Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Taj Weekes & Adowa – The Best Thing in Roots Reggae Right Now

Taj Weekes is just about the best thing happening in roots reggae right now. The world is full of acts who claim to be inspired by Bob Marley, but the St. Lucia-born bandleader is really on to what Marley meant to reggae. On his new album Waterlogged Soul Kitchen with his band Adowa (named after the famous 19th century battle where the Ethiopians crushed an incursion by Italian imperialists), what Weekes takes from Jah Bob is a tunefulness that goes beyond the usual two-chord vamps, and the kind of arrangements that made the golden age of reggae in the late 70s so unforgettable and fun: layers of sparse, thoughtful Chinna Smith-style lead guitar, melodic bass, the occasional spice of horns and the slinky one-drop from the drums. While Weekes has a similarly high, penetrating voice, his style is hardly a ripoff – it’s a lot closer to the dreamy warmth of Dennis Brown in his more contemplative moments. Weekes’ lyrics range from gently optimistic to scathingly aware: while he resists the categorization of “socially conscious artist,” his insights are all over the place. Weekes has his eyes open, and he doesn’t shy away from trouble.

The album opens with Just a Dream, a defining moment: “Fear, fear, go away, you will come another day,” Weekes sings, not unsarcastically. Likewise, the song’s intro echoes a spaghetti western theme.Yet it’s an upbeat song, an anthem to hold on for better days ahead. The second track, Janjaweed has a catchy rocksteady hook but a chilling lyric about the “malignant seed” that’s terrorized Darfur for what seems like decades now.

B4 the War is a sad, evocative look back “before I was a puppet, before I killed for profit,” lowlit by Chris Laybourne’s vivid flute and a sarcastic bit of a march to end it. Weekes follows with Rain Rain, a pretty, Marleyesque lament, and the requisite ganja tune, Two Joints, an indomitable road trip tale.

You Ain’t Ready for the Heavy has a fat, catchy groove that underplays the defiant challenge of the lyrics and a biting guitar solo that’s like Al Anderson gone to the Middle East. With its simple, swaying mento-flavored acoustic guitar and organ, Anthems of Hope is sort of Weekes’ Redemption Song, a reason to carry on in spite of war on all fronts, the catastrophic effects of global warming and “color coded fear.” Weekes ends up the album with two more evocative antiwar numbers, one with a Jammin-style organ melody and another with the feel of a vintage Toots & the Maytals tune – except that this one’s told from the point of view of a child born of rape in a war somewhere in the third world. The album ends up on a powerful note with Drill, which broodingly and sarcastically riffs on John McCain’s “drill baby drill” mantra. If roots reggae is your thing and you don’t know this guy, you’re missing out. Weekes plays frequent NYC shows, and they are always excellent: watch this space for upcoming dates

August 25, 2011 Posted by | Music, music, concert, reggae music, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

iLa Mawana: Soldiers of Jah Sound

On their new album Soldiers of Sound, Boston reggae band iLa Mawana offer a classic roots sound: no stiff computerized beats, no cheesy synthesizers, just a fat oldschool groove and one warm summery tune after another. The obvious comparison is John Brown’s Body although there’s definitely a Bob Marley influence there too. The band’s tight four-piece horn section sets them apart from most of the other roots acts out there. Singer Gianpaolo Blower is casual and laid-back and bass player Ryan Hinchey hangs behind the beat like Family Man Barrett of the Wailers while guitarist Dave Rosen sticks to rocksteady riddim and the occasional tingling Chinna Smith-style riff. Drummer Sammy Wags and organist Jason Moore keep it tight and terse as well. Lyrically, they keep it conscious, upbeat but socially aware. It grows on you slowly: by the time it’s over, it’s obvious that this is a stealth contender for one of the best albums of 2010.

The album opens with a big anthem, The Golden Age, spiced with wah guitar and a big horn chart after the first verse. The second track, Jigyo Keta is a catchy festival of good vibes: “Radiate it from your soul, lighting up hell’s dark sidewalk…imagine that.” The title track is a close cousin of the Marley classic Rastaman Vibration, with a long, balmy sax solo. The slinky workman’s anthem 40 Hours, an instant singalong, ought to energize crowds everywhere: “Give me back my 40, give me back my 40 hours!”

Mortal Motion is fast, almost a ska tune, taking a brooding look at mankind’s march to self-annihilation. The hypnotically pulsing Green Bridge, a standout track here, features an organ breakdown that leads the band up to a big soul-drenched ending. On the slow, Marley-ish Voodoo Spell, Rosen finally takes a guitar solo and makes all his notes count.

The fast, organ-driven Journeyman sounds a lot like a vintage John Brown’s Body song from 1996 or so, until it hits a big, tricky, jazzy outro. Grow My Way has an especially sweet bass groove and a hypnotic, echoey trumpet solo. The album winds up with a reggae-pop number followed by Tree Dub, a hint at how far outside they can take their songs in a live setting, and the defiant, slowly unwinding anthem I Define Me. They’re a killer live band (we enthusiastically reviewed one of their New York shows last May); they’re currently on tour, check their tourdates page. Click here to help them in their campaign to be High Times Magazine’s Band of the Month

July 8, 2010 Posted by | Music, music, concert, reggae music, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment