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First Listen: Tatanka – Love Is Medicine

The most exciting bands in the American reggae/rock scene today bring a distinct and unique sound that sets them apart from the bulk of the rest. Hailing from the Mile High City, Tatanka has made an increasingly popular name for themselves by infusing electronic elements with traditional reggae instrumentation to create a deep, layered brand of rootsy dub.

Their new single, “Love is Medicine”, created in collaboration with production wizard E.N Young of Roots Musician Records, follows suit. It comes to life with a slow fade-in of reverberating synthesizer, creating a techy, trippy vibe, reminiscent of the opening music to the television show “Halt and Catch Fire.” Muffled vocals soon creep into the mix before fading away again, like a thought that comes to mind and quickly moves on. This synth-driven intro builds up for almost a full minute before any sign of reggae music makes an appearance, but then the skanking keys kick in, quickly followed by a drum lick and the fat bass drop.  

The bass-heavy roots groove of this song, accentuated by the definitive drumming of Michael Caine, is juxtaposed by the soft vocals of Ian Gastl, essentially rapping with a vaguely dancehall cadence. Combined with the steady skank, “Love is Medicine” will no doubt have Tatanka fans bobbing heads and thrusting fists into the air as the hottest reggae songs do.

A distinct feature of this song is the use of Autotune to deliver the chorus. While voice modulation has become prevalent in today’s Jamaican reggae, notably used by artists such as Popcaan and Busy Signal, many roots purists find it an unwelcome addition. Nevertheless, it works really well within the context of this song, transforming keyboardist Andrew Maloney’s singing into another instrument, like a distorted horn, adding to the psychedelic aspect.   

From out of the chorus, Tatanka guitarist Nate Adams launches into a very pleasing passage of “stickies,” the staccato guitar notes commonly found in old roots reggae music, which were adopted from guitar picking techniques of the old-time country artists vastly popular in Jamaica in the 50s and 60s. These provide further texture and bring more of that classic reggae sound to the mix.

Lyrically, Gastl sings to his love interest, beseeching her to understand that his musical calling demands he leave her for the road. This particular refrain gets the adrenaline flowing, where, with a touch of braggadocio, he describes how making bad-ass reggae music fulfills his soul:

I just need my space
Head down to my place
Elevate my mind
Turn up the bass
Gonna make it shake
From Denver to JA
Tatanka world wide
Make no mistake

Tatanka, together with E.N Young, have seamlessly melded components of modern music with old school roots, creating a rich blend of sonic duckunoo to please the reggae massive. “Love Is Medicine” will be available on all major outlets at midnight tonight.


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Dave is the author of "The Cosmic Burrito", a tale of two friends who drive across the USA in search of the ultimate burrito. In the past, he has written for various music publications and interviewed a range of artists including Sublime, Everclear, Burning Spear, Big Mountain, Bad Brains, Neal Casal and Lucky Dube. Dave has a deep passion for reggae music, Rasta consciousness and island culture. In reggae circles, he goes by the name "Rootsdude," and he has dubbed his extensive music collection “Rootsdude Sound System.” David plays ice hockey weekly for two recreational teams he founded and manages, Team Rasta and The Wailers.