Alborosie ‘Sound the system’ (Greensleeves) 4/5

Italian roots singer Alborosie is that most unusual of reggae singers in that he has changed both culture and language in order to fully integrate himself into Jamaican popular music and he deserves a good deal of credit for achieving that. His success is testament to his abilities. The singer sees himself very much in the revolutionary tradition of reggae music and this informs his outlook on life and the kind of issues he writes about. For his latest offering he is surrounded by his regular band plus guest musicians of the calibre of horn players Dean Fraser and Nambo Robinson, though Alborosie is in fact a multi-instrumentalist in his own right. The all bar one original compositions include a cover of Bob Marley’s ‘Zion train’ with Ky-Mani Marley guesting on vocals and this features some fine roots instrumentation. Arguably the best of the new material is the collaboration with the Abyssinians on ‘Give thanks’ which is co-written with and performed by the two parties and here the superb harmonies of the group combine well with the dancehall delivery of Alborosie. There is some neo-roots on ‘Play fool (to catch wise)’ which has a bona fide 1980s feel to the instrumentation and in the riddim evokes the Black Uhuru song ‘Sponji reggae’. Overall Alborosie adopts a flexible approach to the music and is equally at ease as a singer, sing-jay or MC. Adding some authentic roots graphics is the contribution of Tony McDermott whose classic album covers graced the Greensleeves vinyl of the late 1970s and 1980s. Alborosie is currently finishing a major European tour that has been underway throughout July and August. Sadly, there are no UK dates where he has still to make an impact on the traditionally conservative reggae audience.

Tim Stenhouse