Johnny Clarke

Rockers Time Now

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One of the crucial albums of the 1970s, Johnny Clarke delivers up a masterpiece in a mere 12 tracks. Produced by Bunny Lee, at the height of his "flying cymbals" work, Rockers Time Now, contrary to its title, doesn't so much rock as find the perfect lackadaisical groove, and slides along it into nirvana. If the Jamaican term "irae" had a musical personification, Rockers would be it. Clarke's own laid-back, unruffled delivery dovetails perfectly, and Lee's equally easygoing house band the Aggrovators were the perfect music complement. Several of the songs are covers that on paper seem to be recipes for disaster, like the Abyssinians' militant "Declaration of Rights." But miraculously it works brilliantly, as if the revolution had come without bloodshed, with Babylon brought to ruins by a haze of ganja smoke. That haze swirls around "Satta Massa Gana" as well, conjuring up a dream world Africa, an exquisite paradise far removed from the real world. However, Rockers isn't all wrapped in mists, "Ites Green and Gold" is actually pretty punchy, while "African Roots" bounces across the grooves, buoyed by the bubbly guitar riffs. Airiest of all is the title track, which almost floats off the record entirely. The rest of the record is rootsier, with just enough simmering guitar slithering through to justify the rockers title. The standout is arguably a cover of the Mighty Diamonds "Them Never Love Poor Marcus," the most passionate track on the record, although "Let's Give Jah Jah Praise" runs a very close second. The album remains a contradiction in terms, rockers without the rock, roots without the fire, but Clarke's silky delivery, and the Aggrovators' subtle performance had classic written all over it. The Front Line label dropped the singer after the release of this album and Authorized Version, philistines blind to the rare gems in their hands, and time has only increased the value of Rockers Time Now.

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