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Published: 2012/02/22
by Brian Robbins

Giant Panda Guerilla Dub Squad

Controlled Substance Sound Labs

Country, the new album by Giant Panda Guerilla Dub Squad, is good stuff.

How good, you ask?

Well, I’d humbly suggest that it deserves a place on the shelf right alongside the great Peter Rowan’s Reggaebilly album – which, in my book, is the best example of acoustic reggae that anybody born in these here United States has ever pulled off. Until now.

Panda lads, I doff my green, gold, and red cap (hand-knit a number of years ago by my wonderful wife) to you. Country finds GPGDS blurring the lines between roots reggae and raggedy-ass-overalled Americana just as deftly as they have crossbred psychedelic sounds and reggae in the past.

The album-opening “Sunshine” sets the mood: a slightly off-mic “One, two, buckle your shoe” ushers in a rolling-and-a-tumbling banjo riff that provides the backbone for the tune. And then – what’s this? A fiddle and a guitar chasing each other’s tails? Uh-huh. Followed by a cool chik-chik-chik-chik-chik-tha-wump when the drums grab the bass by the hand and jump into the circle, sending the whole works shaking and twirling, grinning in the groove.

And that’s the deal with Country : that loose-limbed, dopey-grinned vibe the album is saturated in. If the “R” in R. Crumb’s name stood for “Rasta,” then this is the music he would draw. Even Giant Panda’s rally call for the Occupy movements (“Kids In The Square”) makes you want to shake something … and doesn’t lack a thing message-wise because of it.

The acoustic instrumentation (the aforementioned banjo, fiddle, and acoustic guitar along with some sweet and tasteful dobro work, haybale-in-the-sun harmonica, fiddly-diddly upright piano, and percussion-and-drum weaves that lock in solid but never overpower) sounds perfectly natural in the hands of the Giant Pandas. It’s obvious that this is not a novelty record early on – these sounds are coming from their souls.

When the music underneath leans more toward roots than reggae – “Far Away” and “Healing” for instance – it’s the vocals over top of it all that keep things from straying too far away from an irie place. This is classic GPGDS: cool harmonies and phrases that hook your ear in the nicest of ways – repeated like a mellow brain massage without ever seeming repetitious.

The title track has a happy-go-lucky bounce to it that might remind you of the Dead’s “Deal” for a moment or two; if you want to hear what GPGDS can do with some actual Dead, dig their take on “New Speedway Boogie”. The band totally embraces the song’s hipster-as-observer mood, the shuffling rhythm punctuated by tasty bits of slide guitar. “Workingman’s Panda,” indeed.

Only a band that has played music all night could deliver “All Night Music” in this manner: a mellow burble that takes the album home, sleepy-eyed and smiling, fingers searching the dash for those beat-up-and-comfy shades to hold the morning sun at bay.

Mmmmmm … let’s do it again.

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