Murder City Players are a true rarity, an American reggae band who not only pays homage to Jamaican music, but adeptly expands its styles via the careful incorporation of stateside musical references. Their authentic sound made a convert of the Nighthawk label, who had previously devoted itself exclusively to veteran Jamaican acts. They also won over Leonard Dillon, and the Ethiopian provides vocals on his lovely composition "Heartaches." Power Struggle was a leap of faith for the label, not merely because of the group's nationality (although co-vocalist Phillip "Prince P." McKenzie was Jamaican-born) nor that they were a new band, but due to their dancehall leanings. "Call My Name" is a classic sweet singer/tougher toaster number, "G- Man" boasts a taut dancehall rhythm, while even a gorgeous, rocksteady-esque number like "Hold Tight" has a dancehall swing to it, as well as some of the tightest brass playing around. Indeed, Murder City Players love to mix it up and have a sly way of slipping slivers of '60s hits into their songs -- a lyrical reminder here, as on "Big Bout Ya"'s refrain from Stevie Wonder's "Uptight (Everything's Alright)"; a melodic snatch there, as on the snippet of "Love Grows (Where My Rosemary Goes)" on "Hold Tight." But in best Jamaican style, these are less rips than adaptations, while the group freely borrows from the island's classic canon as well. Thus, when Murder City Players come to actually cover a song, and they do two -- Roland Alphonso's immortal "Phoenix City," retitled "Murder City," and Marvin Gaye's steamy classic "Let's Get It On" -- the results are sensational. It's a heady experience, as the album vivaciously bounces from roots and culture to exuberant ska, from dancehall in all its many shadings to lovers' delights, and further diversified by the vocal duties shared between the honeyed tones of Mark "T. Rome" Condellire and McKenzie's clipped dancehall stylings. American-based they may be, and their influences reinforce the fact, but their souls just as obviously belong to Jamaica.
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AllMusic Review by Jo-Ann Greene