Album Review: The Archives - Carry Me Home
by Steve Topple
A Reggae Tribute to Gil Scott-Heron and Brian Jackson
It’s undeniably a monumental challenge to take the songs of one of the most important artists to have ever lived and breathe new and just life into them. Fortunately for The Archives, they have accomplished this feat, with their album dedicated to Gil Scott-Heron.
Carry Me Home: A Reggae Tribute to Gil Scott-Heron and Brian Jackson, released via Montserrat House, is an artistically ambitious project; possibly a world-first. The Archives have worked with Scott-Heron’s long-time collaborator Jackson on much of the project, giving it not only authenticity but also a bitter-sweet aura. This artistic integrity is enhanced by the inclusion of percussionist from Scott-Heron’s Amnesia Express band Larry McDonald across most of the tracks, too.
From the off, the production from Eric Hilton (Thievery Corporation) and Darryl “Trane” Burke (who is also The Archives’ pianist, songwriter and leader) is pure class. It’s important to note that the production, engineering and mastering of the record has been purposefully designed to create an almost historical sound. The focus is on synergy between instruments, depending on the track, and engineering that ensures the lyrical content shares centre stage with its musical counterpart.
It would be remiss to analyse each track as an individual experience. Because Carry Me Home needs to be viewed as a sum of its parts. Roots-driven, The Archives have also delicately brought in elements of Dub and Soul across the 12 cuts – giving a sumptuous and compelling end project.
The album consists of a mixture of songs written solely by Scott-Heron, or in collaboration with Jackson. On some tracks, like the originally Jazz-heavy Rivers Of My Fathers, The Archives have done a near-complete rearrangement. They’ve turned the haunting and seemingly heavily improvised Scott-Heron cut into pure Roots, with Addis Pablo’s melodica replacing but not replicating the original piano solo. On others, such as Who’ll Pay Reparations On My Soul featuring Mustafa Akbar, the original’s frantic djembe drums have been nodded to on the update via the skekere and the elongated use of reverb.
Dub-led The Revolution Will Not Be Televised has beautifully kept the flute solo, here from Mateo Monk. But interestingly Scott-Heron’s groundbreaking spoken word performance (which helped pave the way for rap) has been pared back by Kenyatta Hill; almost as if The Archives are saying to the listener ‘come on – you should know what the problem is, by now’.
Lead vocalist Puma Ptah also stands out across the tracks. While as a vocalist he has all the sensibilities of a Roots performer, there are undeniable tinges of Soul in his performances. Further to this, Ptah has also been wholly sympathetic to Scott-Heron’s original cuts – much of the time marrying his arrangement to these, but embellishing where musically it’s appropriate. On Cane for example, he keeps the main melodic line. But Ptah’s delivery contains more vocal runs, intonation and elongated notes versus Scott-Heron’s clipped and stark original – which actually works extremely well. On A Toast To The People, vocalist Raheem Devaughn gives a similarly impressive performance.
The incomparable Jackson also has the opportunity to shine on Carry Me Home, with a beautifully-delivered synth performance on the re-haunting interpretation of Winter In America, and vocally on Must Be Something. His new solo project, also to be released by Montserrat House, is sure to be thrilling.
Two tracks have also been composed especially for Carry Me Home: It’s Your World, penned by Jackson and Revolution Disguised As Change co-written by Burke and Mutabaruka (who also shares vocal duties with Puma Ptah). Both have been cleverly crafted to not seem out of place; with that latter being an unflinching follow-up to Scott-Heron’s original protest cry of The Revolution Will Not Be Televised.
But the album also serves to demonstrate the genius of Scott-Heron’s musicality. For example, the composition of his original Home Is Where The Hatred Is was inherently Funky Soul. Its chord progressions (for example, minor root/major sixth/major seventh) were endemic, and its incessant double semiquaver/quaver organ riff broodingly drove the momentum, as with all stellar examples of the genre.
Then, this arrangement has been transferred almost effortlessly to a Roots-led one by The Archives; showing not only the band’s skill as a musical outfit but also Scott-Heron’s intuitive song writing that is malleable enough to have new life breathed into it across a whole, other genre. Moreover, it demonstrates the intrinsic links between Roots and Soul music, and maybe also the influence of Scott-Heron’s Jamaican father on his own artistic progression.
Carry Me Home concludes with Dub versions of Home is Where the Hatred Is and Rivers of My Fathers. It’s a fitting and authentic end from The Archives, and sums up the project well. Because not only have the band, Jackson and other contributors created a superb Roots album in its own right – but they’ve also constructed a searing yet mesmerising and moving musical epitaph to Scott-Heron; one which he would surely approve of.
The popularity of genres in music waxes and wanes, as does the visibility of artists. But what often remains a constant is the messages delivered through the medium. In the case of Scott-Heron, his own personal battles along with the macro-societal ones he philosophised on, are timeless. And it’s that which The Archives have respectfully and searingly brought back to life. But there’s an element of grave melancholy in Carry Me Home.
Darryl “Trane” Burke told Reggaeville:
“I believe Gil’s works are very relevant. It’s the main reason we decided to do this project. America insists on living the beautiful lie. To quote Gil, ‘we have fallen prey to selective amnesia: remembering what we want to remember and forgetting what we want to forget’. There was never a time when levity here was great for all, especially for us myelinated people. Until a mirror is erected and the past and current wickedness is faced head on, we will remain in the dead of winter. We, the people, truly have the power. Once we begin to live in the light of that truth, better days will come”.
Sadly, the systematic crises Scott-Heron experienced and wrote about in his life, all those decades ago, are still devastatingly relevant today. But in Carry Me Home, The Archives have gone some way to begin re-addressing this imbalance. A truly groundbreaking, and ultimately moving project that will linger in the memory for years to come.
The Archives - Carry Me Home (A Reggae Tribute to Gil Scott-Heron and Brian Jackson)
DIGITAL RELEASE / 2LP [Montserrat House]
Release date: 05/27/2020
01. Home Is Where The Hatred Is feat. Puma Ptah
02. Rivers Of My Fathers feat. Puma Ptah & Addis Pablo
03. Peace Go With You, Brother (As-Salaam-Alaikum) feat. Puma Ptah
04. It's Your World feat. Puma Ptah & Brian Jackson
05. Who'll Pay Reparations On My Soul? feat. Puma Ptah & Mustafa Akbar
06. Song Of The Wind feat. Puma Ptah
07. Must Be Something feat. Puma Ptah & Brian Jackson
08. A Toast To The People feat. Raheem DeVaughn
09. The Revolution Will Not Be Televised feat. Kenyatta Hill & Mateo Monk
10. Cane feat. Puma Ptah
11. Revolution Disguised As Change feat. Puma Ptah & Mutabaruka
12. Winter In America feat. Puma Ptah & Brian Jackson -
13. Home Is Where The Hatred Is (I Grade Dub Mix) feat. Puma Ptah
14. Rivers of My Fathers (I Grade Dub Mix) feat. Puma Ptah & Addis Pablo*
*VINYL EDITION BONUS TRACK