Giant Panda Guerilla Dub Squad Steady (Easy Star Records)
10 Ft. Ganja Plant 10 Deadly Shots Vol. III (ROIR)
Ahhhhh … Fall in the Northeast. Magnificent bursts of tie-dyed leaves and crisp, turn-your-collar-up breezes; the fresh zing of an apple you’ve just picked from the branch; the comforting warmth of a bellyful of boiled dinner … and, of course, new roots reggae.
“Who? What?” you say? That’s right: this here corner of the US has got it going on when it comes to capturing the essence of what first put a smile on the world’s face back in the ‘70s. And you know what that proves, boys and girls? Good vibes have nothing to do with latitude, longitude, color, creed, the clothes you wear or your accent – it’s all about the vibes themselves and the sharing of them.
Which brings us to the matter at hand: two new reggae albums that might have been birthed here in the Northeast, but you’d only know it by reading the liner notes and the artists’ bios with your own eyes. What the rest of your senses will be telling you is, “Close those eyes, let go, and breathe deep, man … this is some good shit.”
Consider the latest from 10 Ft. Ganja Plant – the third chapter of their 10 Deadly Shots all-instrumental series. Vol. I focused on tunes wrapped lovingly around fine sax work, conjuring up the smiling spirits of reggae greats such as Tommy McCook and Cedric Brooks. For their second Shots outing, 10FTGP brought in Aggrolites keyboardist Roger Rivas to power things up with vintage B-3 and Farfisa organ sounds.
The focus of Volume III is guitar – specifically, the thick, sweet sounds of 10FTGP’s own lead picker, Nate Silas Richardson. The very mention of an individual player’s name in the press release for 10 Deadly Shots Volume III is a novelty for the band: they’ve always operated a wee bit under the radar (similar to the bale-laden Cessna that’s often used in the band’s posters and such). The mystery has all been a bit tongue-in-cheek – “You know who we are and we know you know … but let’s forget about the cross-pollination with John Brown’s Body and all that. Kingston, Jamaica or upstate New York … 1974 or 2014 … it matters not. Let’s play, man.”
Rather than Junior Marvin’s Jimi-goes-to-Trenchtown approach, Richardson offers up his six-string work in gentle washes, sweet flutters and smoky wisps – combining a bit of Ernest Ranglin’s jazziness with Earl “Chinna” Smith’s natural mystic funk. He relies on few effects, going more for subtle flavorings than major revoicings. The result is a lesson in taste and grace and soul that guitarists of any genre could learn from.
The result of Richardson’s subtle in-the-spotlight-but-not genius is the listener’s ability to take in the band as a whole, rather than a guitar player and his supporting crew. Weaves of organ; warm doses of horn; wump-thumping bass goo that’s one with the drums – it’s all here to enjoy.
The mood is upbeat; the vibe is a guaranteed up. Rather than an album built with ebb and flow and peaks and valleys, 10 Deadly Shots Vol. III is one solid smile. “White Snakeroot” might kick things off and “Giant Pitcher” might end it, but who cares? You can put these 10 tracks in a bucket and shake them up; what’s gonna come out will make you smile no matter what.
Of course, Giant Panda Guerilla Dub Squad is no stranger to that smile thing. Their newest album (their first for the Easy Star label) is a pleasing blend of familiar vibe and sonic evolution; there’s no doubt about who this is – and at the same time, they’ve never sounded better.
The album’s 13 tracks are bookended by a couple of songs that show off the classic GPGDS vibe without sounding formulaic. “Whatever Cost” brings things in with a tasty porridge of wocka-wocka skank and Pandaharmonies, featuring some cool clean-toned guitar banter between Dylan Savage and Dan Keller. On the other end of the album is “Favorite Song” – more of those cool vocal blendings and a can’t-help-but-bob-your-head rhythm that’s in no hurry a’tall.
There’s something about the chord changes of the title track, “Wolf At The Door” and “Hurt Up Your Brother” that conjure up memories of classic ‘70s R&B – nailing the vibe that was going down in Jamaica back then when the latest 45s from the US were given a makeover and transformed into something altogether different.
The soulful “Move” and “Home” ride on the shoulders of James Searl’s bass and the drums of his simpatico brother-in-rhythm Chris O’Brian. “Solution” and “Not The Fool” both feel like a brotherly hand on the shoulder, while “.45” is some kind of crazy showcase for Aaron Lipp’s wild-assed-and-grinning blues harp and lap steel work (and few bands could follow that up with the lazy-lidded morning groove of “Nice Feeling” and make it feel so damn natural). “Mr. Cop” is an example of the riddim-heavy groove side of Giant Panda – and proof positive that they are still card-carrying Dub Squaders.
Nobody toasts like Ranking Joe, and he’s been doing it for almost 40 years now. It’s a tribute to Giant Panda that a true veteran of the genre can come to visit and the result comes off sounding so right.
But that’s the point of all this: both Giant Panda Guerilla Dub Squad and 10 Ft. Ganja Plant are the real deal, regardless of where they hail from.
Souls know no zip codes.
Brian Robbins bobs his head in time with the riddim over at www.brian-robbins.com