Album Review: Rootz Underground - Return Of The Righteous Vol. 1
Return of the Righteous, Volume 1 is a highly anticipated album, and one that has been a few years in the making, it actually released in France earlier in 2015 and is now being made available worldwide for download.
With the band cast as a ninja unit in the video for the title track, Return of the Righteous, they endeavor to address the duality of life, good and bad, evil and positive. In an interview with Reggaeville a few years back regarding the album theme, lead singer Stevie Lightning explained that it is not that the band is distinguishing themselves from the rest by proclaiming they are the returning “righteous”, but that in general there is a planetary shift and that these positive elements and thought patterns, and actions that are taking place reflect a sea change for the betterment of humanity.
Leading the way for the live music resurgence in the Kingston, Jamaica scene where Rootz Underground got their start, the album retains the analog feel that has characterized their recordings for the most part. The lead song and title track Return of the Righteous includes rich horns, a pronounced hand drum pattern throughout the verses and seasoned guitar licks that allow the bass to take center stage with Stevie’s voice which has some autotune type effects that give it a futuristic feel.
Some of these songs have been performed live over the past few years, so the band has had a chance to work out what features work best in that setting, carrying this knowledge with them back to the studio lab. Fret Not Thyself is one of those songs, with a bold African hi-life style guitar line as its centerpiece and the addition of a trombone in the recorded version that keeps the mood peppy as the message suggests. The drums are at the front of the mix with the snare playing the rebel beat to guide the session. A statement on their origins and the struggle that is the music business comes through with this line: “I don’t really care if none of them screw, strictly rebel music we play, nothing’s gonna stand in my way not today.”
Ban Mi features guest vocalist Timeka Marshall with lyrics that address being banned on Jamaican radio. Timeka tracks the chorus singing “Hey can you feel this, a rebel vibration, them haffi play upon the station” singing it with Stevie, as a child’s voice chants “Jah Rastafari”.
For Stronger Then the rhythm shifts from a one drop to a playful rocksteady feel as the trombone comes back in to trade licks with keyboard changes while the snare rides the front of the mix. The bridge has an almost Middle Eastern feel to it, as the ancient Rasta messages come forth, “there will be rockstones in my way, you know we’ll only be stronger then.”
New Tam tells the story of a new tam made by the “the likkle rasta sistren” for the natty dreadlocks that “grow so long on the island.” This song has saxophone which makes a sultry appearance coupled with a melodica tone on the keyboards adding to the whimsical nature of the song.
Band keyboardist and wordsmith Scubie brings in a his own DJ style chant for Rootz & Culture another song that has been tested out in the live setting. An easygoing steppers rhythm makes for a freestyle vibe on the track. Stevie sings the chorus that reminds us to “be at one with nature, spread some love upon the hour.”
Seven tracks into the sequence comes the love song, “Love Line” replete with sweet guitar lines and syrupy lyrics that suggest, “If you’re feeling lonely, when no one knows you or understands you… Take your time, its just my heart you’re breaking, I don’t mind, although my whole world is shaking, I’ll be fine cause I’m your love line.” It could be sung over any other tempo, rock, country etc and be a winner, it has that universal appeal to it in its structure.
The traditional American folk song Rising Sun Blues made into a hit as The House of the Rising Sun by the Animals in 1964, is adapted here as the version Kingston Town a combination with the great Toots Hibbert who leads the chorus in his trademark soulful, full-bodied voice singing vivid images about life in Kingston town, “with the shining sun and the shining gun and the blood all around.”
For Free Stevie chants over a deep roots track that layers instruments with dub-style delay effects over vocals with a freestyle type lyric that addresses issues of personal freedom. An ethereal female vocal threads throughout that is sung by Sezi, a Jamaica-based singer.
Slowing down the pace to a ballad to close out the set, Stevie does some soul searching with the band in Fire And Ice. They return to this duality concept as he sings, “My body is made from fire and my soul is made from ice….feel so cold I could become a riverstone, but then if the river stop flow then I would lose the only love I’ve known.” The bridge sings “You know I’m made from fire…” with the band’s support vocalists singing along. A dramatic build keeps up this vibe before the song deconstructs to solo piano and a bit of percussion.
After two previous studio albums, Movement and Gravity, Rootz Underground show their maturity and the effects of life as touring musicians but also as parents, lovers, brothers, sons, citizens of Jamaica and the world, recording a thoughtful album that reflects their first love; the culture of playing music and vibing with the fans.
Rootz Underground - Return Of The Righteous Vol. 1
DIGITAL RELEASE [Riverstone Music]
Release date: 11/06/2015
01. Return of the Righteous
02. Fret Not Thyself
03. Ban Mi feat. Timeka Marshall
04. Stronger Then
05. New Tam
06. Rootz and Culture
07. Love Line
08. Kingston Town feat. Toots and the Maytals
09. Free feat. Sezi
10. Fire and Ice