A Catchy, Smartly Arranged New Album and a Maxwell’s Show by Roots Reggae Stars Kiwi

by delarue

Kiwi are the best roots reggae band in the tri-state area, maybe the best roots reggae band in the entire northeast. What elevates them above the other groups in what’s now a legacy genre, like bluegrass or Chicago blues, is how much they have going on in their songs. Bassist Steve Capecci anchors them with a fat, minimalist, wickedly catchy pulse: as with a lot of reggae from the golden age in the 70s, it’s the bass hooks that often serve as the songs’ central point. Likewise, drummer Ramsey Norman holds down the groove with a low-key, elegant approach, having fun with the occasional Sly Dunbar-style accent and oldschool one-drop flourish. Frontman/guitarist Alex Tea’s tunes shift shape in a split second, unpredictably and counterintuitively., with elements of oldschool soul music, dub, rocksteady and the occasional departure toward psychedelic art-rock. His arrangements, including horns and multi-keys, spread the textures across the sonic picture. The purist production of their new album A Room with a View – streaming at Spotify – looks back forty years.  They’re headlining at 10 PM on November 28 at Maxwell’s in Hoboken; one of the world’s great ska sax players, Dave Hillyard & the Rocksteady 7 open the night at 9. Cover is $10.

The new album opens with New Year Steady, its catchy, spare, fat low-register bass hook, Memphis soul-infused guitar, slinky organ and a jaunty horn chart straight out of mid-70s Stevie Wonder. Wait Until Tomorrow is a spare, bouncy number fueled by a catchy bass riff and airy horns, in the same vein as a Burning Spear hit from about 25 years ago. Likewise, the balmy horn arrangement for February, which hints that it’s going to go in a dub direction before it rises to a triumphantly anthemic chorus, fueled by an animated exchange between the horns – then, finally, it gets all trippy.

Against the Wall, with its edgy, tense horns over boomy, ominous bass and troubled lyrics, brings to mind vintage Steel Pulse, Barami Waspe adding an all-too-brief, brooding tenor sax solo. The band picks things up from there with How Many Times, which looks back to Bob Marley at his mid-70s sunniest. Long Ago pairs tersely chugging organ from Dave Stolarz with Capecci’s bare-bones yet bone-penetrating bass. I Come Around comes around from an atmospheric, art rock-tinged verse to yet another one of the band’s signature catchy choruses. They follow that with the bass-fueled lovers rock ballad As I Am.

All Through the Evening takes the music back up into big anthemic territory, the brass and keys giving it a mighty majesty before the band slowly makes their way down toward dub…and then they’re done. With Red, they go back toward vintage Burning Spear and mash that up with Steel Pulse, again working the dynamics from towering and triumphant to sparse and suspenseful. The best track on the album is the moodily reflective, noir-tinged, minor-key Simmer. The album winds up with Trees, its soul jazz-inspired tune looking back to early 70s Third World. If this thing came out back then, it would have ruled the album charts.