10 Ft. Ganja Plant
First Appeared in The Music Box, April 2008, Volume 15, #4
Written by Douglas Heselgrave
Tue April 1, 2008, 02:00 PM CDT
What on Earth is happening in New York? Over the past few years, a heavy, roots-oriented dub scene has been percolating beneath the surface of the city that never sleeps to such an extent that it is threatening to surpass Kingston and London as the Mecca for all things that reverberate in the night.
Given the resurgence of dub music’s popularity, it’s not surprising that 10 Ft. Ganja Plant, an offshoot of the popular reggae band John Brown’s Body, has chosen to re-release its debut Presents, affixing to it a pair of bonus tracks to entice both old and new fans to purchase the updated endeavor. Like its Brooklyn neighbor and fellow dub man Ticklah, 10 Ft. Ganja Plant wears its allegiance to King Tubby’s classic style front-and-center on its sleeves. The band’s sound is dominated by the fat bass and booming drums that characterized the brand of dub reggae that emanated from Jamaica in the 1970s, and — even more than Ticklah or Roots Tonic — 10 Ft. Ganja Plant meticulously has recreated the period’s combination of organ-, melodica-, and crunching guitar-imbued grooves. At times, the music that the group performs is indistinguishable from that which was recorded by Soul Syndicate, King Tubby’s house band. This, in itself, is no easy feat, and it therefore is an admirable achievement. While one may question the validity of re-creating an established style, dub — for all of its simple chords and repetitive rhythms — is about capturing a particular feeling, and few non-Jamaican bands have ever been able to master its off-kilter timing and cadence.
The biggest challenge facing an outfit like 10 Ft. Ganja Plant largely stems from whether or not it can sustain a listener’s interest over the course of an entire album. As inventive as it is, dub reggae can sound repetitive after awhile if there is not enough variety in its grooves. Ticklah solved this problem on Ticklah vs. Axelrod by varying his tempos and adding Latin accents to some of the tracks. He also wrote and recorded some more conventional reggae songs to provide a break between his instrumental dub tracks, and the result was an album that is enjoyable to hear repeatedly from its start to its finish. In this regard, the cuts on Presents that feature a vocalist singing over the rhythms are by far the most engaging tunes on the disc. Songs such as Good Time Girl, Jah Teach I a Lesson and Off Road Version are all killer tracks with great vocal performances that easily could have come from Jamaica during roots reggae’s blockbuster years in the 1970s.
At the end of the day, though, Presents is a good, rather than a great, record. It’s obvious that 10 Ft. Ganja Plant has worked hard to understand the genre and to play it with confidence and style. They sound at home in the grooves, but ultimately none of the songs do more than recreate another person’s musical vision. Given the choice, there are hundreds of King Tubby cuts that deserve more attention than they have received, and many of these have been reissued and repackaged quite attractively over the past few years. The original sound was perfect. In other words, for 10 Ft. Ganja Plant to become a viable musical force — and not just a dub archivist — the group needs to dig deeper into the sound; it needs to re-imagine the genre in a way that reflects and comments on the band’s own experiences. Until it is able to do this, 10 Ft. Ganja Plant will remain merely a skilled and interesting collective rather, than a groundbreaking band with a style that is all its own.
Presents is available from
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2008 The Music Box