Friday, May 15, 2009

May 15: The Aggrolites, "Reggae Hit "L.A."

Artist: The Aggrolites
Album: Reggae Hit L.A.
Year: 2007
Label: Hellcat

Throughout the mid/late 1990's, the terms SKA and reggae were thrown about with pretty much any band that had any sort of "island" vibe in their music. Most of the time, it was a punk-based SKA (read as "mellow punk with horns"), and was about as far from the true island sound as one could get. The true sound and style of reggae rarely crosses over into mainstream music, and has not been heard from a U.S. based band in decades. Then, seemingly out of nowhere, came The Aggrolites and sensational their 2007 album, Reggae Hit L.A.

The Aggrolites, whose name pays tribute to The Skatalites, began in 2002 as a one-off backing band for reggae legend Derrick Morgan. The band, a combination of two southern California bands, felt a chemistry and decided to stay as a single unit following the Morgan gig. As the band honed their shops as a unit, they served as the backing band for artists like Prince Buster, Joseph Hill, and also were the backing band for Tim Armstrong's album, A Poet's Life. After these various backing gigs, guitarist Jesse Wagner took over vocal duties, and the band recorded a few EP's and a solo debut before releasing Reggae Hit L.A. The Aggrolites clearly understand all of the important founders of reggae, and their sound clearly infuses influences from everyone ranging from Lee "Scratch" Perry to Dave & Ansel Collins to Bob Marley. This diversity in influences helps to keep the album fresh throughout, as well as giving Reggae Hit L.A. amazing depth.

The band sticks close to the "classic" island sound, and often times, it is so authentic, that it is almost scary. Obviously, the unmistakable "SKA" riff is often present, but it is the mood behind the music that sets the band apart and gives them a truly genuine feel. Most bands of the modern era approach reggae music with a more watered down, lulling, or down-beat approach. However, The Aggrolites stick close to the early days of reggae, and the music is vibrant, bright, and light-hearted. The combination of J Bonner's bass and the rhythm guitar of Brian Dixon creates the perfect platform from which the rest of the band works. The organ and piano of Roger Rivas is brilliant throughout, as he clearly understands how to shape the mood of the music without being overbearing. Drummer Korey Horn is nothing short of stunning, flying around his kit and handling every form of reggae imaginable. The true brilliance of the band lays within their diversity of reggae styles. From the more classic sound on sounds like "Work It" to slower, more meandering songs like "Let's Pack Our Bags," to a funkier, more modern feel with the title track, the band is able to expand the genre without compromising the integrity of the music or genre.

The vocals from Wagner are a pure joy to experience. Bringing loads of soul, and a bit of grit at times, makes the music on Reggae Hit L.A. stunning. His abilities make it easy for the band to speed up the traditional reggae sound, and it is often his voice that keeps the band within the genre. Whether singing softly or getting up and into it, Wagner's voice shines brightly throughout the album, and is easily one of the finest aspects of the music of The Aggrolites. There are moments on Reggae Hit L.A. where the band presents beautiful group harmonies, a skill that has not been heard in years, and it helps to make a great record even better. Lyrically, The Aggrolites stick to the basic themes of reggae: hard work, relaxation, and love. Sticking to these time-honored themes again helps to keep the authenticity within the sound of The Aggrolites, and the universally-relatable lyrics help to ensure the wide-reaching appeal of their music.

In modern times, when bands attempt to revive an old style, it is usually so watered down that it is a far cry from the original sound. Throughout the 1990's, countless bands claimed an "island" sound, yet they were no more than cleaner "punk" with horn sections. With a clear understanding of the roots of the genre, Los Angeles based group, The Aggrolites, are a refreshing return to the early days of the reggae scene. Bringing a pure, bright sound and exhibiting everything that made early reggae great, The Aggrolites prove that often times, the old sounds are still the best. Presenting simple, relatable lyrics, Reggae Hit L.A. is a collection of bouncing, refreshing reggae tunes that will be enjoyed by all. With a new album expected later this year, The Aggrolites and their phenomenal 2007 release, Reggae Hit L.A. are truly a band that are not to be missed.

Standout tracks: "Reggae Hit L.A.," "Lucky Stream," and "Baldhead Rooster."

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