Sun. May 29th, 2022

The cover of Soul Revivers’ new album shows a scene from underneath the Westway in Ladbroke Grove. It is the late 1970s. Observed by a policeman, Leroy Anderson, DJ and founder of the pirate radio station Dread Broadcasting Corporation, is setting up his sound system for the Notting Hill Carnival. The argument of the album – as well as the photo – is that West London was central to the development of reggae.

On the Grove is produced by Nick Manasseh and David Hill, both veteran reggae producers and label bosses. When Hill acted as music consultant to Idris Elba’s film adaptation of Victor Headley’s book Yardie, itself about connections between Kingston and London, he and Manasseh ended up recording new tracks. The experience prompted them to assemble this album as a collaboration between continents and generations. Many of London’s leading reggae musicians have joined Jamaican stars including guitarist Ernest Ranglin (fast approaching his 90th birthday) and singer Ken Boothe (a mere 73).

Ranglin’s distinctive playing kicks off the album in opener “No More Drama”, with a slow groove from the rhythm section, a fanfare that quotes The Sound Dimension’s “Rockfort Rock” and then an extended run of staccato picking laden with tremolo as the horns rise up behind in chorus. The guitarist returns later in “Harder”, spinning leaping lines against a background that sounds like a dub version of the Swinging Addis era.

Album cover of 'On the Grove' by Soul Revivers

Boothe’s showcase is “Tell Me Why”. “Today”, he intones, “man sees all his hopes and aspirations crumbing before his eyes.” He goes on to lament communication technologies “polluting humanity with fantastic fantasy”. Then up into a sweet chorus. Kingston-born singer Earl 16 steps his way through “Got to Live”, a rework of his 1970s hit “Changing World”. The brass section of Dougal Caston, Dave Fullwood and Lucas Petter blares the responses; Kheru Jahman Dan belabours a kete drum. A new song from Earl 16, “Where the River”, is a piece of Jamaican pastoral, tiny droplets of organ trickling low in the mix. The album ends with an instrumental version of the song, “Down River”, with trumpet from Ms Maurice (Sheila Maurice-Gray) replacing the vocals with a hint of highlife. She also features, more bluesily, on “Look No Further”, jousting with squelchy clavinet.

Elsewhere there are fine soulful vocal contributions from Alexia Coley, notably on a cover of The Heptones’ “Futile Cause”, and woozy, serious trombone from Matic Horns (Henry Tenyue) on “Meanwhile Shuffle”.

★★★★ ☆

On the Grove‘is released by Acid Jazz

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