Black Roots

Black Roots

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From the moment of their formation in 1979, Black Roots were omnipresent on the British scene, gigging constantly across the nation. Perhaps that's why their debut, self-titled, self- produced, and self-released album didn't appear until 1983. Several singles and an EP preceded it, with two tracks off the latter -- "The Father" and "Tribal War" -- included on the full-length. But it was "Juvenile Delinquent" that captured the reggae masses, a deep roots number boasting a compulsive rhythm and a timely message. Remixed by Jah Woosh, "Delinquent" raged through the British clubs and sound systems. Intriguingly, the original beautifully evoked the Jamaican sound of the late '70s, as did the yearning, repatriation themed "Africa" underlit by Cordell Francis' melancholy lead guitar, while "The Opportunity" superbly evoked the country style equally popular in its day. However it was the unity themed, Wailers-esque "Tribal War" where Black Roots' roots were most in evidence. Compared to Steel Pulse, Aswad, and Matumbi, the band were purists, albeit time warped ones. Yet thanks to Cordell's surf-lite guitar leads, and the group's preference for unity backing vocals rather than multi-part harmonies favored by Jamaicans, their style had a surprising unique flavor. The exceptions to their vocal rule were the splendid, religiously themed "The Father" and the love is gone "Move On." The former juxtaposed doo wop and unity styled vocals alongside a soulful lead that recalls the height of American '60s soul, the latter featured R&B vocals with a somewhat stripped back sound that suggested the band weren't entirely dismissive of post-1980 reggae. No nonsense production, potent messages, strong vocals, and exhilarating music (further buttressed by a horn section led by Rico Rodriguez) made this set a winner, with Black Roots' superb take on the "Right Time" riddim for the excellent "Survival" perhaps best epitomizing their evolving style. It took four years, but this album was well worth the wait.

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