Review by: Joseph Middleton-Welling and Jonathan Moss
First some background. Despite the fact that the name of this column is ‘Moss and Joe’s Big Reggae Adventure’ the Paragons are not technically a reggae band – except in a loose sense. The bands formation actually predates the beginnings of reggae by about several years. So what genre is this music? This is rocksteady. What is rocksteady? Well basically Rocksteady is what happens when you take Ska- slow it right down and add heartbreak. Lots and lots of heartbreak. These guys sound like they’ve women have left them more times than your average bluesmen and they’d be much more at home crying into their Red Stripe than smoking a joint. We’ve all been there. Rocksteady as a genre only lasted about two years before it evolved into reggae itself.
To put it bluntly this album is quite ‘lo-fi.’ Not that it sounds horrible or anything, but compared with Aswad last time, the music on this platter is much more sparse, with less horns and layering than most reggae I’ve heard before. It’s basically just guitar, bass and drums throughout most of the songs, with horns and other instruments occasionally popping up in a supporting role. Straight out of the gate you’re going to notice that this music is vocally dominated, there’s often a lot of harmonies and counter melodies going on and these call to mind a lot of early RnB singing, think doo-wop and early Beach Boys. The singing on this album sounds like a bunch of talented guys standing around one mic in a studio and singing their hearts out. Not exactly soulful because that’s not quite the right word in this context- think heartfelt and you’re probably closer to the mark. The bass on this album is quite quiet but whoever is playing is doing some really nice melodies- I just wish it was louder.
Here is where we run into a slight problem. You may have noticed that I’ve not mentioned any individual tracks yet. There is a reason for this. THE ALBUM IS VERY SAMEY. It’s all songs about love in some way but it’s all delivered by similar arrangements and at similar tempos. This means the record can get quite monotonous, especially if you let it blend into the background. But, if you listen closely, little elements start to float up out of the rocksteady soup to keep you interested. The key to this record is the atmosphere, the almost lo-fi production combines with the heartfelt but rough singing and makes a warm and inviting feeling, even when most of the songs are about difficult emotions- like losing someone you love. The record manages to project the illusion of a kind of homespun charm, like a bunch of friends jamming on the beach and this makes for a warm listening experience if you’re prepared to listen closely and absorb it. Of course the band playing the songs on this LP is actually a bunch of tight as fuck session men, but the important part is that they don’t let that aspect become too prominent that it stops you from feeling welcome in the music.
Plus this record has the original version of ‘The Tide is High’ on it! This version is obviously much more rough and ready than Blondie’s cover but what it loses in gloss it makes up for in that fantastic sense of innocence that 50s and 60s pop has in spades. In terms of other standouts the title track is an amazing encapsulation of all of the good elements of this record, the vocals arrangement is simple but emotionally resonant when combined with the lyrics and the arrangement is really effective at supporting the vocals in an economical way. I’d encourage you to listen to this track at least once. Everything else is nearly as good, but the record works much better as a collective experience than a group of singles, at least if you want it’s full magic to work.
I would recommend this record in two contexts. This is a great party album, it’s got a lot of relaxed reggae grooves and the singing is emotional but natural. And if you do give this album a close listen and but if you’re in the right mood for blissed out heartbreak this record will embrace you like a bunch of old friends sitting on the beach and drinking beer. I probably find it sadder than is intentional but hey ho…
Next ‘week’ it’s Beenie man!