Katchafire: Say What You're Thinking (EMI)

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Katchafire: Pain
Katchafire: Say What You're Thinking (EMI)

About six years ago I first encountered Hamilton reggae band Katchafire playing in a pretty ropey provincial bar. I'd met them backstage beforehand -- actually in a room full of beer barrels -- and I knew within minutes these guys could be huge.

They were genuinely nice people and had a repertoire of almost 200 songs -- mostly covers, and of them a swag by Bob Marley -- which they later delivered with passion and heartfelt understanding.

The capacity crowd -- rival gang members grooving together in a smoke-filled atmosphere of peace and love -- hailed them and it was pretty clear Katchafire were one of those heartland bands that big city folks (rock writers particularly) just didn't get.

Some many months later -- after I had written a big article about them saying as much -- I was invited to write their band biography which I did with great pleasure. I really wanted to tell people about these musicians -- so I wrote two versions; a short one for a media handout; and a longer essay piece in which I placed them in the lineage of local reggae and hoped provincial papers could just pick up run if they were too lazy to interview the band (see tag).

Katchafire went on to score with a few radio hits and delivered two excellent albums, Revival and Slow Burning. There was also the Homegrown Mix in which their songs were remixed by the likes of Chris Macro (Dubious Brothers), Baitercell and Schumacher, Cuffy with Joost Langveld, and others.

By this time you'd think they would be household names like Herbs became, but that still doesn't seem to be the case.

Their strong original material seems more known and admired than actually heard. But they have travelled with their music -- and also travelled within their music as this diverse third outing illustrates.

If their second album found them tentatively pushing their musical boundaries, this one takes full advantage of their broad musical experiences: so here are jazzy fills, more soulful horns than on previous outings, some real lover's rock which wouldn't shame Gregory Isaacs, that blend of pop choruses with a deep roots feel, softly stinging rock guitars, surging basslines, vocals which are pain-soaked or uplifting . . .

Katchafire may never be as huge as they deserve be, and I still think that their real audience might be in the heartland -- but that doesn't change the fact that this career has been worth following every skanking step of the way.

And this fine album only deepens and extends the contract they have made with themselves, and their audience.

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