Album Review: Aleighcia Scott - Windrush Baby
by Steve Topple
Aleighcia Scott has just released her debut album – although given her pedigree in Reggae circles, and a previously well-received EP, it feels like it’s at least her sophomore release. And what a release it is – capturing the sounds of her heritage, while nodding to the political and social roots of it, too.
Windrush Baby, released via Black Dub, sees the Welsh-Jamaican songstress team up with legendary producer RoryStoneLove, along with some of the cream of the crop of Jamaica’s musicians. The project has clearly been born out of the love both the singer and the producer have for UK-based Reggae and Lovers Rock of the late 70s and 80s – as the album feels like a tribute to that period in musical time, albeit with some smart and inventive updates along the way.
The album opens with First Love – essentially an anti-Lovers Rock song written by Leontre Williams. It’s a stripped-back affair, with Dwight Richards trumpet taking centre stage throughout – and for an entire solo section, too. The track is pure Lovers-meets-Dub, with some pleasing engineering and the entire trumpet section completely dubbed-out with rhythmic reverb and breaks. Scott is vocally scathing yet delicate, performing the track with a quiet yet forthright ambivalence to the man she’s reprimanding. Glorious, harking back to Lovers Rock’s late 70s conception.
Good Vibes takes things up a notch, seeing the legendary Dean Fraser’s alto sax opening proceedings with a jazzy, riff-led refrain. It’s a curious yet interesting creation, essentially some Old Skool but without the unfussy chord progressions – instead, a minor key leads. There’s brilliant call and response interplay between Scott’s sultry vocal (diving up and down her register) and the horn section (from Okiel Mckentyre, Dwight Richards, Randy Fletcher, Everton Pessoe, Love, and Fraser) – and respected backing vocalists Chevaughn and Roselyn Williams deliver the goods (as they do across the entire album).
Windrush Baby then provides a reimagined version of the Studio One/Brook Benton classic Do You [Love Me] – originally performed by John Holt. The complex string arrangement of the original – with its arco (bowed) then pizzicato (plucked) sections – has been expertly recreated by Emily Ruth, Ellen Blair, and Gill Morley. However, this is Scott’s show – and sees her coming into her own as a skilled Soul vocalist. She commands attention, here, juxtaposing the staccato delivery of the strings with legato vocals, full of glissandos as well as keen attention to detail across the dynamics (again contrasting the forthright strings). It’s compelling, exceptionally well executed, and luscious.
Hey World takes on some stomping, rhythmically Ska-led but melodically Funky Soul vibes across a brilliantly stripped-back instrumental arrangement – featuring particularly pleasing guitars from Gizmo White and Lamont 'Monty' Savory, encapsulating the merging of styles. There’s great use of synths, here – from some 80s throwback horns, to bells, and strings with peaking and troughing decay run across them. Scott is pure class: urgent, compelling, and relentless – as she delivers a sermon on the state of the world in the 21st century.
The semiquaver riffs across the horns on the opening of In My Shoes set the tone for the song well. Written by British songwriter Blair Mackichan, it jogs along at a brisk pace. Donald 'Danny Bassie' Dennis’s bass leads the charge across a drop-beat, dotted note-led riff which creates a decent wind against Franklin ‘Bubbler’ Waul’s bubble rhythm on the keys (which the horns replicate at times), and his funky electric organ riffs. Oh, and there’s a great ‘horn off’ at the end, too. Scott is on point, defending her lover in the face of friends’ criticisms – and overall, it’s a pointed, 80s throwback affair.
Pretty Little Brown Thing slows Windrush Baby down somewhat – but keeping the sound firmly a few decades ago, courtesy of Jamaican-born singer/songwriter Racquel Jones. It’s a smoothed-out, laid-back affair – as the horns swirl around, keys work low down their register, and string jab in and out. Scott gets her singjay on for the first time – and excellently so, tailoring her sharp performance perfectly to the ‘FU’ lyrical ode to the fetishisation and objectification of Black women.
Maybe returns to a Lovers Rock sound, but with some modern updates – stripping back the instrumentation to create a wistful vibe. Scott works up the higher end of her vocal register here, and brilliantly so – with some pleasing riffs and runs. The interplay between the flute and trombone is lovely and overall, it’s fresh and summery.
Mr Big Shot then switches things up – taking a predominantly brooding Dub sound but interjecting it with some Reggae touches - including a searing electric organ from Waul. But again, this is Scott’s show - as she delivers a furious vocal, filled with horizontal embouchure low-down her register – taking aim at right-wing, political leaders promoting racism and classism through feeding propaganda to the people. It’s haunting and highly effective.
This Way returns Windrush Baby to a Lovers Rock vibe – but brought further up to date. There are some complex chord progressions here, including a shift into a minor key for the bridge then back to major for its climax. The string arrangement is fluid and meandering, while the electric organ tinkers in the background, and Fraser is once again back on the sax. Scott hones-in on the Soul influences in Lovers, performing some exquisite runs, pointed growls – all tied together with peaking and troughing dynamics and controlled vibrato. Seductive, and an enhanced take on Lovers Rock.
Windrush Baby closes with My Love – here, with backing vocals by the superb Nathaniel Hewitt. It feels almost Steppers, with a rapid four-to-the-floor kick and busy snare, coupled with Reggae’s usual suspects like a bubble rhythm. But, as with the entire album, musical boundaries have been blurred – and a solo flute throughout has given the track a wonderful lift into something Soul/Jazz.
Overall, the sound on Windrush Baby is pure class. Scott and Rory clearly have a huge rapport – as they’ve drawn out the best from all the musicians involved, creating tracks which have perfect synergy between all their component parts – almost ‘as live’, at points.
Vocally, Scott is a gifted artist – having the voice of a Soul singer with the rhythmic intuitions of Reggae. Her tone is pleasing; the interpretations elegant and well-executed, and Scott also controls her instrument extremely well. Lyrically, she also has a flare for words. Admittedly, most of the tracks on Windrush Baby are Lovers’ ones – but when she does branch out into the conscious, she makes an impression: Hey World’s urgent run down of all our ills – from racism to refugees, via misogyny and climate change being the most pointed example.
But the real point of Windrush Baby is to pay dues to this who came before Scott and Rory. The album encapsulates the sound of the second half of the 20th century in Britain that both their families brought with them from Jamaica. It serves as not only a tribute to the Windrush generation’s fortitude and musical ingenuity, but also a potent reminder of just how much modern Reggae has to thank them for.
Moreover, Windrush Baby holds additional pertinence in a time when, in the UK and globally, white supremacists are still meting colonialism out. In Britain this is particularly marked: the racist state deporting countless members of the Windrush generation, and institutionalised racism still pervading society.
Windrush Baby, as a sum of all those parts, is a triumph. It’s slick, engaging, infinitely listenable, and oozing class and substance. A classic in the making – and a seminal work for both Scott and Rory.
Aleighcia Scott - Windrush Baby
DIGITAL RELEASE [Rorystonelove / Black Dub]
Release date: 09/01/2023
01. First Love
02. Good Vibe
03. Do You
04. Hey World
05. In My Shoes
06. Pretty Little Brown Thing
08. Mr. Big Shot Out
09. This Way
10. My Love