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Unless the reader is particularly knowledgeable on the subject of American ska, there is a good chance the name Obi Fernandez doesn’t mean anything to him/her. Indeed, having spent the most notable portion of his career singing, writing and playing trombone for Boston ska outfit Westbound Train, our subject felt it was time to delve into new musical enterprises. Enter debut album ‘Confessions, Waves and the Garden State’, Fernandez’s personal project in which he expands his musical style beyond ska and into reggae and soul. Get your shades out, it’s about to get chill.
Opening tracks ‘It Happens To Me’ and ‘Don’t Turn Away’ don’t stray too far from home. We’re introduced to Fernandez’s ridiculously smooth vocals as he croones over relaxed reggae grooves. Particular attention should be paid to the fantastic work made throughout the album on instrumental tones and textures that evoke the classical sounds of reggae and soul’s finest (on these particular tracks more than ever). The issue with reggae, however, is its inherent tendency to rely on repetition both within songs and comparatively and, as competent a songwriter as he is, Obi Fernandez is unable to avoid these trappings. As such, even finely crafted songs such as ‘Pills’, ‘Get You Through’ andi rely on conventions that are already seem a little tiresome midway through the album.
Consequently, the album’s soul tracks help keep it fresh and interesting. ‘The Color Of Your Voice’ showcases his R&B skills with a sweet soulful love song brought to life through intersperced horns and old-timey background vocals. ‘Only A Fool’ starts soft and smooth with airy keys only to build up with clean staccto guitars and classy horns to create a terrific soul track. Certainly the album’s standout track, ‘Ugly Comes Out’ has Fernandez’s cool vocals the driving force in a near-perfect soul track. Effortlessly alternating between sassy verses and a sensational chorus no doubt helped by an astute deployment of strings, Fernandez is at his strongest here.
‘Confessions, Waves and the Garden State’ closes with bittersweet acoustic number ‘Overdue’ with Fernandez providing another masterful vocal performance of cool restraint and raw potency as well as a couple of interesting chord progressions. To conclude, this collection of perfectly-produced tracks helps showcase both Fernandez’s vocal and songwriting talents within a comfortable range of reggae and soul. While some of the reggae tracks can feel a little generic, the soul efforts are all delivered with supreme confidence and a knack for style. There’s enough here to bring some sun into the fall and some warmth into the winter.
'Confessions, Waves and The Garden State' by Obi Fernandez is available now on Paper + Plastick Records.
Words by James Berclaz-Lewis