Bedouin Soundclash – Street Gospels
Release Date: August 21, 2007
Record Label: Side One Dummy
There are a lot of things you would expect to find in Canada. You know – things like moose, hockey players, good healthcare, and hell - maybe even Survivorman Les Stroud. But incredible reggae bands? That would not seem to be a lot less likely of a find, to be sure. Nevertheless, with Bedouin Soundclash, it is exactly what we get – a fantastic trio of maple leafers who create some of the most refreshing music available today.
While they really started off with the release of Root Fire in 2001, Bedouin really broke out on 2004 with the release of Sounding a Mosaic – the group’s eclectic sophomore album that would help them to win them a Juno award in 2006. The groups organic fusion of reggae with underlying rock, pop, dub, ska, and world music influences have since won them fans all over the world, and for good reason. So then, it only remained to be seen how they would follow up their introduction to this new set of fans and admirers. Thankfully, Street Gospels is the perfect progression to the Bedouin sound, concurrently doing great justice to the band’s past catalog, and cementing their status as an engaging and innovative musical force.
All of the components that made Sounding a Mosaic are back in effect on Street Gospels, but it is not as simple as saying that Gospels is essentially Mosaic Part II, since it is so much more than that. In addition to the home grown earthy expressions of the band’s earlier works, Bedouin Soundclash’s most recent offerings benefit most from the inclusion of the band’s constant refinement of its pop sensibilities. This makes Street Gospels a far more instantly accessible record than Root Fire or Sounding a Mosaic, and the results are quite pleasing.
There is a reason that you don’t hear about many reggae bands breaking out of the bar band cage, and that is primarily because most of them, well...just suck. Such acts tend to be uncreative, boring, and relegate themselves to covering the same tired Bob Marley and UB40 songs we have all heard a million times before from much more accomplished performers. Thankfully, Bedouin Soundclash falls into no such pitfalls, as their music is entirely refreshing and their sound is entirely their own. The first standout of the group’s sound is frontman Jay Malinowski’s emotive, passionate vocals. He does not have the perfect voice in the classic sense, but instead, it is his imperfections that make his delivery so noteworthy. Listen to the way he croons the first verse to “12:59 Lullaby” and teeters ever so close to the edge of letting his voice crack as it drips with emotion. Malinowski uses the same subdued approach to the slow dance coda of “Hearts in the Night,” but he is far from a one-trick pony. Along with the rest of the band, they reveal a surprising penchant for hooks on the supremely catchy “Walls Fall Down” (one of the year’s best songs) and the almost equally infectious Caribbean splash of “Bells of 59.”
The Bedouin boys still switch it up a lot from these tunes, keeping everything fresh and compelling. Whether it be the shuffling energy of the album’s opener (“Until We Burn In the Sun”), an a capella midpoint (“Hush”), or almost punkish leanings (“Gunships” and “Midnight Rocker”), there is something for everyone, and a lot to keep this record from becoming stale. While some tracks might seem more indispensable to individual listeners, not a single one needs to be passed over – they all have their strengths and charms.
So, here we are towards the end of summer, where the days are still warm and sunny and the nights are pleasantly cool. In essence, it is the perfect weather that lends itself to cruising around with windows down blasting some great music. As we struggle to hang onto these last few handfuls of carefree living, you can not do much better for a soundtrack than Bedouin Soundclash’s Street Gospels. It is truly an incredible achievement – both in the context of this year and well beyond – an instant classic.