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Back to Roots

The Gladiators

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Album Review

The Gladiators' final album for the Front Line label, Sweet So Til, disappointed some roots fans who denigrated it as being too "lightweight." In hindsight, the album was seen as a classic; within the group experimented with a country style and exquisitely blended rockers rhythms with Ernest Ranglin's phenomenal, bluesy lead guitar and Jimmy Beckford's wailing harmonica.

In any event, the trio decided to give the people what they apparently wanted, and Back to Roots perfectly sums up this set's sound. No longer dependent on guesting musicians, the group was now a self-contained unit with a lineup including drummer Stanley "Barnabas" Bryan, lead guitarist Clinton Rufus, and keyboardist Audley Taylor, and fleshed out by percussionist Zoot "Skully" Simms and the brass of Bobby Ellis, Felix "Deadly Headly" Bennett, and Dave Madden. Self-produced and recorded at Channel One studios, the Gladiators create a deep roots sound from the minor-key melodies, with the swollen atmospheres conjured up by the obligatory militant beats, throbbing basslines, and sharp riffs that swell around the brass and keyboards. Consequentially, few of the songs boast the immediate infectious appeal of much their earlier work, bar the anthemic "The Warriors," but this is a purely cultural set, and the band was deliberately trying to shake their more populist appeal. Songs like "Marcus Garvey Time," "God Bless," "Prayer to Jah," and "Rich Man Poor Man" are the standouts, the latter one of several cuts on which Clinton Fearon takes lead vocals. Falling off a major label may have hurt the group's profile abroad, but this album helped put to bed any doubts on the group's standing back home.

This CD reissue appends four excellent live cuts, including two Wailers/Bob Marley covers, all presumedly recorded in the early '80s; the otherwise informative sleeve notes provides no information about them. Another in the stream of classic albums the group unleashed during the roots age.

Biography

Formed: 1967

Genre: Reggae

Years Active: '60s, '70s, '80s, '90s, '00s

For over three decades, Albert Griffiths and his Gladiators have been a major force within Jamaican music. Born in 1946, in St. Elizabeth parish, he grew up in poverty in Trench Town, and trained as a mason. However, music beckoned, and linking with David Webber, brother of the popular Webber Sisters, the pair auditioned around the studios, but to no avail. Thus it was back to masonry, where Griffiths was now working alongside the Ethiopians' Leonard Dillon under a foreman, Leebert Robinson, also...
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Back to Roots, The Gladiators
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