April 24, 2024

Talisman – Don’t Play with Fyah      continues a forty year tradition of conscious British Roots Reggae

SUGAR SHACK RECORDS              17th March 2017

I offered the opinion recently that all right-thinking people like roots reggae and I’ll restate it. What could be better than deep beats, moving sweetly and skanking as conscious lyrics put the world to rights?

And what better as a first target than religion. Or as we say in Roots, “Relijan, killing in the name of the Lord”. Talkin’ Revolution is about ideological purity; don’t talk about revolution while working in the system. Africa and The Black Man are referenced and a great chorus melody is backed with horns. This is a wonderful return to form and many thanks to Sugar Shack Records of Bristol. Bristol was one of the two spiritual homes of the Roots reggae movement of the eighties (Birmingham was the other) and Sugar Shack have reissued albums of that era, along with lost tracks and a re-emergence of Talisman a few years ago. That was a decent album but this is a really good one – one that can hold its head up with greats like Burning Spear, Steel Pulse and Misty In Roots. Better still, it comes as a packed CD or double album. Half the package is seven lengthy and sturdy songs, half is dub reworkings of the same.

Mmmm, dub. Echoey, metallic chiming, snatches of lyric, bursts of horn. Perfect chilling music. These, along with the original songs are mixed by Dennis Bovell, doyen of almost every important reggae or reggae-influenced band – The Slits, The Pop Group, Steel Pulse, Aswad, etc.

Great songs, often name checking Ras Tafari and Emperor Haile Sellassie of Ethiopia. “She Look Like Reggae, but she was roots rock skanking, I’s gold and green”. Not at all sure what they mean but it ticks all the roots boxes and swings like the devil’s dick. Other songs are gentler – Don’t Play With Fyah swings sweetly and channels the sound of Aswad in their hit-making phase. Hear No Evil is throw away but fun – telling us to ‘be a conscious man’. The silly chorus of “wookie, wookie, oh” is great fun. Racism Never Sleep is true and calls for vigilance yet is hugely tuneful with electronic keys and percussion frills. The final track, Wheel and Come Again, skanks very nicely, bubbling along with great horn work.

It is slightly miraculous that this is a new album of new material, addressing all the key themes of Roots without being purely a nostalgia trip. These are still concerns tody and this is the sugared pill that keeps them in vision. That said; anyone who lived through the peak of British Roots Reggae will explode with happiness on hearing this.


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