Early last year, we ran a series of articles highlighting albums that came out in the year prior that we for whatever reason did not get around to covering, appropriately titled “Overlooked in 2014“. We tried our damnedest to up our game since, but even our small dedicated team could not keep up with all the cool things that happened in the past year (we would attribute that to our adorable, pudgy fingers, unable to hit more than one key at a time). So, as it was foretold in the stories of yore, we are back with our Overlooked in 2015 series.
With the ska/reggae community so closely knit, collaboration maintains an interesting position as something that is celebrated as much as it is expected. One of our favorite collaborations from 2015 was from Vic Ruggiero of The Slackers and Jesse Wagner of The Aggrolites. After Jesse joined The Slackers for a string of east coast dates at the end of 2014 (including a date at The Sinclair in Cambridge), the two California heavyweights visited WFMU and recorded a handful of blues and folk-inspired tracks written by Vic. Fortunately for those of us with ears, they did not stop there, as that summer saw the duo joining back up with Nico Leonard (of Moon Invaders and Caroloregians fame) to tour and record an album as the Reggae Workers of The World.
Recorded last summer in Belgium, Reggae Workers presents a sound far closer to the styles of each member’s respected groups than that of the Vic and Jesse’s WFMU EP. Nevertheless, the record still contains its own distinct voice, channeling 70’s style Reggae and R&B. The album starts with the autobiographical “Memories Walk”, which in part describes the project’s start up to the song’s recording at the Pum Pum Hotel in Belgium. Early standout track “When Will I Be Good” channels late-60’s-early-70’s soul and Motown, with it’s bouncing bass and solid vocal harmonies backing up one of the album’s best choruses. Later on, “Rialta” presents the most Aggrolites-esque track of the project, keeping a busy keyboard-lead beat that would fit on Jesse Wanger’s main band’s records. In a classic “feels so nice they used it twice” move, the riddim from the track is used in the album’s closing dub track “The nose”(credited as such per Bandcamp but as “The Noise” in the Discogs physical release tracklisting). This move worked well, as the album cut’s rhythm was the most fitted for a dub from this collection and leaves the listener with one last highlight.
As he is wont to do, Vic has a writing credit on every song here, while the majority are credited to both Vic and Jesse. Upon closer listening, the songs co-written between the two show the combined strengths of both songwriters and provide a recognizable quality for when the record is first approached. Along with “The nose”, two other songs are credited to the trio as a whole, the sunny “Shinya & Yaichi” and the contemplative “Godasse”. Those two tracks, while stylistically very different, feature improvised vocals that suggest these songs are tailor-made to be fleshed out in a live setting.
Really, this album is almost exactly what you’d expect from the sum of it’s parts. Which sounds like a bad thing, however the talent possessed by the three members coming together make this record one of last year’s biggest overlooked gems.
BIG TUNES: When Will I Be Good, Poison Arrows, Rialta
Check out the full album below, and also check out a live video of the trio playing their rendition of “Just A Gigolo”, made famous by Louis Prima and David Lee Roth.