We Free Again

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Two things will strike you immediately about this album. First, Groundation is perhaps the finest roots reggae band in California. Its seven members generate slow, smoky, disciplined grooves that rumble and shudder with the inexorable power of an elephant stampede and manage to sound simultaneously sensual and mystical. The second thing that will strike you, for probably not the first time, is the degree to which Apple Gabriel's singing style is an acquired taste. A founding member of Israel Vibration, Gabriel sings as a guest on this album and contributes both lead and background vocals, making this whole album sound like a slightly darker and tighter Israel Vibration project -- which is great, unless you think Israel Vibration's vocal sound is just a bit too thin and whiny for comfort, in which case you'll find yourself trying to listen past the voice to those dark, smoky grooves and waiting anxiously for the songs on which Gabriel's fellow guest, Don Carlos, takes the mike. This happens on the brilliant "Suffer the Right" (though Gabriel sings on this one as well) and the very fine title track. The album's strangest moments come on a four-track suite titled "Cultural Wars," part of which includes unusual chord changes that Gabriel can't quite handle. Overall, this is a strange but ultimately rewarding album.

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