It would be easy to label New York six-piece The Big Takeover a reggae band — and a damned good one, mind you — and leave it at that. After all, they’re led by powerful Jamaican-born singer NeeNee Rushie, their music is suffused with authentic island rhythms, and they’ve opened shows for what Rushie describes as a “who’s who” of reggae legends, from the Wailers to the Skatalites to Inner Circle to the Slackers, and so many more.
It would be easy to do that, but it would be lazy. Derelict, even. Because TBTs music also encompasses reggae’s close cousins, ska and rocksteady, along with a slew of soul and R&B influences from several eras, the whole of it spiced with the occasional deft flurry of blues-rock guitar.
“We like the idea that we can’t quite be pinned down,” says Rushie, during a recent phone interview. “We like the idea of falling into a not-quite-defined area, because we have so many different influences, reggae and ska and ’60s pop, soul.”
The band took off about 10 years ago, in the small college town of New Paltz, New York. Having come to the Hudson Valley area from Jamaica for college, Rushie hit it off with longtime friends and reggae enthusiasts Rob Kissner (bass) and Sam Tritto (drums). The three of them recruited three more members and haven’t stopped since.
They’re a solid six-piece outfit, with a chemistry that comes across in their unshakeable grooves. It’s hard not to single out Rushie, though, with her dynamic stage presence and versatile vox, as the beating heart of the Big Takeover. In person, she comes off with a winning mix of confidence and child-like glee, as if fronting a six-piece touring act were a brand-new gig, and not a ten-year-old endeavor.
That charming effervescence comes off in her singing, too. Her vocals are very much steeped in reggae tradition, and yet infused with something more — Rushie is a joyful, unfettered performer; she alternately coos, croons, banters and brays, calling forth a dozen stylists from as many different eras, sometimes in the space of a single verse.
Rushie says singing came naturally to her, growing up in Jamaica, listening to the ska and reggae records so beloved of her mother. She began singing in church, and later, in high school — “We had a really competitive choir,” she says. “I sang a lot of lead parts.” — but she considers her catching on with The Big Takeover as her serious singing debut.
“I never had what I would call formal training,” Rushie says. “I grew up surrounded by older reggae sounds. And I would try to sing like the singers I heard on those recordings. When I finally found a real outlet to sing for people, with this band, I jumped at the opportunity.”
The Big Takeover have now released four full-length albums in 10 years, with a fifth one now in the works. “The next record will be a collection of acoustic versions of songs we’ve already released before. We’re giving the songs a more organic feel, and what’s coming out is pretty interesting. But our most recent record (“Silly Girl”) just came out in January. Maybe we’ll release this next one this year. But it’s still a work in progress.
“”We’d like to take this wherever it’s going to go. We’d love to go to Europe; I understand there’s a strong scene for what we do over there. We’ve been growing this project from a really tiny seed, and it’s starting to flourish. We love to see where it goes.”
The Big Takeover will play Preservation Pub Tuesday, April 11 at 11 p.m. with special guest Jonny Monster.