A New Album from Ageless Freddie McGregor
Freddie McGregor’s new album Di Captain is just out, and the whole thing is streaming at Large Up. The veteran reggae rootsman has something for everybody here. Several tracks look back to the early 80s when dancehall was starting to gather steam and push the rootsier stuff off the charts. Other tracks set up shop at the crossroads where glossy 70s soul-pop and reggae meet. Productionwise, the album is a capsule history of recent roots reggae: considering how much the production varies from track to track, it’s possible that these may have been recorded across the years.
The first number, Move Up Jamaica has real organic riddims – organ, tasteful guitar, bass and drums. A feel-good shout-out to fifty years of Jamaican independence, it’s sort of McGregor’s Smile Jamaica – and sadly one of the few here that has the oldschool sound that McGregor has held onto for so long while his compatriots were dying off, literally or figuratively. Many of the other songs have a familiar, techy teens vibe: synth bass, drum machine and lots of keybs, everything anchored by McGregor’s imperturbible vocals. There are also a handful that mix slickness and rootsiness in the same vein as all those Dr. Dread productions from the 90s: real bass and drums, but with perfect digital separation.
McGregor’s voice has taken on more grit as the years have passed, but otherwise he’s none the worse for the wear and tear of a career that spans fifty years (as the opening intro proudly announces, he was seven when he first lent his voice to the Clarendonians in the early 60s). He covers the Beatles’ You Won’t See Me and doesn’t embarrass himself, evokes American soul acts from the 70s like the Stylistics with the distantly jazz-tinged Love I Believe In and There You Go, and adds soca touches on Jah Love Di Whole A Wi and Equal Rights (an easygoing original, not the Peter Tosh classic).
The only track with the kind of edge that McGregor had at the peak of his late 70s Rasta phase is Bag A Hype, an early 80s dancehall-flavored number where he admits to missing the old days, lamenting that “Di youths have gone astray, talking about dem against us” as it fades out. The rootsier Africa, by contrast, is a lot more optimistic. McGregor follows that with the strangely ominous More Love in the Ghetto, driven by an unexpectedly creepy faux organ patch from the synth. A cover of Marley’s Rainbow Country misses the warmth of the original; likewise, a sufferah’s anthem, a cheesy love ballad and cover of the Everly Bros.’ Let It Be Me are less than convincing. Still, you have to hand it to McGregor for toiling on even as he watched his audience turn over and be replaced by a younger generation who weren’t around when Jamaican music was at its late-70s peak.