Few of us could speak with as much authority about the miracle of life as P.M.P.  lead singer Vick Miles. On the local reggae band’s latest EP, Life … What a Miracle, the cancer survivor infuses previously unheard emotional heft into the group’s breezy island sound. The result is more nuanced than was P.M.P.’s lackluster 2005 debut, Family. Though the five-song disc still bears many of the pockmarks that marred that first attempt, Miles’ impassioned performance reminds us that live, local reggae still has a place in the frozen north.
Life opens with a cover of the Temptations’ classic ghetto lament, “Masterpiece.” P.M.P. are a tight outfit, transitioning the song’s hallmark bass-and-horn groove into a hypnotic dub drone. Miles is soulful as he urgently unleashes guttural howls over the song’s lengthy introduction. However, though the production and performances are largely solid, there’s something mildly disingenuous about a band from rural Vermont riffing on the tragic ills of urban society — even if the words are not their own. Percussionist and rapper Cleve Pea’s awkward flow certainly doesn’t help matters.
“Street Dreams” continues the ill-conceived balancing act between rural roots and urban bravado. The song, cowritten by Miles and Pea, is a head-scratcher. “We’re having street dreams, we’re livin’ the life / We’re so fly, the cash money rules everything in sight,” sing the two over a sloppy mishmash of funk guitar, congas and smooth jazz saxophone.
Fortunately, the band hits its stride on the title track — not coincidentally the first real reggae number of the bunch. Miles is fiery and compelling over his band’s classic island bounce, written and arranged by Phil Peery. Pea drops in with a solid, if rudimentary, rap. But here his straightforward flow proves a fine complement to Miles’ soaring exhortations.
The spacey “Walk With Love” is another irie groove, and yet more proof that P.M.P are better mining reggae archetypes than dabbling in funk or R&B. And again, Miles is impressive, holding court with conviction.
The EP closes with “Spanish Girl” and a surprise guest turn from none other than late, great Burlington saxophone legend Big Joe Burrell (recorded before he died in 2005). Nice to hear you again, Joe. Unfortunately, the otherworldly reunion is somewhat sullied by Pea’s uninspired rapping. Still, the band delivers a solid mix of sinewy flamenco groove and sultry island vibrations.
Life … What a Miracle is certainly a mixed bag. But it’s an improvement and suggests further potential here. If P.M.P. can hone their focus around what they do best — solid and at times creative reggae grooves — and unleash Miles more frequently, they will likely be eagerly welcomed by Vermont’s reggae heads.
P.M.P. release Life … What a Miracle at Nectar’s on Wednesday, October 20.