Frieda's Boss

The Underhill Account

Reviewed by Alex Henderson

3.5 stars (out of 5)

The members of Frieda’s Boss are big on Chevy Chase references.  The name Frieda’s Boss comes from the 1985 movie Fletch, which starred the former Saturday Night Live star as the main character.  Chase’s character had a secretary named Frieda, thus making him Frieda’s boss.  One of the lines in Fletch was “just put it on the Underhill account,” which explains why this 2012 release is named The Underhill Account.  Those who pick up on the Fletch references but haven’t heard the music of Frieda’s Boss might assume that they are indie rock/alternative rock hipsters; naming a band and an album after Fletch references is the sort of thing indie rock/alternative rock hipsters would do.  But no, Frieda’s Boss are not indie rock/alternative rock hipsters.  Actually, they are a crossover reggae band from New South Wales, Australia.  And stylistically, The Underhill Account picks up where their previous release, ...and you are?, left off.

 

The thing that makes The Underhill Account crossover reggae is the band’s willingness to incorporate elements of rock and funk; Frieda’s Boss don’t pretend to be reggae purists.  The influences they displayed on ...and you are? also assert themselves on The Underhill Account, including UB40, Steel Pulse, Bob Marley & the Wailers, Toots & the Maytals and the late Lucky Dube.  But despite that crossover appeal, Frieda’s Boss aren’t terribly slick.  In fact, their approach is fairly organic-sounding on earthy, soulful tracks such as “Never Leave,” “All Night ‘Til Daylight,” “Bastards” and “Dreadlock Nuh Kill Yuh.”

 

When Frieda’s Boss incorporate toasting on “I I I (I No Longer Care)” and the Rastafarian-themed “Dreadlock Nuh Kill Yuh,” one hears elements of both dancehall and old-school 1970s dubwise.  Toasting, which is neither singing nor rapping, is a type of reggae chanting that started in Jamaica with dubwise.  Toasters who reigned supreme in the 1970s included, among others, Big Youth, King Tubby, U-Roy and I-Roy, and those artists helped to pave the way for the harder, more aggressive and forceful dancehall style of toasting that became popular in the 1980s with artists like Ninjaman, Lieutenant Stitchie, Nardo Ranks and Shabba Ranks (Buju Banton, Bounty Killer and Mad Cobra are among the dancehall stars who emerged in the 1990s).  And the toasting that Frieda’s Boss offer on “I I I (I No Longer Care)” and “Dreadlock Nuh Kill Yuh” is more aggressive than the 1970s dubwise of King Tubby, Big Youth or I-Roy but not as abrasive as Bounty Killer or Ninjaman.   The toasting one hears on this album is right on the dubwise/dancehall border, which in that sense, inspires comparisons to Yellowman and Eek-A-Mouse because both of those Kingston, Jamaica-born toasters were important figures in the transition from dubwise to dancehall in the 1980s.  

 

On “Bastdubs” (which is a dub version of “Bastards”), Frieda’s Boss employ the classic Jamaican deejay/sound system techniques of 1970s dubwise.  “Bastdubs” is largely instrumental but not exclusively instrumental.  There are scattered vocals, and those scattered vocals recall the way Jamaican sound system deejays of the 1970s would play and mix dub versions of roots reggae recordings.

 

Ska is a strong influence on “I I I (I No Longer Care)” and “All Night ‘Til Daylight,” both of which are mindful of Toots & the Maytals.  Those who know a lot about the history of reggae know that reggae came out of ska back in the 1960s; ska had a faster beat, and when ska was slowed down, that was the beginning of reggae (some historians think of rocksteady artists like the Paragons, Alton Ellis and the Gaylads as a bridge between ska and reggae, but rocksteady was really the first form of reggae rather than a post-ska precursor to reggae).  Toots & the Maytals were one of the important Jamaican groups in the transition from ska to reggae; they started out as a ska band in the early 1960s but evolved into more of a reggae band (without forgetting their ska roots).  And on both “I I I (I No Longer Care)” and “All Night ‘Til Daylight,” the appreciation that Frieda’s Boss have for Toots & the Maytals comes through.  “I I I (I No Longer Care)” and “All Night ‘Til Daylight” both acknowledge Toots & the Maytals’ reggae/ska aesthetic and do so with infectious results.

 

The Underhill Account isn’t recommended to reggae purists, but for those who fancy crossover reggae that is relatively organic and doesn’t go out of its way to be slick, this is a consistently enjoyable listen.

Alex Henderson is a Philadelphia-based journalist, entertainment critic, and technical writer whose work has appeared in Billboard, Spin, Pulse!, HITS, JazzTimes, CD Review, and many other national publications