The Black Seeds: Solid Ground

By: Dennis Cook

We continue our look at three of the best, forward-minded reggae releases this year. For a genre that can sometimes seem a bit stodgy or frozen in time, the three groups spotlighted this week – Soothsayers, The Black Seeds and Groundation - represent the forefront of reggae today and tomorrow.

From the surfy, ska-ish opener "Come To Me" to the purring dance floor humidity of "Rotten Apple" to the humming, exploratory "The Bubble" and slinky dub version of "Make A Move" that close Solid Ground (released in U.S. on September 29 on Easy Star) offers ample evidence that New Zealand's The Black Seeds are working with more than the vast majority of their contemporaries in the reggae field. In fact, it's misleading and falsely limiting to describe these enormously talented cats as simply "reggae" musicians, since most in the field tend to adhere to well-established templates and accepted pathways. The Seeds have clearly been listening to what's happening in modern music and infuse the familiar rhythms and thematic material with subtleties drawn from the likes of The Fugees, Jay-Z and more.

What truly separates Solid Ground and its creators from the herd is their obvious affection for reggae's core ideals and sonic textures doesn't prevent them from mixing things up in a big way. If one were to gauge reggae's vitality based on this release they'd have to say it's a vibrant living thing, an organism mutating nicely, drawing in flavors pulled from the wind, long distance influences given island flair. Perhaps it's crucial that "island" is New Zealand and not Jamaica, but it may also come down to the raw, overlapping talents in this band, which features multiple gifted singers full of flowing personality, a banging horn section, stinging guitars and an organic cohesion that's bloody inviting without ever submitting to clichés or easy prodding.

While The Black Seeds have long been a force to be reckoned with, Solid Ground elevates them to the ranks of The Specials, Black Uhuru and The English Beat, i.e. groups that took a beloved form and injected it with new DNA to stir up healthy, diverse future offspring. Track after track is a succinct pleasure of its own but the cumulative effect proves a one-drop rich cousin to the blessed melding that went on at Fania Records in their '60s/70s heyday, where all the things one generally loves about a genre are fully intact but there's just something more going on – something tantalizing and scorched with obvious creative fire.

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[Published on: 10/15/09]

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