Influence has been Sublime

By John Benson

What is it about the reggae scene that one shining star can dominate so many musicians’ worlds?

For decades, you couldn’t talk about reggae or ska without Bob Marley’s name coming up in the conversation. Now, the Jamaica legend has been seemingly supplanted by ’90s Sublime-influenced reggae rock. This is – surprise, surprise – the case with Cleveland-based band Pirates of the Burning River, which returns to Youngstown for a Friday show at Barley’s.

“Yeah, it is a bit of a clich to say Sublime is our main influence, but they are,” said saxophonist Brian Early. “I was 12 years old when I heard ‘Date Rape’ for the first time, and I said, ‘What the hell is this?’ It inspired me to pick up the guitar. So I guess it is clich , but there is a little bit of truth to that. There are a lot of bands — like Pothole and Tropidelic — out in the Cleveland area where you ask any one of those guys and they’ll say [Sublime’s] ‘40 Oz. to Freedom’ is in their CD player right now.”

Even though Pirates of the Burning River formed roughly a year ago, its band members — Early, Russ Herbert (drums, vocals), Donny Barber (guitar), Adam Lewis (vocals, guitar) and David Paglisotti (vocals, bass) — have been working together in various incarnations for years. In fact, Early and Paglisotti played music in Colorblind Americans, as well as playing coffeehouses as a duo.

“As far as the chemistry of the band, that was already established and everyone had a pretty good idea of what their role was and who did what,” Early said. “So we melded well together, and we strive to definitely pull a lot of influences from Southern California. There are definitely influences from The Police and other ska-reggae sounds and things like that. And then after that point, there’s a lot of acoustical folk, singer-songwriter influences.”

While the quintet has been giving away a free demo CD at its shows for months, Early said the act plans on hitting the studio soon to record its proper debut effort. New tracks that should appear on that album include “Candy in the Teeth” and “Find Them Blues.” Both songs have a bubblegum ska sound that falls into a dance music category.

Early said so far audiences have been warming up nicely to the new material. In fact, the group has found quite a fan base in Youngstown.

“Yeah, we hooked up with 5 Elements probably about five months ago and we can’t play with them enough,” Early said. “They’re just great guys, they’ve been good to us and we trade shows anytime we can play. We also started playing with Subourbon Sun.

“We see a lot more potential in the Youngstown area where people go out, pay a cover and want to see live music,” Early said. “And they want to see original music, too. It’s a little bit more exciting than in Cleveland, where depending on the venue people want to hear hard-core punk stuff or a cover band.”

Perhaps that excitement comes from the band’s island sound. There’s something about the ska-reggae scene that acts as an invitation to people of ages.

“Anyone who enjoys having a good time and listening to live music enjoys our show,” Early said. “So if you can get past the bouncer, come see us.”