Super Hi-Fi | Dub to the Bone
album review by John Powell
The focus of Brooklyn-based Super Hi-Fi, and their debut album, Dub to the Bone, is meant to accentuate the trombone, an often under represented instrument in old school dub reggae music. While this intention comes off right away, as the trombones are everywhere on this album, quite versatile, and not lacking in bold, airy sound- the truth of the matter is that this is simply and for all intents and purposes, a killer reggae ablum.
Super Hi-Fi started slowly, releasing a few singles, some on vinyl, and then here we go: eight lovely dub-ilicious tracks, recording on analogue and beautifully so- the band sounds like they are in your living room playing live. It’s all calculated, though. Even the cover art photo was snapped by Kevin Irby on a 1908 camera.
Super Hi-Fi began as a house party band, and that vibe continues here, except that some tracks are remixed dub versions of the original tracks. More on that in a moment. For now, the band: Quoc Pham from Sound Liberation Front (a lovely production company), Ezra Gale from Aphrodesia, trombonists Alex Asher from People’s Champs, Ryan Snow of Sister Sparrow and the Dirty Birds, Scott Flynn of John Brown’s Body, Will Graefe of Miss Tess and the Talkbacks, and drummer Madhu Siddappa of Dub is a Weapon. Basically, in the old school way of thought: let’s get the best contemporary guys in the field and make music.
They open with “Washingtonian”, a sleek roots tune ala Jamaica 1970s. Seriously, if you played the track to a stranger and gave a list of dates, they likely wouldn’t choose 2012- not from the airiness of the mixing and the action-packed drumming. The horns are definitely at the forefront of the tune, but the bass n’ drums throughout the record should not be overlooked, as they are tight and as friendly as Sly and Robbie were back in the day.
In fact, the whole of the record is refreshingly new because it sounds so old. “Neolithic” has a later 70s, possibly 80s before synth became popular, energy to it. The dubbiness is well rounded with straight up good arrangements. Here, the drums catapult us into near-rock frenzy, and the guitar makes enough noise to make the floor vibrate.
The dub remixes fit in nicely. Dub is a funny originator- making something new out of something old. Is it doing the original justice, or tearing up the carefully constructed originals? In this case, the remixes must have stood out to the band as improving the songs, as the majority of songs are remixes.
Interestingly, there are two versions of the track “Tri Tro To”, The original a punk-fringed, new-age ska-type romp that finds its groove alongside tight hand percussion and the horns- well, not sloppy, but maybe intentionally super loose. The Beverly Road All-Stars remix, however, strips the forceful energy of the original down until all punk nature is gone, leaving heavy drum n’ bass and simple rhythm guitar. If you’ve ever had trouble understanding how dub relates to reggae, these two versions are great examples. Both are not only viable options, they stand alone as amazing tracks.
Whether you’re most interested in the fact that this band of brothers came together for a Brooklyn reggae party, or you love that people out there are still making analog dub, or you love trombones, or whatever it may be: Dub to the Bone is a great party record- nonpolicital (except for “Washingtonian”, but not in a bitter way), non confrontational, and it’s a nice thing to know youngins out there are keeping it real. Highly recommended.
Bottom line: How can you go wrong with an all-star cast paying tribute to the trombone?