Album Review: Lloyd Brown - Rootical
by Angus Taylor
English born, internationally-rated singer Lloyd Brown has become a consistent critical favourite for his annual and increasingly biannual album releases. He could have comfortably rested on his laurels for the remainder of 2013 following February’s well-received New Veteran - released via his own production unit Riddimworks.
The same can be said of US reggae producing triumvirate, Zion I Kings, who have already put out a superb Cornel Campbell project this summer. So when Lloyd announced that he and the Kings would be making an album together – a strictly roots and culture record with none of the pop and Studio 1 inflected moves made on New Veteran – the excitement (among reggae nerds at least!) was palpable. Speculation on the sum of its parts would suggest that it be one of the events of the year.
Lloyd has been cutting cultural numbers since the 90s but Rootical, his 17th long-player is 100% dedicated to this vein. Atypically, none of his four combination partners hail from the UK. There are no daring cover versions; just original material. The songs are co-written and co-produced with Jah David Goldfine, Laurent Tippy Alfred and Andrew Moon Bain of Zion I Kings who lend bass, keyboards and guitar respectively. With one source of rhythms behind him, this is the musically restless Lloyd’s most unified effort thus far.
A clever man in an industry that frequently takes artists for fools, Brown’s lyrics often include sharp and witty broadsides against haters and wrongdoers. Rootical is no exception. On the brooding karmic What You Sow he updates his familiar paternal scolding catchphrase for the ignorant “Gwaan A Yuh Bed” to the extra loaded “Gwaan Make Yuh Bed”. Metaphors of trial by court occur more than once. Na Na Na, the sole love song in the romantic sense, deals with betrayal.
Yet the tone of the album is never angry. For each critique is balanced with a request for resilience and forgiveness. Likewise the Kings’ rhythms are not hard and unforgiving but soulful and bittersweet. Against a backdrop of Chet Samuels’ jazzy guitar and bouncy drumming by the great Style Scott, Live In Love asks us not to give up on people in general because individuals let us down. Just In Time reminds that life is too short to bear a grudge. To match the old school feel of the music Lloyd draws on timeless sayings and natural images. On Keep On Keeping On, he calls for level headedness quoting Rudyard Kipling’s poem If, reclaiming its colonial wisdom to a reggae context.
Lloyd Brown albums always keep a certain standard but usually it is possible to select a few highlight tracks. With Rootical the quality is so uniform that it is near impossible. The combination choices are particularly inspired. The title piece featuring Pressure and Keep On Keeping On, with man of many deliveries Jahdan Blakkamore (this time channelling Junior Kelly), deliberately showcase these versatile artists’ deejaying palette for maximum contrast and complement with Lloyd’s voice.
On the Cornel Campbell outing some of the dubby effects felt a little abrupt. Here every mix is pared down and peer reviewed to perfection, every note and backing vocal subtle and precise. Only the synth strings on Queen Omega duet Together feel superfluous. This is a project where everyone involved has put in and, through your speakers, poured out, a lot of love.
Sometimes, like a boxing match between two pound-for-pound contenders whose styles fail to gel, too much expectation can lead to disappointment. Thankfully, this project delivers on its pairing’s promise. This is Lloyd Brown and Zion I Kings finest album to date – and given the competition on both sides – that is not easy to do.
Lloyd Brown - Rootical
DIGITAL RELEASE [Zion High Productions]
Release date: iTunes 10/1/2013 - Other 10/8/2013
01. Live In Love
02. Keep On Keeping On feat. Jahdan Blakkamoore
03. Rootical feat. Pressure Busspipe
04. What You Sow
05. Not From Me
06. Winds of Change
07. Have I Got Through To You
08. Na Na Na
09. I Don't Think You Heard Me
10. How Could I feat. Yisrael Immanuel
11. Together feat. Queen Omega
12. Just One Time
13. Can't Lose Sight