Featured Album: The Aggrolites by The Aggrolites
THE AGGROLITES: THE AGGROLITES (Hellcat)
WHO: The month that ska-reggae pioneer Desmond Dekker kicks the bucket, a group of white Southern Californians revive that late 60s Jamaican sound with admirable authenticity.
WHAT: The result of two bands coming together to record backing tracks for a new album by Jamaican ska singer Derrick Morgan – and enjoying the results so much that they decide to merge forces full time – The Aggrolites debut’ is among the strongest albums ever to emerge from the ever-eager American ska scene. Some of that is down to location and equipment: by recording at Signet Studio, former West Coast home of Motown, and using instruments and microphones dating back to the 60s, the quintet has been able to fashioned a decidedly retro reggae sound, with Hammond organ and upright piano twirling proudly around crisp upbeat guitars and tightly wound drums. There’s other reasons The Aggrolites’ sound so authentic: they’ve opened for Madness and The Selecter in America, and served as backing band for, among others, Prince Buster, who observed that they “could play my music just as good as the day it was recorded.” Such high praise could hardly come from a greater source.
WHY: “We were recording the album without even knowing it,” says front man Jesse Wagner of the one-take sessions that resulted in this 19-song feast. The speed and simplicity of the sessions might explain why The Aggrolites has a dirty sound that recalls Kingston 1969 via Coventry 1979.
WINNERS: ‘Countryman Fiddle’ is a rock-steady anthem in the making with J Bonner’s deep dark bass and Roger Rivas’ chirpy keyboard sounds giving way to an easygoing singalong chorus. ‘The Volcano’ and ‘Sound of Bombshell’ are instrumentals so old-fashioned you wouldn’t be surprised to find them on the B-side of an old Studio One 45.
WORDS: “I need more soul with my music, got to have reggae reggae music.” ‘Countryman Fiddle.’
WHINE: The skinhead hooligan name and baseball bat sits at odds with the sound. And the lyrics – mostly of the bare bones “times are tough, people must dance” type – are no more modern than the music. This is a stunning debut, but The Aggrolites will need to fashion their own identity to take it to the next level.
WEB: Listen to the Aggrolites at the Hellcat web site. Check videos of the group playing live on the Aggrolites web site.
WINE: Nah man. This is Red Stripe, Colt 40, roll out the Red Barrel music.