Tabitha's Secret: Rob Thomas (vocals); Jay Stanley, Brian Yale, John Goff, Paul Doucette.
Apparently the secret's out -- before singer Rob Thomas, bassist Brian Yale, and drummer Paul Doucette formed the megapopular Matchbox 20, they were part of another solid modern pop/rock band that sounds not so mysteriously familiar, even without the slick production expertise of Matt Serletic. As we ponder whether the title of this release prompted the name of the new band, we can hear an outstanding batch of songs which capture the same power pop energy and, of course, that identifiable Thomas voice, which is on the more restrained side here. "And Around" is a raw, bluesy rocker, while "Forever December" begins with a folksy acoustic guitar and vocal before rolling along in snappy fashion. That same pattern -- gentle beginning before the guitar crunching comes in -- repeats on the anthemic, bittersweet "Here Comes Horses." Matchbox 20 is not known for creating lush, lyrical ballads, but the reflective, apologetic "Dear Joan" (a folksy tune featuring a mournful cello) displays a sweet side that would balance the tougher energy of most of Matchbox 20's material. "Tired" goes the opposite extreme, jamming and explosive throughout, while "Swing" mixes subtle passages with crunchy guitar inflections. It is sort of the transitional piece between both bands. "Paint Me Blue" predicts the mid-tempo hooky pop/rock the band would become famous for. As if their fans didn't have enough reason to buy this disc, it also features a spirited acoustic rendition of "3 A.M." Well worth the look back. ~ Jonathan Widran