Knottz and crosses

Original tracks from a cover band frontman
By SAM PFEIFLE  |  February 20, 2014

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THROW OFF THE COVERS Impressive original work from the Jumpoff frontman Tommy Knottz. 

Have you had a chance to catch the Jumpoff? Fronted by Tommy Knottz, they’ve been the live hip-hop entry into the cover-band Olympics that’s been playing out locally over the last few years.

It’s not unusual for a tight band doing covers to work their way into originals (we just saw this from North of Nashville, on the roots side of things), and the Jumpoff are no different, having this week declared their intention to spin up a bunch more danceable originals and keep their vibe the same while moving their songs forward.

Likely, they’ll draw on material developed by Knottz and released last month as a free album, Better Late than Never. A collection of musical hip hop, the 11 tracks feature smart R&B- and classic-rock-flavored production from the likes of Boondocks, Pore, and Crust and Grimes, plus original beats from Knottz himself; the whole thing was recorded by Chip Sullivan, who, as Navillus (now going by Novelist), used to have a much higher profile locally (kNOw Complex, represent).

Knottz’ best feature is his tone and tenor, and his taste ain’t bad, either. He’s got a little bit of Brooklyn in his delivery — that way of being relaxed and aggressive at the same time that Jay-Z made seem effortless. Knottz never seems to be trying too hard or doing anything that doesn’t come naturally, and he’s fairly diverse, succeeding equally well with chanted choruses, slurred singing, and clipped staccato verses. At times, he’s not far from Tony McNaboe’s The Cost of Living, laid-back and contemplative.

The content, though, is pretty standard for contemporary rap: you don’t know what I been through; I won’t forget where I came from; I’m doing pretty damn good right now, thank you; but, hey, I did lots of shady shit back in the day.

It’s notable that the definition here of “doing pretty damn good right now” isn’t piles of cash and naked chicks all over the place, but rather “I got two kids and a wife that loves me.” That’s from “Let Me Know,” where guest vocalist Dave Gutter helps set a solid hook as one half of “I put my hand in yours/ You put your hand in mine,” and lays out an electric guitar foundation. Pore’s production breathes in and out, like Knottz is fading in and out of a dream state.

But that endearing definition of success makes the stuff like “let me put something white, right on your chest/ Yeah that’s how your breasts should look” just seem all the more odd. Too bad, because the use of Traffic’s “Dear Mr. Fantasy” in that tune, “Trains Automobiles & Planes,” is really tight. The “go, go, go” chorus is old-time Portland hip hop, Stonecoast open mic stuff, and the track is crazy bouncy.

If you can get past the sexual bravado — “Gonna be a shame when I don’t know your name/ When I wake up in the morning”; “I can’t wait to bust a nut” — you might find much of the album quite enjoyable, including the finishing “All Bullshit Aside,” which wraps things up with particularly good layering of vocals and a yelled high harmony: “I hope you had a time as good as I did.”

BETTER LATE THAN NEVER | Released by Tommy Knottz  | tommyknottz.bandcamp.com

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