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POP MUSIC REVIEW : Big Mountain Mixes Optimism, Second-Generation Reggae

Big Mountain boasts an improbable success story--a national Top 50 hit single with “Touch My Light” for a local label in 1992, followed by a chart-topping version of Peter Frampton’s “Baby, I Love Your Way” earlier this year. The San Diego band’s ultimately winning set at the House of Blues on Monday showed that it may be developing a new, second-generation approach to reggae.

In Big Mountain’s music, the seed planted by Jamaican music and reggae culture is filtered through an American perspective. The social themes of the message songs Monday revolved around the stealing of land from Native Americans, slavery and the border culture--lead singer Quino reflected his Mexican Irish blood by singing in Spanish on several songs.

The band’s solid musicianship should only improve with first-generation Jamaican Tony Chin now on guitar, but Big Mountain struggled to balance its light pop and serious culture sides. The music could have been more muscular at times, and the positive lyrics occasionally veered into the smile-button zone, but for all its flaws, Big Mountain worked as a whole. Quino’s utter sincerity melted down any cynicism so effectively that the final encore of Bob Marley’s “One Love” was less an obvious choice than an anthem for true believers.

The key is that these musicians are true believers--their multiethnic lineup is a testament to reggae’s unity message, and their positive stance could easily connect with younger reggae fans. Stranger things have already happened for Big Mountain.

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