I admire bands that aren’t afraid to make politically-charged music. Music is a great medium for delivering political messages, but overtly political lyrics don’t usually generate much commercial success. Back in the golden age of roots reggae, of course, artists like Bob Marley and Burning Spear built their careers “chanting down Babylon.” For these reggae-warriors, music was a weapon used to fight an oppressive colonial system.
Peterborough, Ontario’s Dub Trinity (performers at last year’s Montreal Ska Festival, reviewed here), recently released a full-length LP: The People Hold the Power. Although the album—an eclectic blend of ska, funk, blues, soul and rock—isn’t purely Jamaican-influenced, the “message-based” lyrics are steeped in the politically-conscious activism of roots reggae.
“Run for Cover” opens the album with driving, soulful beat. The title might refer to Lee Perry’s rocksteady classic of the same name, but Dub Trinity’s song instead takes the direction of a soulful rock song. Chris Collins’ keyboard-playing sets the tone, but it’s the groovy guitar solos and the steady horn section that stand out.
The band starts sounding like a proper ska-reggae band with “Gone Clear.” I understand that Dub Trinity has diverse influences, but I’m a huge reggae fan, and I wish there were more authentically Jamaican tunes like this on The People Hold the Power. Thankfully, this cut is gold, with a heavy, skanking downbeat, melodic keys, and Tom “Hojo” Reader’s subdued but confident trombone work. Lyrics reminding us to “keep our head above the clouds” and “it’s better to build than to burn” provide a positive message of hope.
“Kevlar Clad” starts out as an upbeat, dancing ska tune, but breaks down into an unusual prog-rock interlude that sounds more like Black Sabbath than Black Uhuru. The experimentation lasts only a few bars but adds little to the song. “Land of Look Behind” (the title of Alan Greenberg’s powerful 1981 documentary about Jamaican music, culture and Rastafarians) is another fine roots cut that has a beat reminiscent of Barrington Levy’s “Here I Come.”
My pick of the album is the energetic, 60s soul-inspired “Let Them Know.” Bright, funky horns flow seamlessly over drummer Greg Roy’s tight, jazzy beat, while Kirsten Addis’ commanding vocals remind us that, “When you need justice just let them know!” Who “them” represents (the government, big business, Wall Street) is ambiguous, but the message of fighting oppression is clear.
The People Hold the Power has an eclectic, soulful sound, rooted in vintage ska and reggae, that’s somewhat like Montreal’s ska-rock champions The Beatdown. That diverse sound should appeal to a broad audience of rock and ska fans who like their guitar solos with a heavy dose of anti-capitalist activism. Rumour has it the band will release an album of dub versions. Reggae-heads might want to wait for that one.
Written by Rob Coles
*edited by Danielle Kenedy