Spiritual Rez | Nexus
Album Review by John Powell
Spiritual Rez is a heavy hitting reggae band, and they make this known immediately on Nexus with “One Light”, a firecracker of an opener, a horn riff that lands into a rock steady groove and the line, “We build a fire and we plant the herb.” Jesse Shaternick’s bass and Ian Miller’s drums drive the track, accentuated by dual guitars splintering in and out behind one of the best-used horn sections (Kory Stanbury and Bryan House) that have ever graced a contemporary reggae album.
The Boston-based sextet delivers twelve songs about positivity, fighting the Man, and smoking herb. They incorporate every sister of reggae, from ska to dub. They break into their teenage years with variations on a pop/rock theme, and they successfully attempt complex melodies and a progressive reggae sound. Nexus stuffs in a bit of every genre and is bound to make you sing along to the catchy choruses. You will find yourself turning it up over and over.
But to peg Rez as solely reggae is to deny them their influences and their guilty pleasures. They’re more than capable of splicing utter roots with Van Gordon Martin’s metal-sized guitar solos, acoustic pining as on “I Know”, and funk in the spirit of 70s soul.
“Alone Again” is a triumphant ovation of partying in your own mind, with lines like, “I go where there are no cares/no sorrows or despair.” Its chorus is slyly driven by the horns and Miller’s Peter Tosh-esque beat keeps the vibe slinky and cool.
The key track is “Giving Her Love”, striking like a mid-90’s pop chart topper. “Baby, take a walk with me,” Toft Willingham sings; “The greatest love is the motion that you make with me.” The guitars remind me of other Boston-based icons Mighty Might Bostones, though the energy is more subdued.
Like many of the tracks, “Giving Her Love” guarantees a smile, like, “Oh, man! This song is freaking great!”
Also, Toft has an incredible voice, with a wide range and emotive quality that turns lines like, “Our lives have been somewhat strange and painful too,” into sincerity. In fact, the execution of the lyrics save them from coming off too trite or uninspired, as some ideas, like, “Then I fell down/to the ground/and I felt the pain/and then I saw your face” comes off as too easy for a smart group like Rez.
However, as I’ve said, each song is implemented with heart and soul. Spiritual Rez gives their all, and the songs are always moving forward: Two and a half minutes into “Wake Up Boy” they leap from a minor chord drawl to a sexy easy skank. It’s wonderful.
The idea behind Nexus lives up to the band’s name, spiritual resurrection, turning the bad days into hope for the future.
The only slightly out-of-place track is “Steve Got Arrested,” which comes off as a punk rawk shaker Sublime could have recorded in 1993 SoCal. Lyrically, it’s tight. “Filling up the wagon with unsuspecting partiers,” Toft lets flow. “Why don’t you just ask me?/Why do you harass me?” However, it’s a chaotic song, angrier than any of the rest, and, to me, doesn’t live up to the rootsier vibe of Nexus.
One warning is that while Nexus traverses all manner of music, it may seem too chaotic for some ears, and some might argue Rez can’t decide on their own “sound”. Whatever. I love it.
The best part is that you don’t have to like reggae to enjoy Spiritual Rez. Though they ensure, “Blazing everyday on the Spiritual Rez bus!” (“Sippy”), and they have set out to crush Babylon, if you enjoy uplifting music with a good message, if you like to dance and enjoy beautiful harmonies, I suggest you do two things: pick up a copy of Nexus for your next road trip, and catch Spiritual Rez live. Their concerts provide a greater appreciation for their energy and their ability to conquer the room, your eardrums, and your spirit.