Up until being asked to review this album, I had heard the name Blue King Brown, but not their music. A fellow sound geek compared them to John Brown’s Body and The Black Seeds on the large popular-pop-roots-reggae-band front when I quizzed him on what he knew of BKB. I did some homework: from Aussie, based in Melbourne, been around for over six years, released one EP and two full-length albums (of which Worldwize is the second), have opened for an impressive range of acts including Santana and Damien ‘Jr Gong’ Marley. BKB are currently touring Australia with the John Butler Trio.
With the basic info under my belt, Blue King Brown met my expectations musically, and far exceeded them in terms of content and talent. Boasting the likes of Queen Ifrica on the first single Women’s Revolution as well as Jah Mason, Voodoo Dred, Elliot Martin (from John Brown’s Body), and my favourite track on the album (Mo’ Truth) just happens to feature legendary drum and bass combo Sly and Robbie (probably not much of a coincidence). The band’s message is one of global harmony, caution and hope; delivered through simple and clearly enunciated rhyme from their stellar lead singer and co-songwriter, Natalie Pa’apa’a.
One of the challenges that large bands often face in the recording studio is capturing their unique sound without overwhelming or compromising the energy, intention or depth of the music. My first impression of Northside was that BKB were trying to pack too much into each song, and didn’t leave enough space for each musical element to shine through. The resulting feeling is one of busyness, with too many competing sounds and the vocals being flooded with constant beats.
However the second disc, Southside, redeems the album for me. Mixed by Jamaican Colin ‘Bulby’ York, it contains seven dubwise versions of Northside tracks, with spacious and deep dreamy flow, somewhat lacking from Northside’s buzz.
Blue King Brown are aptly self-proclaimed ‘globally conscious urban roots music’. The ‘Activism’ section of their website contains a wealth of information on many issues, including child prostitution, ethical consumerism trends in Australia and fair trade. It’s refreshing to see a band use their media to spread a message, and Blue King Brown are taking a diversity approach in sound and content, successfully appealing to a broad audience from popular new-roots fans to dub-snobs such as myself.