New York Music Daily

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Tag: roots reggae

A Catchy, Smartly Arranged New Album and a Maxwell’s Show by Roots Reggae Stars Kiwi

Kiwi are the best roots reggae band in the tri-state area, maybe the best roots reggae band in the entire northeast. What elevates them above the other groups in what’s now a legacy genre, like bluegrass or Chicago blues, is how much they have going on in their songs. Bassist Steve Capecci anchors them with a fat, minimalist, wickedly catchy pulse: as with a lot of reggae from the golden age in the 70s, it’s the bass hooks that often serve as the songs’ central point. Likewise, drummer Ramsey Norman holds down the groove with a low-key, elegant approach, having fun with the occasional Sly Dunbar-style accent and oldschool one-drop flourish. Frontman/guitarist Alex Tea’s tunes shift shape in a split second, unpredictably and counterintuitively., with elements of oldschool soul music, dub, rocksteady and the occasional departure toward psychedelic art-rock. His arrangements, including horns and multi-keys, spread the textures across the sonic picture. The purist production of their new album A Room with a View – streaming at Spotify – looks back forty years.  They’re headlining at 10 PM on November 28 at Maxwell’s in Hoboken; one of the world’s great ska sax players, Dave Hillyard & the Rocksteady 7 open the night at 9. Cover is $10.

The new album opens with New Year Steady, its catchy, spare, fat low-register bass hook, Memphis soul-infused guitar, slinky organ and a jaunty horn chart straight out of mid-70s Stevie Wonder. Wait Until Tomorrow is a spare, bouncy number fueled by a catchy bass riff and airy horns, in the same vein as a Burning Spear hit from about 25 years ago. Likewise, the balmy horn arrangement for February, which hints that it’s going to go in a dub direction before it rises to a triumphantly anthemic chorus, fueled by an animated exchange between the horns – then, finally, it gets all trippy.

Against the Wall, with its edgy, tense horns over boomy, ominous bass and troubled lyrics, brings to mind vintage Steel Pulse, Barami Waspe adding an all-too-brief, brooding tenor sax solo. The band picks things up from there with How Many Times, which looks back to Bob Marley at his mid-70s sunniest. Long Ago pairs tersely chugging organ from Dave Stolarz with Capecci’s bare-bones yet bone-penetrating bass. I Come Around comes around from an atmospheric, art rock-tinged verse to yet another one of the band’s signature catchy choruses. They follow that with the bass-fueled lovers rock ballad As I Am.

All Through the Evening takes the music back up into big anthemic territory, the brass and keys giving it a mighty majesty before the band slowly makes their way down toward dub…and then they’re done. With Red, they go back toward vintage Burning Spear and mash that up with Steel Pulse, again working the dynamics from towering and triumphant to sparse and suspenseful. The best track on the album is the moodily reflective, noir-tinged, minor-key Simmer. The album winds up with Trees, its soul jazz-inspired tune looking back to early 70s Third World. If this thing came out back then, it would have ruled the album charts.

Raging Fyah Burn Down Babylon

One of Jamaican roots reggae band Raging Fyah‘s distinguishing characteristics is that they’re a lot more musically interesting than their brethren in two-chord vamps. Listening to the group’s latest tracks from Judgement Day & Destiny – streaming at Spotify – immediately brings to mind longtime Jamdown roots vets Israel Vibration. Raging Fyah don’t have that group’s eendearingly wobbly vocal harmonies, but they’ve got the tunes and the musicianship. And they also have good lyrics: some of the songs here are your typical good-vibes anthems, but true to their name, there’s some political fire as well. In an era where the claim of staying true to the spirit of classic roots reggae almost always turns out to be an empty cliche, these guys deliver. They’re playing on November 24 at around 10 at Milk River, 960 Atlantic Ave in what used to be the Atlantic Yards neighborhood before all the local residents got kicked out for that hideous basketball arena. Take any train to Atlantic Ave.; the club is more or less across the street from P.C. Richard. Cover is $20.

Irie Vibe, the sunny first cut, kicks off with keyboardist Demar Gayle’s wavery portanento string synth over guitarist Courtland White’s wry, lowdown wah-wah guitar and rises from there. Later on, Gayle has fun with classical riffage and then impersonating a vibraphone. The title track is sort of a mashup of early Third World and Kaya-era Marley: White goes for biting, sustained phrases over Gayle’s icy Wya Lindo-style organ. Likewise, First Love goes back for a deep hit of sophisticated, soul-jazz flavored roofs smoke. And Behold really gets the band firing on all cylinders right out of the chute, drummer Anthony Watson spinning and spiraling over White’s Memphis-tinged, Chinna Smith-style lines, frontman Kumar Bent’s low-key delivery matching the spiritually-inspired lyrics.

I and I breaks out of the mold of doctrinaire Africanist speechifying with some trippy dub touches and what sounds like an electrified toy piano. Music Isn’t Biased cynically revisits a handful of Babylon system nursery rhymes; it’s got an aphoristic edge that looks back to Bob Marley without ripping him off. One of the catchiest and most anthemic numbers here is Fight: “Don’t you be a fish to the fisherman,” Bent warns.over a watery, very 80s roots backdrop.

Nah Look Back further bolsters the argument that White might be the best reggae guitarist working right now: lots of taste and texture in this guy’s spare, lingering riffs. “Mankind don’t know the power they have,” Bent laments on the wickedly catchy track after that, Gayle orchestrating it with pulsing synth brass and rippling gospel organ. The final cut here is the piano-driven, aptly triumphant Jah Glory. In an era when most Jamaican reggae has been digitized to death, this band is a breath of fresh air straight off Montego Bay.

Faith Put Their Individualistic Downtown NYC Spin on Classic Roots Reggae

For the better part of two decades, reggae-rockers Faith have been one of New York’s most distinctive, intoxicatingly groove-driven bands. Frontwoman Felice Rosser’s deep, purposefully exploratory basslines established her long ago as one of the most consistently interesting and original four-string players in town. She sings in an earthy, unselfconsciously soulful contralto that brings to mind Nina Simone, but with more range and a breathier, more balmy upper register. The band has a brand-new ep, Soul Secrets – streaming at Soundcloud – and a show tonight, November 14 at 8 PM at Matchless in Williamsburg where they’re followed by metalish cinema rock band Western Estates and then postrock pioneer Wharton Tiers – who recorded this album – and his band. Cover is $8.

The album’s title track has a driving vintage 70s roots reggae feel – think Aswad, Steel Pulse, Jacob Miller, i.e. the more guitar-fueled acts from reggae’s golden age. “Sometimes we are two cultured pearls inside a crusty shell,” Rosser muses in Lovers, which-builds from a slinky guitar-and-organ roots groove to a harder-edged, guitar-fueled chorus, Rosser shifting seamlessly from her powerful low range to an arguably even more powerful falsetto. Her rising bass matches Nao Hakamada’s slowly crescendoing, smoldering guitar solo.

The third track, Love of a Lifetime falls midway between those two styles, Hakamada pulling the band out of a dizzying dub interlude with some neat backward-masked riffage before he takes the energy further toward redline. The slow/midtempo, early 70s style soul-jazz infused Carried Away brings to mind classic-period Third World. There’s also a dub version of that track that gives the whole band, especially drummer Paddy Boom more headroom for his psychedelic textures. Much as there’s plenty of studio sorcery going on here, especially in the deepest of the dub moments, the album is a good approximation of Faith’s hypnotic live show. They’re a New York institution: there aren’t many people left from the Lower East Side when it was a hotbed of creativity, 10 or 20 years ago, who haven’t seen them. Now it’s your turn.

The Brown Rice Family Bring Their Latin-Inspired Reggae and Ska to Drom, With a Psychedelic New Album

For the past several years, the Brown Rice Family have been one of New York’s most consistently fun jambands. Their catchy, danceable songs blend ska and reggae with all kinds of south-of-the-border sounds. They won the WNYC Battle of the Bands back when that achievement actually meant something – which wasn’t that long ago, actually. They’ve got a new album, Havana to Kingston, and an album release show on July 9 at 8 PM at Drom; advance tix are $10.

The basic band lineup is Sticky Rice and Okai on vocals, Yuichi on percussion, Soils on soprano sax, Amu on bass, Kaz on guitar, Isaiah on tenor sax and clarinet and Tama on drums. Like so many classic New York bands, their members hail from diverse backgrounds, representing Haiti, Japan, Nigeria and Jamaica and this city as well. The album kicks off with a really funny intro, a Jamaican guy hitting on a coy Cuban bartendress, leading into the first single, Latin Goes Ska, drawing equally on the original Alejandro Tovar Cuban hit as well as the better-known Skatalites remake for a joyous dancehall-infused jam lit up with sizzling horn solos.

Listening to the album, the first thing that hits you is that these songs are long: they go on for six or seven minutes at a clip, with a subtle dub influence. The oldschool roots reggae anthem Gun Town blends Israel Vibration harmonies to a classic Burning Spear-style groove, with a potent anti-violence message. Say What You Wanna Say is a punchy, upbeat blend of horn-fueled soca and vintage 80s dancehall. Repatriation (Mama Africa) builds to a lushly orchestrated, Rasta-themed peak, in the same vein as one of the more anthemic tracks on Bob Marley’s Kaya album –  Kaz’s Memphis-inspired guitar solo caps it off.

The propulsively bubbling Zimbabwe (Illegal Economic Sanctions) addresses the issue of how multinational corporations push western governments into terrorizing the third world, creating a new slave state for this era’s global robber barons. Moving Forward takes a potently relevant detour into conscious funk – “Eminent domain taking over your mainframe” – with a shout-out to a classic Crusaders hit. The band goes back to roots reggae with She’s Gone: “I”m becoming dysfunctional,” Sticky Rice laments, before a balmy Augustus Pablo-style melodica solo kicks off a dub interlude. The album winds up with Surfing, a vintage 70s roots groove. Since the record isn’t out yet, it’s not at any of the usual streaming sites, although it’s a good bet that the band will have some copies of it at this show. And as good and purist as the recording is, ultimately this is a live band: you really have to see them to appreciate them, whether you just want to chill and sway to the riddim or rock out and dance, either way they’re happy to have you there.

Jah9 Brings Her Homegrown Jamaican Rasta Roots Reggae to NYC

With her coolly determined alto voice and politically-fueled lyrics, Jah9 is the latest Jamaican roots reggae star to make a move beyond the island to a larger stage in mid-career. She stands out for a lot of reasons, most obviously because she’s a woman in an overwhelmingly male-dominated field. At a time when dancehall – which these days is basically just Jamaican rap – dominates across the Caribbean, she comes across as committed to a roots vibe, albeit one from the 90s when she was growing up. And in an era where roots reggae is pretty much a legacy genre, like bluegrass or Chicago blues, played mostly by white American jambands, she keeps her Rasta spear burning. Truth in advertising: the title track on her new album New Name – streaming at Soundcloud – is a remake of a Ras Michael classic. She’s playing a New York show on Feb 6 (actually the wee hours of Saturday the 7th, at one in the morning) backed by her group the Dub Treatment Band at Milk River Cafe, 960 Atlantic Ave (Grand Ave/St. James Pl.), in Brooklyn. The closest trains are actually the 2 or 3 to Dean St.; otherwise, take any train to Atlantic Ave and walk a few blocks deeper into Brooklyn.

Musically, the album’s production – with judicious, jazz-tinged guitar, synthesized brass and strings, digital organ and piano, synth bass and drum samples (or just a drum machine) – looks back to the era when Luciano rather than Sister Carol (an artist Jah9 resembles philosophically if not musically) ruled the charts. Where the album’s title track works a spiritual vibe, the second, Intention, has an incendiary political focus, Jah9 determined to live outside the system as much as she dares.

After a long, cinematic intro and some light dub touches, Preacher Man gives Jah9 a platform to go after hypocrites in politics and religion, a braver move than you might think considering that she’s a minister’s daughter. She follows a surprisingly poetic voice-and-piano contemplation with the trippy, dubby Gratitude and its mantra of “your only limitation is your imagination.”

Taken, the token shout-out to the only cure for glaucoma, features none other than the ageless Cedric Myton of the Congos on backing vocals – and it may be the only reggae song ever to suggest that you might not want to get so stoned that you can’t function. Avocado nicks a famous Burning Spear tune for a sly stoner boudoir jam, while Jungle offers encouragement for anyone who’d rather find their own niche in the world instead of slaving for some “unjust corporation,” a message Jah9 revisits on the album’s closing cut, Inner Voice.


Roots Reggae Survivors Third World: Revitalized in Downtown Brooklyn

What’s the likelihood that any band from the 70s would still be any good, especially with just a few of their original members left? In the case of roots reggae band Third World, they’ve survived not only forty years in business, but also the tragic death of well-liked frontman Bunny Rugs (who was witnessed just last year by this blog taking an animated turn on vocals out in front of Sly and Robbie). But the band has soldiered on with a new singer, AJ Brown, who might have given them a shot in the arm. Their outdoor show Thursday, staged by BAM in a scruffy downtown Brooklyn park, was surprisingly energetic, unexpectedly eclectic and a lot of fun.

What amazed the crowd the most was when guitarist and founding member Stephen Coore took a turn on cello, making his way methodically through parts of a Bach invention, a handful of classic reggae themes, a verse of the Marley classic Redemption Song and a little Beethoven to cap it off. By the time he and the band – who played along perfectly – reached that point, everybody’s phone was in the air. Otherwise, intentionally or not, the rest of the set was a sort of capsule history of roots reggae. The seven-piece group went down into a handful of brief dub interludes, did a bit of Nyabinghi drumming (kicked off by a blaring prerecorded sample of a women’s chorus), played an unlikely portion of vamping classic roots grooves as well as the jazz-inflected 70s reggae-pop they’re best remembered for. The bass and drum’s one-drop grooves were solid and uncluttered, the two keyboardists – one on synthesized brass and occasional electric piano, the other on organ and string synth – stayed away from cheesy voicings for the most part, and Coore stuck mostly to rhythm as well, adding a couple of gritty, blues-infused guitar solos.

It was good to hear the band’s most politically-charged hit, 96 Degrees in the Shade, a moody look back at simmering, late 70s Kingston violence. It was even better to hear it in the shade at about twenty degrees cooler than that, along with a handful of similar, straight-up, vamping rootsy numbers. But Third World’s signature sound was always more complex than your typical two-chord roots jam, from their early days as a cover band playing American urban top 40 songs in Jamaica in the early 70s. Drawing on the jazz harmonies and ornate vocals of American acts like the Stylistics, Third World’s 70s hits and albums had a glossy sheen that stood apart from their more rustic, African-inspired brethren (and some would say, made them a lot more lightweight). But Coore and bassist Richard Daley still have their voices, joining in the harmonies of reggae-pop hits like Committed and an extended, practically straight-up disco version of their closing hit, Now That We’ve Found Love, amusingly missing a couple of cues to jump back onto a long outro – but that’s one of the reasons why reggae shows are fun.

At this point in history,  roots reggae is a legacy genre, like bluegrass or Chicago blues. The people who play it either tend to be either hippies, who jam it out with mixed results, or purer-than-thou purists who play it like it’s something from a museum. It’s good to see some of the guys who were there in the beginning still playing it like their lives depended on it. Which in the case of this band is probably true. People who see them on their upcoming west coast tour might be in for a pleasant surprise.

Good Cop and Bad Cop Review the Hi Grade Ganja Anthems 4 Compilation

Good Cop: You’re on your own with this. I don’t like this album.

Bad Cop: Whoah, you’re the one always accusing me of breaking character and now you’re doing that right off the bat. That’s supposed to be my line.

Good Cop: I don’t care. I think this album is amateurish and panders to a certain demographic, know what I mean? Pot should be legal, sure, but do we have to sing about it?

Bad Cop: [in a fake Jamaican accent] Yeah mon! Greetings in the name of His Imperial Majesty, Haile I Selassie I, JAH!!!! Rastafari, King of Kings, Lord of Lords, Conquering Lion of the Tribe of Judah, Igziabeher, Nagus a Nagas, the healing of the nation, the only cure for glaucoma, found on the grave of King Solomon…

Good Cop: You’re mixing your metaphors. And this isn’t a religious album. It’s about getting stoned. And it’s about as interesting as getting stoned.

Bad Cop: How do you know? You’ve never been high.

Good Cop: I don’t think I’m missing anything.

Bad Cop: Fine, more for me.

Good Cop: I’ll bet you’re high right now.

Bad Cop: Hahahahaha. Um, I lost my train of thought. Say, you don’t have any Ring Dings on you, do you?

Good Cop: Seriously, you look pretty stoned.

Bad Cop: I think that comes from listening to this album. I guess we should go through the tracks. Um, the first one is by Snoop Lion. The point of this one seems to be that we can fight global warming by planting more weed.

Good Cop: The vocals are autotuned. Yuck. You have to be stoned to like this.

Bad Cop: OK, the second track is about drinking ganja tea, and that’s the title of the song. It’s by Keida. I like this one. It’s oldschool, kinda oldschool at least. You know, a real band.

Good Cop: Too top 40 for me.

Bad Cop: Here’s another rootsy track, Cali Green by Mighty Mystic. This one’s a little more of a dub. Good song, huh?

Good Cop: More R&B masquerading as reggae. At least this isn’t autotuned.

Bad Cop: You’re in a bad mood. Here, have some of this [reaches into his pocket].

Good Cop [waves him away] No thanks, I don’t need your saliva.

Bad Cop: You’re no fun. But this album is. The next track is titled simply Marijuana. It’s by Linval Thompson – I think this is an old song, but I can’t remember if I’ve ever heard it before.

Good Cop: That figures. This is obviously an old song: you can tell that this is an overcompressed digital mix of an old analog recording. You know, this one actually isn’t bad.

Bad Cop: Glad you agree. Now where were we? Here’s track four, Marijuana, by Linval Thompson.

Good Cop: We just heard that.

Bad Cop: Oh yeah, duh. OK, here’s track six, another old roots number, I Man a Grasshopper by Pablo Moses.

Good Cop: You skipped a track.

Bad Cop: Huh?

Good Cop: We just heard track four. Now you’re saying we should listen to track six.

Bad Cop: No, this is track five.

Good Cop: No it’s not.

Bad Cop: Oh yeah, you’re right. But we might as well listen to I Man a Grasshopper. It’s got a clavinova and distorted guitar through a cheap amp. It sounds so Jamaica, 1980. I love it! Yeah mon!

Good Cop: You know, if we were around back then, we’d be listening to something more substantial.

Bad Cop: I was around back then

Gooc Cop: But you weren’t listening to this.

Bad Cop: I didn’t know this existed. Not many people outside Jamaica knew this existed and I wasn’t in Jamaica. [aside] I was deprived as a child.

Good Cop: Good thing you were deprived or you wouldn’t have any brain cells left.

Bad Cop: You’re just jealous. OK, we’re now going to hear track seven, Oh Mr. DC by Sugar Minott with Fantan Mojah and Military Man.

Good Cop: You forgot track five.

Bad Cop: Oh yeah, We’ll get back to that. This is more of a dancehall song. Very in the moment. Roots riddim, but it’s all hi-tech.

Good Cop: And those R&B vocals. Not my favorite.

Bad Cop: Me neither. Now here’s, um, what track were we just listening to?

Goood Cop: That was Oh Mr. DC. But you forgot track five.

Bad Cop: Aw, wow, ok, let’s hear that one, Weed Fields, by Desi Roots. Now this is a great song! I don’t know this one. Obviously from the golden age. Good band, good singer, a real crooner. Good lyrics too.

Good Cop: This sounds like a reggae remake of a Vegas pop song from the sixties. I don’t know which one. Any idea?

Bad Cop: You know what, you’re probably right. This is my favorite track so far.

Good Cop: Yeah, not bad. Now let’s hear track six, I Man a Grasshopper, by Pablo Moses.

Bad Cop: I think I’ve heard this before. An old roots tune.

Good Cop: You have heard it before. About ten minutes ago.

Bad Cop [sheepishly grinning]: OK, you got me. Got me good. Here’s track seven, Oh Mr. DC – wait, didn’t we hear this one?

Good Cop: Yes, if you weren’t so high you would realize that we’re on, um…where are we? What’s next?

Bad Cop [unwrapping a stick of Roll-O’s]: Um, that’s why I brought you along. For the heavy lifting.

Good Cop: If this is heavy lifting then you’re a lightweight.

Bad Cop: Who’s calling who a lightweight? You didn’t even smoke.

Good Cop: Enough already. Um, the next song is track eight, One Draw, by Rita Marley. Speaking of lightweight, I never understood why this song was so popular.

Bad Cop: This isn’t Rita Marley. It’s some dancehall guy.

Good Cop: Oh yeah, you’re right. This is Alborosie featuring Camilla. I actually think this is better than the original. Which doesn’t mean that I liked the original.

Bad Cop: Don’t be such a sourpuss. Here, have a Roll-O.

Good Cop: OK, thanks. Now we’re on, what, track nine? This is Collie Herb Man. Do these songs really need titles? Aren’t they all pretty much the same anyway?

Bad Cop: I hate it when people say all reggae sounds the same. On this album so far we’ve heard some classic roots, some dancehall and some of whatever you call what they’re doing these days in Jamaica, it’s kind of hip-hop. And you remember that Jamaicans invented hip-hop.

Good Cop: Yeah, back in the 1950s. Anyway, this is Katchafire doing Collie Herb Man. This is bizarre. Is that a vibraphone or just a synthesizer?

Bad Cop: Whoah! This is a Steel Pulse cover. This is a fair approximation, but the original was better.

Good Cop: I learn something new every day. OK, next track. How many damn songs are on this album, anyway?

Bad Cop [grinning] Lots! This is High Grade by Jamelody featuring Natural Black. You know, the crooner-plus-toaster routine. Chaka Demus and Pliers, that sort of thing.

Good Cop: Wow, that’s a name I never thought I’d ever hear again.

Bad Cop: Who?

Good Cop: Chaka Demus. What was his big hit?

Bad Cop: Murder She Wrote [sings] “Murder she wrote, murder she wrote…”

Good Cop: OK, that’s enough, you’re no Chaka Demus. Pliers, maybe.

Bad Cop: That song didn’t set me on fire. Track eleven is Puff It, by I-Octane.

Good Cop: This is awful. Autotune, yuck. How long is this album? I don’t have all day to sit around and listen to Jamaicans rap about how much they like to smoke weed.

Bad Cop: It’s a long one! The next song is Hi Grade, by Busy Signal.

Good Cop: We already heard this.

Bad Cop: No we didn’t. It’s spelled differently. Now this one I like. Oldschool 80s style dancehall except that it’s new.

Good Cop: This is a ripoff of Murder She Wrote!

Bad Cop: Wow. If you hadn’t mentioned it, I never would have noticed.

Good Cop: Let’s make this a wrap. The next song is Collie Weed, by Shinehead.

Bad Cop: I LOVE this song! This is right from around the time the original came out. They took one of the worst songs ever written, Summer Breeze, by Seals & Crofts, and turned it into a ganja-smoking anthem. You know, I saw Shinehead do this live on Rockers TV with Earl Chin.

Good Cop: You know what, this is better than the original. Which isn’t saying much. How many more songs do we have to hear?

Bad Cop: Not done yet. Next one is Sensi Addict by Horace Ferguson. Wait, this sounds like a girl singing. Who is this?

Good Cop: Your guess as good as mine.

Bad Cop: This sounds like it was made with a Casio and a cheap mic, in 1985.

Good Cop: Probably was. That happens a lot in the third world.

Bad Cop: True. OK, next song. Strong Sensi, by Little John. Another really good one I never heard of. Obviously about thirty years old, maybe older. Out-of-tune piano, string synth, a real band.

Good Cop: Actually it’s not anywhere near that old. But it’s a clever imitation. Are we done yet?

Bad Cop: Nope. Next song is Better Collie, by Horace Andy.

Good Cop: If you just tuned in, we’re listening to, what is the name of this album?

Bad Cop: The Hi Grade Ganja Anthems 4 compilation. In honor of 4/20.

Good Cop: Horace Andy, now this guy I know. From my brother during his ska phase in high school. This is more of a reggae song.

Bad Cop: Guy from the golden age of ska, skanking about di herb! I love it!

Good Cop: Moving right along, the next song is, oh god, Sensimania, what a title. By Welton Irie. Never heard of the guy.

Bad Cop: Guessing it’s from the 80s. The last gasp of roots before dancehall took over. You know, the “murderah” chorus. Come to think of it, I know this song. I think I actually have it on a mixtape somewhere.

Good Cop: Wouldn’t surprise me. Is that it?

Bad Cop: Nope. Last song is Bring the Kouchie Come, by Mystic Eyes. Wow, I’m really impressed by this one. The production is really good and oldschool. And there’s a dub at the end, very cool.

Good Cop: Whew, I never though we’d ever get through this thing. To me this is just a random playlist. Is there such a thing as a reggae song that doesn’t mention getting stoned, anyway?

Bad Cop: I love this album. I know there are a few weak tracks but the good stuff is priceless.

Good Cop: So where can we stream this tedious thing online?

Bad Cop: Um, I forgot to plug in my phone and it’s dead. Can you google it? The album, I mean.

Good Cop [after half an hour of nonstop googling]: Answer is that you can’t. But you can hear everything here except for the Welton Irie song on youtube – you can use the links above in each of the song titles. The Welton Irie tune seems to be very obscure. You’re gonna have to digitize that track you have on that mixtape and upload it somewhere.

Bad Cop: Ha, if I can find it. Sure is fun being a grouch and ragging on random bands, isn’t it? You’ve been breaking character all day and I haven’t busted you once.

Good Cop: You’re right, I’m sick of the goody two-shoes routine. We should switch roles more often. Especially if blog boss gives us another one of these. I thought we were on a roll with this blog for awhile, but after this, you gotta wonder…

Bad Cop: Blog boss would never sink to the level of seriously reviewing an album of weedhead reggae songs. Strictly for the B team. That’s us.

Good Cop: You know what, blog boss doesn’t like grunt work like researching individual songs. How much you wanna bet we end up with the next compilation album this blog does?

Bad Cop: Bring it on. Hey, do you have my Roll-O’s?

Good Cop: Oh yeah, here, I was sitting on them. Hey, wait a minute, these smell like weed!

Bad Cop: Heh heh heh…

Sly and Robbie Bring It Down to the Roots

Sly and Robbie played a deep, purist set of roots reggae grooves at Metrotech Park in downtown Brooklyn yesterday, arguably the highlight of an otherwise lacklustre, ostensibly “R&B” themed weekly summer series booked by BAM. What kind of axe does legendary roots reggae bassist Robbie Shakespeare play? A standard issue Fender Jazz model. He stuck to the hooks he’s famous for, holding down the low end, a couple of times reaching down for boomy chords during one dub interlude. No slapping, no Jaco-style showboating, just soul. Behind his drum kit, Dunbar was much the same. He kept the one-drop going, having fun during the dub sections firing off hypnotic, steady volleys of eighth notes rather than any kind of gratuitous showmanship. No wonder these guys are considered one of the greatest rhythm sections ever.

They opened with a long series of instrumentals, backing a simple, direct, rock-solid trio of musicians: a trombonist who doubled on vocals and dancehall toasting, harmonizing with the keyboardist and edgy guitarist who contributed a single aching, searing, sustain-driven solo early in the set. They went down into dub a lot, oldschool style, dropping instruments out of the mix and back in again, pushing the echo fader up and down again, the keyboardist adding the occasionally blippy flourish. The band stuck mostly with minor keys, enhancing the dark, hypnotic ambience. The best of the early grooves first sounded like a dub of Burning Spear’s Old Marcus Garvey but then turned out to be On Broadway: it’s amazing how far you can get with just two chords. The biggest hit with the crowd was a long, murky jam on Dawn Penn’s reggae noir hit No, No, No. The high point of the show, with its gorgeous bassline, was a dub take on Freddie McGregor’s Revolution.

Third World’s 66-year-old frontman Bunny Rugs, who spent five years driving a cab in Brooklyn before joining that band, came up to sing for the remainder of the show. Third World were in the studio with Gregory Isaacs during his last session, so they played Night Nurse as a tribute to the late crooner. Rumors of War morphed into a scattering of bits and pieces from Third World hits like Reggae Ambassadors, Now That We’ve Found Love and Committed. Surreal moments abounded.

Bunny Rugs told the crowd that since he’d forgotten the lyrics to a number from his solo album, he was going to make some up on the spot, but that didn’t matter, he explained, since “Di riddim wicked!” The second he sang the line “this chair is empty now,” a concertgoer abruptly stood up from his and left it for someone else – thanks, guy! In the middle of a long, dissociative cover of Randy Newman’s Baltimore, Bunny Rugs turned “hooker on the corner” into “cop around the corner” and then went off on a long, rambling shout-out to Jamaica, where he, Sly and Robbie were when all this stuff gained critical mass. His comment about the music reaching a global audience without any help from big corporations was wrong. Columbia Records spent a fortune promoting Bob Marley, just not when he was alive. The crowd reflected how far reggae has come since it was the first world’s favorite esoterica: daycamp kids and their caretakers in the back, a sleepy lunchtime office crowd nodding their heads and swaying in unison, with the hippies and a small but vocal Jamdown posse up front. For a country of 144 square miles, at least for a couple of decades, they turned out more great musicians per capita than anywhere else in the world.

Alpha Blondy Brings His Revolutionary African Reggae to B.B. King’s

Ivory Coast bandleader and songwriter Alpha Blondy has built career that ranks with the work of Bob Marley and Peter Tosh. Through decades of censorship and repression, he toiled on, a crusader for peace whose rage began to boil over even before the Jasmine Revolution began in Tunisia and then started its inevitable spread around the world. Like Tosh, especially, Blondy is a big-picture guy with a gift for metaphor that cuts to the root of whatever he’s going up against. Many of his albums are roots reggae classics, beginning with his early 80s collaborations with the Wailers. NY Music Daily’s sister blog Lucid Culture ranked his massive 2007 double album Jah Victory as one of the thousand best albums of all time, a spot-on state-of-the-world account that skewers dictators, genocidal regimes and hypocrites of all kinds. Now, in what has been a considerable coup in the reggae business, VP Records has released Blondy’s new album Mystic Power, an often caustic, sometimes epically powerful album that’s as valuable a historical document as it is for its infectious grooves. He’s playing B.B. King’s at 8 PM on July 2; advance tickets are $30 and still available as of today.

Blondy sings in French, English, Arabic and his native vernacular. The albums opens uncharacteristically with a nod to current African autotune pop, a weirdly worrisome tune featuring a Beenie Man cameo, then closes with a brief coda from a gospel choir. In between, the riddims are an eclectic mix, from seriously oldschool roots reggae with rippling organ, layers of guitar, real bass and drums, to high-tech, artsy anthems with all kinds of synthesized orchestration.

With its fuzzy P-Funk synth riffage, My American Dream takes the ominous and tragic point of view of an African immigrant whose experiences here were anything but dreamy. If you’ve ever wondered what I Shot the Sherriff would sound like in French, you need to hear J’ai Tue le Commissaire – and the music is remarkably close to the original Marley classic, something Blondy no doubt learned from working with Marley’s band.

With its gospel gandeur, Crime Spirituel is sort of Blondy’s Masters of War: “Mohammed isn’t a terrorist prophet, don’t connect him with your wars,” Blondy intones in French. La Bataille d’Abidjan begins with a viciously sarcastic surf rock quote but then offers hope for a post-revolutionary future, as does the Middle Easterm-flavored Ouarzazate, and also Reconciliation (a collaboration with fellow African roots reggae revolutionary Tiken Jah Fakoly).

The snidely catchy France A Fric (one of Blondy’s signature Peter Tosh-style jokes, a pun on “French Africa” and “France Has Big Bucks”) – is a warning to any wannabe imperialists. Woman, sung in English, is a Burning Spear-style shout-out to the strength of women around the world – much as you might not expect a feminist anthem from a guy from the Ivory Coast, that’s what this is. Danger Ivoirite looks at the terror Blondy’s fellow citizens have had to deal with in the last few years, even if they have to go online to get the real story about war atrocities. There’s also a French Mediterranean ballad done as roots reggae, and a gospel anthem, as well as a couple of bouncy tracks in Blondy’s own dialect. Like so many Africans, Blondy shifts easily between languges: in concert here in the US, he adjusts the set list to include a lot of stuff in English, including his haunting, plaintive cover of Pink Floyd’s Wish You Were Here.

How Many Times Can You Hear the Same Reggae Song Before You Go Insane?

When Romanian gypsy band Mahala Rai Banda recorded their hit Balkan Reggae a few years back, it was an appreciative shout-out from one hot ghetto band to the thousands of others in another time zone who may have inspired it. Now the song’s come full circle with the Balkan Reggae Remixed compilation, a bunch of Jamaicans (and Jamaican soundalikes) doing their own  thing with the song. From a 2013 perspective, the original seems a lot less surreal: a brooding roots reggae groove with a cimbalom? Why the hell not?

By that standard, the new mixes are even trippier – a New Yorker would call this “Mehanata music.” What’s coolest is that most of them are so different that you forget that underneath, they’re all the same song. La Cherga’s version has a vocal cameo from Adisa Zvekic that starts out pretty cliched but then gets reprocessed with a weird, ghostly tone-bending effect. Nick Manasseh’s version has Gregory Fabulous’ skibbitty-doo skanking and constant call to “soundboy” for no real reason at all. Jstar does a fabulously trippy job of stripping the song to its accordion roots and then back, adding silly stoner synth bass and video game-style EFX along the way. Mad Professor starts very subtly and then gets very unsubtle with the echo and the sequencer. G-Vibes gives newschool crooner Errol Linton a bit of funky wah guitar but otherwise pretty much leaves the song alone.

The Vibronics pretty much phone in their take; Koby Israelite add singer Annique’s jaunty, jazz-tinged vocal track. Kanka go for a wickedly echoey oldschool Scratch Perry vibe. By the time the last track, which doesn’t add anything, comes around, it’s time for the original, which ironically isn’t on this mix. Who is the audience for this, other than the limited number of people who plug their phones into a sound system and call themselves DJ’s? Probably anyone who’s in the house listening to those playlists.


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