Roots Radics

Forwards Ever, Backwards Never

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Who bears the ultimate responsibility for an album's sound? In the rock world the answer is simple -- the band, with stylistic input from the producer. In Jamaica, bands in the American/European sense never really evolved. There are singers and DJs and then there are sessionmen. On occasion, an aggregate of studio musicians might evolve into a more cohesive unit. The Skatalites developed a unique island sound that reigned through much of the '60s. In the '70s, the Revolutionaries did the same, especially once Sly & Robbie launched themselves into production. And the '80s belonged to the Roots Radics. Formed from the ashes of the Morwells vocal group, as the house band for Junjo Lawes the Roots Radics defined the dancehall sound of the pre-ragga '80s, and their influence only slowly waned with the arrival of the digital age. Thus the arrival of Forwards Ever, Backwards Never was eagerly anticipated in 1990, but fans were to be disappointed. Of course, there's no faulting the musicianship -- it's flawless as always. Eric Lamont has a fine, emotive voice, more expressive then when he was singing harmony back in the Morwells, and he's splendidly backed by the likes of Beres Hammond and Pam Hall. Across the album, the Roots Radics stretch their genre muscles, delving into Spanish stylings on "Dread in South Africa" and an updated "How Could I Live." Elements of Jamaica's past and present are intertwined, most rapturously on the splendid "Don't Go." Yet, for all that, the album lacks the creative spark that has so indelibly marked their session work. It's all pleasant enough, and the songs, particularly the many cultural numbers, are certainly heartfelt, but too much of the record flows languorously by without leaving any sort of imprint. As there's no production credits, one assumes the Roots Radics self-produced. Perhaps the band needed that dictatorial voice to stoke their musical fire.

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