Album Review: Andru Branch & Halfway Tree - Weather The Storm
by Gardy Stein
Sometimes we discover artists who've been in the business for so long and released such an amount of good Reggae music that NOT knowing them is almost an embarrassment. One such case is Andru Branch and Halfway Tree from Canada, a band that has been around for 25 years but who just now came to my attention with their newest release.
Weather The Storm is the name of their fourth studio album, a collaborative effort of Andru Branch and John Parker (who is not only a band member but was also engineer, mixer and masterer for the release), published under Constant Spring Music. Prime contributors to the success of the formation, however, are the musicians of Halfway Tree, and before we start looking at the individual tracks, respect for their work is due. Andru Branch himself is not only singer and composer of most of the songs but also plays keyboards and percussion, Andrew Brown is heard on bass, Ibiko Pelle and Teddy Skiffington share the drums, John Parker and Seth Voliere add the guitar skank, and the horn section consist of Andrew Jackson (trombone), Myles Cornish (trumpet) as well as James Shaw and Andrew MacKelvie (sax). A whole lot of talent here who have joined forces for ten novel tracks, resulting in a rewarding listening experience.
Opener We Are One embraces us with an instrumental that is slowly building up, the initial drums and guitar beautifully joined by a horn section before Andru himself chimes in vocally. He sings about often-told truths ("United we stand up, divided we fall down / Out of many we are one..."), stressing the fact that we need love, mercy and equal rights to obtain "peace on earth". Props to the trumpet player who does a beautiful solo!
"What's going on?" Title track Weather The Storm implores us to hold on to love despite all the raging tempest around us. The auto-tune part in the beginning is a matter of taste, but background singers John Parker, Jhamiela Smith and Kristine Kovacevic do a wonderful job fleshing out the chorus. The Storm is a Ska-inclined version of the above, bringing each instrument to the fore in turn.
With a mix of biblical quotes and (sometimes too forced) rhymes, Dread Times claims that "Babylon is burning out of control", but that "the light of this world shall overcome darkness". The lush Reggae beat is accentuated by tambourine and djembe, thus lending an exotic touch to it.
Speaking of... the subsequent Fatima is almost oriental in chords and melody, the band doing a great job in laying the foundation for the theme of the song. It tells the story of a young girl who successfully fought for women's rights in her home country. Unfortunately, her full name is never mentioned so it doesn't become clear who is meant - it might be Fatima Jinnah, a Pakistani politician and civil rights activist, but this is just a guess. As much as the public recognition of such unsung heroes is important and desirable, please make sure you tell us their proper name so we can find out more about them!
The Walls Are Closing In. What sounds like the title of a horror movie is a dark, dramatic track indeed, a confrontation with both our inner demons and the results of the imminent climate change caused by mankind. Despite (or because of) this serious subject, Andru's voice is at its strongest here, ruling the lower ranges and belting like a Broadway singer.
Slower in tempo, the next track is an exciting piece because of the many unexpected twists and turns Andru takes in it. He doesn't stick to the usual verse-chorus-verse-chorus pattern but follows his own flow, emotionally oscillating between personal statements and other people's tales of Broken Dreams. Still, the song encourages with lyrics like "If you put the time and effort in, you can win". Niceness!
While love finds its place on the album with Home To You, the importance of personal independence is highlighted in Nah Go Bow. Finally, closing track Guide And Protect Me is an up-tempo celebration of the sonic beauty of horns once more, lyrically entrusting our life's journey to a superior being.
Weather The Storm is a surprising discovery introducing us to a Canadian take on Reggae (again, chapeau to all the musicians involved!). It might have benefitted from a feature, both in vocal diversity and in expanding its reach, but it can well hold the ground on its own. Definitely a rewarding look over the caribbocentric rim!
Andru Branch & Halfway Tree - Weather The Storm
Release date: 10/08/2021
01. We Are One
02. The Storm
03. Weather The Storm
04. Dread Times
06. The Walls Are Closing In
07. Broken Dreams
08. Home To You
09. Nah Go Bow
10. Guide & Protect Me