Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Mykal Rose Plays Downtown Brooklyn

Former Black Uhuru frontman Mykal Rose’s career spans both the roots and the dancehall era of reggae: seeing him outdoors under the trees this afternoon was a little like being at Sunsplash back in the 90s, for part of roots night and a little of dancehall night too. New York is just like MoBay in the summer now, hot and full of tourists – but you can’t smoke “marijuana, the healing of the nation,” as Rose put it, on the street like you could before Rudy Mussolini and his thugs took office. So it was nice to hear Rose kick off his show, the last one of this year’s Thursday noontime BAM concerts at Metrotech Park, with Sinsemilla. They played part of that one again at the end of the show, by request: “You know us Jamaicans, we don’t take no for an answer,” Rose laughed. In between he and his tremendously good four-piece band and two backup singers mixed the classics that the surprisingly energetic massive had come out for along with some more dancehall-oriented fare, including a couple of tracks from his new album Kingston 11.

The early stuff was a trip back in time: this could have been 1980. The band was strictly roots, the keyboardist sticking to electric piano on the verses and sometimes organ on the swells of the choruses, the bassist holding down the fat riddim along with the excellent drummer, who kept it simple and smart while the guitarist would throw in the occasional dub flourish. The cautionary tale Shine Eyed Girl, General Penitentiary with its catchy bass pulse, the watch-your-back anthem Plastic Smile, the bouncy What Is Life with its vibrant harmonies and even the anti-choice number Abortion got the crowd waving their hands and swaying. Then Rose snarled, “Get up, motherfuckers,” and launched into the “new segment,” as he put it, and suddenly we were back in 2010 again. As cheesy as the synthesizer lines were, at least his dancehall stuff is conscious. The first of these was the best, Run From Police, which as Rose explained had topped the reggae charts all over Europe (28 weeks in the UK, he said): “When you gonna make it number one in New York, motherfuckers?” he wanted to know. He big-upped Super Cat and Shabba Ranks, did a relatively rapidfire sufferah’s number, the bitter, synthy ballad Feeling So Lonely (“for the ladies”) and then it was back to the oing-boing-boing toasting and the classics. Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner segued into Happiness and then into a new dancehall song, followed by Party in Session, Ganja Bonanza (one of his solo hits, a pleasant surprise), a little Sinsemilla again and finally closed over an hour and a half’s worth of music with the politically charged pop-reggae smash Solidarity. Rose’s voice has deepened and taken on a rasp in the decades since Black Uhuru ruled the charts, but he still rose to the level of the topnotch group behind him, pretty impressive considering how many thousand times he’s sung this material.

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August 5, 2010 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, reggae music, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Easy Star’s Lonely Hearts Dub Band

This is the third classic album playfully covered by the all-star New York-based roots reggae crew the Easy Star All-Stars, after Dub Side of the Moon and Radiodread. Basically, what they discovered is you can take pretty much anything and make reggae out of it and it’ll sound good. Consider: Shinehead took the odious Seals & Crofts hit Summer Breeze, changed the lyrics, retitled it Collie Weed and…a classic! Thankfully, this album demonstrates far more craftsmanship and subtlety. In fact, in a lot of ways it’s actually better than the original. The band is vastly tighter and the production is far more focused yet brimming with little touches that are often laugh-out-loud funny, much in the same vein as Brian Jonestown Massacre or XTC’s lovingly spot-on parodies of 60s psychedelia, issued under the Dukes of Stratosphear pseudonym a little over 20 years ago.

 

At the end of the opening theme, in lieu of McCartney’s satirical voiceover, a toaster delivers a brief Rasta benediction. From there, the producers have completely mixed up the tracks, but it’s still a fun ride. Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds has bright, melismatic Frankie Paul loverman vocals with ringing guitar that pays homage to the original. Getting Better features the Mighty Diamonds on vocals, sounding as good as ever, slowing it down from the original’s farcical stomp. The only drawback is that the original’s silliness was its selling point: rearranged this way, it’s a nice poppy reggae song, nothing more.

 

Fixing a Hole features none other than Max Romeo on vocals, a hilariously apt choice considering his notoriously disingenuous claim that his big hit Wet Dream was actually about a leaky roof! This one gets deliciously spacy echoes of vintage Scratch Perry. She’s Leaving Home gets a soulful, rather sultry vocal treatment by a newcomer, Kirsty Rock over a fast rocksteady beat. Without missing a beat, the bass drops out and the reverb kicks in when you least expect it. For the Benefit of Mr. Kite has the English Beat’s Ranking Roger on lead vocals, bringing it up doublespeed from the spacy dub first verse and then back again just as fast.

 

Within You Without You has a sitar and Matisyahu doing his best cantorial impression, and he actually doesn’t embarrass himself, with a vivid string section playing much of the original sitar part. When I’m Sixty-Four begins with a trombone call and goes on for over five minutes, Sugar Minott on vox, a showcase for the excellent horn section featuring the nucleus of the Burning Brass, baritone sax virtuoso Jenny Hill and trumpet goddess Pam Fleming, with an understatedly woozy dub breakdown.

 

Lovely Rita has Bunny Rugs and U-Roy, the latter taking it back to 1972 or so with his best Dread in a Babylon-style off-the-cuff nonsense. Good Morning Good Morning is the weakest track here, Steel Pulse sounding slick and uninspired like they were on their studio albums from the 80s rather than mining the classic, dark, heavy sound they’ve recently rediscovered with a vengeance. Surprisingly, the Sgt. Pepper reprise is next, followed by A Day in the Life. Done with an insistent Ras Michael style riddim, it has Michael Rose of Black Uhuru and Menny More sharing vocals, the band holding perfectly steady as the orchestra rises to a crescendo, the final piano note oscillating dubwise for just as long as George Martin’s fist-on-the-strings. A Little Help from My Friends has Luciano on lead vocals, and it might be the best song he’s ever done, thanks to the band’s inspired performance. Right now the whole album is available for streaming at imeem. Caveat: after the first song, don’t forget to refresh the page, otherwise you’ll be assaulted by a loud audio ad. And make sure your popup blocker is working.

 

Since this crew seem to have dedicated themselves to covering one iconic artist after another, we’d like to suggest a few ideas. Dread at the Apollo would be James Brown covers, preferably recorded live, uptown at the same place – hey, it would be a short train ride for most of the musicians. The Man in Red, Gold and Green would be Johnny Cash songs. And to give the lady performers a chance to flex, how about Fox Confessor Bring de Herb? That would be Neko Case, yeah mon!  

April 14, 2009 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment