Clinton Fearon ‘Heart and Soul’ (Kool Yu Foot) 4/5

Formerly one of the founding members of the mighty roots reggae group the Gladiators, bassist and singer Clinton Fearon featured on some of the most enduring sides of Jamaican music starting with ‘Hello Carol’ for Studio One back in 1969 and throughout the 1970s he composed and performed with the very best including Junior Byles, the Ethiopians, Max Romeo and Willi Williams among many others. Indeed it may come as a surprise to some to learn that the backing group to seminal roots artist Yabby You, who passed away a couple of years ago, were none other than the Gladiators under the alias of the Prophets.

However, when the Gladiators split up in the 1980s, Fearon moved on to the United States where he settled and founded new roots group John Brown’s Body. However, he still harboured solo ambitions and signed with French independent label Makasound in 2012 for a fine recording, ‘Mi deh ya’, and has now returned on Sterns/Chapter Two with an all-acoustic album revisiting some of the classic Gladiators songs as well as some new ones. Pride of place resides with the anthemic ‘Let Jah be praised’ which has gorgeous harmonies and just acoustic guitar and bass to accompany. Fearon has always been a superb bass player and the most melodic of basslines accompanies the very Bob Marleyesque ‘Stop before you go’. Another winner of a song is ‘Richman Poorman’ with the most basic of percussion. Can reggae still work in such a pared down setting? The answer here is an emphatic thumbs up because, when stripped down to the bone, the songs reveal the sheer beauty of the melodies and Clinton Fearon still possesses a fine voice. This is a joint Franco-British release that deserves to reach a wider public and with songs such as the folk-reggae sounding ‘On the other side’, the album should achieve precisely that.

Tim Stenhouse