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The Green | Ways & Means

Album review by John Powell

The Green | Ways & Means

After their self-titled debut hit, The Green signed with Easy Star Records, toured nationwide, and developed a nitch as a rootsy reggae band with a clear island vibe, one that’s sort of hard to describe, only to say that their slow beats and thumping grooves pretty much lift the listener from wherever they are and places them in Hawaii. The group is credited as having four lead vocalists, loads of backing vocals, harmonies, and access to remarkably catchy melodies. Riding the high, The Green made Ways & Means, branching beyond the safety of their first album, taking on a more serious role as reggae rockers- all to great success.

Whereas The Green had more love songs than not, Ways & Means is much more worldly, although the septet are love song masters. Take the opener, “Keep On”, with booming bass. “I’m running my mouth,” it goes. “I’m pissed off at the fact you’re trying to bring us down.” Okay, so where’s this island vibe I was describing? This sounds heavy. The chorus is, “We’ve got to keep on fighting (fighting!)”. It’s not dark so much as empowering. Good vibes instrumentally and consciousness lyrically. “Two steps forward and no steps backward.” It’s a musical mission they’re serious about.

The Green does have pop sensibility. The opening of “Decisions” honestly sounds like a reggae version of an N’Sync song, perhaps propelled by Lucas Horn’s synth whole note ties, or the blipping-bopping quality of Brad Watanabe’s bass- but I pose the question: what’s wrong with that? “It’s like I don’t mean a thing to you,” and “That’s why I’m here to say/what if this love’s not what we thought?” might be hammy lyrics, but The Green are 1) sincere and 2) going after an energy and sound that’s pleasant rather than artistically too much to take in.

Other songs are downright rootsy. “Got Me In Love” is a skank with synth awesomeness. “I think my eyes are in love/have no fear/your loverboy is here,” it goes with the same theme as “Decisions”, only now stripped to the core of drum, bass, and riddim presented by JP Kennedy and Zion Thompson. It’s groovy.

Four songs on this LP appeared on an earlier teaser EP: “Got Me In Love”, “Love & Affection”, “She Was The Best”, and “Travalah”. “Travalah” is a key track, showing the band’s growth. It’s got a heavy forward quality to it, filled with delayed guitar and Leslie Ludiazo laying it down on drums. The vocal performance, a faster-paced, near rap mixed with melody, is infectious. “He keeps his radio on/he wants higher loving.” Top it off with a ripping guitar solo and it’s very west coast old school roots.

Another key track is “She Was The Best”, something like a UB40 hit or one of Steel Pulse’s more easygoing tracks. “She always came running to me/she loved and was loved by me.” It simmers over a slow groove, filled with energy, both dreamy, and like I warned, a transport to a tropical paradise. In the same way, the title track is a clear statement of Hawaiian excellence. “Sun shined through the mango tree,” it goes before landing into a ska-i-fied bridge and chorus.

There remains a list of wonderful songs about love, notably “Love is Strong”, grossly catchy despite its unimpressive lyrics. If the boys weren’t so damn good at making these love songs I’d criticize, but they execute them with layered instrumentation, rootsy music, and love of the genre.

The beautiful closer at least breaks the mold. Acoustic piano starts the sad tune, “That’s the Way”. “I got emotion/I just need to know where to devote them.” The song is all-acoustic, with light hand percussion, trickling guitar, and vocal harmonies. “We’re a nation,” he sings, “A Hawaiian nation.” Throughout the album, fears and hopes of Hawaii as a place of history, beauty, and also of constant struggles, might not be too clear, but many of the love songs are actually about the place, and connection to it. The Green are the real deal. They understand a good song and what goes into it; they know how to make an album that doesn’t get stale, and they know how to weave in heavy facts against pleasant stories of good times. It’s this understanding that makes Ways & Means a valid journey.

Bottom line: A whole album of reggae and soul, by a group in it for the long hall.


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