A perfect example of what was, in reality, a high point in reggae's golden age.
Angus Taylor 2008-03-11
Triston Palma's (or Palmer as he was also known) Joker Smoker was notable not just for his praise of herb smoking (nothing new in reggae) but for its sardonic appraisal of the moochers and chancers that those who live such a lifestyle are fated to encounter. Its continuing resonance was proven in 2006 when the Italian singjay and producer, Alborosie, released his own anthem, Herbalist, on the Joker Smoker rhythm. Now, Greensleeves have decided to reissue Palma's album of the same name, including four bonus tracks, and it's a heavy duty pleasure from start to finish.
Joker Smoker was released in 1981, when reggae had become fascinated with its own fundamentals: sparse reworkings of familiar rhythms, with pounding kick drums, simple plodding basslines, and effects laden, highly evocative guitar and keyboard lines. These tended to be played by the Roots Radics band who created all the backings for this disc, produced by the deejay Jah Thomas at the famous Channel One Studio.
The received mainstream critical wisdom on this era is that it was a musical blind alley that necessitated the iconoclasm of hard dancehall later in the decade. But the captivating ambience and musical intricacies of a record like Joker Smoker show this up for the reductive nonsense that it is. Bingy Bunny's chopping rhythm guitar work, Sowell Bailey and Dwight Pinckney's plaintive, chorus laden, lead guitar phrasing, and the primordial, relentless drum and bass foundations laid down by Errol Holt and Style Scott are typical of a time when modern production techniques, live instrumentation, dancehall rhythms and rootical lyrics came together as one.
But it is the small touches that really impress. These include Dean Fraser, Nambo Robinson and Deadly Headley Bennett's mocking horns (parodying Palma's dried honey vocals) on the title track, Gladstone Anderson's precisely considered, minimal piano, and percussionist Sky Juice's use of a Cuica friction drum on Give Me Your Love.
Joker Smoker may be the album's centre, but every one’s a winner here. A perfect example of what was, in reality, a high point in reggae's golden age.