Reggae Cowboys

Tell the Truth

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How weird is this? A group of Canadian musicians form a reggae band and fill their debut album with songs about cowboys, outlaws, and lawmen. Then again, the Reggae Cowboys do hail from south of the border -- no, not the U.S., but the Caribbean, and like most of their compatriots, these five West Indians were raised on Westerns. However, these Cowboys are not just regurgitating High Noon shootouts; instead, they're giving history a culturally diverse spin, both musically and lyrically. Many of their numbers are straightforward tales of life in the Old West, but the title track drives home the point of the entire album with its name-checks of Afro-American cowboys, outlaws, and lawmen. Musically, the bandmembers contradict their name by refusing to constrain themselves to a pure reggae format, blending in everything from rocksteady to spaghetti Westerns, alongside tinges of blues and a healthy dose of rock. "Hang 'Em High," the old pasta Western nugget, was obviously made for a reggae beat, and the Reggae Cowboys saddle it up and ride it into the sunset, while their version of the Eagles' "Hotel California" is a true Western connection. Their own compositions are just as strong, with sinuous-as-snakes basslines and crisp syncopated one-drop beats counterpointed by slide guitar, as on "Searchin' for de Outlaw," which glides gently into old school hip-hop, while "Barkin' Dogs" nods toward the Yellowman school of toasting. There are tinges of the Wailers and Steel Pulse to their sound as well, but the Cowboys' music and lyrics are so distinctive that you'll never confuse them with anything you've heard before. The Reggae Cowboys' truly original imagination and musical panache make this album an instant classic, a debut sure to round them up a posse of fans in no time.

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