By: Dennis Cook
This week we'll offer you a look at three of the best, forward-minded reggae releases this year. For a genre that can sometimes seem a bit stodgy or frozen in time, the three groups spotlighted this week – Soothsayers, The Black Seeds and Groundation - represent the forefront of reggae today and tomorrow.
The best reggae often hits us bodily before engaging the mind, a warm soak that loosens muscles and situates one in the now with a satisfying, "Ahhhh." The U.K.-based Soothsayers have this part of the equation down pat, but then rapidly introduce modern elements like Cubanismo, a silky dub sensibility, standout male and female singers and expertly undulating brass. This meeting with The Red Earth Collective taps into reggae's natural propensity for collaboration, producing seriously heady results that handily explore classic lover's rock and root's social consciousness in ways that makes them feel brand new.
Flow is supreme on One More Reason (Red Earth Records), which moves with the languid dexterity of early Grace Jones and Black Uhuru albums nestled in something far more explicitly Afrocentric. These are, of course, broad strokes, and a good part of the Soothsayers' appeal is their nuances and differences, like the '60s Flower Children vibe of "Slown Down," the Linton Kwesi Johnson-like "Mama Said" with Bob Skeng, and the smooth-jazz-tinged "Tears of Sorrow" with the great Michael Prophet delivering a honeyed lead vocal. Also of note are the seductive singing of Mellow Baku, which bring in a cool nu-soul feel, and the smoldering bed sheet turndown of "Your Love" featuring Johnny Clarke. Instrumental "River Effra" has a great vintage Skatalites feel with especially strong trombone soloing.
Nothing here stumbles or meanders. There is great purpose and energy to each segment, even the more vibrationally copacetic sections, and this alone sets One More Reason, Soothsayers and The Red Earth Collective apart from a multitude of reggae acts simply treading water and following established patterns. A Mad Professor remix and a stoned-to-the-bone dub of "Tears of Sorrow" cap off one of the finest roots reggae albums in years.
JamBase | Holdin' On
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