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o The Green - Black & White
The Green didn't arbitrarily decide that an acoustic release was to be the next step in their budding career as one of the world's most successful reggae bands and arguably the most popular to ever emerge from Hawaii. Rather, the notion was sparked when they (and others) realized that their pre-performance custom of giving the songs a low key run through backstage sounded more than good enough to be the basis for an album. Given that the band is rife with members who sing both lead and harmony, it's not surprising that the unplugged feel of Black & White, on which The Green reprise past songs, showcases their vocal prowess like never before. And so it is that "Alone" radiates with new intimacy, "Runaway Train" runs on cleaner-sounding energy, "Foolish Love" becomes even more relatable, the gumption to "Trod the Hard Road" is found deeper in the heart and the remainder of the 15 songs The Green reconfigure are all up close, personal and shimmering beautifully. The reggae feel is both retained and expanded upon, with basslines suitably prominent, acoustic guitars chopping and adorning, and hand percussion taking the place of a drum set. Vocals are naturally higher in the mix than instruments but never more than they need to be, underscoring the fact that this stripped disc gets its power from both sources (check, for example, how the melodica on "Never" spurs the tune's convictions as much as the voices). Love songs, conscious songs and celebratory songs are all given their re-do due, and let's hope that the bright future that still lies ahead of The Green includes more of this kind of thing. -Tom Orr
Easy Star Records buy
o Manjul - Dub to Mali Season 3: Douba
When Dub to Mali 2: Jahtiguiya caught my ear and refused to release it a decade or so ago, I didn't know a third volume would one day follow. But it must have been in the works for some time, given that the tracks on Douba were recorded in Bamako, Mali between 2006 and 2011. A longtime resident of Bamako, multi-instrumentalist Manjul (a Rasta who I believe is originally from Paris) mixes roots reggae with West African sounds, and both sides of the equation emerge edified. The bass and drums at the foundation of these songs are seasoned with the same sort of guitar, keyboards, horns and percussion that make the best reggae tasty, but it's the addition of instruments like the n'goni (lute), kora (21-stringed harp/lute), balafon (gourd xylophone), tama (talking drum) and traditional wooden flute that make the foundation as much African as Jamaican. True to the title and very much akin to its predecessor, there's a gloriously heavy dub element to this collection. Much of it is instrumental, and one couldn't be faulted for believing, whether true or not, that a high grade of herb found in Mali had a hand in these creations. Or it could simply be that Manjul isn't kidding when he cites Lee Perry and King Tubby as influences. But whatever makes the magic work, I'm here to tell you that it most certainly does. The occasional African vocals have the keening, soaring feel that fans of singers like Salif Keita will appreciate, the reggae riddims recall the music's classic era, the production is crisp and modern without being glossy, and the disc is first rate in every respect. Oh, and I don't know if this qualifies as a spoiler, but I was pleasantly surprised to find that there are 17 tracks even though only 12 are listed. -Tom Orr
Baco Records buy
o Black Roots - Take It
It's been 40 years since Black Roots formed in the U.K. metropolis of Bristol. After making a big splash and then dropping out of the British reggae scene for an extended period beginning in the 1990s, a steady stream of comeback albums over the past few years has cemented their re-establishment. While Take It doesn't break any new ground in terms of reggae being the against-the-system music it's always been, the fact that the system seems to get more and more fucked up provides all the fuel the band needs to drive their roots sound. Things get right down to business as the opening title track melodically shames those who do nothing but feed their greed. And don't necessarily be assuaged by the fact that the next song is entitled "Forgive Them"; in Black Roots' worldview, with forgiveness comes the responsibility to end partisanship, tribalism and other factors that divide us. Those who are complacent or weak of mind and heart aren't equipped to make the changes, and it's everyone's business to call them out. Black Roots do it eloquently with the political/spiritual slant of "Tories" and "What a Crisis" even as they deliver glimmers of hope like "Children of the World," which references the youth of Palestine in particular though the message pertains to all. The band's frontline of vocalists- Errol Anthony Brown, Kondwani Ngozi and Carlton Anthony Smith -sing like veterans who may be a bit war weary but have no intention of giving up the fight. And the players, an all-real outfit that includes the always great Tenyue brothers on horns, provides the crackling support needed to keep the roots rooted. From the look and sound of it, these blokes are back to stay, and Take It shows them to still be very much at peak strength. -Tom Orr
Nubian Records buy
o Gentleman's Dub Club - Lost in Space
Nothing lost here. Gentleman's Dub Club, an acclaimed and potent cutting-edge reggae band from the U.K., continue their winning ways on Lost in Space. Combining roots and contemporary textures ain't easy, but these gents pull it off by keeping their drums and bass at the forefront, their effects sufficiently jarring though not overpowering and their songs grounded with enough foundational elements to please purists and enough, yes, space age coating to cast a promising eye toward reggae's future. Most importantly, GDC knows how to wrap reggae's inner tensions in its seemingly relaxed outer shell, and do it on their own expert terms. Front man Johnny Scratchley gears his lead vocals toward the fragile or the forceful depending on what the song needs, and the players (including horns and percussion, always a good sign) wield their instruments as sharply as any celebrated Jamaican studio crew. After a brief ambient intro, opening tracks "Light the Fuse" and "Stardust" set the cosmic tone for what lies ahead, including a serpentine instrumental called "God of War," the into-the-fray "Eye of the Storm," exuberant vocal commentary by Million Stylez on "Turning Back" and classy longtimer Winston Francis bringing an added layer of smoothness to the band impeccable riddim on the concluding 'Walking Away." The corner of the reggae universe occupied by Gentleman's Dub Club is well worth visiting, and you don't need a spaceship to get there. Just score a copy of this album and go full warp speed ahead. -Tom Orr
Ranking Records/Easy Star Records buy
o The Temple Rockers - Festival of Lights
From use of the Davidic Star in Rasta iconography to the fact that one of the most enduring reggae songs ever recorded is entitled "Israelites," there's always been something rather Judaic about reggae music. (And yes, it's for deeper reasons I won't get into now). Former John Brown's Body bassist David Solid Gould and his band The Temple Rockers aren't steering clear of that connection, having already put out an album called Feast of the Passover and a dub version of it. They're going a step further with Festival of Lights, a full-on meeting of Hanukkah and reggae. Don't expect some kind of Adam Sandler-ish spoofing. This is roots music that celebrates more than one kind of roots. Starting off with a nyabinghi instrumental blessing at the crossroads where ital and kosher converge, the album features guest vocalists Wayne Jarrett, Ansel Meditations and Linval Thompson spinning, at times in Hebrew, rabbinical wisdom and celebratory vibes over no-nonsense riddims. Feel free to take or leave the religious angle (I'll take it, thank you), because this is great-sounding reggae either way. Gould's bass anchors flawlessly and the players get to show their chops between the vocal passages with horn, guitar and keyboard solos that were clearly not honed on the Borscht Belt circuit. The mix by Craig "Dubfader" Welsch handily balances the high and low frequencies and adds just enough murkiness to give it all the same mystical air as 10 Ft. Ganja Plant, another Northeast U.S. reggae outfit that has personnel connections to the Temple crew. I don't suppose this disc will become de rigueur listening at Hanukkah parties, but as a testament to the reach and versatility of reggae, it's got everything going for it. -Tom Orr
Fresh Roots Records buy
o Black Uhuru - As the World Turns
Derrick "Duckie" Simpson has been the one constant in all the incarnations of the Black Uhuru harmony trio over the decades of their existence, even when longtime fans called out the lineup as inauthentic. Now it appears that Simpson is Black Uhuru, and this first release with him at the helm is pretty damn good. As the World Turns doesn't ascend to the heights of BU's early greatness, but it's solid enough to hold the reggae line and thus hold your interest. Simpson's authoritative, low-register delivery recalls the ominous tones of Peter Tosh and the material on the disc reflects the pillar-like air Simpson has always exuded, even when his role was a supporting one. The title track asserts BU's place in the current state of reggae, with Simpson making it lyrically clear that he will not suffer easily the fools who might think this new phase is some kind of dodge. He carries thing further on "Stronger" (featuring Agent Sasco) and "Five Star General," which address, respectively, reggae's militant stance and a name-checking account of one man's survivor status within it. Tosh's "Jah Guide" is covered handily, as is the early Wailers' "Stand Alone." Duckie puts a goodly amount of his own stamp on both, and even though his version of the well-worn "Police and Thieves" is frankly awful, he's solidly on course with "Jamaica Herbman," previously known as another Wailers song, "African Herbsman," itself a reworking of Richie Havens' "Indian Ropeman." Simpson examines lost love, ganja and the ills of Babylon elsewhere and ties it all together with a version of Black Uhuru's own "Emotional Slaughter," a quietly wrenching testimony written by Simpson and here simply titled "Slaughter." Although the production, largely by Simpson and Horace Campbell, sometimes sells the music short with too much slickness borrowed from hip hop and contemporary dancehall, there's plenty to like and recommend about this disc. -Tom Orr
Black Uhuru Official buy
o Various Artists - Ska Around the World
It was the Two Tone era that turned me on to ska, after which I, like many, backtracked to the music's origins in Jamaica. There remains some disagreement as to what ska is and isn't (if that You Tube video titled "Top Ten Ska Bands" makes you simultaneously laugh and cringe, you're not alone), but rest assured that all the selections on Ska Around the World are sufficiently authentic. Sure, some take ska slightly off the path, such as The Netherlands' Zazi with their use of instruments like the accordion. Still, all have that accented offbeat that prefigured reggae and jumping feel that doesn't need any punk or rock additions to keep you moving. Instrumentals are a staple of ska and half of what's here is wordless, including The Skatalites' foundational "Glory to the Sound" and a scorcher called "Atlantida" from Brazil's Orquestra Brasileira de Musica Jamaica. Playing for Change gets in on the action with a multi-country take that gives a new beat to an old Indian folk song, the New York Ska-Jazz Ensemble handily shows exactly why jazz and ska are forever allied, and Russia's likewise remarkable St. Petersburg Ska Jazz Review seals the deal with a version of Depeche Mode's "Policy of Truth." At less than 40 minutes, the disc is hardly a comprehensive view of global ska. It is, however, a very satisfying sampler and every track is a winner. -Tom Orr
Putumayo buy
o Brother Jerome - Progress
The name sounds like one man, but Brother Jerome is a band (think Jethro Tull). They got their handle from the late sibling of Ryan Bria, the group's front man and main songwriter, and the music they make is genuine reggae straight out of Brooklyn, NY. Most of the songs on Progress have to do with the title subject: how necessary it is, how difficult it can be to achieve and how threatening it is to the narrow-minded. "Hustle," for example, is not about a long-gone 70s dance style, but rather what ordinary folks have to do to survive. Other pieces address the need to reestablish our civility as human beings ("Roots"), the problems of male dominance ("Macho Man," thankfully not the Village People song of the same name) and what love is always better than ("Gold"). The music is nice, slow-burning reggae, with Bria's urgently compelling vocals and a full band of real players, including horns, laying it down. There's an indomitable spirit here that's found in all good reggae. A better world is envisioned but work must be done to achieve it. Brother Jerome addresses such work amply, offering both the clean-slate solution of "Change it All" and the more whimsical "Cookie" as the means to go about it. Yes, consciousness is alive and well in reggae music, and Brother Jerome grasps that fact very well on this impressive and well-rounded debut album. -Tom Orr
No Label buy
o Idren Natural - Satta on the Rocks
This guy is new to me and there isn't a whole lot of information about him out there. Then again, maybe a Luddite like me doesn't know where to look. The riddim tracks for Satta on the Rocks were recorded in Italy and the vocals in the U.K., so perhaps one can surmise that he's a denizen of one of those countries. No matter, really. It's modern roots reggae and dub and it's quite good, with a throbbing, slightly chilled feel reminiscent of Jah Warrior's productions in the late 90s and early 2000s. Mr. Natural (well, what else am I gonna call him?) is more of a chanter than a singer, and his plainspoken delivery gets to you with understated flair that makes a song like "Message to the Youth" sound urgent without overselling the message. He's got a thing or two to say about the state of the world but comes across as much a learner as a teacher, asserting that it's "time to broaden your horizon" at one point and imploring "tell me about your culture and your history" at another. The title track portrays Natural unpretentiously as simply a dread with a chalice by his side, giving praises and getting by, and the rest of the album echoes that perspective. Each song is followed by a dub, and the slinky melodica that colors the dub of the title song makes it particularly fine. The programmed riddims can be a bit cold (a moratorium on canned cowbells, I implore you) but the roots come across and make their mark. -Tom Orr
Roots Traders Records buy
o For Peace Band- Always Love
For Peace Band is a four-piece band from Guam, where there is reportedly a healthy reggae scene even though most of their homegrown artists don't get the chance to branch out internationally. FBP is bucking that trend, having toured the U.S. and shared the stage with the likes of The Green, The Expanders, Arise Roots and Hirie. It's easy to see and hear why. This foursome is certainly looking to "Move Out of Babylon," as they state in one of their more fiery moments, but proclamations of love like "Rarest Flower" and "Secret Recipe" show where their hearts are at in the meantime. Keyboardist Jacob Iosia keeps his lead vocals warm and committed, and his mates- guitarist Ronald Pereira, bassist Danton Cruz and drummer Freddy Bordallo -all prove themselves handily in the instrumental and backup vocals department. It's clear they've gleaned from the music of another small island (Jamaica), and as the name-dropping lyrics of "Revival" impart, they're keen on keeping those roots up and running, even if the rockish lead guitar shows they're not completely beholden to them. These guys give me hope for the future of reggae; they play real instruments, can truly sing, vary their grooves and subject matter and sound like they can fill a dancefloor with fans who want to sway the night away while also looking for substance. For Peace Band has that substance, plus enough sweetness and good vibes to make you remember the necessary role those play in reggae as well. -Tom Orr
Rootfire Cooperative buy
o The Expanders - Old Time Something Come Back Again Vol. 2
Have I pegged The Expanders as Los Angeles' best reggae band? I may well have. How about the best reggae band in all of California? In all the USA? The world? Okay, there's no denying I overstepped with that last one, but make no mistake- these guys are bloody damn good. They play like peak-era Roots Radics or Soul Syndicate and sing like an Americanized version of the sweetest Jamaican harmony group you'd care to name. Their two albums of original material, which should be on every respectable reggae lover's shelf, are thought-provoking, hip-swaying stuff that never gets stale, and their now-twofold output of reggae and rocksteady cover versions shows just how well they've learned from, and yes, expanded upon, the sound of the masters that influenced them. Even before I spun the disc I was impressed by how much the chosen tunes (inspired by access to the unbelievably extensive record collection of L.A. archivist and renowned reggae scholar Roger Steffens) avoided the obvious and shopworn. Instead, The Expanders cut deep into songs that bespeak the very essence of what defines reggae from cultural, spiritual, historical and celebratory angles. Whether blasting Babylonian religious hypocrisy (Yabby You's "Anti-Christ"), facing adversity head-on and winning (The Itals' "Brutal") or invoking a prophet of old in the here and now (The Ethiopians' "Another Moses"), the band doesn't waste a word or a chop. Lead singer/riddim guitarist Devin Morrison's finely tuned wail, supported by the backing vocals of lead axeman John Butcher and bassist Chiquis Lozoya, form a perfect triad of harmony above a roots foundation sewn up instrumentally by the aforementioned three plus spotless work by drummer John Asher and keyboardist Roy Fishell. It's no good trying to name standouts among the 14 tracks here, which include a couple of songs from Burning Spear's Studio One days, as many more Ethiopians classics, Jesse Wagner of The Aggrolites stepping in to do lead vocals on "Love is All" (originally by Carlton and the Shoes) and a pair of relative obscurities in the form of Ghetto Connection's "Strugglers' Time" and Kenty Spence's "I Have a Party." Like the first volume in what we all hope will be a continuing series, this trip down reggae memory lane is simply outstanding. Great cover art too. -Tom Orr
Easy Star Records buy
o Simpkin Project - Beam of Light
Don't let the preceding gush lead you to believe that I consider The Expanders to be the only game in town when it comes to reggae offerings in the southern reaches of The Golden State. Orange County's Simpkin Project is a pulsating presence on the scene as well, and rightly so. Their latest, Beam of Light, is equal parts familiar, fiery and just plain fine, bringing the laid-back but urgent feel of their previous works while adding evolving layers of lyrical insight and musical expertise. Opening track "Hustling" laments just how profoundly the fast pace of surviving nowadays cuts into the quality time that ought to be our focus, while the healing feel of "Some Things Don't Change" (nice horns on that one) and "Perfect Harmony" suggests that solutions are indeed there for the taking. Similarly, the title songs asserts the inner luminescence we all possess is precisely what we need to light the way toward a better world, then takes off into a dubby/jammy instrumental excursion to provide motivation. The frankness of "The World's On Your Shoulders" is probably the best indicator of the band's current mindset, and their crackling, wall-of-sound "Many Rivers To Cross" cover proves them to be worthy torchbearers of reggae's forward-ever spirit. The production on the disc (by the band and Rellee Hayden) is first rate, a combination of analog gear and digital technology that balances the guitars, keys, bass, drums, percussion and vocals in a manner that's crisp and clean without being glossy. Their name notwithstanding, this crew is more than a project. They're a first-rate reggae band with a fully realized sound and vision. -Tom Orr
Dub Rockers/VP buy
o New Kingston - A Kingston Story: Come From Far
They were rather hit-and-miss on their previous release, but New Kingston has found a more dependably satisfying reggae sound on A Kingston Story: Come From Far. With a core comprised of veteran bassist Courtney Panton and his three sons on guitar, keyboards and drums plus vocals all around, the combination of roots and modern inflections works to the advantage of both group and listener. The title track celebrates progress made even as it hunkers down to endure trials yet to come, and the band is looking to accomplish upcoming works by broadening the parameters of reggae, be it the addition of the lilting violin that punctuates "Agape" or the contemporary charge and spoken poetry that gives the pro-herb "Meditation" a twist to its nyabinghi foundation. While the disc is fairly brief, clocking in not too far above the 30-minute mark, it makes for an ear-and-mind-opening interlude of fresh sounds and ideas assisted by guests like bassist Glen Browne, guitarist Andy Bassford, singer Pam Hall and chanter Pressure Busspipe. The musical story told here is well worth a listen, and the newness with which it is imparted helps to tell the tale most effectively. -Tom Orr
Easy Star Records buy
o Roots Noir - Human Nature
Apart from a trombone solo and nyabinghi drumming on the opening "The Rhythm is Calling Me" and haunting female harmony vocals throughout, Human Nature is an entirely solo effort by one Brian Battaile, who calls various regions on the North American west coast home. He also calls all the shots with regard to his sound, which, true to his alternative name, blends roots reggae with a space age ambiance that owes as much to psychedelia as it does to Jamaican and American musical dualities. Battaile sings with a salty, unencumbered directness that isn't exactly pretty. Still, when you're taking on subjects like child soldiers, racism and the pending destruction of mankind, pretty isn't an option. He laces his DIY riddims with snaky melodica and ominous stabs of clavinet and synthesizer that punctuate the messages but takes an occasional break from serious proceedings on songs like "Simplicity" and "Funkggae," the latter an instrumental that sounds exactly the way you'd expect from the title. Fans of Rebelution, Stick Figure and other homegrown reggae artists who combine classic and contemporary will enjoy this satisfying labor of reggae love. -Tom Orr
Roots Noir buy
o Ammoye - The Light
Jamaican-born, Toronto-based and with a style that combines jaunty reggae grooves with R&B, dancehall and gospel overtones, Ammoye's generous 19-track album The Light doesn't aim for a strictly roots target. Rather, its brand of reggae has a more international feel, dialing back on consistently heavy drums and bass and favoring a more poppy mix. Nothing wrong with that, particularly when there's enough lyrical substance to fend off any assumptions that the disc is overly lightweight. Sure, there's a sassy girl power air to "Good Vibez," "Honeymoon" and "Reggae Rockit Boy," but check the conscious intent of "Bloody Fiya," "Oneness," "Salvation/Redemption" "Guns Off The Street," "Don't Count Me Out" and "Soul Rebel" (not the Wailers song, though it does borrow from its chorus), and clearly you're dealing with an artist who has messages to deliver. And she does so with a voice that ranges from whispery to dagger-sharp and is surrounded by lush though rhythmically lively production from a team that includes Dubmatix, Donovan Germain, Natural High and Sly Dunbar. Impressive in range, heartfelt in conviction and universal in direction, The Light shows Ammoye to be a reggae artist capable of shining in both expected and unexpected ways. -Tom Orr
F.A.C.T.O.R. buy
o Christos DC - Tessera
An album with a roster of guest artists that includes Sly and Robbie, Kenyatta Hill, Harrison Stafford, Akae Beka, Robbie Lyn and Tippy I must have something going for it. Such esteemed company would have to know that the artist they're supporting is well worth their time and talent, and Christos DC is a singer, player and producer of that caliber. Based in Washington, D.C. and of Greek heritage (evidenced by one song here with a title that I can't reproduce on a conventional computer keyboard), Christos has a low-key yet piercing vocal style that shadows jazz-tinged roots riddims throughout Tessera, his latest. The trio of tracks that open the disc- "Speak the Fire," "Human Dignity" and "Life" -address with dead-on articulateness the indomitability of spirit that's so needed these days, and by then you've fully grasped that words like "conscious" don't begin to describe the intent that fuels this gorgeously glowing collection. A cover of Neil Young's "Heart of Gold" retains the harmonica underpinning of the original but otherwise goes very much its own way, "Desperate Ones" (inspired by Nina Simone while possibly invoking Jacques Brel in a few other listeners besides myself) cries out quiet and clear, and "What is Happening" gets similar clarity from Vaughn Benjamin's ever-reflective chanting style. "Communion," featuring Messrs. Hill and Stafford, stands out as a unifying anthem lyrically and vocally, also making a perfect lead-in for "Boots & Tie," an instrumental closer that revisits the glory days of the Taxi Gang. It's probably one of the last recordings to feature late trombone master Nambo Robinson as well. Count Christos DC among the growing number of American musicians keeping real reggae music alive, and outstandingly so. -Tom Orr
Honest Music buy
o Lee Tafari - Up & Up (Unplugged)
Kingston-born Lee Tafari fares nicely with only voice and acoustic guitar on the 8 tracks of Up & Up , his bright strumming and picking matched by singing that whispers, proclaims, imparts, trills and inspires. He spins some clever lyrical twists as well. You might think a title like "No Littering" is simply about keeping the landscape clean, while in reality it has more to do with keeping one's soul pure. Likewise, "My Song," "Wait on H.I.M.," "Troddin' With The Lion" and the rest concern man's connection to his Creator. The sparseness of the music brings the personal side of that connection to life, and a spin of this disc is like stepping away from the ills of Babylon for an interlude that's reflective and refreshing. Additionally, Lee shows his electric side on a 4-track sampler in collaboration with Tuff Lion entitled Peace Makers. He's talking about the blessed-are-they type, and he brings the message home and beyond with a solidly skanking arrangement on the title track, a dub version immediately following, a potent vocal partnership with Prezident Brown on a full-band version of "No Littering" and a concluding dub of the same entitled "Earth Anthem." For two sides of a reggae artist who's probably got many more sides to come, both of these nuggets are recommended. -Tom Orr
Haile Conscious Works buy
o Morgan Heritage - Avrakedabra
Looks as though reggae's most successful family band has been whittled down from a core quintet to a threesome, and now lead singer Peter Morgan (truly one of the most engaging front men in all of Jamaican music), keyboardist/vocalist Gramps Morgan and percussionist/vocalist Mr. Mojo are going forward under the MH name. What hasn't changed is their growing determination (so it would seem) to modernize roots reggae music to the max. Opening track "Want Some More" (referring to reggae, naturally) exemplifies the approach, with guest artist Mr. Talkbox announcing his presence enmeshed in all the electronic ambiance you'd expect from such a name. While Avrakedabra doesn't hit the heights of the Morgan family's best works, it's still chock full of good times, consciousness and crossover-aimed moments including computerized riddims, very contemporary lyrical references and vocal cadences that owe as much to rap as to reggae. From my standpoint, the group still scores highest marks when they go for an earthier vibe, which they do here on the unity-promoting "One Family" (with Ziggy and Stephen Marley lending a vocal hand) and a fair number of the disc's other 13 tracks. But I gotta say, when the intended audience is more mainstream, as with the poppy but undeniably catchy "Reggae Night" and seductive "Ready for Love," the Morgans still pull it off with a feel for melodic hooks, vocal interplay, danceable grooves and reasons to rejoice (check "Pineapple Wine" for a hip-swaying example of the last) that they've always possessed. So even if your tastes are more tuned to serious concerns ("Selah," "We Are," "Tribute to Ruggs") you're likely to find Avrakedabra another in a series of Morgan Heritage albums well worth having and listening to from start to finish. -Tom Orr
CTBC Music Group buy
o The Techniques and Friends - Winston Riley's Rock Steady and Early Reggae 1968-1969
When the beat of Jamaican popular music slowed from ska to rocksteady, singers had more space to practice their craft and the emergence of vocal groups brought an increased harmonic component that sweetened the deal. A key player in the changeover was singer Winston Riley, whose group the Techniques enjoyed success recording for Duke Reid's Treasure Isle label before Riley turned to production and formed his own label, also called Techniques. Despite initial resistance and indifference from many of his peers, Riley's new focus paid off and he became a renowned producer of rocksteady and early reggae material by the Techniques and other vocal group lineups under different names that utilized the Techniques' vocal talent in conjunction with such singers as Pat Kelly, Winston Francis and Johnny Osbourne. Collected on Winston Riley's Rock Steady and Early Reggae 1968-1969 are 15 gems from those years, mostly the work of the Techniques but also a few scorchers by the Mad Lads and the Shades, plus an opener from Dave Barker, perhaps best known as the voice doing the shout-outs on "Double Barrel" (also a Riley production and sufficiently anthologized elsewhere). The tracks, heavy on love songs, are timeless examples of how well the percolating rhythms of rocksteady accommodated soul-drenched vocals so crucial to the fairly brief transitional phase that led to the roots reggae era. Simply but perfectly packaged in a black and white motif with compendious liner notes, the disc not only contains terrific music but has a classic look as well. Consider it a must. (It's put out by a very noteworthy Japanese label called Dub Store Records that has other such goodies to offer, so be sure to explore them further.) Still very much in the reggae game when he was shot dead in 2012, Winston Riley will forever be remembered as a singer, composer, producer and arranger who brought the Jamaican sound to new heights. -Tom Orr
Dub Store Records buy
o Gentleman's Dub Club - Dubtopia
Having been quite taken with this band's last album The Big Smoke, I was pleased to find that their followup Dubtopia is every bit as good. Hailing from Leeds, Gentleman's Dub Club continues to emerge as leaders in the longstanding British reggae scene, doing so with a combination of homegrown roots sensibility, just enough of a pop element to invite favorable comparisons to UB40 and a knack for uplifting songs. A sizable outfit with horns and a front man (Jonathan Scratchley) whose vocal delivery rides the line between cheeky Brit and singsong Jamaican, the group goes as heavy on the dub effects as their name implies and stays true to the reggae beat through and through. "Dancing in the Breeze" and the ska-injected "Sun Kissing" will give you an idea of their celebratory side, while such empathetic tunes as "Young Girl" (featuring Lady Chann) and "In Your Heart" show they've got insight that goes well beyond simply providing music for a hot-ticket reggae party. Their vision of a Dubtopia is literalized on the CD's front cover depiction of a musical escape from the ills of the world, and the music they make will have you believing that such an escape is within reach. I sleep easier at night knowing that a band like this will have a hand in the future of reggae music simply by carrying on with everything that has made reggae so great in the past. So welcome to the club, and be sure not to miss out on what these Gentlemen have in store. -Tom Orr
Easy Star Records buy
o Nattali Rize - Rebel Frequency
Sporting an image somewhere between an African queen and a freedom fighter ready to take on all comers, Australian-born, Kingston-residing Nattali Rize struts across the cover of her full-length debut CD Rebel Frequency like someone who's got a thing or two to say and isn't going to take no for an answer. A founding member of reggae/funk/fusion band Blue King Brown, she's equal parts chanter and singer, and the riddims backing her up have a suitably hard-hitting forward motion that decisively holds the reggae vibe. As shots like "Natty Rides Again," "Warriors" and "Generations Will Rize" show, militant concerns are first and foremost on Nattali's mind. Her voice intensifies when the lyrical content similarly reaches peaks of pointedness, making it clear that Babylon's agenda of manipulation and deceit isn't going to be fulfilled without a fight, if at all. Given that, there's still a measure of tenderness in her delivery when it's suited to a lovers sentiment like "Fly Away." She shares many a reggae artist's viewpoint that unity is a key ingredient in making things better, a conviction obviously shared by guest artists Julian Marley, Dre Island, Jah 9, Raging Fyah, Kabaka Pyramid and Notis Heavyweight Rockaz, each of whom bolster Nattali's declarations with a few of their own. Minimal doses of dancehall aside, modern roots reggae is the disc's mainstay and one of its notable strengths, the others being sharp, uncluttered production values, deft accompaniment on mostly real instruments and songs rich with spirited, clear-headed advice as to how to make a better world by freeing up the mind and all other possible barriers. Plus, how can you go wrong with an album that includes a perfectly legitimate credit for "badass background vocals" in the fine print? Seriously though, Rebel Frequency has got spunk, attitude, solid reggae grooves and songs that sound like anthems for a revolution we may well be already in the throes of. -Tom Orr
Rootfire Cooperative buy
o Jah Ova Evil - Forever Judah
The Jah Ova Evil collective, under the direction of siblings The Gideon and Selah, have here crafted a fitting tribute to their brother Alty George Nunes III, who died in 2011 at a mere 24 years old. Alty's stage name was the acronym-lending J.O.E., and the music on Forever Judah straddles roots and dancehall in a manner that would no doubt have pleased him very much. It's J.O.E.'s own vocal that powers the opening "Belly of the Beast," potently paving the road for a mashup of singers and chatters that include his brothers, Hempress Sativa, D'excell, Nicole Miller and Jawawah. Miller sings wholeheartedly of love both earthly ("Sweet Thing") and divine, the latter also espoused by Jawawah's "Your King is on the Way" and a very royal-sounding Hempress on "Jah Live." Full-blooded as The Gideon and Selah sound on their solo tracks, it's their teaming via "Badadeng" that serves as the disc's rollicking centerpiece. Meanwhile, D'excell handles the herbal side of things with "Roll it Up," though his "Strive" is undermined by a stiff-sounding riddim that's the album's only misstep. The majority of the backing is quite good, contrasting in laid-back manner when the vocals go rapid and giving those at the mic all the space they need throughout. Interestingly, Forever Judah was released by a label based in Slovakia, but that doesn't stop the sound from being imbued with the unmistakable quality of pure Jamaican goodness. -Tom Orr
Batelier Records buy
o Chuck Foster - Last Call
Noted Southern California reggae DJ, author and producer Chuck Foster has now made five albums (not including companion dubs) as a singer/songwriter of the music he has always championed, proving that his first foray in 2012 was not just a lark. Since then, I've seen some derisive online commentary regarding his works as a full-on recording artist. And that's sad, because the guy's actually quite good at it. There's no point in comparing him to your most revered reggae icon; he's not trying to be one. He's just a dude who's had a longstanding relationship with reggae and has extended that relationship to being an active participant on his own terms. His patois-free singing emphasizes an admittedly clever, heartfelt way with lyrics and a knack for covering subjects both topical ("War in the Middle East," "The Refugees") and personal ("Pick it Up [Mr. D.J.]," "I'll Take Jamaica"). Plus he's got some topflight musicians in his corner, including veteran guitarist Tony Chin, multi-instrumentalist and mixer Mike Irwin and organist Tony Bird. Like his previous releases, this one's generous at 15 tracks, sharing also its predecessor's feel for unpretentious reggae music that's got equal measures of good times and serious concerns to share. Keep at it, Chuck. -Tom Orr
Catch Me Time Records buy
o The Holdup - Leaves in the Pool
This one's a bit mysterious at a glance. Someone of my limited intelligence might wonder if The Holdup is a band or just one guy, given the cover depiction of a solitary figure with his face covered and the fact that the sparse liner notes don't even come close to providing complete information as to who does what. Internet to the rescue: reportedly they are indeed a band; they're from San Jose and you can glean from listening rather than reading that they have hip hop and indie rock overtones in their music. In fact, the music on Leaves in the Pool (The Holdup's sixth release) is reggae largely in beat only, and the drums providing the backbone of that beat sound suspiciously canned. Still, it ain't bad stuff. Vocalist and main songwriter Michael Garmany crafts some solid popish hooks and sings with a cool, collected air even when themes of loss, alienation and frustration abound. Songs like "Neighborhood," "Imperfections" and "Nothin's on Fire" speak from the heart, and the sparse contemporary production allows the confessional lyrics to trade prominence with Grant Averill's sparky lead guitar. It's clearly geared toward the younger set, so old rootsters might not choose to tune in. But those who appreciate the versatility of the reggae beat and how it can be about more than burning down Babylon will enjoy chilling and dancing to this. -Tom Orr
The Holdup buy
o Nesta - Nesta
There seems to be more than one band called Nesta out deh, so allow me to clarify: the subject of this review is the Richmond, VA-based group of that name. They were kind enough to send me their first full-length CD, and Bob Marley implications aside, they play a most agreeable sort of Americanized reggae, with real bass and drums at the core, real guitar and keyboards sprinkling niceness 'pon the foundation, crisp production courtesy of guitarist/keyboardist Ron Lowder Jr. and a lead singer (guitarist/vocalist Nick Wade) who puts forth both conscious sentiments ("Soldier," "His Story") and more offhand observations ("Bottle That I Bought") loud and clear. Nesta has a pop/rock side that they demonstrate to good effect on songs like "Box to Surprise" and throw in some dancehall breaks as well. Pay little heed to the couple of brief, pure-filler tracks that seem to have something to do with Quaaludes and instead bask in the ways in which Nesta make the reggae sound their own, best among them being the trembling psychedelic guitar tones and surround-sound percussion of "Just a Little Bit," the electric piano hook and anthemic bounce of "Music in My Soul" and "Wicked Man," which sharply tackles the kind of subject matter that unfortunately never gets old. An impressive debut. -Tom Orr
Self-released buy
o Fluid Foundation - Fluid Foundation
This debut disc from yet another Southern California reggae band starts out wonderfully with "Liquid Spacey," an instrumental featuring swirling steel pan riffs and an ambience that straddles roots and electronica. I perused the promotional particulars on Oceanside's Fluid Foundation as I was listening, and the word "progressive" caught my eye. That word can be a loaded one in everything from music to politics, but doesn't seem to be any cause for alarm regarding this band. Their sound, despite being unmistakably contemporary, stops well short of too much gloss or overproduction. So their songs, which focus largely on love, good times and an overall chill aesthetic, are warm and inviting. Multi-instrumentalist/composer Rob Eldon and guitarist/ukulele player/producer/engineer Lewis Richards are the main architects of the music, which has some of the same modern vibe as Stick Figure (whose Kevin Offitzer drums on a few FF tracks), adds a sunny sheen via the steel pan and uke, and tops off with relaxed vocals that don't get much more heated than on the anti-conformity song "Take the Lead." Guest artists Pato Banton, Marlon Asher and Micah Brown add their tones in a few spots, nicely rounding out reggae music that provides an apt background for, as another song title states, "Livin' Carefree." It's not militant but it's thoroughly enjoyable, good for cooling down when the fire burns a little too hot. -Tom Orr
Easy Star Records buy
o J Boog - Wash House Ting
As intrepid readers of this site and avid followers of reggae, I'm sure you're all aware of the distinction between J Boog the singer and J-Boog (note the hyphen) the rapper. Both were raised in Compton, but the similarities end with the upbringing locale and nearly identical names. Would that I was so well-informed. My own familiarity with the now Hawaii-based J Boog has been limited at best, despite some of my reggae-loving peers speaking highly of him. Of course, lip service is one thing and good music is another, and the latter is foremost in my mind as I listen to the first J Boog album in my collection, Wash House Ting (I love both the title and the cover image, which shows the singer perusing a newspaper as he appears to be waiting at a laundromat). Born Jerry Afemata and of Samoan heritage, J Boog wields a vocal style that's got a strong soul/r n' b quotient and makes his reggae pleasingly poppy without being lightweight, even given the high number of love songs among the tracks. "Sweet Love" draws parallels between deep affection and actual confectionary treats and "I Got You," a sultry number featuring New Zealand's Aarahdna, are two of the numerous ways J Boog looks at matters of the heart. But the opposite sex is not his sole focus. "Blaze It For Days" demonstrates his passion for herb (with Lion Fyah and Gappy Ranks commenting affirmatively) and "See Dem Deh" imparts the need to pass along love and respect with the kind of tenacity emphasized on "Brighter Days." The riddims are played mainly on real instruments and some cut-and-paste hip hop ingredients are mixed in, giving the disc a variety accentuated by further guest appearances that include Chaka Demus, Buju Banton and a couple members of the Morgan brood. It all results in a disc of zesty, punchy reggae that's got range and style to spare. -Tom Orr
Wash House Music buy
o Gary Nesta Pine - Revelations
Sure, many a reggae artist has been proclaimed the next Bob Marley, but even eight years as lead singer of the post-Marley Wailers band didn't give Gary Nesta Pine that kind of labelling, let alone the kind of baggage that would, for better or worse, go along with it. But make no mistake- he knows the craft of reggae singing very well. I first got to know his name and vocals via some works on the Easy Star label and he was certainly a key player in the development of what the New York City reggae scene has become. Prior to that, Pine was the front man of Jamaican band City Heat and since has built a noteworthy solo career, of which Revelations is the latest example. His voice is husky and has the necessary yard-accented authority, but crucially, it's got soul to boot. Thus he goes full on into the skewering indictment mode of a song like "Mr. Wallstreet" as well as giving his take on love songs the tenderness it needs. Roots are a concern of his, as shown on the Africa-referencing "Great Kings" and elevation of Rastafari "Thanks and Praise." Recorded in Jamaica and New York with a sharp crew that includes former Burning Spear bassist Devon Bradshaw, Ziggy Marley guitarist Ian "Beezy" Coleman (both of whom had a hand in composing, producing and arranging) and veteran keyboardist Robbie Lyn, the disc ranges from the nyabinghi-powered plea "Justice" to a return to the ethos of "Raggamuffin" that wears the term like a badge of honor and rocksteady-style romp "Dancing in the Rain." The sentiments expressed aren't so much revelations as Pine weighing in on tried-and-true consciousness, but that's more than enough to make this CD a finely rendered and musically mighty slice of contemporary reggae. -Tom Orr
Jahdax buy
o Tiken Jah Fakoly - Racines
Alpha Blondy has long been my main man in African reggae, but another Ivory Coaster, Tiken Jah Fakoly, also has his niche and always puts out strong Motherland-flavored Jamaican goodies of his own. Fakoly's new disc Racines isn't his own as such: it's a collection of reggae covers. Such a move can be risky, especially when dealing with songs as iconic as the ones he goes at. What makes the album work- and in a big way at that -is how decisively Fakoly tailors the songs to fit his style without sacrificing any of the original intent. The basic tracks were recorded in Jamaica and anchored by Sly and Robbie, then embellished in Bamako, Mali with such traditional West African instruments as the kora (21-stringed harp/lute), balafon (gourd resonator xylophone) and tama (talking drum). Vocally, Fakoly's dry, lower-register range fits into the sonic picture with griot-like perfection. So Burning Spear's "Slavery Days" and "Christopher Columbus" become new, somewhat darker creations, Jr. Byles' "Fade Away" gets reinvented as more of an Afrocentric anthem, "Is it Because I'm Black" and "One Step Forward" burn with the solidarity of Fakoly duetting with original singers Ken Boothe and Max Romero, Peter Tosh's "African" retains and builds upon its militant grace and "Get Up, Stand Up" crackles anew on the strengths of Fakoly's wailing and U-Roy's accompanying chat. The whole album is smashingly good, but I'd give top honors o "Police and Thieves," which Fakoly renders in a weary yet tightly-coiled manner that brings new appreciation to a very familiar song. Essential as Fakoly's original material can be, he really pulls off a reggae master stroke here. "Nuff respect, and how about a second volume? -Tom Orr
Barclay/Universal buy
o Clinton Fearon - This Morning
What a joy to know, see and hear that this veteran reggae musician is still at it and isn't missing a mark. Clinton Fearon was as crucial to the Gladiators as Peter Tosh was to the original Wailers, but going solo had to happen because being part of a band that was mainly fronted by someone else didn't give him the means to make all the music he had in store. Now Seattle-based and as much a force on the international reggae scene as ever, Fearon gives us This Morning, a typically fine release which awakens to new possibilities in reggae music, including the marimba that figures prominently on "Talk" and "Doctor Say" (a song about more than one manner of going green). Like his previous works, though, this one isn't ditching any genuine reggae vibes. Recorded in his adopted home town and mixed in Paris (fitting, considering how many of Fearon's tour engagements take place in France), This Morning resounds with real instruments, bubbling riddims, lead and harmony vocals aged to supple perfection and not one false move. Fearon handles nearly all the guitars and bass, and the latter is acoustic on most of the tracks, making for a naturally solid flow throughout. Veteran drummer and Soul Syndicate original Santa Davis is behind the kit the majority of the time, one-dropping flawlessly foundational beats on which Fearon builds songs of inspiration, redemption, reflection and joy. The title track lets us know just how vital it is to start the day with a song in your heart, while others like the frank "No Justice" and confessional "Fooling Myself" speak to ongoing concerns like highly questionable police tactics and the realities of living in a world where such things are inescapable. Feel free to take all 13 of the killer tracks to heart, but be certain to particularly do as instructed on "Turn up the Music": put your cares aside and dance. It's reggae after all, and in keeping with the best of the lot, it's as intent on keeping your mind engaged as your body swaying. -Tom Orr
Boogie Brown Productions buy
o Giant Panda Guerilla Dub Squad - Make it Better
I still say they've got one of the most laugh-inducing band names in any genre of music, but my other contention regarding this crew from Rochester, NY continues to hold just as true: they make great reggae. Though GPGDS has dabbled in bluegrass-tinged Americana sounds as well, that's another (albeit noteworthy) story. Let's talk reggae here. Okay, let's talk about the album cover first. It shows a globe, Eastern Hemisphere front and center, superimposed over a grinning human face. I'm guessing the title Make It Better refers to improving the whole world, and however tall an order that might be, music, reggae in particular, has long been a factor in my believing it to be possible. And the Squad's sound is honed with some sharp edges that up the possibility factor, from the funky reggae/soul feel of several tracks to the clavinet-stung mashup "Walk Right Talk Right" and jammed-out conclusion of "What Kind of World." The production, unmistakably contemporary, is clean here and a bit murky there, a good fit for modern roots with appreciable touches of variety (including horns and some vocal backing by Elliot Martin of John Brown's Body). Skilled players and singers all, GPGDS are a strong indicator of how vital the reggae scene is in the sometimes-chilly climes of the northeastern U.S. as well as the world beyond that is the focus of their concerns. They hold up their end by making their music with passion and danceable expertise, and tuning in to it is recommended most heartily. -Tom Orr
Rootfire Collective buy
o Morgan Heritage - Strictly Roots Deluxe Edition
I've seen Morgan Heritage live numerous times and had the pleasure of interviewing them on one occasion. In addition to being very engaging in both settings, reggae's top family band are among the music's most dependable when it comes to consistent quality. Notwithstanding, both the title and intent behind the Grammy-winning Strictly Roots are welcome reminders of what reggae's main intent ought to be. First released in 2015 and now re-presented with additional tracks and remixes in a double CD pack, the album delivers on the words that set the tone during the intro of the opening title song: "welcome to the roots zone." That doesn't mean every song is (or has to be) about burning down Babylon or African repatriation. But there is some roots aspect to all the songs, whether in terms of subject matter, instrumentation, riddim, connections between reggae and other roots music (including rock and even Celtic) or the overriding feel of musical unity bolstered by such guests as Jo Mersa Marley, J Boog, Flogging Molly, Bobby Lee of SOJA, Chronixx, Shaggy, Eric Rachmany of Rebelution and Gil Sharone. The band's trademarks- most prominently the vocal tag-teaming between Peter and Gramps Morgan -are at peak strength, so songs like "Child of Jah," "We Are Warriors" and "Celebrate Life" present different sides of consciousness while lighter fare like a few lovers tunes and the whimsical "Sunday Morning" shows that even the most committed reggae rebels have a softer side. Disc 2's added tracks continue the upstanding intent, most prominently the majestic "Lion Order." Rounding out the set are a trio of remixed takes on the herbal-inspired "Light it Up," each blowing its own brand of potent smoke. Even if you have the original Strictly Roots, do invest in the Deluxe Edition, which handily ups the reggae quality factor and opens new possibilities as to what it means to be roots. -Tom Orr CTBC Music buy
o Hirie - Wandering Soul
Wandering Soul, indeed. The young lady known as Hirie, whose pensive profile countenance is pictured on the cover of this CD, has lived in the Philippines, the U.K., Hawaii and the U.S. mainland. It appears she now calls Southern California home, if the recording sites and participants (including members of the Expanders, the Soulutionaries and the Divine Crime) are any indication. I suppose it's both her background and her current location that contribute to this, her second album, being a work that's marked by a range of reggae styles and an overall warmth that's quite inviting. "Melody of a Broken Heart," for example, sounds very much like it's coming from the perspective of someone who's been there, while "Don't Take My Ganja" is clearly a song that's not going to suffer fools easily. Yes, Hirie's got her tender side, but her tough side is also channeled through her melding of reggae and heartfelt accessibility. She even calls out those who question reggae as her chosen means on the acoustic, Hawaiian-tinged "Almost Home." I have no such objections. This gal has got a voice sweet enough to opt for a safer pop style that would bring greater commercial success than reggae, and while there are some pop leanings in her sound, she succeeds hands down at being a reggae real deal. Vocal assists from Trevor Hall, Nahko Bear and Nattali Rize help in the endeavor along with creative instrumentation, rich arrangements and crisp production. A very fine mixture of contemporary and traditional, Wandering Soul is a reggae refresher with soul to spare. -Tom Orr
Rootfire Cooperative buy
o John Brown's Body - Fireflies
Two decades after the release of their debut LP, John Brown's Body is still going strong. Rightly hailed as one of America's very best reggae bands, they've weathered personnel changes (original front man Kevin Kinsella is graciously thanked in the liner notes for being "the architect of JBB"), at least one spotty album and the challenges of, to put it cryptically, not being Jamaican. Their previous CD Kings & Queens was a return to form and its dub followup broke new sonic ground for the band. They're continuing that forward momentum with Fireflies, which is full to the brim of genuine, organically-rendered drum and bass lockdowns, soaring horns, dangerously sharp guitar and keyboard chops and vocals that are patois-accented but respectfully filtered through an American sensibility, all produced and mixed mainly by the masterful hands of Dubfader with additional kudos to saxophonist Drew Sayers and the band. Elliot Martin has become an increasingly assured lead singer, and this time around he's joined by the grainy vocal tones of guitarist Jay Spaker, who compliments Martin throughout many a passage and takes the lead entirely on three songs, including the tongue-tripping herbal celebration "High Grade." Martin and Spaker are the primary songwriters as well, penning a wide scope of reggae reasoning that ranges from the conscious ("Who Paid Them Off?," "Badman") to the celebratory ("Pure Fire") to the surreal ("Fireflies") to the tragic ("Hard Man fe Dead," featuring a sharp assist from Arise Roots' Karim Israel). It was the potency of the grooves that grabbed me first, and once the refreshingly cliché-free lyrics began to make their mark, there was no doubt that John Brown's body has made yet another absolute keeper. One of the top reggae releases of the year for sure, and I do hope a dub version is upcoming. -Tom Orr
Easy Star Records buy
o Easy Star All-Stars - Radiodread
As of 2006, the reggae and world music magazine The Beat had not yet ceased publication and I was one of their contributing writers. I offered to review Easy Star All-Stars' initial release of Radiodread at the time, but was told that another of the mag's scribes had already taken it on. The angle I was going to use back then is the same one I'm going to use now, and it's a disclosure I've been sitting on these ten years: I know nothing about the music of Radiohead or their album OK Computer, which Radiodread remade inna reggae style and has now been rereleased with extra tracks in honor of its tenth anniversary. So I'm exempt from the baggage of making comparisons to the (reportedly dark and moody) original and can only review it as reggae music. As such, I like it. Quite a lot. Many of my favorite reggae artists are in on this, and I was straight away taken by the familiar trembly voice of Horace Andy making his way through "Airbag," adding a perfect glow to the reggae-with-rock-guitar arrangement. Likewise, the late Sugar Minott graces "Exit Music (For a Film) with an eerie yet comforting edge, the Meditations lay their usual harmonic goodness all over "No Surprises," Morgan Heritage brings a reasoned urgency to the timely "Electioneering," Toots Hibbert testifies as fervently as ever to the rocksteady bounce of "Let Down" and Israel Vibration injects a wise, world-weary air into the nyabinghi framework of "The Tourist." I could continue a simple blow-by-blow here, but let me interject the perhaps preposterous assertion that listening to this album makes me feel as though I understand the intent of the Radiohead original. Modern life, particularly due to the ever-encroaching blessing/curse of technology, is a tricky balancing act that involves us not losing our souls in a world where cyberspace is often valued over personal space. (The title track of Linton Kwesi Johnson's More Time album comes to mind, expressing a similar POV.) Yes, any number of Radiohead fans and non-Luddites could be reading this review and responding to what I just said by facepalming and/or saying "well, DUH!," but come on, I jumped into this half blind and made it clear I was doing so. Now back to the music. It's impeccably produced, holds to a foundation of myriad reggae styles with little compromise (roots, dub, ragga, etc.) and could certainly serve as a lesson to reggae artists who might be looking to take on some darker shades of subject matter in their own works. So thank you for bearing with my half-the-story-has-never-been-told approach, and believe me when I say that even from a strictly reggae standpoint, this disc is most satisfying and then some. -Tom Orr
Easy Star Records buy

Born in upstate New York and a present denizen of Southern California, Tom Orr has been (and still is) a contributor to such print and online publications as The Beat, Global Rhythm, World Music Central, Roots World and several sites devoted to reggae music. He's a fan of many sounds from the world over but reggae is the primary rhythm of his life, which includes work as a voiceover actor, percussionist, husband of one, father of three and state employee with a shrinking salary.
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