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Music Review: Gowanus Reggae And Ska Society – G.R.A.S.S. on Fire

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G.R.A.S.S. on Fire captures the spirit of Bob Marley but manages to give it a cool jazz edge. The album is based off of the 1973 Bob Marley album Catch A Fire and the Gowanus Reggae And Ska Society’s (G.R.A.S.S.) interpretation has the smooth reggae spirit of Bob Marley, but manages to create moments of individuality. There is a sharp contrast of having the lyrical styles of Marley with the improvisational nature of jazz, but the Society found a good balance between both.

G.R.A.S.S. claims that the album is not a “tribute” album and it’s true–the album takes the time to create moments of improvisational reactions to the melodies created by Marley. One of the best examples of an interesting twist to Marley’s album was the song “Kinky Midnight,” which merges Marley’s “Kinky Reggae” and “Midnight Ravers.” Granted, both songs fit the same reggae fashion and without lyrics, the two could blend in well, but G.R.A.S.S. wasn’t afraid to make adjustments to Marley’s music.

One has to note that without the full charged lyrics of Marley, G.R.A.S.S. instead tries to unleash their soul through the interpretations of their instruments. For example, David Bares’ harmonica playing skills in “Baby We’ve Got a Date” matches Bob Marley’s voice. If anything, Barnes enhances the song since the original was lyrically repetitive. His solo near the end of the song, where he riffs to the melody, is powerful and shows that he understood Marley’s message. There are occasional use of lyrics, like the echo of the lyric “Slave driver, catch a fire” in the song “Slave Driver,” which helps add a bit of spirit to the rest of the song’s missing lyrics.

The saxophone use in songs like “400 Years” and “Kinky Midnight” sound like they fit perfectly with the Marley tunes. The improvisational section in the middle of “400 Years,” led by the saxophone, fully contradicts the slow nature of the beginning of the song while proving that the band understands each other and blends their instruments together; six minutes into the song, the song transitions back to the Marley classic without any missteps. The saxophone solo also stands out in “High Tide.”

Of the instruments, I thought it was odd to play the keyboard on several of the songs where either a standard piano or different keyboard setting could have had a stronger impact.

The pacing of the album was interesting, with the band not deciding to place the songs in the same order as either the English or Jamaican versions of Bob Marley’s original album. The album finds a nice groove in the middle and by the songs “Stir It Up” and “Stop That Train,” the album accomplishes finding a good sound and pacing. The album ends with “No More Trouble,” which has the strongest guitar solo, provided by Brad Shepik. The ending of the song has the sound of a band closing their gig.

G.R.A.S.S. on Fire is an album that is able to span several genres. There are light touches of ska along with jazz and reggae. Any fan of Bob Marley looking for some variation to Marley’s classic hits and have an open ear to musical rearrangement should find this album to be very satisfying. As for individual download suggestions, “Kinky Midnight” and “Stop that Train” have the Jamaican, Marley feel while maintaining G.R.A.S.S.’s individuality.

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About Michael Pascua