record reviews july 2018


Free Rein (Easy Star)


Based in California and with a Grammy nomination to their name, the white reggae quartet’s sixth album takes their basic Jamaican template and layers it with jazz, rock, R&B and folk influences. Opening with the uplifting unity-themed Celebrate it rides an easy groove path of personal politics and love songs, City Life being about getting out of the urban sprawl to refresh your spirit while Good Day is a summer vibe track about grooving with your lover. Many of the tracks follow a similar musical path, although Patience opens with some hollow dub percussion and steel drums before settling into a familiar style. Rise On Top expands the dub influence with its reverb vocals and the band begin to loosen up on Trap Door with its 70s funky undercurrent, horns and bluesy guitar solo. Healing comes as something of a surprise, ditching any trace of reggae for an acoustic number more in keeping with the pop punk likes of Blink-182, Fall Out Boy and Wheatus before reverting back to dub and reverb for More Energy, closing out with another atypical acoustic track in the strings embossed ballad Constellation. On the reggae spectrum, they’re nearer UB40 than Bob Marley, butas white reggae goes they’re up with the best.

Mike Davies


Kindness, A Rebel (Roll Call)


A four-piece from North Carolina, their third album took shape as a response to the 2017 Presidential election, a collection of songs living in contemporary America recorded, appropriately enough in Texas studio from which they could see the wall marking the Mexican border. It finds its most potent expression in Ryan O’Keefe’s Born In The Right Country, a bass rolling song about white privilege and oppression of the underclass as sing “Can you really blame me? Built on a system where some must fail so that you can break through if you’ve got the right skin” and how “manufactured truth is easy to sell when you own the factory and you own the hearts of the clientele.”

Further pointed commentary can be found in the clanky rhythms of Failing Farm, a number that, sung by Halli Anderson and O’Keefe and detailing the slow death of a family farm, very much harks to the era of early CSN&Y and Buffalo Springfield, the same influences colouring New Beliefs which returns to the theme of a divided society with lines like “I’d like to thank you for the crumbs you’ve left for me. Lookin’ up from the middle class maybe I’ll leave a few for the ones poorer than me.” It’s hard also not to think that, when they sing “I’ve been elected by the Good Lord. He told me who to lock up and who to free”, that Trump wasn’t at the forefront of their minds. Likewise, the reversed tapes and psychedelia of Darkness in Mind are another nod to the late 60s West Coast sound of America.

By musical contrast, the rippling Van Dyke Brown, a kalimba coloured song about finding joy in life, even in the face of mortality, clearly leans in the direction of Paul Simon’s Gracelands while the frisky The Feeling of Freedom stretches their instrumental limbs with the addition of violin and guiro to give almost a jam band feel. At the other end of the spectrum, War Is Kind is a simple, violin accompanied acoustic ballad that adopts the ironic stance that war makes men of boys through death. The distorted guitar work and electronic blips that scatter through the slow shrug beat of Another Shitty Party don’t really work, distracting from the harmonies, but it ends on a high note with the slow acoustic drawl of Mama Take Your Time where you might hear echoes of The Band seeping through the skin.

Mike Davies 2020