Playlist (November/December 2012)

Recent music releases to get your fingers tapping


Our pick

The Return, by Morgan Heritage (VP Records)

After a four-year hiatus, the other royal family of Jamaican reggae has reunited with a four-song EP, forerunner to a full-length studio album. The name says it: The Return is a clear declaration of strength. Music as social commentary has always been Morgan Heritage’s forte, and the title track uses strong vocals over brass to craft a new reggae-as-revolutionary sound, while the militant chords and lyrics of “Stand Up” — “I an’ I nah sell out!” — is a rhythmic reaffirmation of the Rastafarian faith and Jamaican culture.

The band also skilfully attempts a reggae remix of the Michael Jackson and Paul McCartney duet “The Girl Is Mine”, using the original 1980s-style score with just a subtle reggae beat underneath, and Peetah and Gramps Morgan doing the vocal duel. “Have No Fear” is another nod to their social and spiritual activism. Production-wise, the song is nearly bare-bones, a pared-down, prayerful Rasta chant, with the beautifully stark harmony of voices lending power.


 SLR, by Gyptian (VP Records)

SLR, a new digital EP from rising reggae star Gyptian, is meant to whet appetites for his 2013 full-length album Sex, Love, and Reggae. But the six-song EP may turn some fans the other way. The first two tracks, “Overtime” (on the Justus riddem) and “All Over”, are raw and raunchy, not the sexy reggae that Gyptian does best. Riddem-driven tunes crowd the warm rasp of his voice and turn his sound into typical dancehall. “Number One” is a faster, heavier version of Gregory Isaacs’s classic, but although the music video is suitably retro (Gyptian in a straw fedora grooving near a beach bonfire), it isn’t a gripping reinvention. With “Wine Slow”, Gyptian is batting in his crease. It’s slow, sensuous, intimate reggae crooning, with a beautiful acoustic guitar in the background. But he really settles into his sweet spot with “One More Time”. With a live band behind him, subtle lyrics, and a beat made for slow wining, it’s arguably the EP’s best track.

Desiree Seebaran

 Jakoostik Volume 1 (Griot Music)

If VHI hosted an “unplugged” version of Jamaican music, it would sound like Jakoostik. Formerly known as the Calabash Acoustic Ensemble, the band — former Chalice lead singer Wayne Armond, Seretse Small, and Donald Waugh — has served up an impressive nine-track disc that gives an acoustic spin to some well-known Jamaican classics, including Jimmy Cliff’s “Sitting in Limbo” (from the Harder They Fall soundtrack), Beres Hammond’s “Putting Up a Resistance”, and Bob Marley’s “Waiting in Vain”. In a sea of synth-dominated music, the sound of fingers strolling up and down the fret of a guitar is a welcome change. The bare instrumentation also reinforces the power of the vocals, and the blending of the voices. Other tracks include “Book of Rules”, the Peter Tosh cover “Pick Myself Up”, and Byron Lee and Eric Morris’s “Sammy Dead/Hard Man fe Dead”.

Brand New Mischief, by Leon Thomas

Miami-based, Trinidad-born Leon Thomas has a gift for making you appreciate the beauty of the steelpan, especially when he pours some jazz music over it. Brand New Mischief, the follow-up to What You Don’t Know, is inspired by the birth of his daughter Annecy. In his liner notes, Thomas says he was so excited when he heard the news that he and his spouse Jaime were expecting a baby, it triggered emotions best described through the songs on his album — all composed and arranged by Thomas. Annecy also has a song on her daddy’s disc with her name on it. Impressive tracks in this short set include the delightful pan-jazz romp “Soul Window”, “Baby Powder”, and the title track. Musicians featured on Brand New Mischief include Allen C. Paul on piano, Kurt Hengstebeck on acoustic bass, and Ludwig Alfonso on drums.

Essiba Small