Entertainment

The Expanders put spin on classics

BY HOWARD CAMPBELL
Observer senior writer

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

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OF the rush of American reggae bands that have emerged in recent years, The Expanders are among the least known, even though they have been around since 1999.

In September the Los Angeles quintet released their fourth album, Old Time Something Come Back Again Volume 2, on Easy Star Records. It hears them covering 13 obscure songs by roots reggae acts like Burning Spear, The Ethiopians and The Gladiators.

The set topped Billboard's Reggae Album chart in October, a big boost for the group who are scheduled to tour the United States with The Wailers and Tribal Seeds, another American band, in early 2018.

Devin Morrison is singer/guitarist and founding member of The Expanders. In a recent interview with the Jamaica Observer, he described 2017 as “a blessing, and most of all, a learning experience”.

“For the second time, we had an album that we released go to number one on the Billboard Reggae charts, which is extremely humbling to us because it means that people are spending their hard-earned money to buy our music. Also, this was our fourth year of really touring hard, and life on the road has a way of forcing you to confront yourself on a personal and spiritual level in ways that can be uncomfortable but potentially highly rewarding,” he said. “Musically, we have learned to tighten up as a unit on stage and in the studio. Everyone is really listening to each other and feeding off of the next guy. People coming out to the shows and singing the lyrics to every song have made us feel at home wherever we go.”

Like Vol 1, which came out in 2012, Old Time Something 2 is a collection of songs that may be readily identified by hardcore roots-reggae fans. Walla Walla, originally done by Burning Spear, is one of them; then there are Band Your Belly and Another Moses, which were recorded over 40 years ago by The Ethiopians.

According to Morrison, they are some of the artistes and songs he and his bandmates grew up listening to, and it is only fitting they covered them as a tribute to their mentors.

“Our mission with these Old Time Something Come Back Again albums is to expose old-school Jamaican music to an audience that may not be well versed in the genre, or at least not familiar with the mostly-obscure tunes we chose to cover,” he explained. “The hope is that people will hear these underrated tunes and love them as we love them, and from there decide to check the original artistes. And based on what people have been telling us at shows and through social media, that is happening, and so we couldn't be happier.”

Morrison and fellow singer/guitarist John Butcher formed The Expanders 18 years ago. Their bandmates are John Asher (drums), Chiquis Lozoya (vocals/bass) and Roy Fishell (organ/piano).

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