Debut album from UK reggae artist with plenty to say.
Angus Taylor 2010-03-11
Stocky sound-system chanter Solo Banton has taken his time in launching a recording career. But his debut album for Reading-based producer Kris Kemist's Reality Shock label is well worth the wait.
A producer, sound-system selector and emcee since the 80s, Banton was persuaded to come from behind the desk and vocalise in the booth by session-guitarist Kemist. Kemist’s own productions strike a neat balance between British roots music’s present and past: heavy enough for the UK dub rigs yet melodic enough for home listening.
Solo’s gruff delivery, irrepressible personality and fiercely intelligent lyrics may draw a superficial comparison with didactic roots-ragga pioneer Macka B. The rhythms he rides, produced mainly by Kemist with contributions from the UK’s Mafia & Fluxy, Denmark’s One People Production, and Switzerland’s Hugo Wolf, create a patchwork of dancehall, roots and dub without a single audible stitch.
The rugged individualism of Solo’s moniker (literally "lone talker") is expressed through self-reliance anthem No Way (a different Subject-produced cut appeared on Urban Sedated’s 2008 Global Reggae Selection set). Stronger recounts his path to Rastafari, while Roots Rock Reggae, previously released on label sampler Reality Shock Volume 1, is a swaggering one-drop tribute to its author’s favoured style of song.
Not all his views chime with liberal sensibilities. Love and Understanding, featuring Reality Shock stable-mate Mikey Murka, and womanly celebration Empress carry strong anti-abortion messages.
But in the main he focuses on less-contentious targets. The title-track criticises the “gangsta ras” image adopted by Jamaican artists such as Munga; Jimmy (the sole major-key tune) addresses urban poverty; and Economic Crisis attacks both government and bankers over their role in the recession.
Aqua Livi, another Reality Shock performer, sings on a cover of the Wailing Souls classic Kingdom Rise. The back end of the disc features five dub mixes by dogged UK versionists Dougie Wardrop and Russ D.
Bristling with lyrical ingenuity, blunt honesty and life experience, Walk Like Rasta "walks the talk" across all 19 tracks. The UK reggae scene may no longer be the envy of Europe but the island's best artists still have plenty to say.