Hearing Aide: Spiritual Rez “Setting in the West”

nys-spirtual-rez-setting-in-the-westThis is not just a reggae album. This group of Boston, Massachusetts dwellers have created an in depth and diverse Jamaican roots album that stands out miles ahead of most contemporary bands alike. Setting in the West is Spiritual Rez’s fourth album since the birth of the band in 2002 and they’ve really nailed the niche they define themselves as. Their sound is heavy on a powerful reggae sound, but it’s garnished with a number of genres, with hints of pop, rock and funk that set the sextet above most other reggae groups.  

Each song is diverse and though each song is heavily rooted to a reggae groove, they manage to make the first two songs sound like two different bands. The first track, “Sober,” has the exact recipe for a reggae song, but the drums and bass line gives the song a certain power that isn’t found in most songs in that style. The tonality changes throughout the song so things stay interesting, instead of falling into a drone which some reggae songs tend to do. The sound is still sultry and lazy but a more prominent beat perks up the song while still holding the roots of the genre.

But then, “Red Room” comes on, and the listener is taken to a whole new world of pop beats. Featuring rapper Duddy B and loads of computer generated tones, this track sounds like something that would be played on today’s pop radio stations. There’s a hint of popping, staccato guitar riffs, but an almost complete delete of all other reggae influences. It’s still just as good as any other song in this collection, but might be a deal breaker for some listeners as well as “Tidal Wave” and “Digital Age.” There are still traces of the defining characteristics that made reggae sound the way it does, but the band is obviously trying to reach a greater audience. The producer of the album, Kenny Carkeet, a founding member of AWOLNATION, might explain the more pop based tunes, which was definitely a smart move as Spiritual Rez strives for greater recognition.

For those that may see these tracks as the band selling out, worry not because the majority of the tracks stick to a standard reggae formula, still dropping hints of dance, funk and rock into the mix, with “Bad Girl” and “Square Grouper” show casing the talents of the group. The spice of a reggae group is the horn line, with Quinn Carson (trombone) and Julian Dessler (trumpet) deserving much credit for making this band sound the way it does. Although there are countless reggae bands without such, the duo brings a more cultured and complex sound that helps separate this group from others. Of course, the talents of Toft Willingham (vocals), Ian “Meat” Miller (drums), Jesse Shaternick (bass) and Mohamed Araki (keys) are not to be undersold being the backbone of the group, setting up a solid and groove for every track.

Spiritual Rez will be spending some time in New York this year playing from Canton to New York City all this month. More info is on their website.

Key Tracks: Sober, Bad Girl, Square Grouper, Whisky