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.