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Thunder Body | Wind Blows Harder

album review by John Powell

Thunder Body | Wind Blows Harder

It was a sad day for Giant Panda Guerilla Dub Squad fans when Matt O’Brian and Rachel Orke left. No one knew what would become of the great songwriter and the illustrious keyboardist. What a relief to meet Thunder Body, the Rochester, NY roots reggae group that first released a five song EP and soon followed with Wind Blows Harder, a beautiful sounding album full or rich imagery, storytelling, and deductible reggae vibes.

As usual with Matt, the lyrics don’t follow any reggae guidelines. There’s no talk of Babylon, no rastaman vibrations. Instead, the barebones ideals of reggae music flutters by on rich musicianship and talk of universal love, recognizing your roots, and being excellent to one another.

Matt traded in his guitar for his first instrument, drums. Rachel’s keys take a prominent role in instrumentation and in the mix. Add in Jeremiah Pacheco, a loose-fingered bassist that adds just enough, like pepper to a chili. Dennis Mariano appears on the record playing guitar, and Brian Blatt is credited as adding “science”, which is all the cosmic whirs and gurgles that are interlaced throughout the 13 tracks.

The opener, “Come What May”, breaks reggae boundaries, with a start-stop rollick, light acoustic guitar in the background, and a high energy introduction. The song is an offshoot of a song appearing on the EP, “Devour”, using many of the same lines, rewriting the music. In fact, many of the songs between the EP and LP have common lines, images, and themes, making for a strange and wonderful concept.

The cover of the album is a skull, like something from Mexico’s Dia de Los Muertos. Egyptian, Central American, and native symbolism fills the album, from the second song, “Ancestors”, to “Buffalo”, “Wind Blows Harder”, and “Must Have Been Easy”, a song finally recorded after years of appearing here and there in live performances- which talks about killing off all the buffalo. The theme is unique, new, and not what you’d expect in reggae music. This should be the first indication that Thunder Body ain’t a typical reggae band.

On “Ancestors” Matt sings, “This one’s for our children’s children/Our love can fill them,” before adding, “We all want to be remembered some day.” Matt pulls from deep within for lyrics, and delivers poetic lines that state so much about the human condition.

Some songs appeared before in the Giant Panda catalogue. “Buffalo” was on Slow Down and shows up again here, revamped. “Work Very Hard” is a heavy blast of roots riddims laced here with cowbell. Rachel’s keys sizzle while Matt sings, “Take one thing/give another in return.”

“Glide” is a beautiful, slow-paced tune that begins so old school that it sounds like a Marley intro. “I won’t hurry,” Matt sings; “I’m in no hurry.” It’s a highlight.

The title track is executed wonderfully. It’s too short, though! Part of what makes Wind Blows Harder is that it’s tight, and “Wind Blows Harder” has an oceanic intro and lets go into a strut of a song. “Oh, you’re gonna go one way/we’re gonna go some other,” Matt sings as the guitar keeps steady time and the bass gets funky, and the poetry hits home with the line, “I don’t wanna be a taker/I don’t wanna be a leaver neither.”

The last song, “Strangers”, is a lovely, piano-driven song with a groovy melody. It sums up the Thunder Body message. “Where am I going/I don’t mind,” Matt croons. Thunder Body is on a journey, and it’s visited here in cool symbolism. Produced by reggae recorder Jocko, this album marks the man’s continual growth as a producer, as every instrument shines through without sounding glossy.

Thunder Body tours hard, plays well, and has a great time, but the songs remain heartfelt and anything but glamorous. It’s like Grateful Dead with a one drop.

Bottom line: A set of wonderfully thought out tunes that will tug your heart strings and engage your imagination.

Comments  

 
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