Review: Bedouin Soundclash – Street Gospels

Label: Side One Dummy

Release Date: August 21, 2007

Punk and reggae have a long history together. The commonality of what was the people’s music in their respective cultures was evident almost from the very birth of punk and that shared vision has been explored right up through today. Certainly some have used both genres for ill, but every time I suspect that the tie between the two is no longer genuine, a band comes along to reassure me that it’s still very much alive. Right now, that band is Bedouin Soundclash. Their brand of reggae and dub boils with a punk undercurrent, but also recognizes that pop and soul are vital ingredients that are so often absent from the genre.

Reggae is the primary ingredient, but by no means the only one. With punk running generally under the covers and surfacing occasionally on tracks like “Walls Fall Down” and even more so “Gunships,” soul is more overt. Soulful vocals, especially in the harmonies, roots each song without exception in something genuine, so much so that the album doesn’t miss a beat on the a capella “Hush.” In fact, the song is essential to the album’s flow. The opening track, “Until We Burn in the Sun,” does more than dabble in dance with its reggae-tinged Madchester sound. It’s an exciting start before the album settles into a solid reggae groove. Street Gospels strays into dub occasionally, most notably on “Jealousy and the Get Free” and “Midnight Rockers.” The album overflows with great pop hooks and picking singles would not be an enviable task. With all of its elements, the album doesn’t meander though. It’s course is steady even as the sound varies and that might be its best case for greatness.

Sharp guitar work from Jay Malinowski accents the album’s undeniable rhythms. Eon Sinclair’s fluid bass lines intermingle with the crisp drumming and djembe accents of Pat Pengelly and Brett Dunlop, creating reggae’s warm rhythmic duality. While Bedouin Soundclash worked with some high profile musicians on the album (Money Mark who regularly works with the Beastie Boys, Wade MacNeil of Alexisonfire and Vernon Buckley of reggae pioneers the Maytones), bringing back Bad Brains bassist Darryl Jenifer, a clear expert on the fusion of punk and reggae, to produce Street Gospels proved to be their wisest choice. He outdid his work on Sounding a Mosaic, capturing the band’s clear growth and getting a cleaner sound without sacrificing the music’s energy.

There is no doubt that it is appropriate that “clash” appears in their name, because the Clash are Bedouin Soundclash’s biggest influence. There aren’t many better bands to look to for inspiration, but what’s best about Bedouin Soundclash is that they don’t dip into the common Clash pool. Instead they look to the grossly underrated Sandinista-era, picking up the Clash’s ability to fuse not only punk and reggae, but also bring in elements of dance, soul and amazing pop hooks. The result isn’t some of the best reggae outside of Jamaica, but some of the best reggae period. Bedouin Soundclash is not the average local college reggae act that goes through the motions for drunk kids in bars. They are a genuine reggae band just as if they came from Kingston, Jamaica, not Kingston, Ontario.

Rating: 9/10

About bobvinyl

bobvinyl, writer and co-editor of No Song is an Island, founded its predecessor, Rock and Roll and Meandering Nonsense (whose archives are found here), in 2005 and served as editor and principal contributor until it went on hiatus in 2010. He has also been published in AMP and Loud Fast Rules! (in print) as well as Glide and FensePost on the web. He has been an avid record collector since he was seven years old and enjoys sharing his love of music from the common to the esoteric.

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