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Roots Tonic

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Album Review

Multi-talented artist/producer (vocals, keyboards, trombone, ukulele, harmonica, and more) King Django claims Roots Tonic is a solo album, but that shouldn't suggest he's recording on his own. For this, his second solo shot, huge swathes of the Big Apple third wave scene showed up to help (six drummers alone are credited), while even two Jamaican superstars — singer Sugar Minott and legendary producer Glen Brown — dropped by and lent a hand on percussion. With such a large cast of players, and riddims recorded over the years from 1989 on, and some of the lyrics written even earlier, it's no surprise that this is an eclectic set. Even so, it easily holds together as an album, for the rhythms themselves are pure roots reggae/rockers, and the dub-inflected production further coalesces the sound. From the fiery Channel One-esque militancy of "No Trial," its revolutionary message delivered by Rocker-T, to the Steel Pulsey "It's All Over," across the storming dancehall-styled "Fitful a Riddim," and onto the jazzy "It's All Over," Django rules the roots world. "Rock and Come In," where the King is joined by Dr. Ring Ding, is also absolutely inspired, embracing African chorale backing vocals while agilely sliding musically from the early reggae age to the roots era, and then into the minimalistic sound of the '80s. King Django is also the "Lyric Architect," here backing up his verbal boasts with a Sly & Robbie-styled riddim. The pulsing "Zion Gates" pays homage to the duo's hefty earlier work with the Revolutionaries, as well as to the late, great Augustus Pablo, with a melodica-drenched, dubby powerhouse instrumental. Appropriately enough, the album ends with the nyahbinghi-driven "Wayfarer's Prayer," a reminder that the roots age was inspired not just by militant riddims but fervid religious beliefs.

Strong personal lyrics, phenomenal riddims, and potent performances both musically and vocally underpin every number on this set. Roots Tonic is destined to be a yardstick of the genre for years to come.

Roots Tonic, King Django
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