Sonni Shine and The Underwater Sounds | Que Se Queda
album review by John Powell
Firstly, it should be well established that Sonni Shine and The Underwater Sounds and Angelica Music are buddy-buddy. We met at a show and have supported their efforts. Our efforts are noted as well, as we have a very grateful nod in the CD version’s thank you section. Now for the album:
Although they hail from Philadelphia, PA, their sound is very SoCal, a straight-up no-fuss cook of reggae and punkier feel, complete with female vocals, like No Doubt minus the ‘tude, and with notable lyricism in its place.
The title, Que Se Queda shouldn’t throw you off. They’re not Latino in any way- at least not musically. The name is likely some inside story, and also the name of the album’s best song- which we’ll get back to.
The album starts off with “You Got Me”, a perfect introduction. The best part of SSATUS is the dual guitars, one played by Sonni Shine herself, and Bill Campion on the other. All flourishes, like the sexy trills in the song’s chorus, aren’t over done or too in your face, but the guitars are always doing something funky. “I’d choose you if I could choose my lover,” Sonni sings. “You got me/I’m yours.” She has a very simple voice and direct approach to saying what’s on her mind.
The band doesn’t always rely on roots reggae grooves. “Black and Blue” is a beautiful ballad that feels like a tropical sunset, something you want to hear behind you on the beach, someplace warm. It’s a “better days”-type song. The guitars tumble over one another like gurgling water and they add in light piano by guest Erica Corbo, which totally gives that slinky ambiance. “They will try to subdue you/they will try to dilute you,” Sonni sings, speaking on fitting the mold. The ripping guitar solo that follows has such a chance to make everything corny, but they pull it back just enough, making for a beautiful song.
Other songs are super rootsy. “Push On Through” accentuates both Ken Shumski’s tightly woven bass threads and Sean Youngman’s one drop beats. The band as a whole is tight without sounding too rehearsed, with “Push On Through” as a good example of this. “I keep my eyes wide open/I keep my legs shut,” Sonni sings. “I gotta break loose.” She has a knack for the truthful, very girl power without preaching. It’s refreshing to hear a young east coast reggae group with female vocals.
One of the catchiest songs is “Dream They Say,” featuring Kyle Press on sax. The band picks up the energy, shooting forward with charisma. All guitar solos and guitar licks are restrained and are well-embedded in the groove. It always sounds less like a guitar solo and more like it’s just part of the song, if you know what I mean.
Yet the highlight is the title track, building slowly over wha-wha guitar. The bass riff is super groovy. The best part, however, are the melody and lyrics. “Five dollars/500 calories/5,000 watts, 500,000 hands, one million quetzals,” she sings about consumerism. “What is the diagnosis/for this sickness?” It’s a social commentary drenched in reggae groove that splinters into jam band euphoria.
On the minus side, the vocals are slightly hidden in the mix across the board, and Sonni has a way of slurring her words- you know, like rock stars will do- but it’s hard to learn the words. Also, except for some rare exceptions, the melodies are…well, I don’t want to say forgettable because the songs stick in your head, but none of the songs have that pop crunch to them, those choruses so catchy that you eat them like sugar. That can be good news, if you hate that kind of stuff, but it might be the only thing stopping Sonni Shine and The Underwater Sounds from reaching the huge festival audience they deserve to reach.
Touring, playing as much as possible, and never giving up their individuality, Sonni Shine and the boys have made a full-length album that really sounds like their musical mission. It’s sincere, honest, and well-thought out. They may be from the City of Brotherly Love, but they chose the sound of Universal Love, and that’s righteous.
Bottom line: Reggae sautéed with funk, great lyrics, and peppered with honesty, this album will fill you up in the all the right places.