Don't Play With Matches

Tabitha's Secret

Forbidden Records, 1998

REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 11/28/1998

I have to be one of the few people left in the United States who has yet to buy a copy of Matchbox 20's Yourself Or Someone Like You. All I know about the band are the two songs I've heard played to death on the radio.

So, that actually puts me in a great position to listen to a band like Tabitha's Secret, whose album Don't Play With Matches was released earlier this year. If some of the song titles sound familiar, they should -- "3 a.m." and "Forever December" come to mind. And if the band sounds familiar, they should -- these were the demos of the band who would become Matchbox 20. (There are some legal issues between the two bands, which I'm not even going to try and decipher, but it's enough to say that there are line-up differences between the two bands. For more information, visit the my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 Tabitha's Secret Web site.)

If the songs on Don't Play With Matches are any indication of what Matchbox 20 is capable of, then I can now say that I'm interested. Of the eleven songs on this disc (including two versions of "3 a.m." and "Forever December" and a hidden track at the end of the album), there is a lot of solid music that shows how talented this band was so early in their career.

Of the songs featured, the one that captures my attention the most is "Dear Joan," a song about an abusive drug addict whose power and message scare the shit out of me. The vocal delivery by Rob Thomas on this track is incredibly moving while staying subdued, and while this doesn't have the subject matter to be a hit single, it's just as good - if not better - than the two songs the re-named band has become known for.

This isn't to say that other songs on Don't Play With Matches are any less enjoyable. Tracks like "Paint Me Blue," "Unkind" and "Jesus Was An Alien" all hold up well, and demonstrate the ability that this band had before their big break. Likewise, the "hidden" track (whose name I have not been able to find out) shows that Tabitha's Secret was a band destined for fame in short time.

You might question why there are two versions of two songs included on this album, but after listening to them, it does make sense to me. Over the course of each version of "3 a.m." and "Forever December," you can hear some level of growth in the band, whether it's a change in a certain guitar line or it's the addition of harmony vocals to the mix, each version has it's own highlights and peculiarities. (I still like the "hit single" version of "3 a.m." the best, but this could be because it's the first version I knew.

I don't know if the members of Matchbox 20 are happy or angry that this album has seen the light of day. I do hope they've embraced its release; it is a fine example of the musical capabilities of a young, up-and-coming band who knew their time was just around the corner. This one will take some searching for, but it's worth the effort.

Rating: B+

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© 1998 Christopher Thelen and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Forbidden Records, and is used for informational purposes only.