Guitarist Scott Aiges’ Jamaican Me Breakfast Club reinvents ’80s New Wave hits as reggae songs
BY KEITH SPERA | KSPERA@THEADVOCATE.COM
DEC 19, 2017 – 10:00 AM
Late one night after his wife and kids were asleep, Scott Aiges started strumming Tom Petty’s “Refugee” on guitar, but with a reggae lilt. A light bulb went off: Wouldn’t it be great for a band to only play reggae versions of Tom Petty songs?
JAMAICAN ME BREAKFAST CLUB’S NEW ALBUM: “POP ROCK STEADY”
Jamaican Me Breakfast Club, “a group that could happen only in New Orleans,”* has released its first album, “Pop Rock Steady.”
New Wave hits from the early ’80s? Done reggae style? Is this a joke?
Maybe. But when it comes to laying down some seriously tight reggae grooves, this band isn’t playing around.
“Pop Rock Steady” is anything but a nostalgia trip. At least, not the one you’re thinking. Far from mimicking the synths and drum machines of the early MTV days, the album’s sound has more in common with 1960s vocal powerhouses like The 5th Dimension – if they’d spent time in the islands.
With a sensibility that’s more Monty Python than “The Breakfast Club,” JMBC has made a record that is fun, even funny, full of clever segues that keep things moving. There are little touches that reward a listener with decent headphones. You get the sense the band had plenty of laughs in the studio.
But they’re not kidding when it comes to skanky rhythms. The tracks on this record have a bona fide Caribbean lilt, all slinky drumming and fat bass. The sound is so spare at times it’s almost like dub.
At other times, though, the tracks are lush – densely layered with harmonies from the band’s horn players and singers.
A good reggae record is, almost by definition, a showcase for the drummer. And this album boasts two excellent ones: Boyanna Trayanova, who plays on the first four songs, and Julian Garcia, who covers the rest. Throughout the album, they slice-and-dice the beats into bouncy rhythms fit for a beach party.
It’s the singing, though, that really makes this record shine. Lead vocalist R. Williams is a soul man with a gritty, swooping tenor. Equally impressive are the stellar harmony singers – called the iTens (a play on the name of Bob Marley’s backing group, the I-Threes, and the interstate that crosses the band’s home town). Their stacked harmonies are arranged for maximum impact – sounding on some cuts more like a Broadway musical than a Spandex-clad cover band.
While it’s tempting to compare this band with others known for reggae/rock fusion, such as Dread Zeppelin or the Easy Star All-Stars, Jamaican Me Breakfast Club has its own style. The songs selected for the band’s playful treatments are straight from an ’80s karaoke hit list. But the arrangements and performances make clear that the album isn’t entirely tongue in cheek.
Jamaican Me Breakfast Club: It sounds like it could be a joke. And perhaps it is. But not entirely. On this polished debut, JMBC proves itself to be a real band having serious fun.
*Jay Mazza, The Vinyl District