Various Artists

Kingston Twelve Toughie: A Tribute to Bingy Bunny

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From the title to the poem on the back cover booklet from Israel Vibration, you'd figure this disc as a tribute by many of the big-name reggae artists who'd been backed up by the Roots Radics rhythm guitarist who died of cancer in 1993 at 38. It's not, except for fellow Radics guitarist Dwight Pinkney's heartfelt, bluesy opener, "Lament for Lamont." You have to dig deep into the liner notes to find out this is a collection of mid-'70s tracks by Vibration's pre-Radics group, the Morwells, sung by Blacka Morwell and co-written/arranged by Bingy Bunny (aka Eric Lamont).

So it's a collection of good, well-crafted reggae, evenly divided between the rocker sound of that era, and the smoother Radics sound to come, love songs, and Rasta-consciousness themes. The title track is cool in the classic vein, "Africa We Wanna To Go" works off a nice descending chord progression, and the sprightly "Educate Your Mind" sports a near-boogie blues bassline (probably by the Radics' Flabba Holt) with organ and sax. The lovers rock quotient is filled by "Young Lover," with "Bit By Bit" and "I'll Never Give My Heart" in the same vein but employing an incongruous combo of poly-synth wash and country harmonica.

The easy grooving "Reggae Party" sounds like a close relative of Bob Marley's "Punky Reggae Party," and the spare, dub-touched "Me And Jane" has some vocal syllable tricks that foreshadow Eek-A-Mouse. But the up-tempo "Jah Lion" has a full roots bassline and vocal touches that bring Dennis Brown's "The Man Next Door" to mind, and you start to wonder, even in the Jamaican context, if the Morwells were that original, or just purveyors of perfectly professional, well-crafted reggae.

Morwell is a pleasing, capable singer who never wears out his welcome, but there's no special spark or snap to the music -- it sounds good enough as it's playing, but disappears into the air once it's over. The lack of context is frustrating -- is this a best-of-Morwells? or did they choose these songs because they were special for Bingy Bunny? Part of the royalties go to cancer research so there's a good cause involved, but musically, it's best recommended to Roots Radics fans looking to go one step back to that group's foundation roots.

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