U-Roy

Dread in a Babylon

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    9
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AllMusic Review by

Even without the music, this album would still leap off the racks; its photo of U Roy exhaling a mushroom cloud of marijuana smoke from his ever-available pipe ranks among the all-time greatest covers, regardless of genre. However, U Roy doesn't have any trouble coming across as a distinctive presence; his scattershot repertoire of barks, chants, and screams is as critical or more important as the deft, unobtrusive backing woven behind him. U Roy imposes his own willful style, regardless of setting. Sometimes he pulls off a positively poppy veneer on tracks like "Runaway Girl" or "Silver Bird"; other times, he extemporizes slightly ahead of the beat on "Natty Don't Fear" or "The Great Psalms." His lyrics run the gamut of Rastafarian concerns, from facing adversity ("Dreadlocks Dread") to female troubles ("I Can't Love Another") and royalist run-ins ("Chalice in the Palace"). The uncredited musicians stay out of the way (although they get their own album-closing instrumental, "Trench Town Rock"). This album ranks among the '70s dub masterpieces, even if the odd lyrical clinker keeps it from perfection; "Runaway Girl"'s glistening skank can't paper over its sexism (which suggests the girl in question "may be nice/but you're not that smart"). Even so, sometimes an artist only needs charisma to get across, and U Roy handily wins on that score.

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