Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Toussaint’s Black Gold Evokes the Classics of Roots Reggae

Toussaint’s new album Black Gold is meticulously produced, stylistically diverse roots reggae that recalls what Burning Spear or Israel Vibration were doing in the late 80s and early 90s, although it’s more eclectic. The production may necessarily lean toward a digital feel, but the songs and playing are strictly roots. It’s amazing how much time and care went into this cd: there’s a real horn section, bass and drums, lead guitar and organ, no cheesy synthesizers or lame electronic drums. Toussaint brings gravitas and charisma to his songs, alternating between fervent, laid-back and thoughtful while his band provides an aptly hypnotic, lush groove. The conflict between the spiritual and the material, a classic roots dilemma, arises frequently: “Why you want tv flash in your eyes?” Toussaint challenges on the album’s opening cut, Nobody Knows. That question takes centerstage on the swaying, determined Roots in a Modern Time, which wouldn’t be out of place in the Burning Spear songbook. The same could be said for the darkly slinky Rise and Fall. Many of these tracks echo the more hit-oriented side of Bob Marley, but as inspiration rather than a ripoff, like the catchy, pulsing This Song, another positive, spiritually-charged number, and the bouncy Look Up. A couple of others remind of classic 70s-era Steel Pulse: the evocative reminiscence Rise and Fall, and the sufferah’s anthem Marching, right down to its martial drumbeat.

A couple of the tracks veer off on a pleasant detour into vintage 60s-style soul music; another blends dark art-rock with gospel piano, not something ordinarily found on a roots reggae album, but it’s welcome just the same. The album winds up with the optimistic Changing, looking forward to the future now that the Bush regime is out of office, and the absolutely gorgeous Rain Again. Toussaint obviously takes his cue here from Marley’s Redemption Song, but in place of the acoustic guitar he substitutes Youssoupha Sidibe’s kora, his inspired rivulets on the African harp adding an extra shimmery texture. For anyone who misses the days when you could tune in to Earl “Rootsman” Chin and see this kind of stuff on Rockers TV, Toussaint will bring back some fond memories with his unique, tuneful and smartly conscious styles. It’s out now on I Grade Records.

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October 14, 2010 Posted by | Music, music, concert, reggae music, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Album of the Day 9/29/10

Every day our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Wednesday’s album is #853:

Israel Vibration – Vibes Alive

There are few more heartwarming music success stories than Israel Vibration. The vocal trio of Wiss (Lascelle Bulgin), Skelly (Cecil Spence) and Apple (Albert Craig), all crippled by polio in early childhood, met in their early teens in a Jamaican orphanage. They discovered Rastafari, left for the bush and the rest is history, as documented in the film Israel Vibration: Reggae in the Holy Land. Over the course of their 35-year career, they’ve released over a dozen albums and all of them are worth owning, if you like classic reggae. Their harmonies may be wobbly, but their songwriting, even by roots reggae standards, is firmly entrenched in the here and now, whether attacking the inequalities of the system, standing up for the sufferahs or simply celebrating a good time. They’ve also released two first-rate live albums, this one from their 1992 US tour being the first, including a good, inspired mix of their many styles: the confrontational Vultures and Racial Discrimination; a defiantly careening version of the ganja-smoking anthem Red Eyes; a raw, guitar-fueled take of the prisoner’s lament On the Rock; and a lusciously jangly, redemptive, practically rock version of Pay Day, which might be their best song. Behind them, bassist Flabba Holt leads the Roots Radics band through one joyous vamp after another as the audience enthusiastically eggs them on to stop the song and start it all over again. Craig left the band in the early zeros; Bulgin and Spence carry on under the same name and continue to tour worldwide. Here’s a random torrent.

September 29, 2010 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, reggae music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: Sierra Leone’s Refugee All Stars at Highline Ballroom, NYC 4/14/10

Highline Ballroom was about as full as it could get without taking the tables down. Conspicuously absent was the Sierra Leonian posse: this was a Coachella crowd that had come to dance and didn’t stop til Sierra Leone’s Refugee All Stars finally called it a night. Maybe there is actually an upside to Vampire Weekend – the idea of Vampire Weekend, anyway – considering how much this audience enjoyed the real thing. The nine-piece group’s long set followed the same trajectory as their superb new album Rise & Shine, alternating cheerily hypnotic three-chord afrobeat jams with anthemic, often magisterial roots reggae. Interestingly, their reggae numbers are more melodically captivating, although the dancers seemed to feel just the opposite. Whichever way you look it at, it was a party. “In Africa, people throw money on us,” boasted singer Reuben M. Koroma, something that takes on considerably greater significance in a place where there’s so little of it.

At their most ecstatic, they had three electric guitars going; at their most dizzyingly rhythmic, one of the guitarists would become a third percussionist. With nimbly intricate drums, slinkily melodic bass, occasional keyboards and joyous vocal harmonies, they’d draw the songs out for as long as ten minutes at a clip, often breaking the reggae numbers down to just the drums and some bass or guitar for a lo-fi dub vibe. The version of the bouncily suggestive Bend Down de Corner on the new album is acoustic, almost mento: here they cranked it up and gave it a late 60s style rocksteady groove, one of the Les Paul players taking over lead vocals and doing a credible Bob Marley evocation. One of several antiwar numbers gave the other Les Paul player the chance to feel his way through a focus-shifting, sunbaked solo, part desert blues, part woozy psychedelia. Many of the other reggae numbers’ harmonies had a carefree Israel Vibration feel, particularly a fervently extended version of the sufferah’s anthem Jah Mercy. Koroma explained that he was looking forward to the day when Jah returns to earth because “Human sense is not enough,” perhaps understandable considering how much war he and the band had to live through. At the end, they brought the opening act, high-spirited hip-hop crew Bajah & the Dry Eye Crew up onstage to cheerlead some call-and-response with the audience through a seemingly endless afrobeat jam. The crowd didn’t want to let them go, but there was an eight AM flight to catch. Sierra Leone’s Refugee All Stars’ US tour continues; the remainder of the dates are here.

April 17, 2010 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Sierra Leone’s Refugee All Stars – Rise & Shine

Feel-good story of the year: Sierra Leone’s Refugee All Stars have emerged from the refugee camps there with a genuinely inspiring, indomitably high-spirited album that literally transcends the horror they’ve collectively experienced. Their cause is peace, unsurprisingly considering what they’ve been through. They’re a terrific roots reggae band, although this new cd intersperses the reggae tracks among a traditional peacemaking chant and a handful of circular, jangly afropop numbers sung in a vivid English patois along with several African languages including Mandingo and Mende. Recorded both in Sierra Leone and New Orleans, with the Bonerama Horns’ sly brass livening three tracks, the songs bring a striking global social awareness to the party: it’s good-time music, but it’s also rooted in the here and now. This isn’t just a good party album, it’s an important one.

The first of the reggae tracks, Global Threat has frequent lead singer Reuben M. Koroma smartly making the connection between global warming and global violence in a fervent rasp similar to Apple Gabriel of Israel Vibration, the band grooving behind him with a slinky, dark vintage Black Uhuru feel capped by an ominously careening trombone solo from Trombone Shorty. They follow that with a hypnotic traditional call-and-response chant over simple percussion. Translation: “Mr. Banker I do not know, do not know what you have done to someone but people hate you.” Living Stone follows, a defiant, triumphant, wickedly catchy upbeat reggae song with the feel of an Israel Vibration classic featuring some sweet soul guitar from Augusrine Kobina Valcarcel. “We are the Rolling Stones,” Koroma triumphantly declares: in their corner of the world, maybe they are.

Jah Mercy does double duty as hymn and sufferah’s litany of injustices; the fast reggae shuffle Jah Come Down aptly revisits the Burning Spear classic Slavery Days for the teens. The acoustic reggae number Bend Down the Corner is a come-on to a pretty woman; the afropop tune Goat Smoke Pipe, sung in Krio (a pidgin English variant) offers a savagely satirical look at food shortages, cows discovering cassava while the goat smokes his pipe to keep hunger at bay. With the trombones going full tilt, the upbeat GBRR Man (Trouble) sounds like Toots & the Maytals. The album closes with a slap at religious hypocrisy, Watching All Your Ways, an all-acoustic reggae song recorded outdoors while the band was sitting around a campfire in Canada. The album’s out on Cumbancha; Sierra Leone’s Refugee All Stars play the Highline Ballroom on April 14 at around ten (popular African hip-hop group Bajah and the Dry Eye Crew, featuring terrific baritone sax player Paula Henderson, open the show around 9), advance tickets very highly recommended since the show will sell out.

April 12, 2010 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

CD Review: Jahmings Maccow – Man Redemption

Anguila expat Jahmings Maccow, formerly of New York roots legends Catch-A-Fire and the Enforcers, writes catchy, Bob Marley-influenced roots reggae songs that would have been right at home on Jamaican radio back in the late 70s. Fans of golden-era reggae singers like Gregory Isaacs, Johnny Clarke, Sugar Minott or Jacob Miller will love this album: if Rockers TV was still in syndication, you would no doubt see “The Rootsman”  interviewing Maccow with much enthusiasm. The production here is far more oldschool than most anything coming out of Jamaica right now, a fat riddim with real keyboards and layers of guitar. Maccow is not only a good songwriter, he’s also a good guitarist, spicing his songs with an incisive yet tersely soulful, pensive edge. The Marley inspiration extends especially to the vocals, Maccow reaching up to the high registers with the same kind of inspired half-yelp. The tunes mix slow anthems in with the upbeat, hitworthy stuff. In keeping with the classic roots vibe, the lyrics address both spiritual and contemporary issues, hence the album title, Man Redemption – a bunch of uplifting tunes that frequently address some pretty heavy issues.

The big, slow, soulful title track – a prayer of sorts – contrasts with the upbeat, obviously Marley-inspired Let Them Grow, like something off the Kaya album with tasteful acoustic guitar accents and a clever, distorted electric guitar solo low in the mix. Set Me Free is more upbeat, late period Marley-style songwriting with a nice, long, thoughtfully doubletracked guitar passage.

How Ya Gwaan Crucify is predictably a lot darker, with a Rastaman Vibration edge. The album’s fifth track, Free the Pain has a playful phased guitar solo – the tune reminds a bit of the late great Lucky Dube. After that, Put You Down/I Didn’t Come has more of a vintage 70s Manhattans/Stylistics style smooth R&B feel. The rest of the album includes the rather apprehensive Dread; Didn’t You Hear, which manages to be both pro-peace and a cautionary tale; the Israel Vibration-inflected See Them Fighting/Ghetto Walls; the gloriously bouncy Jah Jah Say, and the vivid yet understated Cry for Tomorrow. If you’re a fan of classic roots reggae, this is a welcome throwback to a time when artists basically had to at least pay lip service to spirituality and be conscious of the world around them even if they didn’t embrace it. It’s obvious that Maccow is sincere about what he has to say.

July 28, 2009 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment