Album review: For Peace Band “Always Love”

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Some contemporary reggae has balanced respect for the old school while sculpting the elements into a sleek, 21st century sound. Others have started here and infused the music with anything from R&B to rap. Others seem passionate about the melodies and vocal harmonies reggae introduced and highlighted since its infancy and don’t break the mold. For Peace Band dances in this latter space, and their latest, Always Love (Rootfire Collective, 2018), is steadfast in approach and execution, making for something that is at once beautiful and, at times, lackluster.

Hailing from Guam, this quartet is dropping their second LP four years after their first, enough time for some touring, meeting many in the industry, and being inspired throughout it all. First and foremost, the band pays attention to their instrumentation. They don’t seem concerned with paving new sonic roads, and save for the well-utilized strings on “Chance To Grow”, the guitar melodies are more textural than exciting, and overall the music is steeped in minor keys and ballad-like compositions. No anthems or party songs here.

Unfortunately, the love songs fall victim to Lovers Rock cliché. “Be Alright” is especially uninspired. I favor “Rarest Flower”, steeped in a sexy pocket groove, but the chorus “My life belongs to you” is a pretty heavy thought when you really think about it, suggesting that the band considers how they sing it more important than what they sing. “Secret Recipe” is wicked fun, fast-paced in delivery and catchy in execution. But lyrics like, “Touching everything/ to create some peace and harmony”is trite, as is, “Turn around and fill my cup.”

Then there are the songs falling in the middle somewhere. “Got To Try”, “Chatty Mouth”, and “Judgment Day” are all good,groovy vibes, but they are also nothing especially For Peace Band. They could have been written by anybody.

One of the album’s best, “Move Out Of Babylon”, has an intensity and spiritual warrior quality, drenched in a simple, heavy bassline. “Kidnapping children on the side of the road/ Thieves in the night coming through the window,” and the verses are some of the best on the album. “Jah Guide” is also richly plated and served hot: “We’re making a commitment/ inspired by each thing we do… It’s time to show the world how we love/ and not lose patience planting the seed.” Boom. Plus, the slinky chorus, “G-U-I-D-E”, spelled out just like that, is different and fun.

Always Love sounds contemporary- thematically and in production- and as a sign of the times it’s a well-tuned, conscious, meditative set of tracks from a talented band, and even though this review may have been critical, overall, I really enjoy this album and recommend it for roots reggae fans.

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Album review: Jamil Apostol “Off The Beaten Path”

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The issue with the folk revival is that we as listeners- since about 2009- have become saturated with artists. Beyond that, the style allows for a large amount of leniency in what constitutes “good” or “listenable”: Throw some open chords, an easy bass line, and some vocal harmonies into the pot and it’s pretty easy to bob your head to. This has made me weary of new folk artists, as there are many of them not saying much at all.

Jamil Apostol, however, has something fresh, that sort of musician who hops trains, sleeps a night in a field somewhere, and is just as happy playing to three people in a living as to a stadium- perhaps more so.

Does anyone remember Medicine For The People’s first album, On The Verge? Few contemporary fans probably do, but Nahko and crew started out with a lo-fi album robustly integrating a lot of spirit into some Appalachian-style instrumentation, replete with trumpet. I don’t think Off The Beaten Path foretells Jamil hitting Nahko highs, but I would say that there are parallels. I would also say that, as far as Americana goes, this album is better than many, even some large name acts.

Overall, I’m not the biggest fan of this kind of music. Not that I don’t appreciate it, but it sort of slips below my radar rather easily, so I took my time with Apostol’s work. “My Red White Blues” wins best track award. It’s political, no doubt about that. “Why would you ask for change/ when you can have a bill?” he asks. “Reload, replenish/ pop!/ One shot kills.” It’s just him and his guitar. The song would make Woody Guthrie proud, just a fierce, vocal performance.

“Homeless Romantic” is similar, lyrics rocketing forth over minimal instrumentation, and just as political. “Full Beaver Moon” adds pretty harmonica over finger-picked guitar and Jamil’s distinct alto dings, “Creatures of habit are at it again… As the dove sings her song.” It’s just vague enough to drum up myriad imagery. He often does this, mixing narrative with introspection.

The title track begins with eerie banjo and Jamil offering, “Started as a dream… All the leaves are falling/ into different directions.” The song discusses life and death. Had he added grandiose strings and fiery percussion, this would sound like a Sujan Stevens B-side.

But part of what makes Off The Beaten Path fancy-free is its sparsity and articulated use of instruments, as well as Jamil knowing his voice well, throwing it around at ideal points. The songs have a lot of heart, and even when the content is heavy the melodies are light, (take the sing-a-long aspect of “Open Ticket Ride”). Taking something classic, something traditional, and adding enough pizzazz to make it unique is quite a task. Fans of this “scene” will enjoy Jamil’s talent and the execution of this lively, colorful album.

https://www.jamilapostol.com