Mishka, One Tree

Mishka, One Tree

It’s pretty refreshing to hear a reggae artists like Mishka, particularly if you, like me, have been bombarded with not much of the genre beyond gun-happy dancehall toasting in recent memory — because let’s face it, most of that’s about as interesting as the glut of gangsta rap spawned by the likes of N.W.A. and the Wu-Tang. There is good stuff in there, yes, but you have to dig through a whole lot of dumb, violent, misogynistic, and just plain lame crap to get to it. Mishka, on the other hand, harks back the lyrical uplift of Bob Marley and Peter Tosh, singing songs about love, hope, unity, and all that other sappy stuff most of us turn our noses up at when we’re out with friends (but we secretly smile along to when we’re alone). It’s sweet, low-key, a little spooky (see the religious references of “Angels and Devils”), and surprisingly well-put-together, to boot.

I’ll admit that I initially had the urge to dismiss Mishka, figuring him for another Snow — a white-skinned “Caribbean” artist with little talent cynically trading on the history of reggae for some easy cash. After hearing One Tree, however, it’s pretty obvious that I’d gotten it all wrong. Mishka’s got a great voice, for one thing, a powerful, almost soul singer-esque voice a la Marvin Gaye, as well as a good sense of what makes a song work. On top of that, his music seems less to be an attempt to co-opt Bob Marley and company and more of a loving tribute, a reinvention of roots reggae for the modern era. At its most basic, One Tree is almost folk, nothing but Mishka and his guitar, but he mixes things up, as well, throwing in some more “electronic” touches, as on “Angels and Devils” (which is oddly reminiscent of the Gorillaz) and “Sometimes the Ones,” and he’s not afraid to get funky, James Brown-style, on tracks like “In a Serious Way” — despite the fact that the song seems to be an attempt to convince the object of the singer’s affections that he’s not just some player.

While a lot of the album’s good, the high point of the whole thing comes early, with “Love and Devotion,” the album’s second track, which is a smiling, slow grind-ready, buoyantly joyous proclamation of love that wouldn’t have sounded out of place on Bob Marley’s Kaya or son Ziggy’s Conscious Party — not bad company, if you ask me (although now that I’m thinking about it, it’s the album’s title track that comes closest to “Tomorrow People,” especially with its message of unity). The album staggers a bit near the end, with “Rock With Me” and “Sometimes the Ones” sounding a little forced and unsteady (the effects on “Rock With Me,” in particular, make the whole thing sound off-beat and wobbly, and not in a good way), but the instrumental “Dust Your Blood Dub,” which is actually not really very dub-like but is just a delicate guitars-and-drums track, helps to bring things back up.

I have to say, though, that the weird thing about this album is that what One Tree makes me think of more than anything isn’t Catch a Fire or Exodus, but a much more recent album — Jack Johnson’s In Between Dreams. Now, I wouldn’t call Johnson himself reggae — although he does throw some little touches of it into his music — but he’s a fellow island-dweller and surfer (though born of Canadian expat parents, Mishka’s from the Caribbean island of Bermuda, and he apparently used to be a competitive windsurfer), and both musicians share a languid, rootsy, slack-stringed, sitting-around-on-a-porch-with-the-waves-crashing feel to their music.

Call it parallel evolution if you want, but the two almost feel like kindred spirits, and I tend to react the same way to both musicians; as with Johnson’s albums, the stuff on One Tree doesn’t make me want to jump up and dance, or rock out, or rush out and catch Mishka’s live show. What it does make me to do is put it on the boom box and lounge in the pool in my backyard, floating around and around beneath the banana tree with my eyes closed and the sun warming my face.

(Cornerstone R.A.S. -- 27134B Paseo Espada Suite 222, San Juan Capistrano, CA. 92675; http://www.cornerstoneras.com/; Mishka -- http://www.mishka.com/)
BUY ME: Amazon

Review by . Review posted Saturday, October 1st, 2005. Filed under Reviews.

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