Itown Records 019
On Sunny Weather’s first two releases – their eponymous debut and "Red Is
the Color" – more than a few listeners categorized the group as a lesser
version of Donna the Buffalo. More than a few elements contributed to such
an overtly simplified comment: two lead vocalists, one male, the other
female; a mix of zydeco and reggae, with the female lead vocalist singing
lilting country pieces; and lyrical content with an environmental depth,
often pontificating the need for world harmony. Since "Red is the Color,"
Sunny Weather has lost Amy Glicklich, the band’s Tara Nevins, and as a
result, the music has ventured further into the zydeco and reggae realms,
with few country elements remaining. Another major contributor to the band’s
sound, Jarrell Puryear, has added organ and keys, thus accentuating the
reggae elements and allowing the creation of esoteric dub passages, wherein
Corey Small’s searing guitar work adds a Wailers element to the mix.
The changes and vast improvements are sonically captured and revealed on
"The Frontlines," an album which from the cover art to the music, hearkens
to mid-1970s reggae recordings. Throughout "The Frontlines," immediacy
exists, which swells and builds over the continuum of the album. Trevor
MacDonald’s original, earthy voice, reminiscent of a young Bob Dylan, adds
levity to the album’s cries for worldly kindness and earthly bliss; once
again placing the album in the Jamaican studios of Tosh, Marley and Bunny.
A song like Black River screams with political angst, whether in
MacDonald’s lyrics, or the songs incendiary jam, where guitarist Corey
Small’s wailing guitar matches organists Jarrell Puryear’s reggae bounce.
Similarly, Hillside View details humanity’s need to enjoy aspects in
the world, rather than on the world; introspection rather than a monetarily
contrived extroverted existence. In many ways Hillside View, the
result of regaining the hope alluded to in Black River, becomes the
finest song recorded by Sunny Weather. The reggae elements are no longer
blue-eyed, but instead authentic. The three part harmonies, especially on
the line "I won’t let the green grass cover my eyes" sounds worlds away from
the strained vocal quests of the first two releases.
Despite the eradication of a considerable portion of the bands previous
Americana element, Proof does a credible job of mixing a country feel
in the verses with a reggae chorus. While the track comes close to sounding
like a Donna the Buffalo song, an earnestness and originality in the lyrics
and MacDonalds voice prevents the composition from being labeled as mere
mimicry. Other songs like Hammer, which years ago might have been an
avenue to sound like Donna the Buffalo, instead contain the melodic and
vocal credibility to eerily resemble Bob Marley. At times during
Hammer the listener might begin hearing The Wailers I Shall
Sing only to have the perception change completely with a sudden dub
passage resembling Augustus Pablo.
"The Frontlines" marks the true beginning of Sunny Weather’s career, as the
five members have finally matured as songwriters and performers. The music
has enough cathartic power, original jams and lyrical levity to convert the
uninitiated, an element missing from their previous releases.