Since 2009, Dubbest has been forging its own path through the heavily forested reggae landscape, expertly infusing roots traditionalism with a refreshing improvisational savvy that calls to mind not only the studio experimentation of pioneering dub producers Osbourne “King Tubby” Ruddock and Lee “Scratch” Perry but also the real-time exploration of jam bands like the Grateful Dead and Phish. As friends in high school, guitarist Andrew MacKenzie, singer/melodica player Ryan Thaxter , bassist Sean Craffey, guitarist Cory Mahoney, and drummer Kyle Hancock shared a love of pop-punk and ska, bonding over bands like Black Flag, until they caught wind of Augustus Pablo’s 1974 dub classic Ital Dub. This was the gamechanger that set the stage for their current musical approach: using introspective, spacious bass and drum grooves to anchor a thickly-textured interplay of instruments, vocals, and timbres. With their third album, Light Flashes, Dubbest is poised for national recognition.
Polished to perfection over a three-year period, Light Flashes invokes the spark of inspiration the band felt working with veteran producer Craig “Dubfader” Welsch of 10 Ft. Ganja Plant over at Rear Window Studios in Brookline, MA. As Andrew MacKenzie notes, “It is a powerful name to us, and it tends to catch one’s attention, like an actual flashing light. It’s a great fit for this album. The name and the artwork together help bring out the album’s edge.” They credit Welsch with taking their music to a higher level of musicianship and authenticity, noting how he draws out the best from each band member and employs a large stock of vintage instruments, such as a Hammond B3 organ and 1950s Fender Stratocasters, to convincingly evoke the 1970s glory days of roots reggae and dub. Kevin Metcalfe’s mastering work cemented this old-school sound: he has provided the finishing touch on albums by U.K.’s pop, rock, and reggae luminaries since the 1960s. On the musician front, the band was aided by stalwarts of the Boston scene, including Elliot Martin of John Brown’s Body on backing vocals and 10 Ft. Ganja Plant’s Mark Berney, Jared Sims, and Brian Thomas on horns and Steve D on synthesizer.
The album maintains a fresh and fascinating feel with its contrasting blend of catchy uptempo crowdpleasers and dub instrumentals that manage to stay sunny. Thanks to the professionalism of its recording and arrangements, it stands out as a worthy successor to the greats of yesteryear who guide the band’s aesthetic: Toots and The Maytals, Augustus Pablo, and Gregory Isaacs, to name a few. Crowd favorite “One Thing” closes their shows, but starts the album on the right foot, establishing its dub vibration. The next two tracks, “Spend The Day” and “Weeping Heart,” create a radio-friendly one-two punch through energetic grooves, soulful melodies, and lyrics meant for singing into a lady love’s ear. Another love song, “End Of The Road,” is probably the album’s oldest track and one of many to feature a three-part horn section imported from ska, here as an expression of heightened emotion. On the track, “Give In,” the horns join the bass line to deliver raw power meant to be cranked at high volume. Keyboards take center stage on the space jam “Leaving,” the instrumental “Escape Route,” and the live-show staple “Cross Pollination.” Light Flashes closes with “Leave In Dub,” a track that proves why Welsch’s nickname is “Dubfader”; it also provides the perfect coda to the final song, “By Design,” driven by Elliott Martin’s stellar harmony vocals.
Dubbest has just launched an album release tour that will introduce them to the West Coast territory that put North American reggae on the map, home to heavy-hitters like Groundation, Slightly Stoopid, and Rebelution. Live shows give the band a chance to stretch their legs and revel in spontaneity. They like to expand the dub sections of songs to showcase each performer and surprise the crowd with obscure roots reggae tracks. As MacKenzie puts it, “It’s always an exciting show because you never know what we’ll play.” The combination of this in-the-moment energy with Light Flashes’s studio wizardry and songwriting prowess causes a combustion that propels the band’s musical journey toward timelessness.