Album Review: “Here I Am” from Groundation

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”

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3 Responses to “Album Review: “Here I Am” from Groundation”

  1. dieseldiaries Says:

    Thanks a lot, William. As a member of the band I appreciate your honest and thoughtful comments. Hope to see you at a show sometime.

    • onegoodthingaboutmusic Says:

      This comments means a lot to me David. I could never adequately explain my passion for Groundation’s music.

      I will be attending (and advertising) the Feb 16th show in Chicago. I’m a Santa Cruz, Ca native but I’m out here in Chicago for college. Being out here at school I always miss the ‘Bob’s Birthday’ show so I’m really excited to finally hear one of those kind of sets. If I get a chance, I’ll shake your hand.

    • onegoodthingaboutmusic Says:

      This comments means a lot to me David. I could never adequately explain my passion for Groundations music.

      I will be attending (and advertising) the Feb 16th show in Chicago. Im a Santa Cruz, Ca native but Im out here in Chicago for college. Being out here at school I always miss the Bobs Birthday show so Im really excited to finally hear one of those kind of sets. If I get a chance, Ill shake your hand.

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