Midnight Rocker

Horace Andy

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Midnight Rocker Review

by Fred Thomas

Reggae singer Horace Andy’s ghostly voice is among the most recognizable and distinctive in the genre, and over the course of his more than 50 years in music, it’s consistently set him apart. Midnight Rocker comes decades after Andy first had several roots reggae hits in the ‘70s, and then came to the attention of new listeners through his collaborations with trip hop blueprinters Massive Attack in the ‘90s, but the performances he turns in at age 71 are as powerful as at any other point in his career. Midnight Rocker is Andy’s first work with pioneering British producer Adrian Sherwood, whose ‘80s output on his On-U Sound label approached dub from theretofore unconsidered angles. Sherwood’s production fingerprints are apparent throughout the album without steering its direction too forcefully, showing up in little details like the playful synth lines of “Watch Over Them” and the unexpected swells of dubby reverb and delay that go from playful to severe without notice on the minimal “Materialist." The album is made up of several revisitations of songs Andy recorded earlier in his career and a handful of new tunes. The lurching opening track “This Must Be Hell” is among the strongest of the reworked material, with a thick instrumental of melodica, echo-fused drums, a simmering horn section, and trippy clavinet all swimming through Sherwood’s masterful mix. Other highlights of the revisited songs include “Rock to Sleep,” which implements eerie violin parts (seldom heard in reggae) and “Safe from Harm,” not so much a re-arrangement of an older song as a roots reimagination of Massive Attack’s Blue Lines track. Here, the tune is stripped of its vinyl scratching and cinematic flourishes and transformed by Andy’s haunted trembling vocal and Sherwood’s spacious production into something even more somber and foreboding than the original. New song “Try Love” is a comparatively lighter lover’s rock tune, and the jaunty “Careful” bears some similarities to peak mid-’70s output from Andy’s cousin Justin Hinds. Midnight Rocker benefits from thoughtful song selection and Sherwood’s restrained but personality-heavy production, but at the center of it all is Andy’s unmistakable voice. The quiet intensity, supernatural control, and disquieting character of his singing are all in full focus, adding mystery and longing to even the most benign lyric and making the highlights of Midnight Rocker rank among his best work.

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