Leroy Shakespeare and the Ship of Vibes – Jubilation (1990)

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NICK DERISO: With reggae, the song’s meaning isn’t always the point. More often, it’s the grooving from side to side.

That was largely the case with Jamaican-born Leroy Shakespeare, whose Metroplex-based band made a bar-band legend by incessantly crisscrossing the South from 1988-2001. This recently reformed group was notably voted the Dallas Observer’s Best Reggae Band four straight years around the time of this album’s release.

“Jubilation” remains the most accessible of the Ship of Vibes’ initial burst of rhythm and fun, in a catalogue that grew to include five CDs, a cassette EP and a 12-inch.

Sure, tracks like “Positive” don’t have much to say. Well, other than, well, staying positive. And it’s a touch too overproduced.

But with an infectious beat, and the part-singing, part-rapping, all-original sound of Shakespeare’s lead vocals — not to mention that deft mixture of traditional then psychedelic guitar and keyboard by Dave Burris (previously a member of the original 1980s Deep Ellum reggae band, Da Nu Man) and Arthur Riddles — it’s hard to worry too much with all that. Or anything, really.

The bubbly bass by Pablo Keating? That you don’t forget, either, though Keating was eventually replaced by Ian Ellis — who tragically passed away last year.

The drummer, by the way, was Brandon Aly — who had earlier formed, with Brad Houser, the multiplatinum band New Bohemians. You’re reminded of that when the then-chart-topping Edie Brickell, their erstwhile leader, shows up for two tunes.

Even so, Shakespeare’s polyglot purr, and those funky riffs behind him, always defined the band. And in the end, his symbiotic relationship with Burras, who shared a passion for offbeat spices like pop, Motown and rock, continues to overshadow even that naked attempt at gaining airplay.

Jubilation – Ship of Vibes (CD)

Jubilation – Ship of Vibes (cassette)

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso has written for USA Today, American Songwriter, All About Jazz, and a host of others. Honored as columnist of the year five times by the Associated Press, Louisiana Press Association and Louisiana Sports Writers Association, he oversaw a daily section named Top 10 in the U.S. by the AP before co-founding Something Else! Nick is now associate editor of Ultimate Classic Rock.
Nick DeRiso
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