Review: Mystic Roots – Cali-Hi

Review: Mystic Roots – Cali-Hi

Mystic Roots Band – CALI-HI

Track Listing:
1.) CALI-HI (feat. Zion Thompson)
2.) Never Been Better
3.) Work to Do (feat. Zion Thompson)
4.) Wondering Why
5.) Lifestyle (feat. Erik, Marko, Evan, Matt Masih, Jon E. & Barrington Levy)
6.) Something About A Girl (feat. Zion Thompson)
7.) Lonely Road
8.) Welcome to Chico (Live Medley)
9.) Work 2 Dub
10.) Blessings (feat. Pato Banton)
11.) $100 Bag (feat. Jah Mar)
12.) Drunkards
13.) Space In My Life
14.) Reflection
15.) Sweet Sensemilla (Remix)
16.) Thank You Lord (feat. Shayne T.)
17.) Not Too Late
18.) Dub 2 Late

Record Label: Stay Positive Productions

The Pier Album Rating:

Group Background:
This Chico-born, now San Diego-based 5-piece cut their teeth touring as Pato Banton’s backing band, but split off back in 2009 to pursue a new original project. Balancing dancehall, reggae, and hip hop music, as well as a male-female vocal dynamic, the band boasts a packed touring schedule, wild stage show, and a fan base spanning from SoCal to Singapore. CALI-HI is the band’s second album following the 1999 debut release of Constant Struggle that was later re-released in 2005 featuring a duet with reggae legend Barrington Levy.

Album Review:
(Writer’s Note: Listen to this album on a sound system, especially one with a sub woofer. Headphones won’t do the album justice.)

On the whole, it’s quite difficult to find a reggae band that can throw down sunny dancehall, dimly-lit, cavernous dub passages, distorted guitar solos, and a hip-hop DJ’s knack for scratching and sampling into one album, but, somehow, Mystic Roots Band manages to dish out an album as stylistically varied as it is bass-heavy. Lifestyle features a swarm of MC’s (including dancehall legend Barrington Levy) trading verses over a funky dance riddim, whereas Space In My Life takes an uncanny turn in the exact opposite direction, throwing vocalist Katherine Ramirez’s emotive croon and introspective lyrics over a tender, rocksteady beat.

The dub tracks on the album, Dub 2 Late and Work 2 Dub, show off the band’s understanding of the reggae art of dub, using the recording studio as a tool for deconstructive purposes, stripping the song’s layers down to the drum and bass and inserting strategically placed sound samples. Work 2 Dub in particular raises goose bumps, juxtaposing samples of Martin Luther King’s legendary I Have A Dream speech (which makes appearances at various points in the album) with Barack Obama’s equally impassioned Yes We Can oration. Considering the historical context as well as reggae music’s connection to ethnic struggles the world over, the track is a particular highlight for me, as it demonstrates the continued power of reggae music to make insightful, sonic observations on the socio-political landscape of our nation.

I should also mention that Katherine Ramirez’s vocals are a real highlight of this album, eclipsed only by the group’s overall sheer bass intensity. Whether leading the song with musings on life’s purpose or singing back-up, her crystalline voice always adds new layers to whatever track she’s featured on. Combined with the reflective, oftentimes wandering lyrics she pulls out for her stand-out tracks, Wondering Why and Space In My Life, Ramirez’s songwriting presents a tender, meditative foil to the album’s more energized, celebratory tracks such as CALI-HI and the sweet skankin’, rasta-inspired Blessings featuring Pato Banton.

While this album certainly serves as a fantastic showcase of The Mystic Roots Band’s ability to branch out into all things reggae-related, this also proves to be the the album’s Achilles Heel. Though each excursion into bass-heavy dancehall and hip-hop fused reggae bears its own positive contributions to the album, overall it makes the album as a whole feel like a scatter-shot compilation, as opposed to a focused collection of songs reflecting any particular musical statement or idea. As individuals these songs shine, however when brought together the lack of continuity makes for a strangely disjointed listen, functioning more as playlist fodder, and less as an individual collection of music in its own right.

Written & Reviewed by: Chris Castro

[Editors Note: All reviews are reflective of the album in it’s entirety, from start to finish. These reviews are the honest opinion of each writer/reviewer, expressing their feedback as a genuine fan of the music. Each star rating reflects their review of the album, not the band. Music is subjective. Regardless of the review or star rating, we encourage you to listen to the music yourself & form your own opinion. Spread the awareness of all music in its art & contribution]