Sunday, July 19, 2020

Chalwa: “New Rootz” (2020) CD Review

In these frustrating and frightening times, a lot of us are turning more and more to music for joy and a sense of humanity, things that are lacking in the nation’s leadership. And if you’re looking for a bit of cheer and compassion in your music, reggae is always a good choice. Chalwa, a reggae band based in North Carolina, has a new album out, titled New Rootz, which follows the 2018 release Concentration Time. These guys have their own particular sound, which might appeal to even those people who are normally easily bored by reggae. The band is made up of Dennis Berndt on lead vocals and guitar, Dusty “D-Train” Brown on bass, Tim Marsh on guitar and vocals, Evan Ackerman on guitar, Joshua Lyn on drums, Nethali Percival on percussion and vibes, Bernard Carmen on keys and vocals, and Jason Hazinski on saxophone.

The album opens with “Cool Mountains,” which had been released as a single. The way they sing, “Cool, cool mountains,” you can almost taste the air there, whether “there” is the Blue Mountains of Jamaica or the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina. “Pack it up, you’re going far away.” Ah yes, there is something so appealing about that, particularly these days. Who doesn’t have daily fantasies of packing the car and finding some place out in nature, away from other people, away from the news, away from the pandemic? Plus, this track features a nice lead on saxophone. And there is a delicious percussion section, followed by a good lead on electric guitar. That’s followed by “Little Darlin’,” a love song that has a certain sweetness to it, and a certain joy, the latter heard in those delightful shouts of “Woo.” “You’ve got to dance to your own beat/And you’ve got me singing on the street.” I also dig that jam, which has an easygoing feel.

“Better Weather” has a more somber, serious tone. “Gonna try and shake these old blues/A better weather, it might come our way/We’ve got nothing left to lose.” This track features more good work on guitar, and then another wonderful lead on saxophone. It feels like that instrument itself could lead us to the better weather. And if not the sax, then certainly the keyboards, for that playing seems designed to lift us straight out of the clouds. Then “Slow It Down” has a rhythm that should help ease you from your troubles. “Slow it down/You just might go and slip/Cool it out/You just might lose your grip/Mellow slow/Just take the long way home.” The only other song I can recall that uses the phrase “Mellow slow” is the Grateful Dead’s “Truckin’,” so it’s in good company, and actually some of the guitar work here might remind you of the sound of Jerry Garcia’s guitar. This song has a friendly vibe that I appreciate, and is one of my favorite tracks. Then “Searchin’” has an interesting opening, setting an unusual tone, feeling like it has something important to impart. “Why you want to keep on searching/You’re wasting all these years/Why you want to keep on searching/And wasting all your time/You can always just open your eyes/And say enough is enough/Today’s the day.” Yeah, there is something darker here, but it is about trying to get the sunlight to burst in. This is one of the album’s most compelling songs.

Things turn joyous with “Workin’,” which has a delicious groove, a sound to raise your spirits, and lyrics you can sing along to. “Well I, I’ve been working so hard/Just to make life easy.” This track features a good, passionate vocal performance and another bright lead on saxophone, plus some completely delightful work on keys. Something about this song reminds me a bit of Phish’s “NICU.” It is yet another of my favorite tracks. “Workin’” is followed by “Nice Day,” a song that sounds like a vacation to me, a time without troubles, without any worries about what might be occurring elsewhere, a place where you are able to live in the moment, and you are able to appreciate the beauty around you. “What a day (what a day)/What a nice, nice day (what a day, what a day).” Simple, yeah, but it works. “Irie” is another wonderful, cheerful number. It even mentions juggling a soccer ball. If you need music to lift you from the doldrums and murky social realm, here it is. I love the jam led by saxophone and then by guitar. So good! You’ll likely be dancing long before this track is over. The album then concludes with “Giving Thanks,” a cool and positive number to leave us feeling optimistic and hopeful and cheerful. What more could you ask for? “You might not see your future/You might not ease the pain/Might be the first time you dance/Dance your blues away.”

CD Track List
  1. Cool Mountains
  2. Little Darlin’
  3. Better Weather
  4. Slow It Down
  5. Searchin’
  6. Workin’
  7. Nice Day
  8. Irie
  9. Giving Thanks
New Rootz was released on June 21, 2020.

1 comment:

  1. Nice review! Makes me feel like I am there listening with you.