Big Mountain

New Day

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To listen to the band's seventh album, you'd never guess what a rough and rocky road Big Mountain has traveled since its debut as Shiloh in 1989. Only one member remains from the original lineup that changed its name to Big Mountain with the Wake Up album in 1992, and the new bandmembers have plenty of horror stories about their messy departure from a major label and their struggles to keep the band together in the years that followed. But now, the group is running its own label and seems to be back in the swing of things, and if you didn't know about its difficult history you'd never guess it had one based on the sound of New Day, an album that confirms in its every joyous riff and catchy chorus the kind of bright-eyed optimism that its title implies. As always, Big Mountain is working in a consciously pop-oriented reggae mode, with solid production that walks the fine line between pleasing smoothness and off-putting slickness without ever tipping over on the wrong side of it -- well, almost never. "Straight to My Heart," which features Warren Hill's smooth jazz saxophone, is maybe just a bit too lush and fruity, but there's a subtle edge to the electronic rhythms on the Latin-flavored "Terra Indigena" and the groove that underlies "Wind" has a certain funky bite to it as well. Several tracks, notably the swinging "What Do We Mean to Each Other" and "Straight to My Heart," recall Steel Pulse's heyday in a pleasing way. But the album really hits its peak at the very end, with the spare one-drop groove of "Vibes Up Strong" and the similarly rootsy "Do Right." Recommended.

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