Last week, I mentioned that I didn’t like white-boy reggae because I view it as cultural theft. I made a few exceptions and Ballyhoo! was one of them. The reason they get special dispensation is obvious if you listen to this album Pineapple Grenade. These guys know how to let their influences come through without a hint of being phony AND they still know how to rock!
In full disclosure, I hesitate to even write this review for fear I’ll be accused of only giving it props because I know these guys and because I was one of the DJ’s who broke the first single of their last disc (Last Night). But after hearing the album, it deserves to be praised. It is a beautiful piece of work.
I’ve been listening to Ballyhoo! for a long time and aside from being some of the nicest guys you’ll ever want to meet, they are also some of the hardest working musicians I’ve ever known. Their laser-like focus and dedication to their jobs as working musicians has always been evident, but the work they have put in as songwriters really comes through on their latest album “Pineapple Express”.
The fact that the guys in Ballyhoo! are 311 and Bob Marley fans is completely obvious, but they add enough other ingredients to the mix to make their own unique brownie (ok, I promise that’ll be the only weed joke in the review, but I couldn’t let it go….). Which is why they get a pass on white-boy reggae.
Production wise, the album has a nice bright quality that sets up singer/ guitarist Howi Spangler for a lot of vocal success. His smooth high-tenor punches through a pretty tight mix without being harsh. Though I have to say having seen them live, there are a few occasions where I can tell he’s holding back just a bit and I’d like to hear him tear it up a little more.
Speaking of live, if you have seen Ballyhoo! live then you know Drummer Big D & Bassist JR Gregory are probably one of the best rhythm sections working today and they don’t back-off in the studio. The grooves are as (dare I use the word?) fly on the CD as they are on the road. And though I have never been a huge fan of DJ’s in rock bands, DJ Blaze on keys and the wheels of steel round out the Ballyhoo! sound perfectly.
(I immediately regret the use of the terms ‘fly’ and ‘wheels of steel’)
For me what really sets this album apart is the level of maturity not only in the arrangement and production of the music, but lyrically almost all of the songs are great little stories. Those stories take this CD to the next level. Instead of just being a collection of random thoughts and hooks, “Pineapple Express” is a real charter in the life story of the guys in the band balancing the road, family and a lot of fun.
Hot Fire of Truth: Not many bands can shift from laid back mode to ass-kicking mode with much dexterity, but Ballyhoo proves it can be done and can be done well. Good grooves and good stories combine to make a great record.
If You Only Download One Song: It’s really tough to choose, because there’s very little driftwood on this album, but my favorite may be “A Lesson in Gravity”. Aside from the fact that it’s musically pretty interesting, lyrically you can tell it’s a really personal song for Howi and that comes through in his performance.
You’ll Like This If: If you’re looking for something fun and fresh for the summertime road trip, download this before you gas up the car. This is top down, open freeway, feel the sunshine music full of character and heart.