A surprisingly good album that proves he lives up to his name.
Angus Taylor 2009-10-16
Levi Roots is now arguably more famed for his condiments and recipes than for this music. Yet, as new album Red Hot demonstrates, behind the media hype lurks a talented roots reggae artist.
It helps that he’s enlisted some of the UK and Jamaica’s most esteemed players and desk-drivers. Co-producers and rhythm builders Mafia & Fluxy take drum bass and keyboard duties; sax and trombone come courtesy of the great Dean Fraser and Henry ‘Buttons’ Tenyue; and the engineer is Sup A Cup’s Gussie P.
Single So Out of My Mind is the only shamelessly commercial effort, taking The Chi-Lites’ Stoned Out of My Mind and adding a few lines from Shakespeare’s 18th Sonnet (lyrics like “I was a backseat driver in a car of love” jar with the bard’s verse just a tad). This track is, however, completely unrepresentative of the record as a whole.
The remainder fuses Roots’ earthy voice with crisp, punchy modern roots rhythms and edifying topics. US Africa calls for a united continent to a jogging, determined beat. The poignant, dubby Everything is Natural asks that we treat our environment with respect.
Black on Black focuses on crime and violence in Britain and Brixton in particular, while the universal unity plea Share Love bookends the album – as both a broad-of-appeal acoustic mix at the beginning and a more militant rockers version at the end.
Born Keith Graham, Levi Roots started out as an emcee on Sir Coxsone Outernational Sound System in the early 1980s. He formed the group Matic 16 (along with the aforementioned ‘Buttons’) before going solo in 1983.
His 1998 release Free Your Mind earned him a MOBO nomination. And in 2007 an appearance on the BBC TV show Dragons’ Den catapulted him into the mainstream as the face of his Reggae Reggae Sauce brand.
Some listeners may have trouble squaring Levi’s cultural credentials with his media ubiquity. But this surprisingly good album proves that, musically, he still lives up to his name.