Misty in Roots


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Chronicles is close to, but not quite, an early career best-of for Misty in Roots, the resolutely independent band that was part of the first British reggae generation alongside Steel Pulse, Aswad, Linton Kwesi Johnson, and Dennis Bovell, but never transcended the U.K./European reggae scene. It draws five songs from each of the group's three early-'80s studio albums and two earlier, limited-edition singles. The missing link is their acclaimed 1979 debut Live at Counter Eurovision, so Chronicles functions as a complement to what is widely considered Misty in Roots' best overall disc. And it's a very good one: a consistent, solid slice of early U.K. reggae that's programmed for listening, not chronology. The sound may be a bit compressed and thin -- the music doesn't exactly leap out of the speakers -- but the sophisticated arrangements show that Misty in Roots worked through their music thoroughly and had no problems handling the militant, mystical, or pop spheres of reggae. Certainly "Food, Clothes & Shelter" is a straight-ahead lyrical declaration of sufferer needs, while "Live Up" and "Wise & Foolish" sport jazzy guitar licks set against horns and more philosophical lyrics. "Follow Fashion" is mellow in the positive sense of the word with great backing vocal harmonies. The bright "Wondering Wander" sounds pop in the best way, and the lead vocals leave a nagging impression of some Jamaican vocalist -- maybe it's Gregory Isaacs -- and neither party suffers from that comparison. The group isn't big on forcing matters, especially with the vocals, even when high-stepping out on militant rockers with tart horns like "Earth," "Ireation," and "Peace and Love," or taking the train-to-a-hopeful-future on "West Livity." Misty in Roots took reggae's Africa theme seriously enough to tour and travel there for several months in 1982 and "Musi O Tunya" (the African name for the Victoria Falls of the Zambezi River) creates something of a "Satta Massa Gana" feel for their time in Zambia and Zimbabwe. Even though the group operated in a resolutely roots, "Dreadful Dread" is just one example of a willingness to experiment with hi-tech studio sounds, be it on dub-wise excursions, or simply treating the instruments. It's the array of different instrumental and sound textures at play here that keep the 76 minutes of music on Chronicles interesting. There aren't really any knock-out catchy songs or "shoulda been a reggae classic" anthems that stand out individually, but the craftsmanship level is so consistently high that interest never flags. It's certainly the best entry point to Misty in Roots and, along with Live at Counter Eurovision, may be all you need to hear from this important, first generation U.K. reggae band -- but it may tempt you to search out more.

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