Most people, including myself, probably first heard Bedouin Soundclash when they first broke onto the Canadian music scene in late summer of 2004 (or maybe a bit later south of the border) with the help of their hit “When the Night Feels My Song”. The trio’s unique spin on soulful reggae and dub with some added mixes of punk and world music was something refreshing in the mainstream at the time and their album ‘Sounding a Mosaic’ remains one of my favorite Canadian records of the millennium. Later on, delving further into the band, I was surprised to know that they actually had another record, a debut three years earlier. ‘Root Fire’ was recorded in 2001 while the band was still in University in Kingston Ontario and it never found them the recognition they would gain just a few years later. While it might be safe to say it doesn’t top their follow up album, ‘Root Fire’, released independently, shows great promise from a young band and listening to it, you know the band had potential.
The band's sound has to some extent naturally evolved since this, but Root Fire still contains the base of the bands music. The groovy, incisive and sometimes gentle bass lines of Eon Sinclair and Jay Malinowsky’s poignant, distinctive vocals were still in tact but one very noticeable aspect that is different are the drums. Hand drums were used by Pat Pengelly for the recording of Root Fire and are very characteristic of the album giving a world music vibe, really standing out on tracks such as Eloween Deowen
. Another key trademark is that the recording sound here is not as clean and audible as their next album, which is understandable but it does distract the sound at times but simultaneously gives it a raw, unpolished feel which can be just as good to some. However some tracks are better than others in terms of production. The sound is sometimes muffled taking away from Jay’s voice and making lyrics more difficult to hear but it’s not to the point of irritation.
Now steering away from all comparisons to future work, Root Fire is a solid album on its own to say the very least and I can’t help but think that it wasn’t the music why this didn’t gain initial popularity. The albums tone is mainly calm and relaxing with the occasional up beat song (Natural Right
, Back to the Matter
) and the band succeeds greatly with the mood. Though Bedouin Soundclash is reggae at their core, they take influences from all kinds of music from rock to pop to ska to soul to funk and incorporate it into their own. Santa Monica
is an absolute standout on the record that sounds more like a downbeat pop rock tune with Jay emotionally giving it his all with only production keeping it form being a perfect song. Rebel Rouser
, the real opener, is a seven minute epic that has a classic reggae beat complete with the rest of the band doing their part, though its one of the lesser tracks here. Among the entire album there is not a song that can warrant the ‘filler’ label, giving Root Fire undeniably strong consistency.
One of the strongest aspects of Root Fire, or the band in general, is that in each song has something different that highlights it. Whether it be the slow hand drumming in Eloween Deowen
, the catchy guitar riffs in Johnny Go To New York
, the acoustic intro to Santa Monica
, Jay’s peaceful voice in Rebel Rouser
, the funky bass line and backing vocals in Natural Right (Rude Bwoy)
or the almost Pink Floyd - Money sounding bass line in Mandrake Root
, there is almost always something to admire. The band has grown lyrically since as well, but Root Fire is still strong in that area. The band writes with a strong knowing of the music’s origins, nature, a political conscience, history and story telling. Root Fire’s lyrics, while not always easily comprehendible, are written with knowledge and passion.
‘Root Fire’, despite being short at ten tracks (or nine with a 52 second intro) and not the greatest sound quality, is an excellent album. If you have never heard any Bedouin Soundclash, it would be best to start with ‘Sounding a Mosaic’, but this should follow right after. And those who liked Sounding a Mosaic there should be no reason why you won’t like this as well. Strongly recommended if you can find it; an underrated gem that can appeal to fans of ranging genres.
Johnny Go To New York
Natural Right (Rude Bwoy)