NewRootz Studios 2020
North Carolinian Rasta-minded ensemble capture the essence of Jamaican countryside to elevate the listener’s spirit.
Some may be tempted to call it cultural appropriation yet it will take a single spin of this collective sophomore offering to forget they’re white, because there’s a sense of grounding in the group’s songs that are artfully removed from urban slant of many a reggae band. While “NewRootz” is slightly tighter than the Asheville denizens’ 2012 debut whence a few pieces appeared for the first time to emerge anew now and give the current line-up a solid base to build a rock-steady career on, the numbers Dennis Berndt and his clique roll here feel loose in terms of evoking natural mystic without emphasizing a good-time vibe.
Of course, the 7-minute epic “Irie” provides plenty of sonic space for having fun and getting away with it, but elsewhere lapses into dub – when Dusty Brown’s bass and Joshua Lyn’s drums drive the riddim – contrast contagious tunes to a great effect and give cuts such as pastoral opener “Cool Mountains” a panoramic perspective. Berndt’s velvet vocals float over rural vistas sketched by sensual six-string licks and painted by Bernard Carmen’s ivories, making the breezy, if deep, likes of “Better Weather” irresistible. Still, even the sunlit “Little Darlin'” and “Workin'” have their pop sweetness spiced up with jazzy nuances, and the serious “Searchin'” rides a sharp riff and boasts a bit of toasting before the finale of “Giving Thanks” brings unexpected belligerence to the table.
It’s there that the group’s true roots are fully revealed to show the Asheville players as a rather special proposition. If they won’t wait another eight years to follow up on this, they may shoot high.