Archive for September, 2009

Steel Pulse Concert Review

September 29, 2009
Steel Pulse "True Democracy"

Steel Pulse "True Democracy"

I was back in Santa Cruz, Ca for my sister’s wedding a few weeks ago. It was a week full of celebration, which was the perfect circumstance for Steel Pulse to conveniently stroll through town and rock The Catalyst Nightclub on a Thursday (9/17/2009.) I was able to make time between the ceremony rehearsals and family dinners to attend the show.

This was the third time in my life that I’ve seen Steel Pulse live and all shows thus far have been at The Catalyst right off Pacific Ave. in downtown SC. This, however, was the first at The Catalyst that was able to walk the 21+ balconies at show time. I know Steel Pulse was one of the select, few reggae groups to make it through the ‘80’s unscathed, but I was surprised to see their substantial draw in the older crowd as well as the younger. Both bars and balconies were slammed with all kinds of heads.

From the opening track of ‘Worth its Weight in Gold’, the venue was so stomping and roaring one could hear the echoes of the trembling of the old bowling alley lanes underneath the hall. They seem to always open with this song, but I have to say that every time they do I wish I could be like the Damian Marley flag guy.

Their set was perfect, flawless, impeccable, righteous. It pretty much touched on almost all my personal favorites. ‘Chant a Psalm’, ‘Global Warming’, and the classic ‘Handsworth Revolution’ were three such songs that embody Steel Pulse’s perfect marriage of grooves, choral hooks, and political consciousness that has made them one of the most prolific reggae bands of all time.

They did play several of their newer singles, from albums very well received, including ‘No Weapons’ and ‘Door of No Return’, but the new song that caught me was a tribute to President Barack Obama. When people asked me about the show the next day that was the first thing I recited. The call and response of “Go Barack, Barack/Obama!”

The icing on the cake of the show was some sweet, thick dub. I’ve never heard Steel Pulse jam out songs as long as they did at this show. In the past, they’ve thrown their singles of ‘Rollerskates’ and ‘Stepping Out’ into an unenthusiastic, five-minute medley. This time they gave both those tunes their due respect with full versions early in the set.

The whole band seemed especially stoked that night. The rest of the group rose to David Hines (lead vocals and rhythm guitar) level so all he had to do was hold down the center, vocal mic and rhythm guitar with that signature, broader than broadway smile on his face. Perhaps he was so stoked because the crowed was owned by locals, who, as Rocky says, are “the best crowd ever.” He was sure to mention that ‘fact’ over the speakers as we piled out into the atrium after the encore.

The band was another great example of how solid musicians can come together over a sound that has become an ideal. Being that David Hines and Selwyn Brown (keyboards and backing vocals) are the only original members, the rest of the group embodied professional musicianship that way they morphed into their roles. Bassist Amlak Tafari held it down literally and figuratively. I had never seen a bass player do so many lunges and straddle his bass so close to the ground.

What really set this apart from me was when early, about four songs into the set, played ‘Your House’, which is one of my most favorite reggae songs, ever. They never played it the first two times I saw them, so when they did I couldn’t believe it. I stood still and tried to pay really close attention, breaking through the haze and periphery of all the dancers. At that moment I may have been the only one in the venue not moving…

Email questions, comments, recommendations, etc:
–> OneGoodThingAboutMusicBlog@gmail.com

Follow the OneGTAMusic blog on Twitter:
–> www.twitter.com/OneGTAMusic

Album Review: “Here I Am” from Groundation

September 10, 2009
Newest album from Groundation

Newest album from Groundation

By William Maxwell Kellerman

I couldn’t believe it when I took it out of the card, an Itunes gift card for a summer’s work that was more a pleasure and a pain. I felt undeserving. That was, until I found out Groundation had just released their 6th studio album, Here I am.

I was on tour with my band for about a week when I finally got a chance to start downloading it, only to have the roaming nature of the band van cut out my Internet as we peeled away from the nearest Starbucks.

The leading track, “Run the Plan,” I had been listening to on a bootleg from the fall 2007 tour for some time. The groove on that recording was so thick it was up to my neck. The track shortly became the most played Groundation song on my Itunes.  The album version is just as striking and also features an intro jam that could only be Groundation.

If only the rest of the album stood out, collectively and each track alone, as much as “Run the Plan.” With the exceptions of the title track “Here I Am,” “Everyone Could Loose,” “Blues Away,” and “Golan to Galilee,” the majority of the album didn’t strike a strong musical and spiritual resonance as past Groundation albums. If I had one shot, only one song, to introduce someone to Groundation, then I don’t think I’d show them a track from this album.

My single favorite part of the whole album is the last 45 seconds of the final track, “Golan to Galilee,” which ends in an overflowing chorus where every instrument rises together like an orchestra that’s reminiscence of Easy Star All-Stars recent take on the transition between the Menny More and Michael Rose, formerly of Black Uhuru, parts in “A Day in the Life” on a Sgt. Peppers cover album.

The music and arrangements on Here I Am remains the solid, quality sound we’ve all come to expect from Groundation. In many ways it felt like the Rockamovya project bled into this new album. The jazz roots tend over take the reggae in an unfamiliar way. Leads by Kelsey Howard (Trombone,) Marcus Urani (Keys,) and “Diesel” David Chachere (trumpet) are also true to Groundation’s jazz influenced form and are satisfying.

Te Kanawa Haereiti, in his debut work behind the drums, certainly has his work cut out for him replacing the long-time rock that was Paul “Papa” Spina, but he holds it down on this album and it will be interesting to see how he further molds into the group. His drum solo on “Not So Simple” does well to showcase that he is up to the level of the rest Groundation.

Where I thought the majority of the tracks missed was in their choral and vocal arrangements. The sounds is a tight as ever, but I found myself waiting through the guest and band vocals for lead vocalist Harrison Stafford to assert himself in the tracks. His voice is undoubtedly the powerful heart to compliment the musical intelligence of the group’s music, and his lead is too lacking in this album.

Don’t get me wrong, one of the coolest vocal things the band does is when the backup vocalists trade off with Harrison. At music in the park in San Jose, Ca last summer, former vocalists Carrie Anne Morgan and Keisha Johnson equally split the verses of Undivided (off the album Herbon Gate) and it was a perfect example of how Groundation music is constantly evolving and transforming even on a show to show basis.

The case may be with Here I Am that Groundation has attempted to establish a new ground that few of their fans, including this one, can’t seem to reach. It might not be that Groundation is fading by any means, which is why I’m optimistic that when I see these tracks live I’m going to have a positive reaction.

The beauty of a band like Groundation is that they stand so independent from most any music, and maybe that can be the best case made as to why so many fans felt complacent about Rockamovya. I trust that the members of Groundation will always and only play what feels right and real and as a musician I understand the desire to move beyond one’s “old stuff”

Email questions, comments, recommendations, etc:
–> OneGoodThingAboutMusicBlog@gmail.com

Follow the OneGTAMusic blog on Twitter:
–> www.twitter.com/OneGTAMusic