The members of Columbus's Ark Band hail from the West Indies, but they've made Ohio their home since moving here in the mid-'80s. The group, which plays an average of 200 shows a year, is one of the most seasoned reggae acts working the North Coast and has performed everywhere from recreation centers in Columbus to reggae festivals in Jamaica, opening for artists such as Burning Spear and Gregory Isaacs along the way.
On Love Is What We Need, its first full-length in five years, the group -- singer Damon Arterbridge, singer-bassist Eustace Bobb, singer-guitarist Mike Scott, and singer-drummer Terry Bobb -- mines territory that will sound familiar to anyone who has even the most limited exposure to reggae. It acknowledges the Almighty Jah ("Thanks and Praise"), contemplates a return to Africa ("Ethiopia"), and celebrates its cultural identity ("Rastafari"). The themes are nothing new and even verge on being clichés. But what works in the Ark Band's favor is Arterbridge's soulful voice and the blues guitar riffs that Scott plays -- his leads in "Father," "Pain and Misery," and "Can't Live" are more complex than what is typical of most reggae. The title track, one of the best songs on the album, is a straight-ahead soul number that owes more to Marvin Gaye and Smokey Robinson than Bob Marley. At a time when dancehall reggae (a genre that's heavy with images of violence, making it the Jamaican equivalent of gangsta rap) is what sells, the Ark Band's songs about peace, love, and understanding sound refreshing, even if they're not particularly original.