Dubbest…the name says it all. Although the name can be deceiving in regards to expecting a solely dub-based instrumental group. However, they are one of “DUB-BEST” contemporary and progressive reggae groups to tour the U.S. Their unique style differs from a majority of Cali-based reggae bands, most likely due to their East Coast, Massachusetts origins, and an upbringing with the mid-70s to mid-80s roots reggae influence. GOLD FEVER, their third full album release, embodies this cornucopia of influences. Each member brings their own style to combine into this dub-heavy, roots-reggae, and low-key dancehall smorgasbord of musical pleasure.
‘Gold Fever‘ was recorded at Rear Window Recording Studio in Brookline, MA starting in the summer of 2018. Final tracking and mixing finished earlier this year. The boys produced FEVER themselves, along with Craig “Dubfader” Welsch (percussion) who is the drummer of 10 Ft Ganja Plant! They were accompanied by another reggae legend, Elliot Martin (John Brown’s Body), who provided harmonic vocals in their first two tracks, coupled with Wade Dyce and Journalist Bandoo on the remaining tracks. Other guest artists included Steve D (synths), Andy Bergman (flute, hulusi), and Alex Beram (percussion).
“The Boys,” as I call them, include front-man, lead vocalist, and keyboardist Ryan Thaxter…one of the greatest singers of the modern reggae-rock scene, has a distinctive raspy but smooth voice that matches perfectly within their dub-genre. His emphasis during choral hooks, plus the preachy buildup of lyrically-strong verses, gives the band a more pop sound than one would expect from an up-and-coming reggae dub group.
Supporting Thaxter not only vocally, but as well on guitar are Andrew Mackenzie and Cory Mahoney, working together to compose beautiful background vocal harmonies (during live shows), all the while, switching off between lead and rhythms. This power duo helps contribute to Dubbest’s special dub and jam sound, helping Thaxter’s emphasis on his hooks and connecting each song with chill but flourish-heavy guitar riffs.
Another important aspect that defines Dubbest’s sound is the rhythm section, comprised of Kyle Hancock on drums and Sean Craffey on bass (Craffey has since transitioned to playing bass for Fluid Foundation and Dimitri Giannoulis has become the current touring bass player). Hancock sets the tone for Dubbest’s rhythms with rocksteady-style beats, inspired by the framers of roots-reggae, while Craffey bumps his bass with a deeply passionate, jam-like style. I can’t forget to mention Thaxter’s hypnotic and bubbly keyboarding, one of the foundations for the way they make every listener, whether live or on any recording, want to dance. This is perhaps one of their most talented features, the ability to make people subconsciously move to their music.
‘Gold Fever’ features twelve powerful, experimental reggae dub jams, all transitioning together in a perfect medley worthy of TOP REGGAE ALBUM OF THE YEAR! Their first single and impeccable hit, “Daydream,” kicks off the 45-minute album with a brief Hancock solo drum fill into a catchy retro-sounding keys rhythm that sets the tone for the entire album. Thaxter’s signature choral hook, combined with ambient melodies, drags the listener in for a ride that ‘Gold Fever‘ promises will be worthwhile.
Following suit is “Terra Fermata,” with a slow catchy guitar riff intro, transitioning early into a swift drum-heavy rhythm. Along with Thaxter’s conducting voice, he controls the pace of the remaining instruments with his whimsically woven words. The poetic “Back from the Dead,” resumes the feel-good vibes with a laid back melody combined with Dyce’s and Bandoo’s high-pitched dual harmonies echoing throughout the tune (and the entirety of the album). Next up, the boys pick up the pace with another rhythmically-driven tune, “What If I,” a steady Latino-inspired drum rhythm with consistent vocals, keeps up with the upbeat melody. The “Dub” in Dubbest, comes next with “Hot Sand,” an instrumental melody similar to many of the previous dub jams the band is known for; however it sounds pretty flute heavy, with a kick of roots reggae vibrations in the guitar riffs.
“Better with Words,” was the final song to be released before the album debuted and my favorite off of GOLD. I remember hearing this song live a couple of times, which left a giant wave of anticipation in my heart waiting to listen to the studio version of this relatable tune. “Tried to speak but I wish I was better with words, the things I am thinking, you get to them first…” is how the song starts off, and as a writer who is better at articulating his inner thoughts through written media, this song resonates with myself and thousands of fans who find themselves in similar situations of not being able to express their true feelings with lovers due to anxiety of saying the wrong words.
What sounds like another heart-breaking piece and another new favorite of mine is “Bed of Thorns,” a composition that encompasses the standard the boys have set for themselves, with typical laid back vibes mixed with swooning harmonies, rocksteady beats, and more powerful lyrics. One of the more “rootsy” tracks would be “Sincerity,” starting off with a speedy and repetitive strumming, followed by Thaxter’s consistent and unbroken vocalization, coupled with the other vocal duos’ high-pitched harmonies, reflecting a sound reminiscent of The Expanders and roots artists like Toots & The Maytals. They got the name of their album, GOLD FEVER, from the wing sauce of their favorite pizza from their hometown area. The next jam is a laid back instrumental and is the “Sauce” of the ‘Gold Fever’ album. A brief final interlude that features bongos, a xylophonic-sounding keys groove, mixed with a deep bass progression, sets the tenor for the conclusion of the final few songs.
There seems to be a general pattern throughout the album of starting off with a strong and hastily executed tune, followed by a lyrically-driven song, and then picking it back up with a mix of both worlds. “Minute Longer” is one of those pieces that combine a fleeting rhythm with lyrics and harmonies which define the Dubbest sound. The use of repetition in the lyrics of “Guilty” helps emphasize another lost-love poem written by Thaxter, continuing the ongoing connection he builds with his audience who can easily relate to losing sleep over falling for someone and missing them when they’re gone, while the band supplies an intricate net of unique instrumentation throughout it.
The concluding track to this magnificent album, “Keep Waiting,” will indeed have the listener keep waiting in anticipation for the next release of mesmerizing tunes…or you could just put the album on repeat! “Take what you get from all of these words, but remember, there’s more…” is the biggest tease Thaxter could sneak into his persistent poetic writings, teasing that there will be more to come, despite the end of this current piece of art the Dubbest boys have produced for us to consume and relate to. Hopefully Dubbest will not “keep us waiting…too long.”