Guess what, guys? Shrub is back! For those unaware or for those that need a brush-up on early reggae rock names, Shrub is an Ohio-based hip hop-meets-reggae effort led by frontman Jay Shawberry. You might recognize the old guitarist, Blaine Dillinger, as he is the current lead guitarist for HIRIE. Now solo, Shawberry used to have a merry band of Shrub bandits back in 2009 (including Dillinger), producing two albums along the way: Señorita in February 2010 and its full-length follow up Highceratops in September 2013. However, despite their avid east coast fandom and high-energy performance style, that was pretty much the extent of it.
The band fizzled out, as so many early bands in the reggae scene did. The members might’ve diffused, yet the momentum was never lost. Close to seven years later, Shawberry has just released the long-awaited third full-length LP for Shrub (with familiar names!!!) entitled Back To Earth — a project two years in the making! This self-reflective dubby, hip hop journey of what happened explains everything from Jay’s perspective, from self-consumption to, well, straight consumption. This is Shawberry’s royal landing from being up in the clouds for so long, touching down ‘Back To Earth’ with a masterpiece mixed by B.J. Davis and mastered by none other than Danny Kalb (Beck, Ben Harper, The Movement).
Starting strong with horn-heavy “Shrub Love”, the album salutes the reggae rock scene — bands of both past and present.
From Black Seeds to Tomorrows Bad Seeds to Seedless, you’ve got a long list of nostalgic names that used to play alongside Shrub from the start. To be honest, the reggae rock scene exploded in the early 2010s, bringing brands like Hillkid and Cali Roots to the reggae rock forefront, which are also the recipients of “Shrub Love” in the track. No mention of Top Shelf, but whatever. The takeaway here is that Shrub is acknowledging the support they received back in the day and wishes well to all who carved out the twisting reggae rock road ever since. “Everybody needs some” Shrub love, after all! Did we mention the instrumentals on this single are exclusively brought to you by members of HIRIE? That’s right, “Shrub Love” has Andy Flores on bass, Andrew McKeezy on trombone, Chris Del Camino on saxophone, Matt Benoit on drums and Blaine Dillinger on guitar. Actually, Dillinger remains an official member of Shrub, appearing on every song of the album.
Track two, “Someday You Won’t Look This Good”, is a melodic love song featuring the female vocals of Jenny Flory. You can auction off everything in life, yet you can’t put a price on a healthy relationship. Shawberry details in track three, “Bright Side of the Moon”, how he was “so fucking high”, he disappeared “on a spaceship” — capacity, one. Apologies abound throughout the album, not just this track, as if Shawberry is repenting for misdeeds that led to his seven year musical hiatus. Now, now, our dear Jay. You ain’t so bad! With Passafire’s Mike DeGuzman on keys, this synthy song with a slight EDM touch will have you introspective in no time.
And, lest we forget, there’s always weed to fix any issue.
In “Help Me Ganja”, Shawberry pairs modern medicine to the Beach Boys’ old “Help Me Rhonda”. The central theme of “get her out of my heart” remains the same, though. Good thing good ol’ MaryJane is the best mistress there is! Bongos aid the upbeat tempo, leading to track five “Down On Me”. What goes up must come down and, like any high, there’s always a bottoming out from the ride. “Down On Me” details the fact Shawberry “is losing sleep” trying to deal with his past decisions. Delivering lyrics like a member of Dirty Heads, this Shrub song is meant for reflection and forgiveness. Bongo beats are bounced back and forth, like conflicting thought patterns bubbling across the two hemispheres of the brain, while the psychedelia embedded in the reverb tickles your spinal cord. You’re sedated, yet sentient. The tribal flute by Del Camino in the beginning is pretty impressive, too.
The album ends with tracks “My Radio”, “Momma Always Told Me” and “Left Behind” — a perfect ending to the Shrub story. First, we have Shawberry admitting that no matter what the world brings his way, he will never get defeated for he “can take [his] radio” wherever he goes. “Momma Always Told Me”, featuring the vocal contributions of Beebs, begins with a spoken warning like an educational film you used to be forced to watch in grade school — “don’t let this happen to you!” The addition of violins from Jamie Shadowlight creates the saddest timbre and tonality as the tale of repentance continues. It’s time to “tell the truth”! “Left Behind” is the epitome of Shawberry’s feelings towards his band’s dissipation, blaming “me and my selfish ways” while the reggae rock scene grew exponentially and Shrub got inevitably “left behind”. Again, Jay, there’s no time like the present to make amends and move on.
‘Back To Earth’ stands as a testament that Shrub is indestructible.
As a cross-country collaborative project, pulling in so many players from a multitude of bands, Shrub has been resuscitated back to life. Especially, releasing an album during a global quarantine! If there was ever a time to right a wrong, dive deep into your past and come out ahead, this is the time. Have Shrub’s Back To Earth album guide you via all digital outlets below.
Purchase or stream ‘Back To Earth’ album:
- Shrub Love
- Someday You Won’t Look This Good, feat. Jenny Flory
- Bright Side of the Moon
- Help Me Ganja
- Down on Me
- My Radio
- Momma Always Told Me, feat. Beeb$
- Left Behind
Disclaimer: All views presented in this album review are those of the reviewer and not necessarily those of Top Shelf Music.