Frontline (Peaks & Valleys, 2005)

The Devastators are a roots quartet who have attracted a following in the San Diego, California area, thanks to a vibrant sound and superb musical craftsmanship.  They strike a marvelous (and marvelously hard to accomplish) balance between accessibility to reggae novices and allure to genre snobs by delivering catchy melodies and groovy love songs alongside searing, cultural jams with a sound rooted in the classic '70s stylee.  Lead singer Ivan Garzon's vocals are soulful and endearing (only reaching its limit with the occasional chat/rap), ranging from Marley-esque wails (akin to Jacob Hemphill from Soldiers of Jah Army) to Jamiroquai-like crooning.  The beautifully performed music remains gleefully true to reggae's classic sound -- see the grooving ska track "Oppressor Man" -- while throwing in a touch of the new school -- as on the ambitious (and mostly successful) stab at dancehall "Waistline."  I don't know who the "powers that be" are, but they need to pay attention to the Devastators.  Their incurably catchy sound screams "hit" after "hit"; try listening to tunes like "New Day," "Love Is Gone," "You Possess," or the title track and not start your toes a-tappin'.  Go ahead:

Track Listing
1. Frontline 
2. New Day 
3. Love Is Gone
4. Jah Fly 
5. Anything for You
6. Oppressor Man 
7. Waistline 
8. You Possess 
9. Can't Escape 
10. All That & More
11. Dub Is Gone 
12. New Dub 
13. Dub Escape
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Better Days (Peaks & Valleys, 2007)

The Devastators' second album builds on the momentum of Frontline with perhaps a pinch more of consistency. Lead singer Ivan Garzon has a great, emotive voice -- unusually strong for reggae -- and the music is top-notch, reveling in a throwback roots sound and proudly proclaiming that no drum machines or pitch correction technology was utilized in its recording. Fans of Soldiers of Jah Army and John Brown's Body should definitely take heed to this mix of traditional roots with the accessibility of love songs like "Surrender," "Torture," "Why," and "Last Night." "Been a Long Time" is the only track that really steps outside the reggae genre with an R&B/jazz fusion sound. The lead-off tune, "Find a Way," is the highlight of Better Days; it's a classic in the making, a propulsive jam melding vintage guitar, organ, and melodica with a wicked melody and uplifting message. In fact, the first eight tracks all score, particularly the dark "Land of Woe," the churning title track, the seductive "Surrender" and the swaying groove "Light People" (although at first I thought they were singing "White People," which made me cock my head Scooby Doo-like). Five solid dubs round out the set, headed by "Dub Away," a surprisingly slinky, laid-back version of "Find a Way" that highlights the funky guitar, organ, and melodica mix. But don't believe me; listen for yourself at

Track Listing
1. Find a Way
2. Land of Woe
3. Surrender
4. Better Days
5. Torture
6. Light People
7. Why
8. Last Night
9. Make Them Fall
10. Been a Long Time
11. The Secret
12. Dub Away
13. Dub of Woe
14. Last Dub
15. Make Them Dub
Better Days
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