Album Review: Taj Weekes & Adowa - Love, Herb & Reggae
Simply put, Taj Weekes is a deep brother. For this his 5th album, the artist decided it was time to step out of the comfort zone not just musically but also in his message. Political yes, but more of a militancy that takes no shortcuts, that stakes a claim for righteousness and one love for all. The album addresses a multitude of issues, Black Lives Matter, Occupy Wall Street, climate change, legalization of marijuana and what for him are noted missteps in the reggae community with regards to the rights of those who identify as gay. These missteps by artists through hate speech have wreaked havoc on the perception of the culture of reggae in general by the media, promoters, and the greater music community. So Mr. Weekes has taken it upon himself to extend an olive branch, or correct the homophobic missteps of his colleagues with Here I Stand and its hook, “She loves a woman not a man”. The song is recorded in two versions, one where the music is a march style cadence in step with the reasoning of the song so sensitive and earnest, the other is recorded with a straight ahead one-drop reggae groove.
As for the musical risks here, the artist’s bright falsetto with its trills and vibrato dances through songs that explore tempos outside of the typical reggae one-drop. New sounds are introduced; horns, harmonica, songs change keys like avant garde Jazz improvisations, its all very honest and unexpected. Taj has left the predictable tenets of two to three chord reggae song structure by the riverside crossing into in new deeper rapids.
The album opens with a proclamation Let Your Voice a reminder that our silence as a people is what allows atrocities to continue on many levels. For Life In The Red, sound effects like those of a cash register (think Pink Floyd - Money) season a brooding lush one-drop rhythm reminiscent of early Midnite. His voice and songwriting make even a heavy issue like being broke sound sweet. Again the chords change to fortify the sense of pressure that financial issues can wreak.
Full Sight is a bonafide love song of yearning and desperation with a song structure taken from a 1960’s soul tune with call and response harmonies, a playful trombone over a lilting steppers style rhythm. Giant Beast returns to the Rasta message about the inevitable fall of Babylon. The horns serve as clarion while wah wah guitars blare the inevitable triumph, “when Babylon falls”.
The album’s title track is recorded like a nyabinghi session with an acoustic guitar and chorale style support vocals, its full of vibes like a 1960’s protest anthem. Its aim is to be the antidote to sex, drugs and rock and roll and the lyrics, a reflection on reggae and Rasta’s place in the art of Taj Weekes complete with references to past lyrics, “let your vibes be high and your message mighty.” Gun violence is addressed over a bubbling keyboard and sorrowful horns, in Bullet For a Gun. Taj has this tendency in his songwriting to sing a phrase two times, once to get you to understand the line, and the second time to get you to feel it. In this case, the line is “no grief so great”.
As part of this album’s mission to take risks, Mediocrity makes the case for excellence and a willingness to try. The reggae groove is complex with multiple chord changes, soulful harmonies, soaring horns push the courageous declaration “I won’t wallow in self pity and I won’t make peace with mediocrity.” Rebels to the Street is reminding us to brace ourselves, as gospel-tinged vocals cry out the rebels chant. This tune is channeling Curtis Mayfield with inspired guitar, funky bass and Taj’s vocals directing traffic for it all. Mayfield’s spirit lingers in the groove for The Laws, a marijuana tune. Taj reminds us of the hypocrisy of heavy penalties, “The laws against marijuana, in force against marijuana, have done more harm than marijuana has ever done to anyone.”
For Was It You Taj expresses his gratitude for a love using rainbow imagery throughout the lyrics singing “You brought me a rainbow and painted my sky.” The melody is stunning and the musicianship innovative. Rebel is an acoustic version of Against the Machine found on the 2012 various artists release Occupy This Album. What it exhibits is the universality of Taj Weekes’ writing style, Wall Street’s walls come tumbling down with songs like this. To close the album, an ode to his home island St. Lucia On My Mind a powerful intro and heavy bass line heat up the song ideas. The artist sets the stage, in the middle of a cold winter he compares his current situation to the alternative, “half the worry, half the strife, half the money twice the life”.
Love, Herb & Reggae can survive the litmus test of reggae from the past, with its analog recording feel, superb musicianship and risk taking in the chord structure. All of this combined with courageous lyrical messages and the inimitable vocal tone of Taj Weekes means these songs stand alone and work together as a nyabinghi, protest song, deep roots, St. Lucian soul symphony.
Taj Weekes & Adowa - Love, Herb & Reggae
DIGITAL RELEASE / CD [Jatta Records]
Release date: 02/12/2016
01. Let Your Voice
02. Life In The Red
03. Full Sight
04. Giant Beast
05. Here I Stand
06. Love Herb & Reggae
07. Bullet From A Gun
09. Rebels To The Street
10. The Laws
11. Was It You
12. Here I Stand (Remix)
13. Rebel (Unplugged)
14. St Lucia On My Mind