A Reggae Time Trip from the Archives
Washington, DC roots reggae band the Archives are a trip back in time to the days when reggae wasn’t about computerized beats and effects that sound like a video game soundtrack. Their new album has bubbly organ, catchy, simple bass hooks, tasteful guitar that rings out in the mix, an edgy brass section, hypnotically clattering percussion and a mellow, summery groove – but at the same time, it’s very serious. Some of the songs sound like they could have been written in 1975; maybe that’s why the band call themselves the Archives. You could also call this the new Ras Puma album because he does the vocals on most of the tracks, direct and confrontational without being preachy.
He takes the lead on the opening track, Who’s Correct, with a real oldschool, throwback sound that reminds of the Abyssinians, the horns throwing off some catchy Ethiopian riffs. He’s joined by crooner Lenny Kurlou on the jazzy, vintage Steel Pulse-ish Ghetto Gone Uptown, then explains his Rasta mentality – “it’s not a religion, it’s a way of life” and disses the fake ones, “wolf in sheep’s clothing” on the anthem Nuff a Dem Claim. The longest song here is More to Life, with torrents of lyrics examining the evils of the Babylon money system and a casually gorgeous, psychedelic wah guitar solo.
With its irresistible shuffle beat and cinematic horn swells, Message for the Messenger goes after artists who steal from history and don’t give credit where credit is due. Ras Puma also sings on the clever ganja anthem Sensibility and the anthemic closing cut, Blasting Through the City, which with its early 70s Wailers feel is this band’s Burning and Looting.
Desi Hyson sings Crime, a passionate dissection of the hypocrisy of the war on ganja with more than a little Peter Tosh influence: “Police at my door, knocking hard, flashing badges, waving guns, and they tell me it’s a crime to let the herb give birth to a simple seed.” Kurlou sings a cover of the Clash’s One More Time – which is kind of a cross between the original and the dub version – while Ichelle Cole takes over the mic on the poppiest track here, Boof Baff, driven by a cheery piano riff, namechecking all kinds of greats from the past including Sugar Minott, Gregory Isaacs, U-Roy and especially Big Youth, whose early stuff this one resembles. Sleepy Wonder fronts the band on Music Is My Prayer with a rootsier Luciano vibe; there’s also a single instrumental here and it’s killer, starting out like Augustus Pablo and then growing livelier, with joyously dancing flute, like one of the instros on Burning Spear’s Marcus Garvey. If classic roots reggae is your thing, this is for you.