Album Review: Marcia Griffiths - Golden
by Steve Topple
The undisputed Queen of Reggae Marcia Griffiths has returned with her 17th studio album – a project that shows her world-renowned talent isn’t waning at all.
Golden, released via Donsome Records, sees the star team up with a host of producers and artists to bring us a project immersed in her instantly recognisable sound – but that also feels fresh, with some nods to other genres. A lot of the tracks have been previously released – but just to delight fans further there are four new cuts to savour.
So, what has Griffiths previously treated our ears and senses to?
Well, Don't Seh Nuttin featuring her son Errol ‘The Kemist’ Thompson first came out in 2019 on the Ghetto Heaven Riddim. Produced by Frenchie, the track is a rich and warm Lovers track. Classic in its arrangement, all the Reggae staples are there – from the bubble rhythm to skanking guitars. However, the track is elevated by the gorgeous chord progressions, smooth arrangement, a pleasing pizzicato (plucked) string line, and the attractive bridge. However, best of all are Griffiths and Thompson’s vocals. The harmonies are perfectly in sync and their voices complement each other beautifully. Stunning works.
Time Away featuring Turbulence was released earlier in the year. Produced by Adrian “Donsome” Hanson it changes tack slightly, taking Golden into a minor key, while giving the bass a one drop which creates both breathing space and momentum – making it feel choppy. The skanking guitars have been brought forward via the engineering to enhance this – while Griffiths and Turbulence’s vocals are urgent, here – making Time Away feel modern and edgy.
Holding You Close is from 2016’s Smile Jamaica Riddim, produced by Silly Walks Discotheque. It’s a pleasing yet brooding affair, marked by a well-arranged string section and an evocative flute line. Here, Griffiths comes into her own – as the riddim itself allows her vocal to shine. Speaking of riddims, and 2020’s Let’s Talk About Music (produced by Donavon Germain) is Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry’s classic 3 Blind Mice Riddim, reimagined by Annette Brissett for Penthouse Records. It’s a pleasing reworking, with Griffiths playing well to both the original riddim and this new version.
However, things change with Black Tears (Remix) featuring Ivorian superstar Tiken Jah Fakoly – originally released under the riddim of the same name in November 2020. Produced by Hanson, the track is a brooding and unsettling affair, marked by some stark synth choral vocals, a stripped-back arrangement, and some good use of samples. However, Griffiths and Fakoly are the stars of this show – as they take on systemic racism and Babylon’s institutionalised violence against Black people. It’s stirring and pertinent.
A Beer & A Girl sees Griffiths take us back to 2010, with production once again by Germain. The track was written by renowned singer Sherieta Lewis and riddim maker Simone ‘Bunny-Ann’ Fletcher. It doesn’t feel 13 years old – a credit to Lewis and Fletcher – because it’s brisk, summery, and well-arranged. The whining electric guitar and sudden crescendo of the bridge bring interest – and Griffiths’ vocal makes the track bounce along even more. Lovely.
Then, of the new work the interlude Who is Deseree serves as a lead-in to Pack up N Gwan featuring former member of Reggae/Pop group Brick & Lace, and now solo artist in her own right, Nyanda. It sees Frenchie come back on production duties – here, creating another warm and fluid track, but this time with the accent on some well-constructed instrumental lines across the guitars and synths. Griffiths and Nyanda are glorious – serving as a mother and daughter, with the former telling her child ‘don’t hesitate for a minute’, ‘take up your things and leave’, after her daughter’s man was cheating on her. Biting and well-executed.
Next, and That Part of Me is composed and produced by Damian Marley – and his diverse influence shows. Here, there are elements of something more traditional African brought in, with its gently pattering drums, shaker, and delicately lilting guitars. The track isn’t Reggae, as such – more Afro-RnB with a sudden Rock bridge – however, this plays to Griffiths’ strengths. Here, her vocal is poised, well-considered, and extremely thoughtful. She’s constructed a performance that waxes and wanes with the ebb and flow of Marley’s composition – and overall, this powerhouse performance about self-affirmation is perhaps Golden’s strongest track.
Niceness sees the album take things back to an Old Skool Dancehall sound – underscored by that root-to-major seventh chord progression and a thumping, winding bassline. Produced by Thompson and his brother (Griffiths’ other son) Mathew 'Esco' Thompson, it’s a veritable party anthem – albeit maybe for an older generation – and Griffiths shows she can wind with the best of them.
Slide closes Golden and sees the legendary Clive Hunt come on board for the production – giving Griffiths something almost AfroHouse to work with; yes, you read that right. The kick is on an incessant four-to-the-floor; drums patter frantically; a horn section sways, and there are some decent breaks. Griffiths takes all this in her stride – showing her versatility as an artist, and the whole thing works brilliantly.
Looking at Golden as a whole, the album shows that Griffiths has lost neither any of her vocal prowess nor her ability to interpret. Her voice is as strong and controlled as it has ever been – particularly evident across tracks like Don’t Seh Nuttin and That Part of Me. Moreover, away from the overly Lovers tracks, she displays some vulnerability in her performances – not least across That Part Of Me, where she skilfully yet compassionately interprets Marley’s lyrics about overcoming both self-doubt and the doubt others project on you. Black Tears is also another standout – showing Griffiths with her finger still on the pulse of political and social ills.
Overall, Golden is a glorious celebration of the woman who has consistently been at the forefront of Reggae for nearly 60 years. It’s listenable, enjoyable, and extremely good quality. Moreover, the Queen of Reggae has still got it – and with this album, Marcia Griffiths shows no signs of giving it up, either.
Marcia Griffiths - Golden
DIGITAL RELEASE [Donsome Records LLC]
Release date: 09/08/2023
01. That Part of Me
02. Don't Seh Nuttin feat. The Kemist
03. Time Away feat. Turbulence
04. Holding You Close
05. Who is Deseree (Dialogue)
06. Pack up N Gwan feat. Nyanda
07. Black Tears (Remix) feat. Tiken Jah Fakoly
08. Lets Talk About Music
10. A Beer & a Girl