Although he will always be best known for his work with Pearl Jam, Jeff Ament had honed his talents long before he hooked up with Mike McCready, Eddie Vedder and drummer Dave Krusen as a result of his involvement in pioneering grunge acts Green River and Mother Love Bone. It is therefore unsurprising that the bassist has tried his hand at a side project in the form of RNDM, a trio he has developed with singer-songwriter Joseph Arthur and previous collaborator drummer Richard Stuverud.
Released under the Monkeywrench Records label that has become synonymous with his main band, it’s quite understandable that Pearl Jam fans will be the ones who will be most intrigued by the project, though chances are they will have some reservations about him venturing into pastures new. The good news for die-hards, however, is that there are plenty of familiar elements for them to enjoy in Acts, beginning with the up-tempo ‘Modern Times’, which bears a strong resemblance to the work that Ament has done in the past.
Initially, the album looks like it will continue in much the same vein with tracks like ‘Darkness’ and ‘Hollow Girl’, but as each song passes, you realise that the influence of Arthur is starting to take shape. Having first met the singer 13 years ago when he was performing the now closed Wetlands club in New York, Ament and the Ohio native have formed a strong bond which is evident throughout many of the tracks on Acts – including back-to-back efforts ‘The Disappearing Ones’ and ‘What Can’t Control’, which gives his affecting voice the platform that it needs to stand-out amidst some excellent production value. Given his role as the band’s lead vocalist, and his reputation as a Grammy Award nominee, it is important that he is not overshadowed by either Ament or Stuverud. The great understanding that they have of each other’s ability could end up being the big trump card for RNDM, as there is a real cohesiveness to the songs in Acts, which bodes extremely well for any future records that the trio produce together.
For many, this will be always be seen as an extension of the Pearl Jam phenomenon, and the mellowness of ‘Walking Through New York’, ‘New Tracks’ and ‘Cherries In The Snow’ will delight some, but infuriate others. In the long run, the success of this album will depend greatly on how audiences feel about side projects in general. There are plenty of examples of how this can be done well, but there are just as many mis-steps. Though it is perhaps too early to make a firm judgement, RNDM appears to possess all the hallmarks to fit into the former category, and while it will be their future work that will ultimately decide how they will be remembered in the rock history books, Acts certainly represents a promising start.