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NST and the Soul Sauce are back with their sophomore release entitled Back When Tigers Smoked. It is a fresh batch of roots and dub from the reggae powerhouse out of Seoul, South Korea. Throughout 12 tracks, the band shows off their love and knowledge of all Jamaican music while keeping their feet firmly planted in East Asia.
From listening to this, or any of NST and the Soul Sauce’s offerings, it’s obvious the members are true students of roots reggae. There are delightful Korean touches sprinkled throughout: Kim Yul Hee sets the mood on Red Tiger with a soulful and trance-inducing Pansori (traditional Korean opera) croon over the top of a Sly and Robbie-like groove; Kwaengwari (traditional cymbals) crash at the peak of Farmer’s Funk: and, front-man, NST’s whiskey and cigar growl drips Korean warrior-poet swagger throughout.
The Beginning of the End, the album opener, starts with nyabinghi drums giving way to a lazy nod-feel layered under solos and brass pads. The second track, The Night of Mt. Naeba, is another instrumental but with a very different vibe: bouncy and minor. With the organ and funky guitar comps, the song is as much motown funk as anything else.
The first roots track, and the first song with any vocals, is Sound Man. The bassline both drives and restrains while Smiley Song sings the virtues of audio engineers across the world. Whenever the band goes 100% roots, it’s always a treat and this song is no exception. The next song, Sing a Song and Dance is another Smiley Song joint showcasing his singjay skills.
The centerpiece of the album is definitely Riding a Jorang Horse which runs almost nine minutes and has numerous hooks and breakdowns. The first bit has a psychedelic surf rock feel which breaks into a bluesy guitar aside before fully committing to a galloping horn riff and devolving into dreamy dub section. Finally, NST rides the initial hook home barking catchy lyrics the whole way.
The next couple tunes showcase again, percussionist, Smiley Song’s vocal and songwriting chops. Blooming Mind, is an ethereal back and forth dub instrumental showing the sweeter side of the band and This Moment is a lovers rock joint that just begs to be enjoyed while by the pool sipping cocktails.
Farmer’s Funk is another favorite on the album. The organ and guitar riffs scream old timey southern soul but the band throws a Korean twist on top of it all with traditional instrumentation and NST’s call and response lyrics.
The wild ride that is Back When Tigers Smoked wraps up back where everything began: the roots. Dawn is Breaking is a protest anthem channelling Peter Tosh and Red Tiger lays down a nasty groove while Kim Yul Hee’s pansori stylings float above.
NST and the Soul Sauce recently showcased their new stuff on a brief US tour. Wherever they went, they charmed unwitting audiences with sheer reggae talent punctuated by Korean flourishes throughout. Over the next year, they will share their unique music throughout the world with shows in both North and South America as well as various venues across Asia. Keep an eye on this act as they win fans everywhere they go.
- Brian kilrain