Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Album Review: Coffee Break Island ****

If you still don't know who Coffee Break Island are, then you either live in a cave or have just come out of jail. As they are one of the top reggae/ska outfits and one of the hardest working bands in the country, CBI have finally come out with their debut album. Emerging from the Clubska Manila scene and having been on the stage and on the road since they formed in December 2001, their debut displays a well-oiled machine with all cylinders working at full speed.

All that experience has paid off with 14 well-crafted and superbly executed songs. The tunes run the gamut of roots reggae, 2 tone ska, 60's r&b/soul with a dash of blues and a significant sprinkle of good ol' rock n' roll that gives CBI their distinct style and sound. The great thing about this album is that with the help of their diverse influences, all the tracks are distinct from one another. This separates CBI from lesser talented reggae and ska bands that have only one or two good songs on their album and the rest sound the same. In short, this is the best Pinoy reggae album to be released since Indio I's only album more than ten years ago.

And it's the individual parts of the CBI sum that give this band their power. Vocalist/guitarist Paul "drunken master" Puti-an's raspy, alcohol-fueled voice (which reminds me of a young Frederick "Toots" Hibbert) gives the music a down-to-earth element. His lead guitar-playing is simple yet effective and he plays just the right amount of guitar licks without overpowering the music.

Puti-an is also a darn good lyricist in both Tagalog and English. From the crab mentality-jabbing "Gahaman", ("di ka pa namamatay bulok ka na"), to the break-up song "Let You Go" ("maybe if we're not together we can make ourselves alright") and the laid-back "Sweet Lovin" ("I'm gonna give you all my love until it's the end of me").

Paul Puti-an & Jun Nogoy (right)

Drummer Jun Nogoy lays down the steady and heavy beats with every whip-cracking hit of the snare drum and shifts to different reggae and ska rhythms as easily as he were changing his shirt. Bassist Romel Manuel carries the songs like Atlas carrying the Earth on his shoulders with his booming bass riffs and playing the vital "spaces" that is such an important aspect in reggae music. Raffie Miranda's keyboard work give CBI it's quirkiness and adds a sense of humor to their music thus keeping the songs from getting too serious.

With all this weak, commercial music being released in the Philippines for the past 5 years, it is refreshing to hear some good musicianship and song writing come out from the underground. Coffee Break Island deserve the recognition as a great Pinoy band especially with this master work. The album is available in Odyssey music outlets and at every CBI gig.

"GAHAMAN" music video

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