Expanding from a three-piece to a six-piece band over time, the Australia-based group Frieda's Boss brings a full-bodied approach to their reggae vibes. Anchored by their love for dub in the land Down Under, the band is a tight unit that knows when to loosen its grip on the groove. Their debut E.P. ...And You Are? bares the sound of seasoned professionals, including a rhythm section that's poised and deadly all at once. Lead vocalist Train proves to be the quintessential front man with a magnetic presence on the microphone, crafting songs that are often message driven as much as they are rhythmically centered.
"Before You Walk Away" deals with a father's words of warning to his son, attempting to steer him away from an untimely demise. While the lyrics are the song's main draw, the poignant use of keyboard triplets and a touch of Spanish guitar add an attentive subtlety to the mix. "No Such Thing" finds the band within a roots reggae arrangement as Train breaks down the stereotype of "a typical Jamaican." "I'm not known for saying 'yah man' much," he sings, "in spite of what you might have heard." The dub version ("No Such Dub") falls headfirst into an ocean of reverb and filtered tracks. This is Frieda's Boss at their most experimental and unpredictable, the bubbling cauldron of sound stirred well by producer/mixer Tamlin T. Kirk behind the boards.
"Easy To Say" wrestles with the urge to break away from the corporate grind over Stanwah's catchy horn riff, Dman's unflappable bass line, and an ample dose of chicken scratch guitar. Vocalist Vstylee is most notable on this song, adding a harmonic flair that hovers just under Train's lead. "Good Eno' (Yuh Look Good Oonuh)" manages to be aggressive and accessible simultaneously, working in a dancehall vocal delivery over ska patterns that increase in tempo. "Lack of Trust" closes the E.P. with a deceptively slow sway that effortlessly morphs into a double-time melody.
In time, Frieda’s Boss could be for Australia what John Brown’s Body is for the U.S.: a band with its foundations firmly rooted in reggae, but with musical chops that are capable of incorporating related subgenres into its sonic stew. Their debut E.P. is merely a launching pad for a wealth of creative compositions that are sure to come from this talented troupe.
Review by Jason Randall Smith
Based in Mount Vernon, New York, Jason Randall Smith is a contributing writer for Impose Magazine. In addition, he maintains his own website, Both Sides Of The Surface, and is also the creator of Radio BSOTS, a podcast featuring independent hip-hop, soul, funk, and electronic music. Jason was also a World Music Community Blogger for the 52nd Annual GRAMMY® Awards. Under the pseudonym Macedonia, he served as a member of WCDB Albany 90.9 FM, hosting shows and producing promo spots during the 1990s. Jason collects vinyl, treats liner notes like canonized literature, and still equates the term “mixtape” with actual cassettes.
Australia, home of the reggae band Frieda’s Boss, might seem like an unlikely place for reggae artists. But then, reggae has been popular in many different parts of the world. By no means is reggae’s popularity limited to its birthplace of Jamaica, and Frieda’s Boss play reggae convincingly on their EP …and you are? This is crossover reggae, involving elements of rock and funk to their reggae foundation. But they aren’t overly slick about it, keeping things fairly organic on this 2011 release (which draws on influences ranging from Steel Pulse to UB40 to Bob Marley & the Wailers to Lucky Dube).
Lyrically, Frieda’s Boss aren’t as consistently political as some reggae bands. There is a little sociopolitical commentary on …and you are?, but many of the band’s lyrics are romantic in nature. The EP’s most overtly sociopolitical offering, “Before You Walk Away,” is about a rude boy who chooses a life of crime despite the fact that his parents tried to guide him in the right direction. “Before You Walk Away” is performed in a minor key à la Black Uhuru, and for those who don’t understand the technical meaning of that term, suffice it to say that songs performed in a minor key tend to have a certain moodiness (whether they are blues, jazz, rock or reggae). Minor-key performances are perfect if one is going for a darker, duskier type of sound, and a minor key works nicely for Frieda’s Boss on a serious-toned track like “Before You Walk Away.”
But Frieda’s Boss favor a much more lighthearted approach on the exuberant “Good Eno’ (Yuh Look Good Oonuh),” which is the only track that emphasizes toasting instead of singing. For the uninitiated, toasting is a type of chanting (it isn’t really singing or rapping) that started in Jamaica with dubwise reggae; King Tubby, Big Youth, I-Roy and U-Roy were among the dubwise artists who toasted in the 1970s. Dubwise later evolved into dancehall, and hip-hop-influenced dancehall stars such as Shabba Ranks, Lieutenant Stitchie, Nardo Ranks and Ninjaman have a much more aggressive and forceful approach than old-school dubwise artists. “Good Eno’ (Yuh Look Good Oonuh),” in terms of its toasting, is right on the dubwise/dancehall border; it’s more aggressive than King Tubby or I-Roy, but not as abrasive as Shabba Ranks. And the infectious tune has some rock energy to boot.
Equally exuberant is “Lack of Trust,” which draws on both ska and reggae and sounds a bit like something Toots & the Maytals would do. Toots & the Maytals started out as a ska band in the early 1960s but slowed their tempos down somewhat and evolved nto more of a reggae band. However, they never lost the ska influence, and “Lack of Trust” has the sort of ska-meets-reggae energy that one associates with Toots hits such as “Monkey Man,” “Funky Kingston,” “Time Tough” and “Pressure Drop.”
“Easy to Say,” meanwhile, recalls 1980s-era Steel Pulse (when they were signed to Elektra Records), and “No Such Thing” has a rock edge that brings to mind the Police (who recorded their share of reggae-influenced new wave rock back in the late 1970s and early 1980s). This EP contains two versions of “No Such Thing”: the main version and a dub version, which employs the turntable techniques of 1970s dubwise.
So where does the name Frieda’s Boss come from? Presumably, the Australia residents get that name from the 1985 movie “Fletch,” which starred Chevy Chase as the main character (Frieda was the name of Fletch’s secretary; therefore, he was Frieda’s boss). But more important than their name is their music, and Frieda’s Boss offer a likable blend of crossover elements and roots elements on this EP.
Review by Alex Henderson
Alex Henderson is a veteran journalist/music critic whose work has appeared in Billboard, Spin, The L.A. Weekly, Creem, HITS, Jazziz, JazzTimes, CD Review, Skin Two, Black Radio Exclusive, Thrash Metal and a long list of other well known publications. Known for his eclectic tastes, Alex has contributed several thousand CD reviews to The All Music Guide online and series of reference books since 1996. Jello Biafra, Sonny Rollins, Megadeth, Ice Cube, Live, Chick Corea, Public Enemy, Marduk, Bobby Brown, Ra and Everlast are among the many well known artists Alex has interviewed during his long career.
The universal language of music is best summed up by the members of Australia's own Frieda's Boss, each representing a different global locale. Sharing a love of reggae that stretches from Jamaica to Germany to Russia to Korea to the Netherlands and back to Australia, their respect runs deep for the music and for each other. It's been two years since their debut E.P. and The Underhill Account makes good on avoiding the sophomore slump. The sextet keeps things short and sweet, running through six songs in just under 20 minutes. Right from the first listen, it's clear that this band has spent their time wisely between releases.
The fierce brass bursts of "I I I (I No Longer Care)" may bowl you over if you're not ready for them. This is a band with an airtight lock on the groove, as shown by the synergy shared between the bass, guitar, and drums. Lead vocalist Train defiantly vocalizes breaking away from marital bondage within the lyrics, ripping through the verses in an monotone chant that's slightly sung, but with a hip-hop emcee's cadence. It's a delivery that truly sells the lack of emotional ties in the lyrics while still managing to stay as upbeat as the instrumentation underneath. "Bastards" is simply galvanizing, an underdog anthem for working people everywhere. As Train and Vstylee sing "Don't let the bastards get you down," you can hear the happy hour crowd join in, raising a glass in unison to the chorus. Stanwah's trumpets are nothing short of triumphant on this tune, adding staccato shots that feel like fists pumping heavenward in rebellion.
Since "Bastards" is reminiscent of the classic reggae tunes that would have come out of Studio One, it's only right that it's followed by a proper dub version. "BastDUBs" is sonic science personified, a moment to bow down to the altar of King Tubby and Lee "Scratch" Perry. A tip of the hat is certainly due to recording engineer Tamlin Tregonning, who serves up the studio tracks as fodder for the echo chamber. Vocals, guitars, drums, and horns slide in and out of shadows, leaving the cavernous tones of the bass unscathed, representing the daily grind that awaits us all once the weekend's done. Meanwhile, "Dreadlocks Nuh Kill Yuh" manages to do the impossible: make a good-natured song about stereotypes and first impressions. As Train verbally two-steps his way through various scenarios, it's hard not to wonder how many of them he has experienced himself. Reminding the listener that "appearances deceive you all day long," his words bounce in time to a chicken scratch guitar and some killer horn accents.
"Never Leave" slows things down to a lover's rock tempo, but it's obvious from the lyrics that this couple's love is on shaky ground. Vstylee provides ample vocal support with sweet coos and breathy background harmonies while Train croons through relationship strain, choosing to stick it out for the kids ("Never leave (because I love them too much)"). The E.P. closes on a high note, paying respect to Jacob Miller's "All Night Till Daylight." Frieda's Boss chooses the ska route with their take and it's a perfect fit, remaining faithful to the original while increasing the energy with its faster tempo. You can imagine the band concluding their live shows with this one, the bass providing the foundation for the rhythm guitar to pogo from, Vstylee adding her arresting tones in sync with Train's rude boy adlibs, and Stanwah delivering brass jabs that aim straight for your skeletal frame. Authentic and accessible at the same time, Frieda's Boss leaves the audience wanting more, and The Underhill Account is likely to send demands for a proper full-length album through the roof.
Artist: Frieda's Boss
Album: The Underhill Account
Reviewed by Jason Randall Smith
Rating: 4 stars (out of 5)