While I've always enjoyed reggae for the most part, one of the things that bothers me about the genre (and keep in mind, this is a generalization) is the lack of creative arrangements. Like punk rock, reggae tends to define its comfort zone very narrowly, doing it's thing within a few chosen chords. Chalwa moves beyond that standard hypnotic back-and-forth in a couple ways while staying true to the genre, making for a more satisfying listen. I particularly enjoyed when the guitar or piano would break free of the characteristic skank style and do something a little unexpected, such as in the opening bars of "Chalice" when a bluesy Santana-type riff made me briefly wonder if I'd put in the wrong CD. Or the opening of "Universal Seed," when an unanticipated piano flourish conjured up images of "Bohemian Rhapsody." It's the little moments like these, as well as the brief one-to-two minute interludes interspersed throughout the album (like the ethereal and sweetly-voiced "Jah Conqueror"), that really do it for me. But the real kicker was the last couple minutes of the album, when a "hidden track" emerged. It took me a minute to realize that what I was listening to was a trippy, delay-heavy, free-form version of the Drifters' "This Magic Moment." Obviously a studio outtake (you can hear people talking and coughing in the background), it helped to create an individual voice for the album. All in all, Chalwa's musicianship is great, the songs are solid and these guys do a great service to the genre and to Asheville reggae-lovers in particular.
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