- 08 Apr 22
A Righteous Return
Andy’s voice may be familiar to you from those great Massive Attack collaborations – he’s the only vocalist to appear on all five of their albums, or you may know his own classics starting with his 1972 debut album Skylarking on Studio One. Either way, Midnight Rocker is a crucial addition, or even a good place to start.
The album is meticulously crafted by Adrian Sherwood for On-U Sound, the man who coaxed equally fine performances out of the late Lee “Scratch” Perry – check out ‘Run Evil Spirit’ on 2019’s Rainford to give you some idea. He’s assembled a crack team, including the Ital Horns, who provide the perfect bed for Andy’s sweet vocals. Take the rolling bass, skanking keyboards, horn blasts and melodion on opener ‘This Must Be Hell’, wherein the lift from 'Take 5' is a lot harder to detect than it was on the version Tappa Zuckie produced for Andy's 1978 album Natty Dread A Weh She Want album, or the guitar and percussion that drives ‘Easy Money’ around more melodion, or Andy substituting for Shara Nelson on Massive Attack’s ‘Safe From Harm’, which is merely claiming back what the brilliant Bristolians borrowed in the first place, and sports a bass line you could build a house on. These are near-perfect cuts, and they’re not on their own.
‘Watch Over Them’ delivers its help the youth message over a syncopated piano and bass groove that could start a carnival, as might the joyous – despite the watch yourself warnings – ‘Careful’, and the gentle lilt of the carpe dieming ‘Today Is Right Here’ would keep the same crowd swaying. The give-us-the-nod string-laden ‘Rock To Sleep’ - "Hey baby, would you mind if I rock you to sleep?" - would get a wink out of a nun, and the closing ‘Mr Bassie’ - a testament to Sherwood's production skills as it surpasses the Studio One original - could soundtrack a summer, if we’re lucky enough to get one. It also points the way to a welcome dub version of the album that should be with us later in the year, with something like the halfway-to-dub-already 'Materialist' or 'Try Love' - good as they are - crying out to be taken apart and put back together again.
If Andy has been ever so slightly been relegated to sideman status in the decades since Blue Lines, Midnight Rocker puts him back out front, where he belongs. I know it's only April, but it's hard to see this being beaten as Reggae record of the year.