Morgan Heritage ‘Strictly Roots’ (CTBC Music) 4/5

morgan-heritageThis first independent release on the group’s own label is a departure from their previous recordings with a discernible harder edge and it is a determined effort for the band to succeed on their own terms. The varied selection of styles is still there, however, and long-time fans need not worry that Morgan Heritage have veered away too much from their fan base. Recorded at several locations including California, Florida and Tuff Gong in Kingston, the music still manages to showcase the more soulful side of reggae (with the possible influence of Third World and even the Maytones), though the band wear their conscious beliefs on their sleeves. A contender for most compelling number is the mid-tempo Marley flavoured ‘Rise and Fall’ that has a passing resemblance to ‘Burning and Looting’ with collective harmonies in the chorus, and there is a definite urgency to the opening song and title track. What this writer especially likes here is the use of real horns rather than the keyboard sound effect that is never quite the same and the group also avoid the use of vocoder-aided vocals that is pervasive in a good deal of contemporary reggae. A lilting mid-tempo treatment of ‘Why dem come around’ features shred lead vocals and impassioned ones at that while a strong social message emerges on the roots attack of ‘Wanna be loved’ featuring Eric Rachmany.

Morgan Heritage have not forgotten how to appeal to a wider audience for all that and the gentle pop-reggae of ‘Put it on me’ and on the rock-tinged guitar that accompanies ‘Child of Jah’. More contemporary grooves with a dancehall feel mixed with conscious lyrics on ‘We are Warriors’ and a successful fusion of genres it is while ‘Light it up’ is more of a modern-day dancehall number featuring another member of the extended Marley family in vocalist Joe Mersa Marley. Only the single, ‘Keep on Jammin’, panders to the contemporary reggae formula, but is not at all bad for all that. Given the variety of locations, the sound quality does differ a little, with the opener sounding slightly muffled, but overall there is no major issue. A European tour beckons later in the year, but for now this quality release will attract and is likely to stand the test of time.

Tim Stenhouse