Yellow Dubmarine’s dub-heavy take on The Beatles is a mixed bag. The band first played in Chattanooga at one of the Riverfront Nights concerts in August. Their lilting take on many of The Beatles most familiar songs was one of the highlights of the series, according to Jeff Styles, the series’ host and producer. But when the band plays at Rhythm &Brews on Saturday night (Nov. 10) they will likely be playing for a very different audience.
Playing for an audience relaxing by the river on a balmy summer Saturday evening, Yellow Dubmarine was a hit. According to Styles, their show was one of the best of the series. No surprise. Not everything they attempt works, but many of the songs from the White Album on translate remarkably well. But when they take an early rocker like “I Saw Her Standing There” or “She Loves You,” the results are a bit wooden. The problem is in the essential energy of the original. Slowing the backbeat to reggae’s lazily loping rhythm puts too much emphasis on songs whose strength was in the sound and performance more than the writing.
It’s unlikely anyone would hold “I Want You (She’s So Heavy” as one of John Lennon’s more inspired lyrics—it’s another song whose strength is in the sound, but what a sound. Its thundering rhythm and slowly grinding chords translate easily into an easy skanking reggae arrangement. The singers’ (at least two, maybe three) impassioned take on the song does justice to Lennon’s original cri de couer. The band plays as one. The organist playing sharp staccato phrases with the guitars, the drummer’s light springy phrases offsetting the insistent rumbling bass line together with short punchy punctuations from the brass together reinvent a classic while retaining the essential spirit of the original. No mean feat for any band.
“Here Comes the Sun” works equally well. George Harrison’s bouncy paean to a break in the seemingly endless English winter gets a nice lift from their subtle rhythmic punch. And while their take on “Help!” lacks both the punch and fire of the original, their reworking of “Ob La Di, Ob La Da,” an obvious choice for the band, is a triumph. The arrangement, closer to ska’s more upbeat shuffle rhythms, will bring everyone onto the dance floor. The organist playing a nice sprung rhythmic figure, the drummer skipping around the nimble bass line and the vocals emphasizing the rhythm giving the song the punch it needed.
McCartney’s “All Together Now” with its nursery rhyme simplicity also works well for them, while “And Your Bird Can Sing” suffers from their inability to translate most of Lennon’s rockers into reggae. But “Come Together” is a natural. Lennon’s slow drag behind-the-beat shuffle is a delight in their hands. The guitarist plays through a haze of dubby effects while the organ and drums maintain a steady pulse broken by long, sighing phrases from the horns.
Playing for a listening and dancing audience in a club, Dubmarine’s reception is likely to hinge on their set list. When they work, their arrangements serve to put a nice shine on the originals, but when they don’t, they sound uncomfortably like The Beatles themselves attempting to assay a ska rhythm on “Love Me Do.”
Opening for them is Milele Roots. Like Yellow Dubmarine, their approach to the music is a mix of roots and rock. In addition to their own songs they cover Bob Marley, Peter Tosh and Augustus Pablo, along with less often trod material from The Mighty Diamonds, Black Uhuru and Steel Pulse.
Bass player and founder Christian Craan has been listening to the music for most of his life. For a time in the early 1990s he hosted and produced a reggae radio show, and his deep and wide listening is reflected in the band’s broad embrace of both classic reggae and rockers like Springsteen, Dylan, Pink Floyd and The Band as well as classic hip-hop. According to their website, Craan’s goal in forming the band was to “fill the ranks with the best musicians in the area and play music from the heart.“
The current line-up including drummer David DePriest and guitarists Jonathan Wimpee and Jesse James Junkurth, along with Adrian Lajas, on keys, trombonist Allison Waller and trumpeter Antoine Williamson does just that in frequently lengthy sets. So if you’re going take Marley’s advice and “Take it easy / (Take) it slow,” oh, what a night for easy skanking it will be.
Saturday, Nov. 10
Rhythm & Brews
221 Market St.
Richard Winham is the host and producer of WUTC-FM’s afternoon music program and has observed the Chattanooga music scene for more than 25 years.