Here is a much anticipated release that delivers with an almighty righteous punch of authenticity. Picture the idyllic scene. Overlooking the hills of Kingston, assemble a number of the crème de la crème of reggae singers from the classic roots era with a smattering of the younger generation to reinvigorate proceedings accordingly. Then record organically with a pared down instrumentation and let mother nature and skilled musicianship take care of the rest. The result is this consummately produced take on the roots reggae tradition, with more than a few surprises in the ever inventive re-interpretations of classic numbers. Chapter Two records are no less than the expert team from Makasound in Paris and they know a good reggae tune like they know a vintage cheese and wine or two from their native land.
The mighty roots harmonies of The Viceroys get proceedings off to a most dignified start with acoustic guitar and percussive accompaniment to, ‘Love is the key’, and with the glorious sound of crickets in the background. A stunning way to begin. Ken Boothe is an institution on the reggae map and the lovely piano vamp and heavyweight percussion lead into a wonderful take on, ‘Let the water run dry’, one of two offerings, the other being a sumptuous reading of the all-time favourite, ‘Artibella’. A real favourite of this writer is the glorious revisiting of ‘Slaving’ by seminal roots bassist Lloyd Parks. What makes this version stand out is the heady mix of strummed guitar, collective wordless vocals and percussion which together makes for a wonderful alternative to the Glenn Brown classic interpretation. Sadly, that title has never been more relevant with modern day slavery all around us.
Cult singer Kiddus I is one of the overlooked talents of roots reggae in the 1970s and so it comes as a most pleasant surprise to hear that he is still in top form on, ‘Jah power, Jah glory’. Equally respected and acclaimed is former lead singer of the Congos, Cedric Myton, who contributes the excellent, ‘Youthman’. Another veteran roots singer worthy of attention, and one whom the Makasound label did so much to promote, is Winston McAnuff and he excels as ever on ‘Secret’.
Among the younger generation. Kush McAnuff has featured previously on Chapter Two releases and here he fronts a strong uptempo roots number, ‘Back to I roots’, where horns (or are those keyboards, perhaps, reproducing the sound of horn instruments?), piano and percussion all combine to good effect. New names to this writer include Derajah, Steve Newland and Bo-Pee whose excellent, ‘Thanks and praises’, ends the album on a natural high.
In a world where roots reggae is sometimes forgotten and regarded as a distant relic of the past, it is heartwarming to know that a specialist record label is doing its utmost to showcase the sub-genre and actively promote the representation of the music in the second decade of the twenty-first century. Absolutely first class information on the recording itself and revealing that to be a story worthy of recounting in its own regard.
That France has played an important role in the promotion of reggae music is beyond doubt. As if to demonstrate the argument, an accompanying short film documentary is available too. The various artists will come together at the prestigious and recently built Philharmonie de Paris to perform on 22 April and from the same month onwards – there has never been a better time to visit Paris, but avoid those April showers all the same! This new release deserves to be a hit with a live follow-up to boot.