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Old 04-11-2010, 05:02 PM   #24 (permalink)
why bother?
Bulldog's Avatar
Join Date: Sep 2008
Location: UK
Posts: 4,826

To make things that little bit more interesting, I'm gonna take you on a bit of a stylistic detour before taking you back down a more general/conventional pop route. Anyway, these next three albums should give you something of an idea as to how pop songwriting can find its way into the field of reggae music. At the same time, I can see I've started rambling a bit much here, so I'll try and trim the reviews a bit. Anyway, here we go...

Barrington Levy - Here I Come (1985)

Let's start with a certain Barrington Levy; a man who mainly, outside of the world of dedicated reggae-heads, doesn't really get an awful lot of mention. It's a shame really, because he's actually quite good (hence my staring at this screen and typing up this post). He's been mentioned before in mine and Sir Jackhammer's reggae introduction thread if anyone wants to have a gander.

Anyway, meet Barrington Levy, one of many of the more famous singer-songwriters to emerge from Jamaica's dancehall scene of the late 70s. Giving you a nice, quick run-down of what exactly that was, dancehall reggae was the Jamaican musical community's response to the international popularity of the roots reggae of the likes of Bob Marley, Peter Tosh, the Abysinnians, Aswad and so on. That response was one that took the rhythmic, groove-based backbone of roots reggae, removed the politically-motivated lyrical themes and replaced them with all kinds of more light-hearted stuff - songs about cutting some shapes on the dancefloor, where babies come from and so forth. Some singers (DJs as they're called in Jamaica - the term MC is an American, hip-hop culture thing) decided to simply record roots reggae with different lyrical themes while others (like Mr. Levy here) chose to inject pop melodies, song-structures and contemporary production values into their work. So then, if I was gonna be stone-faced and technical, I'd call this good old dancehall reggae. A simpler name for it to go by is reggae-pop. Good reggae-pop as it happens. It sounds a tiny bit dated but, looking back over this list, so do a few other albums I've mentioned (and will mention in future). This is reggae music for someone who doesn't really listen to a lot of the stuff, and the kind of reggae music which just leaves its mark on you afterwards as the better and more memorable pop music of any kind does. Definitely a must.

Beres Hammond - Soul Reggae (1976)

I could just not bother typing up something to go with the above sleeve art, but I'm completely dry as far as booze goes, the chick-a-dee's currently on the opposite side of the Irish Sea and I'm on a caffeine buzz and therefore not really feeling particularly lazy at the minute. The point is that if not every picture is worth a thousand words, the above one is - kinda describes this album fairly well.

Soul Reggae = reggae soul then, which itself is another form of the side of reggae music with more of a mass appeal to it. Jimmy Cliff's superb You Can Get It If You Really Want is probably the most famous reggae soul song there is, and Beres Hammond here is one of the more renowned singers of such music. Like the above Barrington Levy, he's got a very vast discography, although this is one of his more highly-regarded efforts and is therefore one of the more highly-regarded reggae soul albums you can go about laying your hands on.

Anyway, let's back up a little bit and put this into some kind of context - roots reggae had peaked by the time dancehall reggae emerged from the ether, and one of the other sub-genres to emerge from that ether was one called lover's rock. The clue's in the name really - lover's rock is the codename for the more schmaltzy, romantic side of reggae music. In some cases, singers would emulate the vocal styles and production methods of any amount of the Philadelphia soul records they owned. An example of this coming into effect is, of course, this Beres Hammond album. This is done to such great effect that, in some places (like the song in the below video), this doesn't sound like what you'd expect from a 70s reggae album at all. It's as much a top of the pile reggae album as it is such a soul album, and one of the finest products of one of the legend of reggae music in its prime.

Matisyahu - Youth (2006)

And then, fast-forward to the last decade, and you've got people like Matisyahu. Again, he's not exactly what you'd call out-and-out, bubblegum-chomping, student-bar-on-a-weekday-night pop music, but not only is he a great example of what roots reggae's evolved into over the last 30-40 years, but also of how reggae still has a role to play it popular music today (and how it can do so without resorting to shitty, modern r'n'b embellishments a'la Damian Marley, Beenie Man etc).

From what I've heard of mass-oriented, popular reggae today, ragga-styled vocals are the in thing, and this album provides no exception to that little rule (well, mostly). I won't mince it - ragga vocals really do have such an edge to them when they're used well. In fact, ragga makes up another component of Matisyahu's sound here on the whole, what with the lively drum and bass rhythms to go with the whole package. Barring such evolutions of the archetypal style, this superb album is a great show of reggae taken into the 21st century and, as I say, one that doesn't suffer from being driven by an over-ambitious writer and record company that are all too keen to seem contemporary and reap the benefits of having a single or two turn up on the next instalment of SingStar. It's modern reggae with style, dignity, a hell of a punch and King Without a Crown to it, which are quite simply never bad things.

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