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

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Recording review - The Green, Hawai'i '13 (2013)

Overlapping island perspectives and solid one-drop beats

Let the island rhythms relax you. Let go and surrender to physical bliss of the warm climate and gentle breezes. Dig your toes into the sand and feel for the roots of a rich cultural expression. Hawaii’s premier reggae band, The Green, has no problem drawing the parallels between their island home and Jamaica and encouraging listeners to settle in for some familiar, soothing sounds. More than just a pretty setting or relaxed lifestyle, both places share in the kind of isolation that can nurture their artistss and give them time to bloom into fullness. Various flavors of reggae music evolved from ska, which was inspired by soul and R&B music. The Green respectfully takes in the one drop beats, chanks, and swaying basslines as their starting point, then they reach deeper within to get at the soulful foundation. At the same time, they fully engage with modern R&B and Polynesian sounds. The chants that open and close Hawai'i ‘13 honor their Pacific traditions, but still find a common ground with reggae’s African origins.

While there is no single recipe for authentic Jamaican reggae music, there is a social consciousness that is never far removed. Hawai'i '13 is less concerned with this aspect, with the exception of "The Power In The Words", which preaches a message about the impact our attitude has on the world around us. Instead, the album dedicates most of its attention to love and relationships and,accordingly, invests the songs with a strong pop element. Fortunately, their sincerity imbues the material with a good emotional weight. On "Something About It", they convey the lonely tension that distance brings to a relationship, but they focus on the loving foundation: "I am the island in the middle of the sea/ You are the sunshine, come rise upon me." The verses recall Hall & Oates' charged pop sounds from the late 1970s and early '80s (think "Maneater"), but the busy bounce of the bass and the bubbly fills find the reggae pulse. It's not quite Sly and Robbie, but the foot tapping energy is a treat. The Green continue the retro vibe on the soulful "Chocolate & Roses", which borrows a touch of Lionel Ritchie to try to win over the girl. This piano driven R&B tune is one of the only non-reggae pieces, but it still slides right into the mix for Hawai'i '13.

Their hearts are in the right place, but my favorite track is still "Hold Me Tight". The solid, old-school one drop is moody and sweet, ornamented with a couple of mild dub sections. On first listen, it's another love song, typical for the album, "She holds me tight/ When my heart beats the limit/ And my head starts to swim". Closer attention to the lyrics, though, reveals the party anthem message in this ode to the joys of marijuana, "I want to fire up a fat spliff, pass it all around/ While rolling up another as we're strolling into town." It's a theme that Peter Tosh would be happy to endorse, but the key is the deep-to-the-bones reggae groove that anchors the piece. Another fine moment comes with the dark, 2 Tone ska of "Forgive Me". The pensive piece relies on keys to fill  in the horn lines, but the bass is wicked and throaty. They sing of regret and a break up, but the chorus has a defiant backbone that shows its strength.

The Green first showed up on my radar when they signed with Easy Star Records and contributed to "Baby Be Mine" on last year's Michael Jackson tribute, Easy Star's Thrillah (review). Their innate sense of soul carried that track back to its roots, making the reggae beat a natural extension. It's nice to hear those elements in a richer setting on Hawai'i '13. There are plenty of American bands tapping into the sweet roots of reggae music, but The Green is onto something special, from one island to another.

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