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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "Big ship sailing on the ocean, we don't need no commotion...", 11 May 2011
L. Kelly (Cumbria UK) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Big Ship (Audio CD)
Early dancehall classic; an exquisite musical masterclass blending warm, soulful melody with mesmerizing, deep reggae grooves. Freddie McGregor sings in a smooth yet powerful style with hints of a Dennis Brown influence; and with all the confidence of an already-established songwriter who's had popular hits in a decade-long career. McGregor favours a more populist, accessible approach to vocalizing, and uses much less Jamaican patois and 'slang' than his contemporaries (Don Carlos, Michael Prophet et al); and also divides his writing equally between spiritual/cultural "rootsy" material and love lyrics. Not that this thematic distinction makes any difference to the musical backings at all; indeed, conversely, some of the darkest and heaviest rhythms are on love songs rather than the expected "dread" ones.

The musical performances by the Roots Radics are prime examples of the revolutionary new reggae sound the band cultivated in the early eighties: sparse arrangements with full emphasis on the metronomic, stepping, swinging beats and the spacious, hypnotically dense and lyrical bass lines. Harmonic accompaniment is keep to a minimum; just the spiky, skanking guitar chops and some delicate piano riffs which surface momentarily, and sometimes lead the melody ("DON'T PLAY THE FOOL", "GET UNITED"). But the driving force is strictly drum and bass "riddims"; with the drumming drenched in dubby echo and reverb and each snare-shot crashing and resonating loudly through the mix.

The sublime quality of this album never dips, so everything here is a highlight; but I'm still more favourably biased towards the cultural tracks. The devout "PEACEFUL MAN" has strikingly resolute and direct lyrics: "woe be unto the one who troubles Jah plan/ Check yourself man, can't you understand - Jah Rastafari is the living one" (god); and is the song on which McGregor manages to make an entire (and brilliant) chorus out of the 'words' "woy-ee-woy-ee-yoy"! "ROOTS MAN SKANKING" has an interesting tightly-wound, off-beat rhythm that resolves itself in a series of drum taps; and lyrics which vividly portray events in the Jamaican dance halls: "pure rub-a-dub keep playing, dance hall ram and everywhere jam/ Everyone skanking, a-rocking and dipping". "BIG SHIP" itself is a wonderfully meditative, swaying groove that takes a metaphorical 'plain sailing on the sea of life' theme and combines it with some very literal nautical imagery: "the wind is blowing and the fishes keep moving/ Sit down, hold on tight, get ready 'cos we're sailing".

Of course the album's 'emotional' side is consummately well-written too (if you like that sort of thing); full of all the romantic cliches you'd expect: heartache, 'getting serious' and schmaltzy devotional lyrics straight out of 50's and 60's doo-wop and soul - "you're like a cherry on the tree, I swear I'll pick you 'cos you're so sweet/ Sweet lady, you're my sugar baby...".
This is simply the finest crossover collection of roots reggae and lover's rock I've ever heard; with consistently "tuff" and brilliant rhythms, even despite the mushy lyrical sentimentality. Jah bless.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Big ship sailing on the ocean, 1 Dec. 2003
Gareth Smyth "Enjilos" (County Mayo, Ireland) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Big Ship (Audio CD)
Warm, soulful reggae from the days before toasting took over and Freddie McG went poppy. Great record from reggae's golden era and my not-entirely-mispent youth.
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