If Island Records’ complete late-’60s and early-’70s catalog was thrown into a blender—including not only the reggae of Bob Marley & The Wailers and The Heptones, but the progressive rock of Traffic and Emerson, Lake & Palmer, the folk-rock voyages of John Martyn and Fairport Convention, and the art rock excursions of Roxy Music and Sparks—the resulting exilir would be the core of Passafire’s fifth album Vines, issued earlier this month on Easy Star Records.
The Savannah, GA-rooted quartet explores modern reggae in way not heard, arguably, since the Two-Tone-era ska band The Selecter’s sophomore album, Celebrate The Bullet: not a rock band influenced by reggae, Passafire is a band infusing its reggae heritage into a variety of styles. The result is an album of engaging, savage anthemics.
Mixed by Paul Leary, whose accomplishments include stewarding Sublime’s defining, eponymous third album, Vines opens with an cavernous, molten dub groove with an eerie Augustus Pablo-esque melodica figure floating atop. By the chorus, “Earthquake” erupts into an explosive guitar salvo of Imagine Dragons proportions, with a solo that would put a twinkle in Eddie Van Halen’s eye.
“Right Thing” is a charming hymn that surges with arena-rock guitars, while “Phony Imposters” steps with a funky syncopation. “All In Our Minds” expresses the soul of the album and the band—“It’s all in our minds / Planted over time / Grew into a vine / That became intertwined”—atop an organ-propelled pop skank that recalls Tragic Kingdom-era No Doubt. Spindrift country charm buoys the sweet “Black Dog,” while “Steam Rises” and “Night Comes Easy” punch with the seethe of early-’80s Rush.
Much more than a reggae album from an imprint showing itself to be much more than a reggae label, Vines defies you to not pump your fist in the air and shake your head, regardless if it’s dreads or free-flowing locks that adorn it.