Getting better all the time

Although heralded at the time as a sign of a band coming into its own, Dry & Heavy’s 2000 album Full Contact was still considered the work of a spin-off group.

Likkle Mai and Inoue Ao occupied the album with their sizable, magnetic voices, but they weren’t even credited as full-time members of the band.

In 2002, Dry & Heavy released From Creation and with it, announced to the world the side project was an entity of its own.

First and foremost was the emphasis on songs. Previous Dry & Heavy albums consisted of a few songs with dub versions following straight after. From Creation, however, contains 11 tracks of original material (plus one cover).

The group has grown from a two-member unit to a seven-piece ensemble, with Mai and Inoue taking their rightful places front and center.

If a band can become more of itself as time progresses, From Creation finds Dry & Heavy edging closer to its ultimate.

After the rousing, instrumental opening of “Reverse Again”, Mai dominates the first half of the album. Her voice soars toward the end of “New Creation”, and it’s tough to resist her imperative to “Show a Fine Smile”.

When Dry & Heavy venture into its trademark dub, studio wizard Uchida Naoyuki flexes his muscle. “Strictly Baby” and “Kombu” shows the resident producer crafting some engaging psychedelic timbres.

Uchida and Inoue reach the crux of their abilities on a cover of the Doors’ “Riders on the Storm”. Inoue does nothing to evoke the ghost of Jim Morrison, making the song entirely his own.

And while reggae arrangements of hit songs are often risky propositions, Uchida highlights dub’s roots in psychedelia with his reverb-drenched production. It’s respectful while singular.

When Mai and Inoue get out of the way, the rest of the band can solo like nobody’s business. Guitarist The K gets a workout on “The Dog and Chicken”, while “Reverse Again” features a nice interplay between The K and keyboardist Toike Mitsuhiro.

Reggae music can get mired in its own limitations musically and thematically, but Dry & Heavy’s writing is catchy enough to rise above them. “Bright Shining Star” possesses reggae’s usual optimism, but regardless of its theme, the song has a damn fine melody.

Dry & Heavy deserve its reputation as an internationally reknowned reggae group, but From Creation is an album strong enough to transcend the genre. It’s a good album because it has good songs, and the band’s confidence shows.