Reggae is such a broad word, describing Jamaican influenced music from Finland to the Far East. Styles from raw electronic dub to poppy ditties reside under the reggae banner.
But any Jamaican will tell you, what’s good is what’s original. So good reggae means not to follow some hot rhythmic trend, but to take reggae and make it your own, as did Bob Marley, Peter Tosh, and UB40—to take reggae to your own next level.
One unique branch of reggae is being created by California-based singer/songwriter/guitarist Bernie Larsen. In the eighties he rocked the world as Melissa Etheridge’s lead guitarist. But all the while, when not on tour, he was in the studio, working on his own sound like a methodically mad scientist at a bubbling cauldron.
In the nineties he formed his own reggae band, Cry on Cue, and continued the development of his blend, which combined poetic lyrics, soulful vocals, sweet melodies, and sublime production. He sublimated his own documented scorching guitar prowess for a soothing organ-like tone created with vintage instruments and masterful technique.
Larsen brings all of this to his new release, with the added touch of legendary Jamaican record producer Karl Pitterson, house engineer at foundation Jamaican studios including Randy's, Studio One, and Treasure Isle, during reggae’s blossoming period in the early seventies. Pitterson’s credits include Bob Marley and The Wailers, Burning Spear, and Toots and the Maytals.
Karl Pitterson heard the earlier Cry on Cue CDs and offered to work with Larsen on this new piece. Larsen flew to Miami to record these tracks with Pitterson. “It was all very intuitive in that if I had even a thought about something, like adding drums or horns, before I would mention it, many times he would say it while I was thinking it,” Larsen explained. “To watch Karl arrange the music was really humbling for me as a person who has produced so many records, and all of my own albums myself. His reacting to the music and endless stream and flow of ideas was educational for me, and seriously magical.”
The result is a piece that could find a home in the tastes of music lovers, seduced by the soothing tones, inspiring messages, relaxed tempo, and the crystal clarity of the production. What separates a classic from consumer fodder is that the classic invites continual revisiting, with new discoveries at each visit—some textual nuance or harmonic treatment. But what motivates the human activity of putting on that CD again and again is not ideology but pleasure. Larsen’s plaintive voice is actually a pleasure to listen to. But at the heart of that voice is the reality that drives these semi-autobiographical songs dealing mostly with human relationships. And at the heart of these songs is the rhythm we call reggae, a comfy bed in which the beat goes on.