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Burning Bridges - "From Benny's Tiki Room and Ammo Dump"

The San Diego alternative rock axis has been garnering raves of late as the "new Seattle," but the world beat scene, especially reggae, has been a mainstay there as well.

However, two acts, Burning Bridges and [Bill] Macpherson have established names for themselves locally without relying on reggae as their core music.

The Bridges' self-penned, socially conscious tunes fuse several African guitar styles and minor-key Middle Eastern-isms with a hard-rocking, bluesy attack. Since forming in 1985, the band has released two vinyl EPs and its current CD, "From Benny's Tiki Room And Ammo Dump," on its own Accretions label.

The band played Japan in 1992 and recently landed a distribution deal with Landmark, according to the group's drummer and co-founder, Marcos Fernandes. Like other area world beat bands, the Bridges have had to book shows in an eclectic assortment of venues and situations. "Stylistically, we're kind of on the fringe these days, so finding places to play is a little more difficult," says bassist Rick Nash.

Aside from gigging at receptive nightclubs like Winston's and the Belly Up Tavern, the band has played benefits, coffeehouses, fashion shows, colleges, restaurant bars, and gallery openings.

"The art crowd is probably the most receptive audience we've had," says guitarist Don Story. "Because they appreciate new things, they're not afraid to make their own decisions about what they're hearing."

As far as charges leveled by some self-appointed guardians of purity--that world beat bands are ripping off global styles and are less authentic than their foreign counterparts--Burning Bridges guitarist Story says, "We're not trying to be African, we're just playing in that feel." Adds Macpherson, who spent much of his childhood in Zaire, "I don't want to try to copy Zairean music, per se. I'm much more into blending some different things."

     - Tom Cheyney, Billboard Magazine

Like some kind of contradictory Zen riddle (a comparison the band itself would no doubt smile upon), it's best to describe the music of San Diego's Burning Bridges by undertaking a brief discussion of some of the things the band isn't. Unlike the vast majority of American bands playing so-called "worldbeat," they seldom if ever succumb to typical, simplistic "don't worry, be happy" lyrical platitudes in their songs, instead approaching topics with subtlety and sophistication. Likewise, Burning Bridges' music doesn't get too hung up in trying to stiffly replicate Afropop grooves, instead relying on innate musicality to loosely but effectively convey the same feelings as juju guitar or heady polyrhythmic percussion sections. They also don't mash too many influences together onto one bandstand: no patronizing "Jah lives" reggae numbers, no irrelevant, showoff "Look! Now we're playing rai!" tangents. The group has practically done just what its name implies, preferring more African-rooted compositional shapes for their songs, ones based upon repetition and groove rather than typical verse/chorus/bridge building blocks. Though, granted, there are one or two easily correctable young-band missteps on this debut, try "Empty Words," "All Fall Down," "Party Life" and "Four Minutes To Bomb Time."

     - James Lien, CMJ Jackpot

San Diego's music scene has spawned few acts that have gone on to national prominence. Iron Butterfly "In-a-Gadda Da-Vida"ed to the top of the charts in the hippie era, while the recent bidding frenzy over alternivistas Drive Like Jehu and Rocket From the Crypt has folks in Pete Wilson's hometown proudly beating their flannel-clad chests. Other kinds of hard grooves are being created down south in the form of Big Mountain's bilingual roots reggae and Burning Bridges' worldly guitar pop. Although the two multiracial bands pay more than lip service to a borderless world through their gigging and activism in Tijuana and beyond, their similarities end when the music begins.

Burning Bridges deliver ample doses of political correctness in their well-crafted lyrics as well as in ambitious planetary music explorations. Oudlike mandolin and other Arabic tinges on "Four Minutes to Bomb Time" provide the atmospherics for the anti-war message that personal contact with one's enemy can defuse militarist mania. The township jive-influenced "Lonely Pelican Dance" describes the plight of a homeless woman through the use of an ornithological metaphor that gives her subtle dignity by connecting her with the natural world. The band's joyful exuberance and bazaar full of chops temper their sober-eyed viewpoint throughout the 12-song disc.

Big Mountain's pop Rasta rock may ultimately be more accessible than Burning Bridges' panoramic soundscape, but both bands underscore the diversity of the independent music scene in the old Navy town.

     - Tom Cheyney, LA Weekly

Burning Bridges is the San Diego music scene's answer to Grand Cayman rum punch, the type of band for which the term "world beat" was coined. They blend together elements of African, Caribbean and Middle Eastern music into a thick, polyrhythmic paste, which they then spread across a bed of funky, decidedly American rhythm 'n' blues.

Lead singer Andrew Vereen sounds like Sting without the perpetual hoarseness, and the result is like taking a trip to some far-off tropical island where everything seems strange until you discover that you and the natives speak the same language. I especially like the hypnotic "All Fall Down," which is highlighted by some positively dazzling lead-guitar work by Don Story, and their clever calypso re-working of Creedence Clearwater Revival's "Down on the Corner."

     - San Diego Magazine

Right from the git-go, this San Diego sextet places themselves beat-central in trop-pop land, and why not? Unlike other local acts with a reggae twinge, this band doesn't get hung up on hoppy-bobby rewrites of "Jammin'" or "Stir It Up"; they use the world beat rhythms as a basis for their songs which show that all instrumentalists have been listening carefully but copying nobody. Call it Reggae Fronterizo, or border reggae.

In terms of sheer package, right from Rocco Satoshi's excellent cover painting, down to the guitar interplay by Andrew Vereen and Don Story to the polyrhythmic percussion ensemble (six! count 'em! six!), this is one of the best local albums this year and will probably hold up in 20 years. There are plenty of hooks that should help the band's reputation outside the city continue to get larger. Since the band recently played Japan, there is no denying the audience should get larger as well.

Admittedly, for all the bitchin' musician-ship, tight rhythms, subtle sixth-note harmonizing by vocalist Cynthia Antillon, the songs still get hung up on trying to comment on the cold and uncaring world. While you can't deny the band's obvious sincerity on songs like "Eyes of a Child," "Four Minutes To Bomb Time" and "Mandela," just once I'd like to hear a World Beat band sing songs for that oppressed minority that thinks more buildings, smog and industry are signs of progress, rather than just preaching to the choir.

Burning Bridges would not be burning their own bridges if they added a touch of snotty adolescent humor and mix it up with their more adult sort, epitomized by the just-a-tad-too-clever record title.

     - Uptown Magazine

Surprisingly a rather interesting effort. I must admit at first glance I was quick to dismiss this CD as some cheap yuppie world beat-offs, but since my mind is as wide open as Seka's legs, I gave it a listen.

Besides, you shouldn't judge what a CD sounds like by what's on the cover. Case in point: Jane's Addiction, they had the cool album covers but the music was weak. What I did find was a virtual buffet of musical styles ranging from Middle Eastern to African to R&B to Caribbean. And they do a Creedence Clearwater Revival cover to boot.

     - Plus


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