Garry from SAN PR is always sending through new bands to look at and check out, so when he sent through a copy of On The Ground, the new album from reggae unit Black Roots, I was intrigued to know what was going on. Opening stating it’s not the usual sort of thing that they deal with, I too was a little out of kilter when first checking out the album, but as always, went into it with an open mind to see what was going on. Despite the original line up of the band not being together for over twenty years, the band have managed to get back in the studio and produce a 17 track album which puts them straight back into that Black Roots groove, offering up reggae sounds to accompany the most chilled out moments, whilst charging their message with political and sociological views. I figured the best way to deal with this was to crack on the album, turn up the bass, and see what I thought.
From the opening moments of I Believe there’s one thing clear, this is some seriously funky and groovy reggae style stuff, offering up a chilled out and laid back beat which is going to accompany a sunny afternoon to perfection. Despite the chilled out tones of the track, there’s also a serious message coming across through the lyrical content, keeping you listening to what’s going on and engaging with the band throughout. Pompous Way continues this approach, once again building the track around the elements you’d expect from a reggae track whilst still managing to keep that serious message flowing out of the track. I love the political side to reggae music as I’ve always felt it creates a contrast within the music, almost as a form of peaceful protest against society as it stands. ‘If It No Broke, No Fix It’ echoes out across the track as the key message here, and something which applies to the style of music in question at the same time, showing that when you’re dealing with class, just let the music do the talking for you – and they’ve done it well.
Long Long Ago presents us with a more upbeat approach to things, immediately getting you swaying from the word go and creating a sense of movement throughout the track. Whilst it’s clichéd to say it, this is a track which is going to bring back images of sunshine, white beaches and all things summer. Despite these immediate images in your mind, you’ve got to appreciate the story being told through the track, talking about a time gone by in rural Jamaica and transporting you there to show you what it was like. It’s funny how people always talk about the power of music to take you to a different place, and what you’ve got here is a band who are doing just that with the record, taking you to their place and showing you what life was like and why their views are what they are. Returning to the more serious message, Militancy once again brings back the power of the music as a political tool and shows that reggaes roots are indeed still as firmly rooted as they’ve always been. Layered with simple yet effective guitar lines, deep and meaningful lyrics and that signature slow drum beat, this is another head nodding and mood evoking track which is going to secure these guys a slot as being firmly back on the scene.
Progressing through the tracks through Earth Lan, I Am Flying, Slavery, Oh Mama Africa and Hide Out, each track presents us with that signature reggae approach whilst each time presenting a different view point or perspective, showing that whilst some may perceive reggae as a simple sound, it’s way more complex than first meets the eye. On The Ground comes around as a serious high point on the record, standing out as a track which is going to allow the band to reach an audience that might not usually listen to reggae, presenting a sound which is once again upbeat, full of dance beat tempos and a calm inducing backing melody, all the elements combining to form a track which personally, I’ve listened to repeatedly since getting hold of the album.
Call Me Out, No Fee, Struggle, Landscape and Without Direction each continue to lead you through the album, each time presenting more bass heavy reggae rhythms and layered vocals, forming a melodic and rhythmic sound which is impossible to resist and allowing you the time to simply take in what’s going on here rather than forcing you into doing anything. The laid back brass tones of the reggae sound echo out across the mix, adding depth to the sound and forming a mix which will sooth the mood of anyone who listens, immediately brightening up the mood of all who hear it.
Another serious highpoint on the album is Capitalism, another track which is packed with a message we can’t afford to ignore, showing that there are bands out there who aren’t afraid to comment on the state of society and write music about it. Yes there is a political message but the laid back approach of getting it out there means you don’t feel it’s forced upon you, allowing you to listen to the message, make up your own mind and go from there. The same can be said for the closing moments of Come And Sing, closing the album with a track which leaves things on a high note and your mood in the best possible state. Once again offering up some soft beats, slow tempo reggae beats and jams, the final track on this album asks you to forget the divide in society, and simply join in with the band to sing and enjoy (or that’s what I took from it anyway!). The final track seems to epitomise the band to me, showing that there’s no need to be aggressive or kick off about things, but that simply creating music which sooths and passes on a message is enough.
I didn’t know what I was going to think when Black Roots were first sent through to us, but I’ve loved this album from start to finish. 17 tracks is a hefty album to cover, and sometimes I would struggle to work through each of them – but with this one it was enjoyable listening to every single one on the record. Is this music that’s going to change the world, I don’t know. What I do know though is that this is an album which is going to appeal to existing reggae fans and convert new fans to the band, offering you an album which is going to chill you out, make you think, but most of all, enjoy.
To find out more about Black Roots, check out their Facebook page HERE.
Words: Dave Nicholls
Black Roots headline The Harbourside Festival this coming Saturday the 21st July – on stage 9pm