The cover of Chris Fox’s 6-song EP shows a penciled sketch of a guy – presumably Fox – from the neck down without a shirt on. The guy is overweight, the EP is titled Portly Formed, and the songs are all covers of Fat Wreck Chords songs. Portly…Fat…get it?
I must confess that I listen to Fat bands more than bands on other labels (for no good reason other than that’s what I’m most familiar with) and so when this EP was “recommended” to me, it took all of two seconds to decide to download it.
Good Riddance’s “Stand”, known to punk fans from Physical Fatness Fat Music Volume 3, leads off the album. This was a compilation-only song during a time when many of us listened to these compilations like it was the radio, because the real radio sucked, and music wasn’t abundantly free on the Internet like it is today. Nostalgia abounds listening to this song. Fox’s voice doesn’t have the power of Russ Rankin’s, and it doesn’t take long to realize we’re not listening to a high-budget production, but that doesn’t change the fact that “Stand” is a great song.
The Swingin’ Utters are represented here with their upbeat feel-good tune “Glad”. This is the moment of the EP when one realizes that some of these stripped down “acoustic” versions of punk songs aren’t really all that different from their original versions (after all, The Utters do use acoustic guitar more than a lot of punk bands, though not in the original version of this song). There are no drums here, and Fox’s vocals have less of an edge than Peebucks, but the tempo and the feel are nearly identical.
Fox makes use of a trumpet and trombone in “10 West”, a song first released back in 2003 by the Mad Caddies who also sport a horn section of only trumpet and trombone. Here “10 West” is recorded sans drums, of course, (although, for the record, if we define “acoustic” as unplugged and unaltered, then the drums are generally the only actual acoustic instrument in a punk band) and the guitar part isn’t strictly a ska feel like the Caddies’ version. But again, like the Utters song, this arrangement isn’t terribly different from the original recording.
Somewhat later Fat releases are represented with tracks 4 and 5, first with Dead To Me’s great tune “California Sun”, followed by the Feel Good Moment of the EP with “Pacific Standard Time” from No Use For a Name’s 2008 and final studio album. Like most of the EP, Fox doesn’t alter the mood of any given song. He begins the latter mellow, the most mellow moment of the EP, before opening it up big; fans of NUFAN’s version will feel the entire band even without it there.
The original Fat band closes out Portly Formed. From Lagwagon’s 1997 friends-themed album Fox cheats and merges two songs into one – “Smile”, which most people think is really called “I Hate My Friends”, and “To All My Friends”, featuring the final guitar solo almost identical to Double Plaidinum’s (what a shame Fox couldn’t have snuck some of “Making Friends” into this medley, as well).
Portly Formed will not go down in history as one of the great treasures of acoustic punk rock, but it is a lot of fun, especially if you’re an unabashed Fat-o-phile like me.