It’s the sophomore sphinx for Los Angeles’ The Lions. Little more than five years to the day, the band, now 14 members strong, returns with their second long-player, available today on CD and as a box set of eight 7-inch singles by L.A. hip hop specialist Stones Throw Records. The album displays a definite growth in The Lions’ sound, most notably with This Generation being a dominantly vocal affair. “Jungle Struttin’ was instrumental with more of a late ’60s influenced sound,” Lions guitarist and producer Dan Ubick tells The Examiner. “We hadn’t yet cemented the singers when we were on Ubiquity so we explored things that sounded cool with just the instruments.”
Of the twelve tracks, only the instrumental “New Girl” harkens the group’s 2008 debut with its gritty, old school sonics. Yet there’s a swing that conjures The Young-Holt Unlimited’s “Soulful Strut” wafting through “New Girl,” and much of the album, illuminating their development as a band and their particular corner of American reggae.
The album opens with “Bird On A Wire.” Despite its striding steppers rhythm and Bruce Channel-tinted harmonica, this is a deep soul ballad; in the hands of Jerry Wexler and the Muscle Shoals rhythm section, this would have been an Atlantic single in the darkest shade of blue. Meanwhile, were it not for the syncopated chank of the rhythm guitar, the mellifluous harmony vocals on “Pieces of a Man” could easily confuse the cut for a smooth proto-disco soul tune that groups like The Independents and The Chi-Lites used to issue in the early ’70s. Similar harmony work on the final “Let’s Go Out Tonight” takes this paean to the group’s beloved reggae music in another direction.
There’s some true rootical reggae within this record as well. The powerful opening of “Picture on the Wall” evokes Bob Marley & The Wailers’ Rastaman Vibration album, but it’s the lustrous vocals of The Heptones’ statesman lead vocalist Leroy Sibbles that quickly takes the song from “Night Shift” to Night Food. Meanwhile, the terse rhythms of “Revelation” and “More Higher Ways” sound like pieces from Aswad’s early canon, while the restrained tension of Black Shakespeare’s vocals conjures Garnett Silk at his most fervent. Elsewhere, the vocals and easy swing of “Be Easy” feel like a cut from Third World’s Story’s Been Told sessions.
“I think the reason The Lions sound the way we do is because all of us listen to and love Jamaican music, so that is our foundation. We all love every aspect of Jamaican music from dub, rocksteady and roots to dancehall and ska, so you’ll see bits of everything represented in The Lions’ sound, with our stamp on top to make it something new and hopefully fresh,” Mr. Ubick explains. “A nod to the past but with The Lions cross-pollination.”
The Lions have delivered an expertly crafted, engaging album that deftly nods to the past while being wholly for this generation. The 12-track album is currently available as a download and on CD; fans who pick up the 7-inch box set will be treated to 16 tracks, as four dub mixes exclusive to the edition are included. The band celebrates the album’s release this evening at The Center for Arts Eagle Rock, 2225 Colorado Blvd, Los Angeles (8 p.m. / $10 / 21+). “Hoping to get out there, meet some of our fans, and show the world what The Lions can do live, ’cause it’s an incredible show,” Mr. Ubick effuses. DJs PB Wolf and Peaking Lights support.