Wicked. Wicked. Wicked. Northern California’s premier reggae band, Strictly Roots, is shocking the airwaves with their crucial 2000 release entitled “Generation.” While the roots sound is steady throughout the album, elements of dancehall are thrown into the mix, providing a sweet combination that makes you move.
I was hooked after the first track, “Messenger Man.” Lead vocalist Rason Jahmal comes in strong, demonstrating his vocal abilities without hesitation, backed by the s
olid rhythms of Bo Freeman on bass and Thomas McCree on drums. Keyboardist Nicholas Newman flexes his vocal skills in the dancehall infused “Songs of Praise” complemented by some nice acoustic guitar picking.
I recently caught Strictly Roots live at the Phoenix Theatre in Petaluma, California. They represented with a professionalism rarely heard in local reggae bands, and the audience was feeling it. In reggae there are singers, deejays, vocal groups, and bands. Strictly Roots stands among the bands that have been able to incorporate the finer elements of reggae into a cohesive sound that can reach a broad audience while having the originality to stand out. As time has moved on, so has the evolution of Reggae and Strictly Roots has a live and studio sound that is on the cutting edge of that movement.
“Generation’s” “Summertime” is a track that stands out with its mellow pace and easy harmonies capturing the feel of summer. This one has definite summertime-anthem-single potential. After chillin’ to “Summertime,” my personal favorite “Love Jah” kicks into a hard dancehall beat with funky hypnotic keyboards layered over the top and a sweet harmony chorus. Strictly Roots’ ska/rock steady rendition of “Light my Fire” gives new life to this Doors classic. Spiced with some tight horn riffs, they make this song their own. Nicholas Newman grabs the mic again on “This Way” with a Peter Spence-type soul lead vocal. Perhaps the most moving song on the LP is the traditional “When I Rise” with its subtle hip-hop beat and a haunting ambient piano decorating the soothing vocals.
With all of its diversity, “Generation” maintains a cohesive structure that is the Strictly Roots sound. Strictly Roots has been and remains an integral part of the evolution of Reggae in California. If they are coming to your town, go see them. As for the “Generation” CD, go out and buy it! For more information about the band, check out the Jahworks.org interview they conducted here.