The Boot Box

Reviews by Ted “The Boot” Boothroyd

Boot's Rating System

putumayo's world reggaeVarious: 

Putumayo Presents World Reggae


World Music, 2004]

Rating: A+

Pushing past “Putumayo Presents,”

ponder the part that says “World Reggae.” Notice that “world” comes

before “reggae.” That’s the key to this adventurous, beautiful album.

As contrast, consider the same label’s 1998 compilation Reggae Around

the World (notice “reggae” in the priority position), which was essentially

a collection of reggae acts from various countries. The difference is

subtle but significant. If you are lucky enough to have heard the Twinkle

Brothers albums from a decade ago that featured a family of musicians

in Poland, you know how perfectly and naturally those Polish folk songs

were wedded to reggae rhythms. That’s what this album does, except the

scope is far wider. As for the results—artistically successful, hugely


One of the more familiar names

here is Apache Indian, and his track is an early highlight. It starts

as a slow, prayerful chant that leads to a deep bass and drums foundation

for the vocalist as he explores his identity in a “sing-jay” style. East

Indian flute in background, East Indian melody line; ululating tones—it’s

all very intense and exciting. Another standout track comes to us from

Cape Verde, with acoustic guitar, organic percussion, and melancholic

vocal by Maria de Barros, whose friendly and pleasant-with-an-edge voice

will remind you of Cesaria Evora. Skip to north-eastern Brazil for “Maguinha

do Sá Viana,” a relaxed handling of a traditional melody, with understated

wahwah guitar intro, base-heavy reggae heartbeat and solidly forró vocal.

Not that everything is slow. You

want upbeat? Try the quick, attractive arrangements and intriguing group

harmony vocals of “Rawagu” from the South Pacific island of New Caledonia.

Tune into “Agua” and its strong echoes of Manu Chao’s accessible, multi-influenced

sound; listen to the lively fiddle sawing away in the background; be charmed

by fiddle/acoustic guitar duet interlude. You want changes? The spare

North African instrumentation and sound that starts “Ya Laymi” is supplanted

by an upbeat reggae riddim and male voice singing in Arabic; it moves

into a fuller sound, becomes spare again, gets into some vocal arabesques,

speeds up briefly and finally concludes: a complex production.

There is so much more. Memorable

riffs, tuneful melodies, assured vocals, incredible musicianship, intensity

here, serenity there, beauty everywhere. A few of the artists you’ll recognize,

many others you won’t, but all are wonderful at making music. In a word,

Putumayo Presents World Reggae is superb. Go get it.

Blender, "King Man"Everton 

Blender: King Man



Rating: A-

King Man is very strong,

appealing album, and I hope for your sake that you buy it. But there’s

something you should know: it includes “Little Green Apples.”

Yep, I’m afraid so. Over the course of many hearings I’ve

gone through a bizarre grieving process about that one song. From my original

disbelief, shock and dismay, I moved on to regret, then to despair, then

briefly to reluctant acceptance, with a slight side emotion of sympathy

for the state of mind Blender must have been in when he decided to include

it. I never quite fell into outrage, but I was close. Now when the song

comes on I’m back to disbelief, illogical though that be. My remote

never leaves my side now. It’s an over-reaction, I know.

With that single exception,

the music on the 17-track King Man is superb. There’s lots

of variety, creativity galore, yet it never strays from its bona fide,

rootsy reggae rhythms and themes. It has energy, it has beauty, it has

credibility, it has coherence, it has staying power. Convincing vocals

over dynamic arrangements deliver memorable song after memorable song.

First it’s Sermon on the

Mount time, with Blender reciting a few of The Beatitudes to a lilting

tune, quick tempo and great horn riff. We move into a socio-personal theme

about the singer’s relationship with a praise-worthy woman. The

aforementioned unmentionable comes third, complete with Dr. Seuss and

Indianapolis in the summertime, and I do admit it’s preferable to

the original hit—just as catchy (unfortunately) and less bathetic.

“Tabernacle Tree” quickly rescues the album with more horns,

a tune you can hum, and encouraging lyrics. It’s followed by “Is

It Because I’m Black”, an insistent powerhouse of a song.

Track six asks Babylon to lay down its arms, and in the next, the title

tune, Blender the Dread tries to win approval from his girlfriend’s

father. A vigorous, cooking groove gives shape and power to “False

Tongue” despite a relatively weaker tune. And we’re still

not quite halfway to the end.

Blender’s treatment of

universal love is confusing: “Love is inside you and it’s

nowhere else.” But I like the way he handles jealousy and conflict

in “Who Cares”, presenting a far more respectful and mature

attitude than Ken Boothe displayed years ago with the despicable “Second

Chance”. You see? Reggae does progress. Then comes another social

theme (“cost of living gets so high”) with a strong melody

line. Fast nyahbinghi drumming anchors the furious rhythm of “Do

Good”, while horns are again prominent in the catchy “Backra”,

one of the album’s highlights. The tune, engaging chorus and quick

tempo of “The System” makes it another standout. Finally,

an “extended mix” (including some toasting and dub effects)

and a couple of “binghi mixes” bring the album to a highly

satisfactory close.

There you have it. If King

Man isn’t a terrific disk, then all I’ve got to say is

Jah didn’t make little green apples.


Laswell: ROIR Dub Sessions



Rating: B+

I’m not great at keeping up with

musical classification systems. As you can see, the built-in moniker for

this music is “dub”, but you’ll never mistake it for Scientist or King

Tubby’s dub. Never, never. No doubt somewhere there’s a categorical label

for this music that has several hyphens and eight or nine syllables, one

of which is the quasi-word “techno”, which I figure applies equally well

to the wax cylinder technology of recording antiquity. But in the absence

of a better term right now, let’s accept the album title’s claim and call

this “dub”.

This dub disk has four long pieces,

each taken from one of the four Laswell albums on ROIR. The album titles

are so pretentious they’re scary, but the music as sampled here is just

fine. The first piece starts slowly with electronic chords, interrupted

eventually by reverberating bangs. Then a throbbing bass joins in. Lots

more tones and indescribable sounds slowly ease into, around and out of

the mix, as little by little we realize that a rhythmic pulse has been

gathering momentum. As in a classical work, the musical theme comes and

goes, is explored and altered. Higher, softer and friendlier effects are

introduced, then a few electronic sweeps. We’re not really going anywhere,

but who cares? We simply accept that the point is the quiet and contemplative

journey, not the non-existent destination.

“Thunupa” immediately launches

into vibrant East Indian percussion and various electronic sounds. Then

an abrupt change as a cornet starts playing something that resembles a

melody and the beat takes on a reggae feel. The well-spaced horn phrases

sound like Miles Davis, while in the background is a long, subtle, deep

rolling, as if the whole construct is some sort of living, breathing entity.

Indian percussion begins anew

and takes us close to the end, which comes 13½ minutes after the piece

began. Track three: after various whirrs and wahwahs and fades, “Cybotron”

settles into a strong rhythm and an interesting electronic figure that

just plays with us awhile before it allows other swoops and echoes and

a deep bass to overtake it. A pure, deep, subdued reggae rhythm arises,

only to disintegrate as yet other sounds take over, and gradually everything

slips into the void. As for the final track, the first part has a heartbeat

throb—quiet, contemplative, all the time in the world for “GiGi” Shibabaw’s

precise, melodic and soulful singing. Then we move into an electronic,

bass-laden reggae as great rolling, whizzing and whirring sounds compete

for airtime; there are echoes of Augustus Pablo, Lee Perry, King Tubby

and a train coming through.

Like many classical compositions,

this is complex, abstract music, with a single track having several distinct

movements that may or may not reveal a close link. ROIR Dub Sessions

may be less immediately accessible than you are used to, but like

its distant cousins of the good old Jamaican variety, this “dub” sure

has its pleasures. Don’t try to make sense of it; just let the sounds

flow, and enjoy.

Triston PalmaTriston 

Palma: Two Roads


Star, 2000]

Rating: B+

Apparently way back at the turn

of the century, I was skimming along too quickly with too narrow a focus

to notice Two Roads lying slightly off the particular highway

system I was on. But now I have not only noticed, but taken a very nice

spin along that route, and the scenery is great. I heartily recommend

that you get off your beaten path at some intersection ahead and try Two

Roads as well.

This metaphor I’m travelling on

could soon get rather slippery, so I’ll abandon it before I slide ungracefully

onto the shoulder. Okay, done. What we have here is an extremely likable

reggae album. It has a modern sound (lots of digital programming and studio

trickery) that nonetheless appeals greatly to the roots fan in me. All

the songs were written by Palma and Steven Ibanez in cahoots with one

of five other individuals—it’s teamwork that actually worked, somehow

generating solid and compelling tunes. The dynamics, the rhythms, the

tempos all offer sufficient variety to keep things interesting and fun

throughout. And the musicians do their jobs with professionalism and spirit.

One of the elements of Two Roads

I like best is what the lyrics say about family. Not the universal

family of mankind, but the small family unit. Remember when Burning Spear

had titles like “Children” and “Mother” and chanted about his sister washing

the dishes and his smaller brother picking up firewood? That’s what I

mean. On this album’s first track Palma sings, “From the day I was born

I see my parents struggling.” In the next song it’s “From the day I know

myself, my mom she’s always there.” Later, “These were the words that

have been taught to me by my own grannie.” That kind of individual reminiscence

becomes profound observation, and such personal, human touches make this

album stand out.

As for musical highlights, the

title tune is one: a hit single thanks to its jaunty dancehall beat, supple

and melodic vocal, tinkling electronic figure and inventive percussion.

“The Struggle” was also a hit, due in part to the fast toast by Norris

Man. “Hatred in the Youths” has an urgent message, delivered tunefully.

The chorus structure in “Get Up” effectively hooks us in and keeps us

involved, while prominent horns and Mary Ochoa’s spirited guest vocal

make “Ragga Salsa” exactly what it says. “When I Call on Jah” is another

favorite because of its gospel call and response style.

The album is not perfect. Some

of the big production numbers are simply over-arranged; some of the lyrics

tend toward the sappy. A couple of the tunes are forgettable. But all

in all, Two Roads is well worth paying the toll to ride on, because

you’ll quickly find yourself enjoying the trip.

Natural DominionNatural 

Dominion: More Time


Recordings, 2003]

Rating: C

It’s an interesting voice that

emanates from Philip Hendricks, Natural Dominion’s lead singer (and guitarist

and percussionist and song writer). It has an unusual character—not a

pretty voice, but certainly an arresting one. Perhaps it was never meant

to be a singing voice, given its lack of range: rough on the high notes,

straining for the low ones. But considering Hendricks’ courageous, creative

delivery, I wouldn’t give up on him. He’s ripe for vocal training, that’s

all, and once his rawness gets refined he’ll be a powerhouse singer. In

the meantime, be thankful for the female background vocals, ubiquitous

and highly supportive, but never overpowering (even if at times you wish

they were).

The songs on More Time

are interesting too. Familiar themes, but lyrics slightly off-kilter;

consider this, for example: “I use to feel like a moat,/As wide as the

ocean,/Lay between me and my castle./Until I saw the light/Of your shining

face./It made me search within./Oh Lord, I had to find my place./And so

I said my prayers,/And I jumped right into the race./And then the spirits

whispered,/Don’t let the off key notes,/Don’t let them interrupt,/Interrupt

your love song, no.” From wide moat to non-interrupted love song in 12

uneasy steps—no coherent vision, no thinking it through, just one wild

leap after another. Is that lazy or pretentious or what? Listen here,

Mr. Hendricks, if you want to make a positive impression, you should be

willing to work at deserving it.

Next item of interest: the inspired

arrangements and strong musicianship on the instruments. From the very

start of the first track—emphatic drums and chords with voice-over asking

for Jah’s guidance—the music is powerful reggae. Urgently serene one-drop

rhythms; frequently tuneful melodies. Enough hooks to keep you coming

back. “Crabs Inna Bucket” has dub effects; “Revolutionary Spirit” has

gentle guitar strumming and a reflective vocal; “WAR” has brief toasts

and a forceful ending. In fact, each of the nine tracks has something

unique and worthwhile going on.

Yes, More Time has lots

to like for roots reggae fans, but not everything. Got one of those shops

where you can listen first? Perfect. Try it out before you buy. No rush.

Take More Time if you want it.

ossie dellimoreOssie 

Dellimore: Freedom’s Journal

[Skank Records, 2004]

Rating: A

The music on this disk isn’t

old, but Freedom’s Journal is a reissue anyway, slightly tweaked

with added dubs and a single. The reasoning was that it didn’t get the

proper attention first time around, just a couple of years ago. That logic

seems entirely rational: this album is a powerful musical force that many

of us didn’t latch onto at the time. But then, to get the exposure it

really deserves, it would probably have to be featured on the front page

of the New York Times. That’s not a likely event, given that

this is hard-core roots reggae. Not a likely event, given that it’s music.

Not likely, given that it’s not war, not economics, not politics and not


But back to the album. The track

listing may make you think these are cover songs or close copies thereof:

“The System”, “Fire Man”, “Rocker Reggae”, “Got to be Free”, “Downpressor

Man”, for example. But these songs, and the rest, are neither covers nor

imitations; they are original lyrical explorations of admittedly familiar

themes using original and memorable melodies (and yes, they reflect a

familiarity with what has gone before, but that’s hardly a weakness).

These songs are delivered with the same unyielding commitment and vibrant

musicality that transform a select few reggae albums into classics of

the genre. That’s the level we’re dealing with here.

What’s so great about Freedom’s

Journal, you ask? Many things. Fifty-five minutes worth of things.

First, the songs; fully realized, tuneful gems. Next, the instrumentalists:

skilled performers who are aggressive and gutsy when appropriate, sensitive

and subtle also when appropriate, and none of them synthesizing anything.

Third, the frequent and extended interplay between Dellimore’s very masculine,

edgy lead and the smoother, beautifully contrasting, highly responsive

backing voices of Starlett Kirby, “Rahsheba” Lewis and Adama Kefentse.

It’s normal to arrange tunes with that kind of vocal interplay, but seldom

have I heard the device used as effectively. Fourth, the creative, bold

musical arrangements, including a subdued organ solo used as a bridge,

nicely-varied tempos, bright horn charts, a Junior Demus toast (in a U-Roy

mode) on “Sharp as a Razor”, and most daringly, the occasional naked voice

of Dellimore , stark and urgent. Fifth, the clever, thoughtful and occasionally

playful lyrics, in which sound is as important as sense, each lyric perfectly

aligned with its tune. Sixth, the two dubs and one extended mix: opportunities

for fuller appreciation.

This album may have a couple of

minor downsides for some people. Some may not like Dellimore’s vocal mannerisms,

including his penchant for turning up instead of down at the end of a

musical phrase. For me that merely sustains emphasis where it would normally

be lost. The timbre of his voice may not appeal to some, but in fact it’s

highly expressive. Aside from those points (and even those are stretching

it) I can’t think of anything that one could justifiably criticize in

Freedom’s Journal . It is an inspired work of art.

Cosmo's Get Up and JumpCosmo: 

Get Up and Jump


Girl Records, 2003]

Rating: C+

The liner notes for Get Up and

Jump reveal Cosmo as “Dr. Cosmo” Fraser. The title is real—a true

oddity amidst such honorary reggae titles as “Prince”, “Jah” and “Ras”.

Cosmo is a practicing physician with the desire and money, and somehow

the time, to get this album out. Music is not his day job, so it would

be easy enough to label Get Up and Jump as self-indulgent. Which

it is, but so is most of what people do, such as my reviews. Self-indulgence

is fun.

But is it art? Well, I’m not sure.

Cosmo’s singing voice is not beautiful or supple or commanding, but he

seems to accept its limitations, content to come across as gentle and

sincere instead of dramatic and audacious. And refreshingly, his vocal

style doesn’t copy that of other reggae artists; he is every bit as influenced

by vocalists in other genres. His songwriting tends toward the simplistic:

pleasant, basic, lightweight tunes that are highly reminiscent of something

you’ve heard before, making the two and a half cover versions the album

highlights. The musicianship, however, is top notch. That’s why you can’t

dismiss this disk with a flippant shrug.

A word about that musicianship:

Cosmo has obviously recruited a pretty talented band anyway, but when

he added such legendary folks for this outing as “Horsemouth” Wallace

on drums, “Fully” Fullwood on bass and piano, and guitarists Tony Chin

and Hux Brown, well, he was working with some of the best. Part of the

self-indulgence, I suppose, but why not?

In contrast to the cover art, which

shows a plodding Cosmo casting a long, ominous shadow, the sprightly title

song sets an appropriate mood for what follows: he wakes up in the morning,

hears himself on the radio, and wants to get up and jump. Thus the bounciness

of the second and various other tracks. Several tunes have a welcome country

& western feel; I figure Cosmo is the only person in the world who

still keeps his Kenny Rogers records near his turntable. But I’m sad to

report that the nyahbingi track is a failure, its lyrics being ridiculously

repetitive. About the two and a half covers: Jimmy Cliff’s beautiful “Sitting

in Limbo” is one; the Gladiators’ “Hello Carol”, with the added touch

of a female vocal, is the second, and “Heard You Watching Me” is the half

(hint: “Every move you make/Every breath you take/Every smile you break,

girl/Heard you watching me”).

I’m not going to make any cracks

about Dr. Cosmo not quitting his day job. It’s likely a stressful one,

and who among us wouldn’t like to be a reggae professional if we had the

talent? It’s just that he hasn’t quite come into his own yet, either as

a tunesmith, lyricist, or vocalist. He’s come close with this enjoyable

album, but any real power it has is in the production, arrangements and

instrumental proficiency. Reggae with only partial power you can do without.

Tappa Zukie Rare DubsTappa 

Zukie: Dub Em Zukie: Rare Dubs 1976-1979 [Jamaican Recordings, 2003]

Rating: B-

This may be brief. Not because

this disk doesn’t deserve a detailed description plus intensive

investigation plus sympathetic synopsis. No, only because it’s darned

difficult to describe dub, despite my duty, desire and determination to

do so.

Let’s get started. Tappa

Zukie’s approach on the late ’70s dubs presented here is much

the same as it was for his first dub album, Tapper Zukie In Dub (no surprise,

given that one’s 1976 release date). He likes to introduce the subject

matter for each dub very early by presenting—relatively unscathed—a

bar or two of the original song, including vocal. Or if not the actual

original, at least his own or someone else’s cover version of it.

In any case, a smidgeon of voice and melody often surfaces near the beginning.

After that teaser, though, the vocal is usually subsumed entirely as the

Zukie creativity rapidly takes over and he starts playing around with

the mix, the texture, any element of the sound available to him in the

studio—over an intact, solid rhythm, of course.

I like the Tappa touch, although

as always in dub, the enjoyment is partly due to the original songs and

the strength of their rhythms (as well as partly dependent on turning

up the volume). Delroy Wilson’s “Never Will Conquer Me”

comes up first for the treatment, followed by Johnny Clarke’s cover

of “Ballistic Affair”. Larry Marshall’s “Throw

Me Corn” is here too, in altered state. Sometimes the genesis of

the track becomes tricky to explain, witness what the liner notes say

about “Give Me Dub”: “Johnny Clarke’s version

to Slim Smith’s ‘Give me a Love’ supplied the musical

bones to make Tappa’s ‘Chalice to Chalice’ cut, of which

this is a lost dub to.” Twisted syntax aside, it’s still a

riddle inside a mystery wrapped in an enigma, a condition that in dub

is usually reserved for the music itself.

Two of Zukie’s treatments

here don’t work well. “Conversation Dub” is one; the

rhythmic base is so simplistic that once every other element is subdued,

the track quickly becomes boring and doesn’t communicate a thing,

despite its title. Similarly, in “Rock You Rock Dub” a repeated

short phrase plods along endlessly without sufficient interesting context

to support it. Nevertheless, most other tracks do what they are expected

to do, and some work beautifully. I like the build-up of tension in “Dub

Next Door”, where the dub effects enrich the tune to an even greater

degree than usual. And thanks to Burning Spear’s composing genius,

“Bagga Wire Dub” is another highlight.

I’ve gone on longer than

I expected, but it’s time to end. Dub Em Zukie is mostly very enjoyable.

At low volume, good to read by. Otherwise, good to dance or cook or exercise

to. And at high volume, for the majority of the album, good for nothing

less than total immersion.

Barry BrownBarry 

Brown: Rich Man Poor Man 1978-1980



Rating: B-

Nineteen years ago in a small shop

in small town Canada, I came across an album that was obviously reggae

(red, green and gold border), by someone named Barry Brown. I had never

heard of the guy. The LP was entitled “Superstar”, but there was no such

song on the album. Apparently the title referred to Brown himself. Not

“Singer”, not “Star”, not “Hotshot Flavour of the Month in the Jamaican

Dancehall”, but “Superstar”. So I was flummoxed. A superstar I’d never

heard of. It happens all the time in pop culture and sports, and I just

yawn. But in reggae? What gives? The price was right, so I handed over

my money. Turned out to be competent, generic roots reggae that mostly

stayed on my shelf.

In the two decades since, I’ve

come across Barry Brown’s music occasionally on “various artist” compilations,

and it was okay. Really, it was fine. Some of the songs were big hits,

apparently. I just never bought another Barry Brown album. And now this

collection issues forth. The artist “at the peak of his powers”, with

“some of his best songs”, according to the liner notes. That puts us into

matter-of-opinion territory, and I think those claims are wrong.

What we have here is competent,

generic roots reggae from early in Brown’s career, prior to his notable

duets with some of reggae’s better dancehall DJs. There’s not a lot of

variation in his solo vocal approach—easily identifiable for his rather

pinched delivery and refusal to enunciate final consonants. Nor is there

much distinctiveness in his songwriting here. The usual excellent studio

musicians of the time, including Roots Radics, The Revolutionaries and

The Aggrovators, provide sturdy backing, and at times those fellows really

cook—the further you get into the second track, for example, the less

attention you give to Brown and the more you give to the accompaniment.

Track three turns out to be the Studio One “Love Me Forever” riddim, over

which Brown asks Jah for guidance and protection. His social-critique

side (someone once compared him to Bob Dylan) comes out in track five,

and you can understand why he didn’t incite many revolutions: “if you

don’t have money in your pocket you feel down and out….I don’t feel right

when I don’t got money in my pocket.” His slow, deliberate cover of the

Livingston/Tosh tune “Burial” is a dubbish highlight; another is the title

track, which is more dynamic—and therefore memorable—than most of its

neighbors. A dub of that tune closes the album.

That’s about it. Some love lyrics,

some dread lyrics. Solid, unexciting roots reggae. If you don’t have Barry

Brown already, or have only his later stuff, this album will nicely fill

the gap. But it wasn’t a very big gap.


Although the closest Ted Boothroyd has come to a personal
association with the Caribbean was to have a Trinidadian grandfather, which
didn’t really have a lot to do with, he happily took in Harry Belafonte’s
hits in the ’50s and became a huge reggae fan in 1969 when Desmond
Dekker’s “Israelites” hit big in Canada. Ted has reviewed books
on Caribbean music for The Beat, writes album reviews for other periodicals,
and co-hosts
a reggae and world music radio show in Fredericton, New Brunswick,
on Canada’s east coast.