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Album Review: Giant Panda Guerilla Dub Squad — Country

Album Review: Giant Panda Guerilla Dub Squad — Country

From the very first track of Giant Panda Guerilla Dub Squad’s new album, Country, you’ll notice a sound that’s quite different from GPGDS’s usual comfort zone. Is that a banjo?  A fiddle?  Don’t be alarmed, this is their comfort zone. What some might quickly peg as a departure from their familiar lineup of roots reggae/psychedelic-inspired improv, Country is, in fact, an album that solidifies what the Rochester-based quintet has been doing all along: writing sincere, heartfelt songs marked by meaningful lyrics and stellar musicianship.  It won’t take long for even their most avid listeners to realize just how much roots-reggae and roots-Americana music has in common. As one could surmise from the title, country music definitely comes into play in their new release. But it’s less of a country music album than it is an album about our country, and for a band that has toured our great nation as much as GPGDS has over the years, this might be their most organic, natural musical output yet.

Americana and folk take center stage in Country, with the band trading in their electric arsenal of instruments for acoustic instrumentation that includes banjo, slide guitar, harmonica, and upright piano. Everyone trades off on the vocals, which are blended beautifully and seamlessly into harmonies and simple, yet poignant lyrical melodies.  Purists can rest-assured, there’s still plenty of reggae to be heard in Country, with the opening track “Sunshine” maintaining that familiar reggae guitar vibe under folky vocal harmonies.  Similarly, “In These Times” takes the off-beat reggae rhythms and transforms them into a honky-tonk shuffle, complete with jangly piano ditties and a Southern banjo twang that recurs throughout the album.  Songs like “Country” and “Kids in the Square” reflect a much deeper sense of time and place, recalling the revolutionary fever and call for change that have defined the recent Occupy protests. “It’s my country too/I can do anything I want to” they remind us on “Country,” which is almost certainly a call-to-arms for the 99% who have been cast aside by the system The band throws in a cover of the Grateful Dead’s “New Speedway Boogie” for good measure, paying homage to a band known for its own eclectic style and genre-skipping tunes.  Country culminates with “All Night Music,” shuffling along “’til the sun come up,” as they say, and it’s exactly the kind of laidback song you could listen to in those quiet wee hours of the morning.

 “We walked into Joel’s studio and he just pressed record,” describes bassist James Searl about recording with longtime sound engineer, Joel Scanlon.  “This is what got laid down.  It was unplanned, fun, and real.”  There couldn’t possibly be three better words to describe what Country represents.  In what is sure to be an expansive musical timeline for Giant Panda Guerilla Dub Squad, Country makes perfect sense. —jon wheelock

Giant Panda will perform cuts from Country as well as previous favorites this Friday (Feb 3) at Nietzsche’s.