there are some very clear throughlines on White Tiger that originate back in that time period, but not maybe in the way you’d expect for an album being covered on your favorite newly-relaunched punk rock website. There were a great many of us that cut our punk rock teeth on the Bad Religions and Rancids and Green Days and other Epitaph/Fat/Lookout bands of the day and who maybe didn’t outwardly state how much we also appreciated the parallel track that was modern alternative rock radio and it’s expertly-crafted, tight and melody-driven power pop goodness. Bands like Gin Blossoms and Soul Asylum and pre-“Iris” Goo Goo Dolls and post-Mats Westerberg and The Wallflowers. Admittedly, it wasn’t “cool” to profess your love for songs like “Counting Blue Cars” or “Desperately Wanting” or “Hey Jealousy” if you also had like a Dead Kennedy’s patch and a NOFX patch on your backpack, but I think those of us “of a certain age” long ago gave up on aspirations of being cool and now don’t mind publically citing our affinity for a well-crafted, mid-tempo, radio friendly, melody driven rock and roll song, and I’m here for it. And White Tiger has a lot of that in spades.

Lead single “Prussian Blue,” for example, is anchored by a fuzzed-out lead bassline from Jorgensen as the guitars weave textured layers of harmonics and swirling melodies, and it’s got a massive arena (or even amphitheater) rock-sounding bridge. “Be Honest” finds Catanese and Hart trading vocal duties, while “Jane Way” puts Catanese solely in the spotlight. the former of those songs…can we call it post-emo? Is that a thing or did I just make that up? It’s got a huge, almost gothic soundscape in the bridge. “Evergreen” could probably stand on its own just fine as a solo acoustic track, but it gradually adds soaring synth and keys and strings (many of which were arranged by the multi-talented Jorgensen) and Benny Horowitz’s massive drums (editor’s note: Horowitz played all of the drums on White Tiger before departing the band and returning to his, uh, full-time day job) and layered guitars all in a full crescendo by the last third of the song.

“The Weekend,” which comes right around the album’s halfway mark, is a track that caught me off guard. It spends the first few minutes as one of those radio-friendly, mid tempo rock songs with a chorus that trends more to the delicate side, before completely switching gears entirely at the halfway point with the riffs getting heavier and Horowitz’s drums in full-on attack mode. This is undoubtedly a standout track and is precisely the moment where I blew well past my exit on the aforementioned evening drive. Other songs, like “Redeye (EWR>SNA)” find Hart taking whatever restrictor plates were left off of his voice, letting it soar to heights we’ve only really ever heard teased before. It’s fair to say that he’s leaned into his voice both a songwriter and a vocalist now, and most of the hardcore-inspired gravel of his earlier works is now a thing of the past.

From a sonic perspective, there is a sort of mid-tempo sameness that serves as a groove that many of the tracks settle into. That’s not bad, necessarily, and the variety of textures, particularly when factoring in the guitars and occasional strings and blended voices keep any particular song from sounding too much like any other, either on the album or in the band’s arsenal. If there’s a song on White Tiger that will inspire high-energy punk-rock style crowd push-and-pull, it’s the singalong, call and response verses on “So Long, Siberia.” And that’s good. Because White Tiger, and really Mercy Union circa 2022 by extension, occupies a space in your record collection that nothing else really does.

Pre-orders for White Tiger are still available here.

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Mercy Union

Mercy Union are a New Jersey rock supergroup of sorts, featuring Jared Hart (The Scandals and his own solo career), Rocky Catanese (Let Me Run, Rocky Catanese and the Chapter) and Nick Jorgensen. They combine an awful lot of influences – particularly those from the 90s rock spectrum – into a sound all their own.