Tag Archives: US reggae

John Brown’s Body celebrates 20 years with another dense effort

unnamedU.S. reggae veterans John Brown’s Body is back with a new album following Kings & Queens and its dub counterpart Kings & Queens in Dub put out in 2013 and 2015 respectively.

This reggae outfit has worked hard criss-crossing across the U.S. ever since their debut album in 1996. Fireflies is their eleventh full-length and the band continues to create dense audio landscapes with gorgeous melodies. And one of the key components in their sound has always been the brass section and on Fireflies the horn trio blazes brilliantly adding plenty of nuances and sonic depth to each track.

The U.S. reggae scene has grown over the past years with successful artists and bands like Hirie, The Green, SOJA, Tribal Seeds and a host of others. And John Brown’s Body is an integral part of the U.S. reggae movement, but they are also responsible for having laid the foundation for other acts to grow from.

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Easy-going reggae on Hirie’s Wandering Soul

13332816_909797775832276_2821719419263598721_n-300x300In just three years Hirie has gone from being a stay at home mom to #1 on iTunes and Amazon Reggae Charts with her second album Wandering Soul. That’s quite an accomplishment.

Her self-titled debut album was put out in 2013. Unfortunately it had poor distribution, but the single Sensi Boy was a success on Youtube and catapulted her into the scene. That single along with relentless touring together with some of the biggest U.S. reggae bands – like Tribal Seeds and Stick Figure – have paved the way for continued success.

Wandering Soul got its name after Hirie’s way of life. She was born in the Philippines and raised in Italy and Hawaii and has also lived on the U.S. mainland. The album as such is however cohesive and unified – even though six different producers have been involved – with its soulful, laid-back grooves and organic feel with live instrumentation, including a killer horn section.

Hirie sings about balance in life, family love, female empowerment and social change. There’s of course also a compulsory ganja anthem included. It has a strong pop appeal with catchy melodies and infectious hooks complete with superb musicianship and dub wizardry. Check the 80s tinged Boom Fire, with production courtesy of the great Don Corleon, or the meditative Trevor Hall combination Good Vibration.

With Wandering Soul Hirie and her band has created a sunny island pop album with deep reggae roots.

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Mighty Mystic balances rock and reggae on new album

unnamedJamaican born and U.S. bred singer Mighty Mystic, who is also the younger brother of former Jamaican Prime Minister Andrew Holness, follows-up on his 2014 released album Concrete World, a set that included the monumental single Cali Green.

The Art of Balance is Mighty Mystic’s third album and his most mature set yet where he has found a good balance between somber reggae riddims and guitar-fueled rock. But it’s also his darkest effort and he sheds light on serious issues over minor key melodies.

Highlights include the dark Rebels, with its pulsating organ, the devout Woman, the beautiful and acoustic Solid As a Rock and the militant and sparse Only the Strong.

Psychedelic guitars, dreamy soundscapes and haunting organs are key elements on The Art of Balance, and together they make a solid album bordering rock and reggae.

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Roots rock reggae on Natty Nation’s Divine Spark

unnamedU.S. reggae band Natty Nation – fronted by vocalist and bass player Jah Boogie – recently dropped their fifth studio album Divine Spark, their first album in eight years. It collects twelve tracks – including two dub versions – mixed by the legendary Errol Brown, who has previously worked with a who’s who in the world of reggae, including Bob Marley and Burning Spear.

The press release states a number of musical influences and interestingly none is a reggae act. Natty Nation rather cites influences like Michael Jackson and Earth Wind & Fire as well as eclectic rock bands like Living Colour, Fishbone and Bad Brains.

But Divine Spark is definitely not a soul or funk album not is it a rock set, even though a cut like Suffice has its fair share of rock guitars. Divine Spark is roots reggae in the early UK tradition, but with a contemporary flair.

Highlights include Prophecy, powered by strong backing vocals, the dreamy Meditation and the soulful title track. The U.S. reggae scene continues to grow and put forward talented acts.

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Eloquent pop-reggae on R. City’s debut album

RCityALBUMR. City, formerly Rock City, is brothers Theron and Timothy. They were born in St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands, but moved to Atlanta and later settling in Miami on the U.S. mainland. Their career took off when they started writing for Akon and since then the duo has penned several top hits for a variety of artists, including Rihanna’s Man Down and Miley Cyrus’ We Can’t Stop, as well as contributing to Grammy-nominated albums by Ariana Grande and Iggy Azalea.

But now they have moved from the background to the spotlight. On their debut album What Dreams Are Made Of they tell stories from their childhood and how they landed where they are today. It’s a story about chasing dreams, struggle and hard work – “we went to Atlanta and decided we wasn’t going to leave, with 20 dollars in the pocket and some old jeans, came across a few sales men that sold dreams, but we wasn’t going to quit, by no means, we started meeting with labels, and we were laughed at, like, you from an island trying to rap, go home, please”, puts it nicely.

First single off this uplifting album was the Billboard to ten hitter Locked Away, an ridiculously infectious single featuring the vocal talents of Maroon 5’s lead singer Adam Levine. This Caribbean flavoured pop gem also recently got a dancehall remix treatment, making it even tastier.

What Dreams Are Made Of breaks musical barriers, but stands firmly on Caribbean ground. R. City manages to effortlessly combine dancehall and reggae with hip-hop, R&B, pop and dance music resulting in an insanely catchy and bouncy album full of Caribbean vibes. Imagine Fugees meets Popcaan meets Rihanna.

This is stylish and sunny Caribbean pop of the highest order and it’s just impossible not to move your feet or nod your head when Broadway – which gives Barrington Levy a nice nod – or the brutal Live By the Gun blast through the speakers. And it’s just as impossible not to be touched by beautiful songs like Save My Soul or Don’t You Worry.

A clever and uplifting album that would probably have made it onto my top 25 reggae albums in 2015 list if I had heard about it earlier, even though it’s not really a reggae album.

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Solid and dreamy roots on Puma Ptah’s solo debut

PumaPtah_InOneAccord_02U.S. singer Puma Ptah – formerly Ras Puma – was born on the Virgin Islands, but moved to the mainland about ten years ago where he later joined eclectic DJ and artist collective Thievery Corporation. Last year he decided to pursue a solo career – even though he still works with the Corporation – and recently dropped his debut set.

In One Accord collects seven rootsy tracks; five vocal cuts and two dub versions mixed by I Grade’s Tippy I and Y & D Duke from Switzerland.

Puma Ptah makes solid and soothing roots reggae with live instrumentation and beautiful arrangements. His vocal style is calm and relaxed yet with a dramatic touch. He reflects on politics and spiritual issues and sings about unity and love for all mankind.

The percussion-driven Prudence is dreamy, Home comes with strings and a pulsating organ and Upright has bright horns and echo-laid vocals.

Certainly a solid debut from a promising singer.

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Grand harmonies on The Expanders’ Hustling Culture

unnamedLos Angeles-based vintage reggae revivalists The Expanders are back with their third studio album Hustling Culture, an effort described in a press release as their first proper album as a cohesive unit, since their first album “was a collection of music from good friends making a record together” and their second set was a covers album.

Two of the bands five members grew up with reggae archivist Roger Steffens son and together they listened to his huge record collection. And their music is built on what they heard and learned listening to the golden era of reggae music. It builds on classic 70s roots with beautiful three-part vocal harmonies.

Hustling Culture comes with twelve tracks is fun, enjoyable and very, very easy to like. The three-part harmonies shine through on almost every track. And the charming Piece of Love is sung with harmonies through the whole cut. Lovely.

It’s melancholic, yet positive, conscious, yet uplifting. Hustling Culture will definitely add a bit of Californian sun into your earphones or stereo. Let it in. Just let it in.

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Dynamic dub reworking of John Brown’s Body’s Kings and Queens

john-browns-body-kings-and-queens-in-dub-thumbU.S. pioneering reggae band John Brown’s Body have had their latest album Kings and Queens, released in 2013, turned into an anthemic dub set titled Kings and Queens in Dub.

All of the original album’s twelve tracks have been reworked, mainly by North American producers and engineers, including Dubfader, Jay “Double Tiger” Spaker, Michael Goldwasser, Dubmatix, Ticklah and Nate Silas Richardson. But on board is also Yesking from Wales, Lord Echo from New Zealand and UK reggae legend Dennis Bovell.

The result is a mesmerising and swirling set with echo-laid grooves and a dense sound complete with infectious vocal hooks, courtesy of new lead singer Elliot Martin, floating in and out of the mix.

The original King and Queens is a progressive and innovative reggae effort and the dub version expands the sound with new audio effects and heavier bass lines. Highlights include album opener People in the Light Dub with its slow groove and hypnotic bass lines, the thumping Sound and Fury Dub and the dark Fracture Dub with its fanfare-like horns and aggressive drums.

Kings and Queens in Dub is an another vital addition to John Brown Body’s expanding catalogue of dynamic reggae.

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Refreshingly funky on The Lions’ Soul Riot

About 20 years ago I was caught in the American ska craze with bands like The Toasters, The Slackers and The Pietasters. The spark that lit my fire was a compilation called Give ‘Em the Boot, and on that album was a ska band called Hepcat with singers Deston Berry and Alex Désert.

Unfortunately Hepcat soon went on a hiatus and I didn’t hear anything about them until two years ago when The Lions dropped their excellent debut album This Generation, dubbed to perfection the year after by Tom Chasteen.

Deston Berry and Alex Désert form half of the vocal team along with Malik Moore and deejay Black Shakespeare, the cousin of Robbie Shakespeare. And on The Lions’ brand new album they have also invited label mate Myron Glasper, of soul duo Myron & E, to showcase his talent.

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And it’s no coincidence that a soul singer is appearing on Soul Riot, as this brilliant twelve track set is titled. It’s definitely a reggae album, but with a myriad of other influences, particularly funk, soul, hip-hop and a little bit of disco.

This is hip reggae sounding like it did it in the late 60s and early 70s. It’s creative, playful and festive, such as Rhythm Rock with its live-played hip-hop-ish beat with bright horns and the discofied Magnificent Dance.

But it also has a more emotive side, as shown on Smoke & Mirrors with Malik Moore’s sweet falsetto and the smoky Falling with Alex Désert on the microphone.

Soul Riot is steamy and breezy at the same time and it’s a fantastic album that deserves wide attention.

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Kingston City is New Kingston’s best album yet

unnamedU.S. reggae powerhouse Easy Star Records – home to the successful Easy Star All-Stars – latest signing is New York City-based family quartet New Kingston; brothers Stephen Suckarie, Courtney Panton, Jr., Tahir Panton and their father Courtney Panton, Sr.

Kingston City is their third album and follows Kingston University released in 2013, a set that included the Black Uhuru-influenced album opener Life. Their new album is more consistent compared to their previous two sets, but they still manage to combine soulful vocal harmonies and bright melodies with pulsating bass lines.

The album, which hosts twelve tracks, leans heavily towards contemporary European roots reggae, and New Kingston are somewhat rougher compared to some of their U.S. peers. The set opens explosively with the up-tempo Today and the pace is high throughout the first four cuts. Then comes the deep and slow Honorable followed by the beautiful Kimie Miner combination You Are Mine with its infectious chorus and haunting keys.

The album is actually laced with several guest appearances and New Kingston is also joined by Tribal Seeds’ vocalists Maad T-Ray and E.N Young, The Wailing Souls, the late Sugar Minott and Sister Carol graces the 80s sounding Conquer Dem with her signature deejaying.

Kingston City – available everywhere except in Europe where it drops on February 23 – is well-crafted and definitely New Kingston’s best album to date and a strong addition to an otherwise often shallow U.S. reggae scene.

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