Music Buzz (September/ October 2004)

On True Love, Toots and the Maytals revisit their hit-strewn career with a little help from their friends • Sheldon Blackman’s 2000 album Remember Me is back — with a difference • Creole music lovers head to Dominica at the end of October • Are anglophone music fans ready for Chris Combette’s cool folk-jazz-reggae fusion? • Plus Gregory Isaacs, Sabbattical Ahdah, Jah Mason, and Luciano in our Rhythm Roundup

Belle musiqueFeel the loveLa Danse de FloreRemember Me ReloadedRhythm Roundup

Feel the love

True Love Toots and the Maytals (V2/BMG, B0001GNDN4)

The phrase “celebrity guest” usually fills a music fan with dread, but in the case of True Love, what could have come off as a sad gimmick ends up working superbly, thanks to some smart musical pairings and tight rein-holding by Toots and the Maytals themselves. On True Love, Frederick “Toots” Hibbert and his cohorts team up with artists representing a range of popular music genres to re-interpret 14 of the band’s own reggae-soul hits, plus one original by Willie Nelson, who, along with Bonnie Raitt, carries the torch for the country music set. Nelson’s track, Still Is Still Moving to Me, is the album’s most surprising collaboration: Toots’s round, melodious voice and Nelson’s reedy, syncopated delivery are poles apart, but they play well off one another.

The other pairings mostly work with ease, testimony to the rich blend of styles the Maytals have drawn upon. Ryan Adams is perfectly at home duelling with Toots on the easy-rocking Time Tough, and Phish’s Trey Anastasio is understated on the mento-flavoured Sweet and Dandy, one of two Maytals songs from the soundtrack for Jamaican cult film The Harder they Come — the other is Pressure Drop, interpreted here with the help of Eric Clapton. Representing rock-and-roll’s various other permutations are Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones, No Doubt’s Gwen Stefani, and Jeff Beck, who brings his famous guitar riffs to Toots’s jailbird chronicle 54-46 (That’s My Number). In the Jamaican music corner, Shaggy and Rahzel take on the popular Bam Bam, while Toots joins Ken Boothe and Marcia Griffiths for Reggae Got Soul, Bunny Wailer for Take a Trip, and Terry Hall, U-Roy, and the Skatalites for Never Grow Old. Funkmaster Bootsy Collins and progressive rappers The Roots join the party on the album’s craziest track, Funky Kingston.

True Love succeeds because of the massive presence of Toots and his towering gospel-hall voice, as well as a stellar back-up band, which keeps the guests’ contributions respectfully within the bounds of the Maytals corral. While none of these pairings adds anything essential to songs that were already certified hits back in the late 60s and 70s, this album is likely to expose a whole new generation of listeners to the work of one of Jamaica’s greatest and most influential bands. And that, as Martha Stewart used to say, is a good thing.

Georgia Popplewell

Second coming

Remember Me Reloaded Sheldon Blackman (ES 00147)

This isn’t an exact re-issue of 2000’s oft-brilliant Remember Me. There’ve been additions as well as subtractions, and this version is — perhaps more accurately — credited to Sheldon Blackman rather than Sheldon Blackman and the Love Circle. The ultra-talented Blackman, having some fun with the album’s title, has described Reloaded as “re-designed, re-structured, re-mastered, re-packaged, re-vitalised, re-launched,” adding that “some songs have even been re-moved.” Reloaded loses three of its predecessor’s tracks, including a Christmas song whose inclusion probably had many listeners scratching their heads in the first place, and adds two: the not terribly memorable Revolution (chant), and a version of the Love Circle’s classic anti-drugs anthem Watch Out My Children which mixes the late Ras Shorty I’s lead vocal with Sheldon’s. But all in all this is a better sounding album than its predecessor, better showcasing Blackman’s soaring voice and the exceptional musicianship of the Blackman family band the Love Circle.

GP

 

Belle musique

October is Creole Heritage Month, celebrating the Caribbean’s French Creole culture. In St Lucia — where a French-based patois is widely spoken, and influences the accent even of those who speak only English — the main event is Jounen Kweyol, or International Creole Day, which this year falls on 24 October. A massive celebration of food, music, dancing, and folklore unfolds across the island, each village showing off the best it has to offer. But for music lovers, the main event takes place a week later, two islands to the north, in Dominica, where the World Creole Music Festival takes place over the last weekend of the month. This year, Festival City near Roseau will host thousands of fans and acts like zouk mega-stars Kassav, Haiti’s Tabou Combo and the “bad boy of compas” Sweet Mickey, Antigua’s Burning Flames, and Barbados’s Atlantik, plus Dominica’s own WCK, originators of the musical style they call bouyon.

The World Creole Music Festival runs takes place from 29 to 31 October in festival City, Dominica. For further information, visit www.worldcreolemusicfestival.net

 

Chantez-vous français?

La Danse de Flore Chris Combette (Creon Music & Rituals Music, 5941492)

We in the Caribbean live in a region with four major language groups and numerous creoles, but while the Caribbean’s non-English speakers treat music from the anglophone islands with a fair degree of reverence — reggae especially, but calypso and soca also have their fans — those of us who inhabit the English-speaking territories have little curiosity about the music of our Spanish, French, and Dutch-speaking neighbours. You could blame it on human nature, or the hegemonical ways of English-speakers, or the mistaken assumption held by many that understanding the meaning of a song’s lyrics is always essential to appreciating a song; but it would still be a shame. For, because of this, we’re likely to miss out on the work of an artist like Chris Combette.

The French Guiana-born, Martinique-bred singer/guitarist has been making overtures towards the anglophone market in recent times, collaborating with Trinidad’s Rituals Music on 2002’s De Plein Sud à Salammbô, a best-of of sorts, and now on La Danse de Flore. Like Kali, another dreadlock-sporting Martiniquan folkie with whom he’s likely to be compared, Combette’s repertoire includes quite a bit of reggae. His strongest material, however, are those numbers where folk, cool jazz, and French Caribbean and Latin rhythms are variously combined. On La Danse de Flore, this includes pop-folk selections like Le Village, where Combette’s sandpapery voice is complemented by harmonica; bossa novas both breezy — like the outstanding title track — and deliciously languid, like Soledad; straight-up pop numbers such as Les Bas Quartiers and the R&B-flavoured Ma Schizo, where Combette sounds like he’s channelling French pop titan Serge Gainsbourg (the song’s subject — drinking and despair — is Gainsbourg-esque as well), with a rap by Tony Chasseur; the slow Jobim-like cha-cha-cha Memm Si; and zouk/compas numbers like Moto Kontan To and Mesi Konpa. The album also includes two pleasant but forgettable reggae tracks and the Steely Dan-like Worker Song (the only track on the album sung in English), which to anglophone ears is likely to sound like an amusing novelty number, because of Combette’s accent as much as for its theme of disillusionment with the office grind (always hard to take seriously coming from the mouth of a working musician). For lyrics wonks, La Danse de Flore’s liner notes also offer English translations of the French and Créole texts.

Georgia Popplewell

 

Rhythm roundup

World music specialists Putumayo have won awards for their series of compilations aimed at young listeners. The latest is Caribbean Playground (Putumayo PUTU226-2), a selection of upbeat reggae, soca, and zouk tunes by performers like Desmond Dekker (Jamaica Farewell), Atlantik (All Aboard), and Martinique’s Kali (Tambou Dan Tche Nou). Complete lyrics are available at Putumayo’s children’s website, putumayokids.com, to get sing-alongs started.

Forgive Her, She’s Gone, Have I Sinned — the song titles say it all. On his new album, Open the Door (RAS/Sanctuary B0002198ZU), Gregory Isaacs — the undisputed king of lovers’ rock — teams up with hot-shot producer-musicians Mafia and Fluxy for what may be his freshest-sounding album in at least a decade. And 20 years after his heyday, the Cool Ruler’s signature croon is as smooth as ever.

• For the last year or two, serious reggae fans have been keeping a close eye on the music scene in the US Virgin Islands — specifically, St Croix — where a small reggae renaissance is in full swing, powered by performers like Midnite, Bobo Ites, and Sabbattical Ahdah, whose album Heart Ah Joy (SPM Records/Iyah Ites Productions) is slowly but steadily winning attention, thanks to fierce conscious lyrics, enthusiastic word of mouth, and an appearance at the 2004 Sierra Nevada World Music Festival.

• Strong, sincere lyrics delivered in a gruff patter over an almost gentle backing of horns, keyboards, and drums are the trademark of young Jamaican Jah Mason’s new album Most Royal (Jah Warrior Records B0002DX9XK). Fans of roots reggae stars like Capleton and Sizzla ought to like what they hear.

• The “Messenjah” himself, Luciano, has never been more outspoken than on his new release, Serious Times (VP VP1688). Most likely to trigger controversy: Stay Away, an anti-war track incorporating a sample from a speech by George W. Bush.

Philip Sander