MOSS AND JOE’S BIG REGGAE ADVENTURE: THE PARAGONS – On the Beach (1967)

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!
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MOSS AND JOE’S BIG REGGAE ADVENTURE: ASWAD – New Chapter (1981)

Review by: Joseph Middleton-Welling and Jonathan Moss

 

I don’t know what I expected really from Aswad, I’d heard their fairly terrible late 80’s material but not any of their earlier stuff. I looked at a compilation of theirs recently in FOPP. According to this compilation they’re Britain’s “favourite Reggae band” (not true, that’s obviously The Police). There were no songs from this album included, so that gives it mad hipster cred. This is their third album and it’s damn good. It’s also quite commercial, and it’s not difficult to see how the stuff on this album could have been part of a larger trend towards selling out. But hey this album is still great. 
 

This album is pretty diverse and hooky to be honest. There are nice vocal harmonies throughout and a lot of horns that provide the hooks when there’s an instrumental break. I’m a big fan of horns and they’re splattered all over these songs. There’s also some nice almost bluesy guitar playing at points that dribbles into your ears in a pleasant way. The bass is also really prominent especially on some of the more dubby tracks. This is of course a good thing

There’s also some goofy synth sounds on this album which are of course horribly dated but they are fun. I think that’s a my general perception of this album is just that-fun. Even on some of the more serious tracks like “Natural Progression”, there’s a really odd synth powering away under the rhythm like a demented slide whistle. It can’t fail to raise a smile really. The same with some really low pitched mumbling at the start of ‘I will keep on loving you’ it’s like Reuben and the Jets level schlock but that probably wasn’t intended.

In terms of songs the opener “African Children” is pretty good. The lyrics sounded political but I was too busy paying attention to the neat drum sound and laidback, almost eerie sound of the song. It’s got those funny dated synth sounds, but they add so much character to the album. Also they make me think of video games so perhaps if you like video games but want a new hobby you can sublimate your love of video games into this album. The other absolute bangers on this album are “Natural Progression”, “Tuff we Tuff” and “Love Fire”, which closes the album with the sort of bass line that sounds like an enormous brontosaurus lumbering through some antediluvian swamp.

Also a couple of the ballads on this album are horribly cheesy but I can imagine after a few bottles of claret they’ll probably do the job. “I Will Keep on Loving You” is probably on the right side of the fence in terms of cheese factor, ‘Didn’t Know at the Time’ falls on the wrong side at least for me. I’ve heard too many sappy reggae ballads already. Bleugh.  

If all the records on this list are as fun as this one, we’ll be in for a good time. 

Moss and Joe’s Big Reggae Adventure

Introduction

Word up chums, in me and Joe’s column here we’re going to be reviewing the 50 top reggae album’s as selected by Mojo Magazine (http://www.mojo4music.com/15098/50-greatest-reggae-albums/), because it was the first one to show up on Google.

The reason we are doing this is because we are both two white men who are not overly familiar with reggae, so we can show our ignorance and provide entertainment and eventually, enlightenment.

On with the reviews, and apologies in advance!