(Artwork care of Karen Ramsay (www.karenramsay.com), profile photo care of brianlackeyphotography.com)

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Recording review - See-I, See-I (2011)

Dub-style reggae/soul: the essence of the human condition

After catching See-I in concert recently, I was interested to hear more. Their modern blend of reggae, soul, funk, and rock stepped outside of straight reggae tradition, but the heavy grooves were truly righteous.

While their live show had a loose, party energy, their eponymous album See-I is more tightly arranged and stays closer to a reggae core sound. Head nodding, hypnotic dub grooves are a recurring theme throughout the album. The first half of the album hits like Muhammad Ali's left jab. Each of these tracks extends See-I's sonic footprint and gives a sense of the band's musical approach.

The opening track, Dangerous, announces, "This is the real See-I sound" before launching into a steady chank, threaded with dreamy background elements. See-I gives the song room to develop, folding in percussion, syncopated drum lines, and echoed fills. Much of the last minute is a stretched out dub section, but it's a natural extension of the song's basic essence.

The second track, Haterz 24/7 opens with a spoken preface:
Back in the days, they had the Hater of the Year award
Haterz Ball, man. 24/7, around the clock
That's how they did it
The reggae beat verges on ska as it's accented with afro-beat horns and a funky drum line. The vocals roll on relentlessly while the guitar fills remind me of the Talking Heads' worldbeat excursions. The uplifting spirit of the groove stands up to all incoming criticism. This is a perfect model of the strength of reggae music: "I am the lightning and the thunder".

If dub style reggae is See-I's comfort zone, soul is their home away from home. Soul Hit Man was a favorite song from the set and the album version cooks. Like several other tracks, we get a sampled intro:
"A man of the world. Could you please tell me what's your definition of soul?"
"My definition of soul is simple. I think soul is the essence of the human condition"
Soul Hit Man cooks, but Talkin' About Peace lays down a beautiful soul funk groove. Horns, tasty guitar fills, and a throbbing bass line set the mood. The toasting vocals on the chorus add the reggae touch in to provide the necessary continuity with the rest of See-I.

The second half of the album adds its own touches of worldwide rhythms and some hip hop sounds, but after the punch of the early tracks, this is just consolidation of See-I's musical ground.

Aside from their work with See-I, Rootz and Zeebo Steele are part of the loose family of contributors to Eric Hilton's Thievery Corporation. They met Hilton in Washington D.C., where they started See-I. Now the two entities are thoroughly cross pollinated, with the Steele brothers bringing an island lilt to Thievery Corporation and taking advantage of musicians like Rob Myers.

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