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A Brilliant Live Album From Reggae Road Warrors Tribal Seeds

Roots reggae band Tribal Seeds were a big draw on the summer festival circuit until the lockdown. All that time on the road obviously inspired their latest album, Live 2020, streaming at Bandcamp. It’s one of the few records made in a studio during that time to surface so far, and even though there was (presumably) no audience there giving the band energy to feed off, their set really nails the outside-the-box sensibility of their live show.

This is a long album, fourteen tracks. The template seems to be Burning Spear’s immortal 1988 Live in Paris record: prominent lead guitar, brassy horn breaks, a kaleidoscope of keyboard textures and many breakdowns into dub. They don’t waste time hitting a dubwise, echoey theme as the opening number, Down Bad Vibes gathers steam, part Burning Spear’s We Are Going and Exodus-era Bob Marley. 

With echoey guitar, swirly organ and balmy horns, Rude Girl has more of a 21st century, post-pop vibe, reverbtoned sax and more dubby echoes bursting up from individual instruments. This time out the group – frontman/guitarist Steven Jacobo, guitarist Ryan Gonzo, bassist Victor Navarro, keyboardists Louie Castle and drummer Jamey “Zeb” Dekofsky – are joined by the brass of trombonist Josh Molle, saxophonist Warren Huang and trumpeter plus a string  quartet of violinists Hannah Yim, Joe Sanders and Taichiroh Kanauchi, and cellist Jay Hemphill.

They pick up the pace with Guerra, a bubbling, minor-key antiwar anthem in Spanish. Then they slow things down again for Tempest, first bringing to mind Jah Spear and then hitting a catchy Marleyesque four-chord groove with crackling clavinova and spacy organ.

Taking a cue from Peter Tosh for inspiration, the band lash out at “illuminati” in Blood Clot, picking up with an ominous vortex and a snarling, metalish guitar solo out: total Spear, 1988. Fallen Kings has a stark, echoey string section on the intro and a wry detour into J.S. Bach before the band pulse and swoosh their way the rest of the way: the orchestration is a really cool touch.

Dark Angel is even more orchestral: the idea of a reggae suspense movie theme might seem pretty insane, but this works insanely well. Then the band completely flip the script with Lift, a bright, bouncy love song.

Lushness returns along with the bubbling organ and bass and sunbaked guitar in Surrender. The band kick off Sekkle and Cool, their signature anthem, with a big, crescendoing sax solo, loosen into a dubby thicket and then pull back onto the rails. Then the band go back to vintage Marley catchiness with Moonlight, spiced with classical-flavored piano and shivery strings.

They stay in Marley mode with In Your Eyes, but with all kinds of neat touches: squiggly clavinet and a little surf drums. The defiant, blazing Spear ambience returns in Gunsmoke with sunburst horns and a jagged, slashing guitar break. The band wind up the set, pulling out all the eerie stops with the strings and guitars and keys in Vampire “Corruption spread like a virus.” No joke.

There hasn’t been a new roots reggae album this long, and this strong from beginning to end in years.

Director Ted Bafaloukos’ Posthumous Photo Book Captures the Turmoil and Glory of 1970s Reggae

Ted Bafaloukos’ 1979 film Rockers is iconic in reggae circles. Its soundtrack captures many of the foremost figures from the golden age of roots reggae at the peak of their powers. The movie became one of that year’s fifty highest grossing films. And it was almost never made.

The late director and photographer reveals the drama, the turbulence, passion, and ever-present danger surrounding the artistic crucible of the mid-70s Jamaican music scene in his richly illustrated coffee table book, ROCKERS: Ted Bafaloukos + 1970s New York + Kingston + On Set Mayhem = The Making of Reggae’s Most Iconic Film, out this year from Gingko Press.

The Greek-born Bafaloukos got his start at the Rhode Island School of Design. His steamship captain father had sent him there after discovering, while docked in Providence, that the school drew students from as faraway as California. The younger Bafaloukos earned media accolades for his photos while still in college. But by 1978 he was struggling as a freelancer, largely supported by his wife’s $78-a-week sweatshop paycheck, sharing a loft at the corner of Varick and Franklin Streets with several friends.

He’d discovered reggae a few years earlier and fallen in love with it after seeing a show by melodica player Augustus Pablo and his band at the Tropical Cove, a club located above Gertie’s Discount Store in Brooklyn. He intuitively grasped the connection between the communal esthetic of reggae and the folk music he’d been immersed in at community celebrations as a child in the Aegean island village of Apikia.

Aided by his new friends from the New York reggae scene, he traveled to Jamaica and decided then and there to make a reggae movie, despite having neither script nor cast. Bafaloukos enlisted several New York friends as production crew, and a hippie neighbor with money to be the producer.

Bafaloukos’ photos from his initial expeditions are a goldmine for reggae fans. The most choice shots are black-and-white. Singer Kiddus I, with record producer Jack Ruby behind him, sits slit-eyed with both a cheat sheet and a spliff in hand at a recording session: it’s clear that this is all live, with no iso booths. A young, thin Burning Spear perches triumphantly atop the ruins of a slavery-era jail in his native St. Ann’s Bay. Jah Spear (who also appeared in the film) pops up again and again, most memorably backstage with an equally rail-thin Patti Smith, laughing it up. And Big Youth is captured on his signature motorbike on a Kingston street, showing off his jewel-embedded teeth

In full color, there’s dub pioneer Lee “Scratch” Perry in his ramshackle, rundown original Black Ark Studio before he burned it down: from Bafaloukos’ description of the setup and gear, Perry’s engineering genius becomes all the more astonishing. A series of 1975 portraits capture Bob Marley on Sixth Avenue near West 8th Street in Manhattan. There’s owl-glassed, bearded folk music legend and experimental filmmaker Harry Smith with Burning Spear drummer (and eventual star of the film) Leroy “Horsemouth” Wallace. Impressively, the book’s candid photos far outnumber stills from the movie.

Which is basically The Bicycle Thief transposed to Jamaica, with tons of classic songs and a cast comprising the most colorful people the filmmaker had met while traveling across the island. “For those who think that movies get made in the editing room, Rockers is not a case in point,” he avers. As he tells it, the film ended up being even more highly improvised than originally planned.

The problem with crowdsourcing your cast is that a bigger crowd comes with it. It ended up taking Bafaloukos more than a couple nickels to buy his way out of many pickles, several brushes with death and, as he tells it, a mutiny by the movie’s two stars, who had held out for more money. Considering how hard both cast and crew partied when they weren’t working, and how many challenges – several at gunpoint – they had to overcome, it’s a miracle they were able to finish it.

And considering how breakneck – literally – the pace of the filming was, some of the most memorable moments in the narrative are the asides. We find out that Earl Chin, who in 1975 had not yet become the legendary host of Rockers TV, is a crazy driver: gee, big surprise. The movie’s crucial set piece – a very fickle, used motorbike – ends up being delivered by none other than the Cool Ruler, Gregory Isaacs. And Bafaloukos recounts the priceless moment at Bob Marley’s Peace Concert where Jacob Miller leaps from the stage, goes up to a cop guarding the Prime Minister and offers him a spiff. When the cop declines, Miller steals the guy’s helmet and finishes his set wearing it.

What Bafaloukos never mentions is residuals. He ended up retiring to a villa on the Aegean. it would be interesting to know how much Horsemouth, his co-star “Dirty Harry” Hall, the Montego Bay mystic named Higher, or the Reverend Roach and his A.M.E choir, to name a few of the cast members, came away with.

A Deep Roots Reggae Hanukkah Record From the Temple Rockers

Tommy Benedetti’s simple one-two nyabinghi drumbeat echoes over sparse jungle bird noise as the new Temple Rockers album Festival of Lights – streaming at Bandcamp – gets underway. Is this a throwback to the golden age of roots reggae and dub, in the spirit of Ras Michael and Lee Scratch Perry?

Kind of. If you’ve ever lit your spliff from the menorah, this is your jam. While the festival of lights and gambling has officially passed, this album of Hanukkah-themed reggae songs, many of them familiar themes reinvented with a one-drop beat, will keep the spirit alive if you’re in the mood.

The production values are spot-on: a wah effect on the organ, chicken-scratch guitar, clouds of grey noise wafting in the distance, ample reverb on pretty much everything except bandleader David Gould’s bass and the spicy brass flourishes that punctuate the high points. All this makes even more sense considering that Gould’s main gig is with perennial tour favorites John Brown’s Body.

While there have been Hanukkah reggae songs over the years, this one of a very small handful of albums celebrating the holiday Which is surprising, considering how well the Jewish diaspora has been represented on the jamband circuit over the years, and that a disproportionate number of white dreads are Jews.

Roots reggae vets Linval Thompson, Wayne Jarrett and Ansel Meditations share vocals with the group’s regular frontman, Craig Akira Fujita, giving the music immense Jamdown cred. The first track is the brisk, bouncy Days Long Ago, with its tasty organ and tradeoffs between trumpet and trombone. Not to rain on your parade, dudes…but the hora is a wedding dance, not something people typically do after lighting the menorah. But maybe it’s time to revisit that tradition.

The rest of the album touches on the Hanukkah story without belaboring it. Rock of Ages is more rocksteady-tinged, like something the Melodians might have done in the 70s. Do You Know Why, a famous holiday theme, has deliciously bluesy lead guitar and smoky baritone sax. The klezmer reggae fire keeps burning with the instrumental Pour Some Oil, Gould’s bass carrying the tune as the horns get a little crazy

Spin Dem is a slinky reminder of how Rasta and Jewish iconography are so often interchangeable. Festival Song is an irresistibly coy, punchy rocksteady remake of Dreydl, Dreydl, Dreydl. Who Can Retell, with its wobbly vocals, celebrates a global unity theme: it’s practically a dead ringer for a Congos classic. Much the same could be said for Almighty Light, with its brooding horns

About the Miracles, a return to Hebrew reggae, is the album’s catchiest number. The album winds up with its dubbiest track, Lickle Jug and then the glistening rocksteady vamp I Have a Candle, with bracing mutitracked vocals by Gould’s sister Lisa. Not only is this destined to become a classic of Jewish holiday music: there’s also a dub version available.

Two Sides of One of This Era’s Great Trumpeters

Today’s Halloween episode here does not concern a macabre record or a dire political prediction. It’s a plug for a delightful annual Brooklyn Halloween tradition: the block party on Waverly Avenue between Willoughby and DeKalb in Ft. Greene, packed with kids on a mission to fill up their candy bags, adults trudging after them, Pam Fleming’s Dead Zombie Band serenading everybody. For the last four years, the trumpeter and her slinky, cinematic group have played the party, starting at around 6 PM and ending at around 9. Sometimes they do two sets, sometimes three. You never know what you’re  going to get. It’s Halloween, after all. Take the G to Clinton-Washington, it’s running all night this Wednesday.

Although the Dead Zombie Band’s album is a great soundtrack for this blog’s favorite holiday, Fleming has finally released her long, long-awaited new album, Buds, with another project, Fearless Dreamer, their first since 2004. It’s one of the catchiest jazz albums of the year, and streaming at youtube. The opening cut, I’ve Had Enough, sets the stage, a smoky, torchy, absolutely gorgeous, augustly bluesy 6/8 minor-key ballad. The bandleader plays a terse solo as Jim West’s organ swirls behind her, drummer Todd Isler and bassist Leo Traversa supplying a no-nonsense, surprisingly hard-hitting groove. Tenor saxophonist Allen Won’s cries and bends add vivid, pissed-off intensity: this may have political subtext.

The album’s title track is a jubilantly syncopated, Beatlesque anthem, West switching to piano, Peter Calo’s guitar adding spiky textures. A bubbly bass intro kicks off Power Spot, a bright theme that subtly veers through a triplet rhythm toward Ethiopia: Fleming and Won contribute balmy solos over some neat, dub-tinged counterpoint.

Taken Away is one of those great, somber themes that Fleming writes so well, disembodied spirits from Won’s soprano sax flitting and sailing while Fleming builds a clenched-teeth, elegaic crescendo over a sparely intertwining backdrop. Coolman Funk is a similarly expert detour into roots reggae. Blues-infused and incisive over a vintage Marleyesque bassline, Fleming draws on her several years as one of the three women in Burning Spear’s Burning Brass.

4:20 AM is a time and place many of us would remember if we could: what the hell, one more hit before passing out, right? But the title of that song here turns out to reflect more of a general, moody wee-hours tableau than anything aromatic and green, shifting through altered reggae toward swing contentment.

Isler’s subtle, martially-tinged clave propels the group through Shades, a brooding but kinetic latin groove as catchy as any track here. Calo’s gritty guitar and Fleming’s mighty horn chart burn through the big soul epic Mama Don’t Leave Us Now. The album’s final cut is Keep It Movin’, a strutting, bursting funk tune that’s a dead ringer for classic Earth Wind & Fire. Beyond her work with Jah Spear and with high-voltage New Orleans/soca/blues jamband Hazmat Modine, this is arguably the best thing Fleming’s ever released: look for it on the best jazz albums of 2018 page here at the end of the year.

Purist Roots Reggae Band John Brown’s Body Make a Long-Awaited Manhattan Return

John Brown’s Body have been touring for longer than Bob Marley & the Wailers were together.

Think about that for a second.

If you count the point in the mid-60s where ska slowed down to rocksteady, and Toots & the Maytals had a hit with Do the Reggay, roots reggae has been around for half a century. And it’s been a long time since reggae was CNN for Rastafarians and the Jamaican pro-democracy underground.

And it seems like almost as long since John Brown’s Body played a good New York venue. These road warriors’ most recent album, Fireflies – streaming at Soundcloud – has been sitting on the hard drive here waiting for the moment that they’d say boom bye bye to Williamsburg bowling alley Babylon. Good news: they’re playing Bowery Ballroom on Dec 1 at 10ish; cover is $20.

The album’s brassy, minor-key first track is Badman. The song was recorded before the 2016 Presidential election, and it alludes to exploitation of immigrants and working people rather than the tweeting twit in the Oval Office. Still:

Created a master fool
Pay what is natural
Won’t be your slave
Don’t want to obey

Reggae wasn’t always just about getting stoned and chilling.

Realistically, not many people other than musicians are going to listen to this album for every single lyric or nuance. But you have to hand it to this band for nailing every oldschool trope from the rocksteady era to the early 80s, right before the Sleng Teng riddim changed the game.

Tour enough and you can afford the equipment and the studio time to do this like legends. Some highlights: keyboardist JP Petronzio’s subtle organ flickers on the album’s title track, and his growly sub-bass clavinova on the aptly titled Mystery; drummer Tommy Benedetti’s straight-to-dub snare hits; the spot-on evocation of early Maytals rocksteady in Hard Man Fe Dead; trumpeter Sam Dechenne’s horn chart from High Grade, straight out of a blazing Burning Spear anthem circa 1975.

The three-part harmonies on Mash Them Down, another pro-immigrant anthem that would make the Mighty Diamonds proud. That sneaky Aswad reference in the Steel Pulse soundalike New Fashion. The dubwise production, especially with the layers of echo effects in Pure Fire. Singer Elliot Martin’s vengeful “You never look me in the eye” on the closing cut, Who Paid Them Off. Amazing how much you can do with two chords if you have the imagination, isn’t it? Is it time for all the new jacks to do a John Brown’s Body tribute album?

The Brown Rice Family Bring Their Latin-Inspired Reggae and Ska to Drom, With a Psychedelic New Album

For the past several years, the Brown Rice Family have been one of New York’s most consistently fun jambands. Their catchy, danceable songs blend ska and reggae with all kinds of south-of-the-border sounds. They won the WNYC Battle of the Bands back when that achievement actually meant something – which wasn’t that long ago, actually. They’ve got a new album, Havana to Kingston, and an album release show on July 9 at 8 PM at Drom; advance tix are $10.

The basic band lineup is Sticky Rice and Okai on vocals, Yuichi on percussion, Soils on soprano sax, Amu on bass, Kaz on guitar, Isaiah on tenor sax and clarinet and Tama on drums. Like so many classic New York bands, their members hail from diverse backgrounds, representing Haiti, Japan, Nigeria and Jamaica and this city as well. The album kicks off with a really funny intro, a Jamaican guy hitting on a coy Cuban bartendress, leading into the first single, Latin Goes Ska, drawing equally on the original Alejandro Tovar Cuban hit as well as the better-known Skatalites remake for a joyous dancehall-infused jam lit up with sizzling horn solos.

Listening to the album, the first thing that hits you is that these songs are long: they go on for six or seven minutes at a clip, with a subtle dub influence. The oldschool roots reggae anthem Gun Town blends Israel Vibration harmonies to a classic Burning Spear-style groove, with a potent anti-violence message. Say What You Wanna Say is a punchy, upbeat blend of horn-fueled soca and vintage 80s dancehall. Repatriation (Mama Africa) builds to a lushly orchestrated, Rasta-themed peak, in the same vein as one of the more anthemic tracks on Bob Marley’s Kaya album –  Kaz’s Memphis-inspired guitar solo caps it off.

The propulsively bubbling Zimbabwe (Illegal Economic Sanctions) addresses the issue of how multinational corporations push western governments into terrorizing the third world, creating a new slave state for this era’s global robber barons. Moving Forward takes a potently relevant detour into conscious funk – “Eminent domain taking over your mainframe” – with a shout-out to a classic Crusaders hit. The band goes back to roots reggae with She’s Gone: “I”m becoming dysfunctional,” Sticky Rice laments, before a balmy Augustus Pablo-style melodica solo kicks off a dub interlude. The album winds up with Surfing, a vintage 70s roots groove. Since the record isn’t out yet, it’s not at any of the usual streaming sites, although it’s a good bet that the band will have some copies of it at this show. And as good and purist as the recording is, ultimately this is a live band: you really have to see them to appreciate them, whether you just want to chill and sway to the riddim or rock out and dance, either way they’re happy to have you there.

Legendary Jamaican Guitarist Ernest Ranglin Returns with Another Great Album

You don’t ordinarily expect octogenarians to make great albums. If they do, they usually revisit their earlier work, a victory lap. Count Ernest Ranglin among the rare exceptions. The greatest guitarist ever to come out of Jamaica has a new album, Bless Up (streaming online), which is one of his best, and he’s made a whole bunch of them. It’s has a lot more straight-up reggae than the elegant reggae jazz he’s known for (and basically invented all by himself). It also has a more lush, full sound than his previous album, Avila. That one was recorded on the fly during a break from a reggae festival; this one has more tunesmithing than vamping jams, drawing on the seven decades of Jamaican music that in many ways Ranglin has defined.

Organ – played by either Jonathan Korty or Eric Levy – holds the center on many of the tracks here, Ranglin adding judicious solos, alternating between his signature, just-short-of-unhinged tremolo-picked chords, sinewy harmonies with the keys, nimbly fluttering leaps to the high frets and references to the better part of a century’s worth of jazz guitar. The songs transcend simple, rootsy two-chord vamps. Darkly majestic, emphatic minor-key horn arrangements evocative of mid-70s Burning Spear carry the melody on several of the numbers: Bond Street Express, the opening tune; Jones Pen, which recreates the classic 60s Skatalites sound but with digital production values; and Rock Me Steady, the most dub-flavored track, driven by some neat trap drumming.

Mystic Blue evokes both the Burning Spear classic Man in the Hills and the Cure’s Boys Don’t Cry. The bubbly Sivan also sounds like Jah Spear, but from a decade or so later. The title track is a swing tune, more or less, Ranglin’s upstroke guitar over a close-to-the-ground snare-and-kick groove giving away its Caribbean origins. Likewise, the band mutates the bolero El Mescalero with a distinctly Jamaican beat that adds a surreal dimension of fun tempered by an unexpectedly desolate Charlie Wilson trombone solo.

Ranglin plays with a deeper, more resonant tone – and a shout-out to Wes Montgomery – on Follow On. Blues for a Hip King works a stately gospel groove up to a long, organ-fueled crescendo that contrasts with Ranglin’s spare, incisive lines. Ska Renzo, the most straight-up ska tune here, works all kinds of neat up/down shifts with reverb-toned melodica, carbonated Rhodes piano and a sharpshooter horn riff. You Too starts out like a balmy Marley ballad but quickly goes in a darker direction, Michael Peloquin’s restless tenor sax giving way to tersely moody solos from trombone and piano, Yossi Fine’s bass holding it down with a fat pulse. There’s also a pretty trad version of the jazz standard Good Friends and the simple gospel vamp Bra Joe from Kilimanjaro, reprised at the end as a long Grateful Dead-like jam. Clearly Jimmy Cliff’s longtime musical director in the years after The Harder They Come hasn’t lost a step since then.

John Brown’s Body Puts Out Their Best Studio Album in Ages

Imagine your band’s been on the road for the better part of twenty years. You can sell out pretty much any midsize venue you feel like playing. Recordings of your concerts – both the ones made by fans, and your own, which you give away for free – are shared and prized by collectors around the world. Why on earth would you make a studio album – let alone one that sounds ok on phone earbuds, but which sounds AMAZING on a good stereo system?

Because you play so many shows that you’re bound to sell out whatever you manufacture? Because people who are stoned enough will buy pretty much anything? Or maybe just because the band is in a good place right now and you want to document this particular period in its history? Maybe all of the above. Veteran roots reggae band John Brown’s Body are playing Brooklyn Bowl tonight around 9 and as of this afternoon, it isn’t sold out yet – get to the venue by 8 and you should be fine. And you can pick up their new album Kings & Queens, just out from the folks at Easy Star Records, if you want a souvenir that sounds as good as the concert.

John Brown’s Body has been making solidly decent album since the early 90s. They used to have more of a dub vibe, with wah-wah on the keys of all things, and more orthodox, “praise Jah” type lyrics. These days, they’re louder and more driving, Mike Keenan’s guitar pushing the music with Nate Edgar’s bass and Tommy Benedettt’s drums, Jon Petronzio’s keys adding a dubwise edge, their killer horn section usually lighting the way melodywise.

The opening track on the new album has the hook in the bass – it’s irresistible, just like the horn charts. Although trumpeter Sam Dechenne, saxophonist Drew Sayers and trombonist Scott Flynn – who write all their own arrangements – look back to vintage 1960s Motown and soul, the brass on John Brown’s Body albums and this one especially is good enough to recommend to gypsy music fans. They follow with a big anthemic sway on the second track, Invitation (which sounds like “invocation” – it’s that kind of thing).

The Burning Spear influence is all over this record. Track three, Plantation, reminds of Man in the Hills, a snowstorm of keyboard EFX kicking off a brief bass-and-drum interlude before the song picks up again.Shine Bright has the gleaming horns and stutter pulse of late 80s Spear mixed with jazzy 70s Stylistics-style ballad chords. And just as Jah Spear did for one of his heros, Marcus Garvey, JBB finally send a shout out to the guy whose name they took – and reference Old Marcus Garvey along the way.

Empty Hands has a noir Ghost Town/Satta Massaganna arrangement to match its  “Mr. Officer leave me alone” lyric with a little hip-hop vibe as it winds out. Fall on Deep sounds like a Marley love ballad from the Kaya days. Dust Bowl might be the best track here, with its big, intense, swirly minor-key ambience and ominous global warming-era lyrics. By contrast, The Battle reverts to the band’s more anxious, stripped-down spiritually-minded sound from the Kevin Kinsella days back in the 90s, frontman Elliot Martin letting his vocals linger (and is that autotune or just some weird flange effect on the harmonies?!?).

As far as horns go, the arrangements on the dub-influenced Starver are gorgeously dark and bluesy; on Deep Summer, arguably the album’s best track, they’re warm, enveloping and absolutely beautiful. The album closes with Searchlight, which is not a reggae song – it’s a big mid 80s style new wave pop anthem with a sequencer, like ZZ Top used to use. It also offers a nod to P-Funk, sonically if not rhythmically. It sounds suspiciously like it was written to close a show on a, um, high note, a big singalong where everybody in the choom gang who hasn’t reached total absorption yet gets an excuse to raise their lighter to their lips one final time.

Kiwi’s On the Move with Good Original Reggae

Jersey City reggae band Kiwi’s new album On the Move manages to be purist without being a ripoff. Frontman/guitarist Alex Tea’s songs draw a straight line back to Bob Marley and Burning Spear at their late 70s peak, while adding original touches including elements of jazz and Brazilian music. The arrangements are everything that’s good about roots reggae: they’re slinky and hypnotic yet constantly change shape, with light dub tinges that enhance the psychedelic factor. Much as the album’s sonics are crisply digital, the production values are strictly oldschool. What’s interesting about this band is that everybody seems to come from either a rock or jazz background, yet they get what reggae is all about better than some of the Jamaican posse does these days. Drummer Ramsey Norman is a harder hitter than most of his reggae counterparts, and like the great Sly Dynbar he does a lot more than just the one-drop beat, teaming up with percussionist Ben Guadalupe. Likewise, bassist Matt Quinones basically functions as a second lead guitarist, a couple of octaves lower. Keyboardist Dave Stolarz varies his textures from swoopy Wailers-style organ to various piano and synth voicings: he’s their secret dubwise edge.  The horn section of tenor saxophonist Barami Waspe, trumpeter Curtis Taylor and trombonist Rob Edwards make the most of a bunch of juicy charts, adding to the richly tuneful, retro 70s vibe.

The opening track, Aprendiz, blends tropicalia and anthemic rock over a rootsy groove, like a Brazilian John Brown’s Body. The second track, Burden, is a killer singalong, the first of several rocksteady-style numbers that remind of vintage early 70s Toots & the Maytals. They go for a pensive Marley feel with Change and then add spaghetti western touches and Augustus Pablo-ish melodica on the apprehensively jungly Dead Man, which segues into an unexpectedly weird, trippy atmospheric interlude.

Edwards’ balmy trombone lines pair off with the jaunty bounce of Fine and Mellow, while Give a Little goes back to the rocksteady before raising to a gorgeously soaring chorus. I Can Fall nicks the riff from the Burning Spear classic Man in the Hills and takes it more upbeat on the wings of the horns; the band hits a dub passage and segues from there into Lady Lady, the poppiest thing here, which has the feel of a carefree early 70s Johnny Clarke hit.

The most intense and original track here is Pirambu, an unexpectedly ominous, lushly anthemic tune with intricate jazz-tinged guitar, ethereal horns and another hypnotic dub interlude. Pema mixes up samba and reggae, while Sun Never Set is sort of Marley’s Dem Belly Full crossed with Henry Mancini. The album winds up with the easygoing Tell You Once, spiced with a sweet trombone solo and the best outro of any of the songs here. Kiwi play the album release show tonight, Feb 21 at Joe’s Pub at 11 PM.

Super Hi-Fi Puts Out the Best Reggae Album of the Year

Meet the best reggae album of the year – and it doesn’t have any lyrics. Brooklyn band Super Hi-Fi’s new album Dub to the Bone is all instrumental. Essentially, it’s live dub – to an extent, they’re doing live what Scratch Perry would do in the studio. But this album keeps the studio wizardry to a minimum and focuses on the songs. Theyv’e got an oldschool echoplex, which they use judiciously and absolutely psychedelically, but it’s the tunes and the playing that make this psychedelic. Since this was recorded as a vinyl record for Brooklyn’s excellent, eclectic Electric Cowbell label, there’s an A-side and a B-side.

The band keeps it simple and catchy as they make their way methodically from one hook to another. A lot of reggae is verse/chorus/verse/etc. and this isn’t, which keeps it interesting while maintaining a fat groove. And while a lot of dub is an endless series of textures echoing and fading in and out of the mix, the band does this live without missing a beat. Bassist Ezra Gale’s songs lean toward the dark and menacing side: some of this is absolutely creepy, as the best reggae and ska can be.

The opening track, Washingtonian works trippy variations on a dark reggae vamp, the occasional vintage newsreel sample adding snide commentary on the military-industrial complex (is that Eisenhower?) The tightness of the twin trombones of Alex Asher and Ryan Snow reminds of classic Skatalites, or Burning Spear’s peak-era band with the Burning Brass.

There are two versions of Tri Tro Tro here and they couldn’t be any more different: they’re basically two separate songs. Which is the coolest thing about dub – the first builds to a carefree Will Graefe guitar hook over the equally catchy bassline, the second begins as a new wave guitar song before the reggae riddim kicks in and morphs into a soukous tune. The third track, Neolithic, runs from a twin trombone hook to a wickedly catchy turnaround, wailing guitar giving way to the swoosh of the echoplex and then an unexpectedly balmy, jazzy interlude.

The best track here is the absolutely Lynchian We Will Begin Again with its noir trombones, creepy, lingering guitar and shapeshifting melody. Q Street drops the individual instruments in and out over an Ethiopian-flavored groove, while Public Option – another political reference  – centers its echoey orchestration around a moody minor groove and Madhu Siddappa’s hypnotically boomy snare drum. The final track, mixed expertly by Victor Rice, somebody who knows a thing or two about classic dub, is Single Payer, the most psychedelic, Black Ark-style plate here, the veteran ska and reggae producer having fun matching the bass and drums against the guitar and trombones and vice versa. The album release show is at Nublu at around midnight – you know how that place is – on Dec 13, and it’s free.