First a confession: I could listen to Augustus Pablo all day and all night. Especially these days, when outsize anxiety over the Iraq war, the economy, the global climate, immigration and, of course, al-Qaida seems to be redefining the very essence of the American character. If the Paganini of the melodica hadn't left us so early, I'd still be consuming whatever lulling, cosmic sounds he'd doubtlessly be crafting for these flipped-out times.
Culver City Dub Collective, the brainchild of drummer Adam Topol and guitarist/engineer Franchot Tone, really sound nothing like the great Pablo. Everyone from surf-folk kingpin Jack Johnson to sixty-something Studio One crooner Winston Jarrett provide vocals, and periodically languid jazz horns and aleatory squibs of synthesized weirdness transform what had been mellow dub grooves into serious experiments in genre mixing. But the West Coast scientists of sound definitely have one thing in common with Pablo: They don't just reach the higher ground. They occupy it.
The melodica does make an appearance on "The Cave," the convincing slice of Kingston cool that opens the disc. But overall, it doesn't figure very heavily in the proceedings, and it's not the reason this ambitious groove-fest works. No, the secret to the Culver City Dub Collective's success is the membership's willingness to put their considerable talents in the service of a balanced, ever-evolving group sound that's never infected with showy, me-me-me pop-star bullshit. And that makes every cut worth hearing.
Some Beastie Boys fans may be disappointed that their old keyboard-stroking pal Money Mark isn't out front more. Some hip-hop addicts who've come to Jamaican dub through its use in various remixes and club tracks might find the proceedings far too amorphous and soft. Some followers of international sounds will likely wonder out loud why "exotic" signifiers like the dumbek-styled drumming that kicks off the mesmerizing "Eliose (Baghdad mix)" fades out so quickly. But the fact of the matter is Dos doesn't cater to hardcores of any musical persuasion, including adherents of dub. Instead, it invites everyone within earshot to that hopeful, easygoing place where mellow giants like Augustus Pablo wander in bliss.
If that sounds a little too peace-and-love hippie for you, well, I suggest you suspend your disbelief for 40 minutes or so and give Dos a spin. It just may be the sonic relief you've been looking for.