If you’re a reggae artist and you release an album called “Roots and Culture,” you had best be certain that the music is reflective of such a title and that yours is a voice strong and distinctive enough to overcome a title that’s, well, kind of generic. Ruff Scott hails from Manchester, Jamaica but has spent most of his life in New York City. And as far as his having a distinctive voice, his growling but articulate singjay style was one I’d already heard and enjoyed on a few reggae compilations originating in the NYC vicinity.
“Roots and Culture” is the first full length set of Ruff Scott works I’ve latched on to and he’s impressive throughout, handily propelling the opening title track with his bouncing cadences and scoring on the pair of praise songs that follow, “Forward Ever” and “He Is Real,” the latter a tight straddling of roots and dancehall. After that conscious threesome, Scott is entitled to veer off into lover’s rock territory, which he does on “Make You Smile,” complete with R&B overtones, female response vocals, and, most importantly, Scott dialing back his aggressive delivery to suit the lighter tone. In so doing, he establishes one key reason this 18-track disc holds an engaging vibe throughout: the artist never comes across with more intensity than is needed. Where many of his ilk go for a consistent rapid-fire approach just because they can, Ruff Scott fully understands the symbiosis between lead vocals and backing tracks and makes as much clear in keeping his voice complimentary to the varied riddims.
He goes full throttle when necessary, as on the soca grooves of “Don’t Waste My Time” and “Good Vibration,” but mellows for songs like the lovely “Steal Your Joy,” a standout track with an almost Lusafrican feel to its arrangement. The musical ground Scott covers – ranging from healthy eating and exercise habits to partaking of a little herb – is nice and wide, and his array of toasts, scats, squeaks, falsetto jumps and straight ahead singing always suits what he’s on about. Backed by a crew called the Lyfestyle Band (which includes multi-instrumentalist and producer Julien C. Paul), Scott lays expertly into a set of refreshing reggae while holding to the belief that roots and culture includes doses of fun.