Easy Star Records
On Passafire’s debut album for Easy Star Records (their fifth studio effort since forming in 2003) the GA-based quartet takes the noted reggae label far beyond its usual red, gold, and green trappings. To be sure, there are moments of rootsy, resiny bliss to be found on Passafire’s new Vines (mainly due to the brothers-in-blood-and-rhythm work of Will and Nick Kubley, whom we’ll talk more about in a moment), but those threads are part of a much larger weave. By the time you cruise through Vines’ 13 tracks, you know you’ve been somewhere – with Passafire having led you by the hand through a set of tunes flavored with everything from essences of prog rock, message-laced thinking man’s pop, and thumpa-thumpa just-dance-and-be moments, to – yes – reggae rock with a powerful rumblewomp foundation.
Vines begins with “Earthquake” – vaporous melodica and sweet, gooey bass – and ends with “Man Of Wishes”, a driving, spiraling call-to-consciousness. In-between we get to know just who these four guys are through their music: “Right Thing” easily shape-shifts from summery sing-along to Kansas-style smartcrunch (you tell me if guitarist/vocalist Ted Bowne doesn’t have some Steve Morse melodicism in his veins) back to rum punch. Keyboardist Mike DeGuzman (no guitar slouch himself) pulls off moments of hold-this-madness-together melodic goo (“Souvenir” – a blend of punk ska, six-string flash, and Zep stomp) to jazzbo glides (“Black Dog”) to the sort of funky weirdness that would make Bernie Worrell proud (“Night Comes Easy”). And the Brothers Kubley? That’s a pair of dangerous men, right there. Bassist Will (who also sings lead on a couple of tracks) and drummer Nick can get all Sly & Robbie on you (the opening moments of “Earthquake” or the cool skank of “All In Our Minds”), then turn around and morph into a couple of funky-assed Chili Peppers (“Invisible”, for instance).
The verses of “Stowaway” provide a gentle, jazzy piano riff for Will Kubley’s impassioned vocals; the choruses evolve into a sittin’-on-the-tailgate acoustic guitar-driven group hug. And I’m guessing that Bowne’s guitar outro on the album-closing “Man Of Wishes” had to be the last thing recorded, as everything had melted by the 3:33 mark.
The best part? Passafire pulls it off without Vines feeling like a crazy-quilt sound sampler … for now, it’s the fault of those of us who write about it that we can’t put a title or phrase to the mix. Years from now, somebody will be referring to the sound of some multi-faceted band of newcomers as “Passafireish” – watch and see.
Brian Robbins sits on the tailgate over at www.brian-robbins.com