This is certainly a change of pace for the Aggrolites. I’m used to their more … well, aggressive brand of island rhythms they’ve dubbed “dirty reggae.” Rugged Road is a far more loping and relaxed sound than I’ve heard from the band thus far. Their earlier releases – especially their self-titled album and Reggae Hit L.A. – had an edge to them, like Otis Redding or Wilson Pickett fronting a reggae band. It was Stax, whereas Rugged Road’s mellow vibes are Motown.
“The Aggro Band Plays On” is the only cut on Rugged Road that captures that funky soul that made me put “Dirty Reggae” and “Faster Bullet” on mixes and playslists for months.
Now, before you think that this makes the Aggrolites’ new album a lesser record than prior releases, allow me to state emphatically that this is not the case. If anything, the instrumentals on Rugged Road, like “Camel Rock” and “The Heat” are some of the best bubbling ska I’ve heard since the Upsetters’ “Cold Sweat” or “Live Injection.” And, hell, “Complicated Girl” is the sweetest-sounding ska song to come out of California since Hepcat broke up.
It might help to look at Rugged Road terms of five singles. The ten tracks on the LP, paired as they are, make much more sense as a-sides and b-sides to 7-inch records, rather than a cohesive album. In fact, the first four tracks have been released as two 45 singles (”Trial and Error” b/w “Enemy Dub” and “Dreamin’ On Erie” b/w “Eye of Obarabas”). In that context, this works like a charm.
While far more mellow than what I might be used to, the Aggrolites have another album that’s well worth your money here. It’s available now via iTunes, and will be out March 22 on CD with bonus tracks, but I’d suggest throwing down for the vinyl LP. It’s a limited pressing on clear red, and sounds fantastic. The album art has a vintage, independent Jamaican release look to it, and will fit nicely next to those Alton Ellis bootlegs you’ve been picking up.