Jolly Boys

Great Expectation

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Mento is essentially (but not exactly) calypso stripped down to a tenor banjo, a guitar, and some hand drums, and while it would appear to be Jamaican folk music, it is really designed to provide tourists with what they expect to hear as Jamaican folk music, and it has proven to be an amazingly adaptive form, forming the template and foundation of the whole of Jamaican pop music. The up-stroking banjo and guitar rhythms, coupled with an emphasis on the second and fourth count of the beat, gives mento the feel of proto-reggae, and it is really just a short jump, some horns and a faster tempo away from early ska, which is where modern Jamaican pop music really gets going, not to mention mento’s often slyly risqué and ribald lyrics, which makes it the grandaddy of dancehall slackness. Jamaica's Jolly Boys -- in one incarnation or another -- have been playing their street corner version of mento in the north coast Port Antonio area since the 1940s, and their joyous, frequently off-color, and decidedly ramshackle approach to the music has made them an enduring tourist favorite. Raw, loose, and joyous sounding, the Jolly Boys are hardly naïve folk musicians, though, and they aren’t traditionalists; they’ll drop any song they feel like performing into the mento template and they aren’t afraid of gently modernizing their sound. That’s the case on Great Expectation, the group’s newest album. It features charming and interestingly rearranged versions of songs by the Doors (“Riders on the Storm”), the Clash (“Should I Stay or Should I Go"), Steely Dan (“Do It Again”), New Order (“Blue Monday”), Amy Winehouse (“Rehab”), Lou Reed (“Perfect Day”), Iggy Pop (“Nightclubbing”), and Johnny Cash (“Ring of Fire”), among others, and it also features sequenced drum tracks and horn arrangements by Cedric Brooks. The amazing thing is that it still sounds exactly like mento for all of these modern touches, and if on first listen, Great Expectation plays rather ramshackle and rough, repeated listens bring out the sunshine and joy that sit at the heart of what the Jolly Boys do, and one would expect nothing less of this very special mento band.

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