A decade or so before the likes of Aswad, Musical Youth and UB40 ran a smooth but ultimately disastrous coating of syrup down it, reggae was, can you believe, quite fashionable in the United Kingdom. In fact, in the late 1970s everyone from The Clash to the Police reconciled their own tart phlegm of anarchy and resistance with the spiritual drive and roar of reggae music and it’s sweet and tangible gods: Bob Marley, U-Roy and Sly Dunbar. If you pardon the grotesque editorial nature of the phrase: ‘It was the Hip Hop of its day’. Only it didn’t need to lift licks from other records and trade in fatuous urban mythologies to carry it along into the public consciousness (although Dub is culpable of the former, certainly, but to far nobler ends).
Front Line Records, formed in the summer of 1975 and inspired by the runaway success of Island Records was Virgin’s first foray into the smoky den of the soul called Reggae. And whilst it wasn’t able to proclaim its own Marley, it did provide a broad sunny parasol for a formidable range of artists including The Gladiators, Gregory Isaccs, Johnny Clarke, U-Roy, Prince Far I, Peter Tosh, and Tapper Zuckie. And re-packaged in 8 or 12 booklets, the greater part of this catalogue is now being re-released by EMI in time for the summer of 2004. And what better entry level collection of tunes to learn from than the bright, the breezy and the utterly consumable ‘Natty Rebel Roots’ collection? From The Gladiators ‘Let Jah Be Praised to Prince Far I’s ‘Love Devine Dub’ Natty Roots is a compilation that emphasises the hugely uplifting and liberating end of the reggae spectrum. So if you’re looking for gritty and uncompromising morality songs of repression and incarceration, you’ll have to look elsewhere as this embraces all the positive aspects of life: love, acceptance and the unconditional rejection of war. One look at the titles will tell you that: ‘Tune In’, ‘Cry Tough’, ‘Throw Away Your Gun’, ‘Jah Kingdom Come’, ‘The Best Things In Life’. In fact the only real anomaly here is the token shot at the mainstream with Althea & Donna’s ‘Up Town Top Ranking’. Which is bizarre to say the least.
Anyway, Turn On, Tune In, Drop Out this summer with the dry, arid skunk of a Natty Rebel. You’ll soon forget all about the Bush administration, I can assure you.share this: