Review Summary: Progressive and jazzy reggae fighting dragons!1 of 2 thought this review was well written
Techical reggae, can that even be possible? Well that's what Groundation does. Not on purpose but the reggae they offer is very talented. They started in 1998 on campus of Sonoma State University during a Jazz program. Needless to say that jazz is omnipresent in this band! In fact it plays a key role in their sound. Reggae can sometimes sound boring and and uninspired but that's not what Groundation have been doing until now. With eight studio releases and a ninth to come out this year, they have never stayed in their comfort zone, always reinventing their sound and adding some elements to their musical progression. They are mainly known for their great live performance bringing up to eleven musician on stage and giving each of them a time to shine in front of their public.
Hebron Gate came out in 2002 and is known as their best release until now. Wether that is true or not, it is definitely their most accessible albums up to date. Accessible doesn't mean generic, don't think that this is a basic roots reggae album. In fact, this album was nominated by Germany's World Music Award. Another thing to acknowledge before listening to this masterpiece is that it is a concept album. Yes! A reggae concept album, something completely new. As this wasn't good enough, they invited reggae legends Cedric Myton (The Congos
) and Don Carlos (Black Uhuru
) to colaborate on the last two tracks of the album. The album tells the story of a dragon war coming upon the nations during a timespan of twenty four hours and with Don Carlos and Cedric Myton taking up the fight on the last two tracks.
This albums lasts for about an hour, which is pretty long for a reggae album. With nine tracks and the shortest lasting for five minutes, you should expect lots of solos. That's exactly what you'll get. From the very first track "Jah Jah Know" , you are gifted with solos from keyboard player Marcus Urani, trumpet and trombone solos from players David Chachere and Daniel Wlodarczyk and awesome vocal performances Harrisson Stafford. Reggae is a bass driven genre, and Ryan Newman plays his part perfectly with melodies that stand out from all those other instruments, which isn't something easy to produce in reggae.
Another element that drives this band is Harrisson Safford's engagement in his lyrics and vocal performances.One good example would be on the second track "Babylon Rule Them" where you could feel his rage during the verses and ending the chorus on " Remember that Babylon rule them
" and going back to the one drop rhythm. Actually this is one of the best track of this album, with probably their best introduction featuring a piano going from jazz to reggae then getting help from a little drum solo before launching the verse. In all those highlights, two of them stand out more than the others, the last two tracks "Freedom Taking Over" with Stafford litteraly calling out Myton for help and "Undivided". The presence of the two reggae legends helps a lot but this is also where Groundation shines the most as a band.
It is hard to find something wrong with this album, but the change of pace of "pictures on the wall" could have been avoided although the song itself having a great musical progression. It actually serves as a break before going back to the previous pace on Something More. The Dragon war is an excuse for Harrisson Stafford to write about the war in the World. For example on "Something More" : " Only to find man who fight against man/ With their holy words and holy thoughts [...]
. Groundation dub influence is only present on Hebron's verses with a keyboard driven rhythm.
Whether or not Groundation is the best reggae act since The Wailers, Harrisson Stafford's leading and side projects are some of the best you can find in reggae. Working with legends on many album, he has managed to fuse old school reggae with his own sound that he made with Groundation. If you were to check out this band, I would definitely suggest Hebron Gate. They are the perfect example that Reggae isn't the lazy genre it is thought to be, we could even call this album progressive reggae with that heavy work on song structures.
" Jah gonna start this revolution
" - Freedom Taking Over