For years, I disdained reggae, not so much for the music itself (Morrissey's infamous quote, "All reggae is vile," reflected worse on him than it did the genre), but rather because reggae's white aficionados bugged the hell out of me. Not unreasonably, I saw most Caucasian reggae fans as poseurs looking for rationalizations to smoke massive quantities of ganja and to appear more multiculti than thou. Can millions of Bob Marley poster owners be wrong? Maybe not, but they sure are Jah-damn sanctimonious and annoying.
I won't speculate about the Stemz's motives for playing reggae and its more psychedelic kin, dub. The core foursome consist of an Asian-American, an African-American and two white dudes, for those keeping score, and their intentions seem to be genuine. Their self-released 12-track CD, Tinfoil Hatman, won't make you forget King Tubby or Lee "Scratch" Perry, but it is a solid, serious specimen of politically aware, dubwise reggae.
Vocalist Eric Malcomb rails against the usual authority figures in uniforms and suits in a stern, Rastamanic patois, while drummer Craig Ranke, guitarist Anthony Deacon, bassist Mike Tran and conguero Bhadra Walker skank against the machine with righteous fervor.
The title track dredges up a potent dubby funk, accentuated with eerie, irie-massed backing "aahh aahh aahh"s. The inspirational "Citizens on Patrol," "Jah Warrior" and "Dread Locks" feature accelerated passages that will get even the most lethargic potheads vigorously shaking their dreads. "Irie Nation" generates the positive vibrations its title promises with a saucily churning, staccato rhythm. "New Plan" exhibits the Stemz's gift for melodic beauty, augmented by Deacon's purple-hazed guitar coloration.
For a reggae group, the Stemz deviate from tradition with panache and avoid falling into a sluggish tempo rut. My only quibble regards the bass: It should figure more prominently in the mix—but that sonic shortcoming might be due more to budget constraints than aesthetic judgment. Regardless, the Stemz provide one more reason why Morrissey's blanket condemnation was off-base.
The Stemz perform with Taab Frio, Myango the Utmost, Katastrafic, Street Tribe and the N.M.E. at Malone's, 604 Dyer Rd., Santa Ana, (714) 979-6000; www.myspace.com/malonesbar. Fri., 9:30 p.m. free. 21+.
Attention Orange County/Long Beach musicians and bands! Mail your music, along with your vital contact info and a decent high-resolution photo (plus any impending performance dates) for possible review to: Locals Only,OC Weekly, 1666 N. Main St., Ste. 500, Santa Ana, CA 92701. Or just be lazy and e-mail your MySpace link to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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