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Passafire | Vines

album review by John Powell

Passafire | Vines

My first inclination is to declare: this is Passafire’s best album. Then I remember Start From Scratch, with some of the strongest contemporary storytelling available in reggae music. Ted Bowne’s ability to construct songs through clear images and strong melodies blossomed on the band’s previous album.

Instead, Vines is just as powerful, yet coming from a different angle. Passafire has always seamlessly blended reggae with harder rock. Start From Scratch diluted the reggae sound further and took on softer, sweeter songs. On Vines, the quartet lays on heavy guitar play, ample bass, and fiery drums and keys.

The result? Wonder.

Easy Star Records had a good year: John Brown’s Body, Cas Haley, and The Green all came out with incredible albums. Their newest signee, Passafire, has put out a clean sounding record to fall right into the groove of these other Easy Stars.

“Earthquake” is modern reggae at its finest. Mike Deguzman pulls out the melodica and the interplay among the rest of the musicians is tight and loose. The ferocious chorus could be an alt. rock anthem, while the verses are rootsy. “I stare into the distance/ it’s a black abyss,” Ted sings. “I need you right now/ Some day we’ll be closer.”

If many contemporary acts that describe themselves to any degree of reggae might and likely will hold true to the reggae sound while allowing the lyrics to lose the genre’s original intention, (Slightly Stoopid, I love you, but talking about guns and binge drinking isn’t really the most positive message), Passafire will let the music zing off in all directions while restraining themes to consciousness and responsibility.

On “Right Thing,” the drums make the backbone while the glitz guitar adds texture and Ted sings, “Evil comes knocking at my door/ I do the right thing.” Later he says, “You don’t have to be serious to be positive,” which is something Passafire is learning how to do. As the album progresses they have increasing fun without losing their focus. Passafire is on a mission.

The album’s best track is “All in Our Minds”, which is Ted’s best songwriting to date. “I don’t wanna work for the sake of bringing home the check/ There’s gotta be a lot more to it.” Underneath him are Mike’s excellent roots organ and the brothers Kubley’s broadened rhythm section. The song includes a ska-poked bridge and extended instrumental dub-like breakdown. It seriously doesn’t get better than this.

Who steps it up on Vines the most? Will Kubley, whose bass playing is reaching Flea stature, in both precision and tone. In fact, the bass sound, stemming more from SoCal punk reggae, mixed with the rest of the band’s more east coast roots roundedness, makes Passafire sound one hundred percent original. Will also writes and sings two of the album’s tracks and they’re just as good as the other songs.

Now is the time to get into Passafire. After a year of struggle, they emerge with a new label that expects excellence and Vines delivers. While Start From Scratch remains in the top tiers, let’s just say that Vines is one of the band’s better albums.

Bottom line: One of Passafire’s best. Their first for Easy Star Records, Passafire stays humbled and intent on rocking positive messages into your speakers.

Comments  

 
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