Lovewhip whips up an Afro-Caribbean party
by Seth Rogovoy

(GREAT BARRINGTON, Mass., January 17, 2003) – The Boston-based quartet Lovewhip did its best to warm up a cold winter night in the Berkshires with its singular blend of Afro-Caribbean dance music on Thursday night before a small crowd at Club Helsinki. The band found common ground among Jamaican reggae and ska and styles of African pop including highlife, soukous and juju to make for light, upbeat party music that also gave listeners plenty to dig into.

Dressed in matching, bright-red union suits like more colorful members of Devo, bassist Jim Countryman and drummer Jamil Zaki kept the grooves funky and popping for lead vocalist and guitarist Erin Harpe. Harpe was a soulful vocalist with a big rock voice and a bit of vibrato. And Nancy Loedy was a versatile foil for Harpe, lending vocal harmonies and expert instrumental support on guitar, saxophone and flute.

Loedy’s saxophone lent jazzy proportions to the slow reggae of “Dance with Me” and “Truth and Reconciliation,” which began as a jumpy ska tune and became an ever jumpier soukous workout. She especially shone on “Too Much Pressure,” the classic ska tune made famous by Selecter. The group’s arrangement showed they’ve studied exactly what makes this music so infectious – the hypercharged dance beats, the R&B style-sax riffs and the fat bass lines, but equally as important, the spaces in between all that. Lovewhip gave the music plenty of room to breathe, which doesn’t always happen.

On “Come Down J.J.,” Harpe was at her most colorful vocally. She has a deep voice which can be sultry or kittenish, but she tends to hold those emotions in reserve and parcel them out carefully, almost grudgingly. If she pulled a few more stops, she’d be more in league with Chrissie Hynde of the Pretenders, another white, female soul-rock singer with a fascination for Jamaican rhythms.

The group played terrific versions of Junior Murvin’s reggae classic, “Police and Thieves” – Loedy floating out chunks of reverberating guitar on that one – and “The Tide Is High,” made most famous by Blondie, as good an indication as any of Lovewhip’s fusion of Afro-reggae traditionalism and its pop sensibility. They were a great party band, and would be even better enjoyed on a Saturday night with a crowd ready to let loose for some weekend revelry.

[This review originally appeared in the Berkshire Eagle on January 18, 2003. Copyright Seth Rogovoy 2003. All rights reserved.]

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