Review: Frieda’s Boss “…and you are?”

Frieda’s Boss “…and you are?”

21 Apr, 2011 Alex Henderson

Australia, home of the reggae band Frieda’s Boss, might seem like an unlikely place for reggae artists.  But then, reggae has been popular in many different parts of the world.  By no means is reggae’s popularity limited to its birthplace of Jamaica, and Frieda’s Boss play reggae convincingly on their EP …and you are? This is crossover reggae, involving elements of rock and funk to their reggae foundation.  But they aren’t overly slick about it, keeping things fairly organic on this 2011 release (which draws on influences ranging from Steel Pulse to UB40 to Bob Marley & the Wailers to Lucky Dube).

Lyrically, Frieda’s Boss aren’t as consistently political as some reggae bands.  There is a little sociopolitical commentary on  …and you are?, but many of the band’s lyrics are romantic in nature.  The EP’s most overtly sociopolitical offering, “Before You Walk Away,” is about a rude boy who chooses a life of crime despite the fact that his parents tried to guide him in the right direction.  “Before You Walk Away” is performed in a minor key à la Black Uhuru, and for those who don’t understand the technical meaning of that term, suffice it to say that songs performed in a minor key tend to have a certain moodiness (whether they are blues, jazz, rock or reggae).  Minor-key performances are perfect if one is going for a darker, duskier type of sound, and a minor key works nicely for Frieda’s Boss on a serious-toned track like “Before You Walk Away.”

But Frieda’s Boss favor a much more lighthearted approach on the exuberant “Good Eno’ (Yuh Look Good Oonuh),” which is the only track that emphasizes toasting instead of singing.  For the uninitiated, toasting is a type of chanting (it isn’t really singing or rapping) that started in Jamaica with dubwise reggae; King Tubby, Big Youth, I-Roy and U-Roy were among the dubwise artists who toasted in the 1970s.  Dubwise later evolved into dancehall, and hip-hop-influenced dancehall stars such as Shabba Ranks, Lieutenant Stitchie, Nardo Ranks and Ninjaman have a much more aggressive and forceful approach than old-school dubwise artists.  “Good Eno’ (Yuh Look Good Oonuh),” in terms of its toasting, is right on the dubwise/dancehall border; it’s more aggressive than King Tubby or I-Roy, but not as abrasive as Shabba Ranks.  And the infectious tune has some rock energy to boot.

Equally exuberant is “Lack of Trust,” which draws on both ska and reggae and sounds a bit like something Toots & the Maytals would do.  Toots & the Maytals started out as a ska band in the early 1960s but slowed their tempos down somewhat and evolved nto more of a reggae band.  However, they never lost the ska influence, and “Lack of Trust” has the sort of ska-meets-reggae energy that one associates with Toots hits such as “Monkey Man,” “Funky Kingston,” “Time Tough” and “Pressure Drop.”

“Easy to Say,” meanwhile, recalls 1980s-era Steel Pulse (when they were signed to Elektra Records), and “No Such Thing” has a rock edge that brings to mind the Police (who recorded their share of reggae-influenced new wave rock back in the late 1970s and early 1980s).  This EP contains two versions of “No Such Thing”: the main version and a dub version, which employs the turntable techniques of 1970s dubwise.

So where does the name Frieda’s Boss come from?  Presumably, the Australia residents get that name from the 1985 movie “Fletch,” which starred Chevy Chase as the main character (Frieda was the name of Fletch’s secretary; therefore, he was Frieda’s boss).  But more important than their name is their music, and Frieda’s Boss offer a likable blend of crossover elements and roots elements on this EP.

Review by Alex Henderson
Rating: 3 stars (out of 5)