When I was asked to write this album review and received the project, I was a bit overwhelmed by the size of the “Red-Gold-Green Album” as it is three albums together. I couldn’t understand why anyone would release three albums as one project, but after reading the album bio, I realized why. Let me share with you the words of Rootz Underground.
“The latest production from Rootz Underground and their newly formed label, Thunderground Music is an unprecedented triple album of Roots Rock Reggae which also coincides with the band’s 20th anniversary. This music collection explores the bands willingness and ability to set themselves apart from the terrain of the modern industry and transcend into the heart and souls of fans and listeners as originally intended. “The intention is to remain underground and not adapt, convert and conform in the universal quest for popularity or social media fame. Instead this music is intended to bring good courage and faith and determination for all people and not only musically elite. The project is aptly titled RED, GOLD, GREEN and seeks to musically interpret the feelings of these Rastafari colors and the significance thereof and will be released on July 23, 2020, the birthday of The Emperor of Ethiopia, Haile Selassie I, The conquering Lion of Judah.” [Rootz Underground]
As the combined album(s) total 37 tracks, I’m going to pick out the tracks that stand out to me.
RED ALBUM – “represents the Fierceness and the realness of rebel determination and it is produced with the grittiness combined with love and the desire to see a universal solidarity beginning with introspection.” [Roots Underground]
“Strength Of Days” is the second track on the Red Album. This track starts with rather ominous instrumentals but becomes more upbeat with the vocals. It’s a song about how your choices, with Jah’s guidance, will determine the outcome of your life. “Strength of my days, determined by my ways.”
“Herb Green,” the obligatory ganja tune encourages and gives advice to the youth going into the ganja farming industry. It speaks of the history and struggles of the ganja farmer. Check out the official video on YouTube.
A social commentary on how “Babylon” infiltrates our brains by many means and distracts us from the truth and rights, “We and Dem” encourages us to think for ourselves and not be led like sheep. With a marching beat and impressive vocals, this track will stir up the rebellion in you.
“Across The Binghi-Verse” is a play on words in the title of this cover of John Lennon and Paul McCartney’s “Across The Universe.” Covering a classic Beatles song is a gamble that Rootz Underground has beautifully pulled off, making it their own with the inclusion of Nyahbinghi drumming and a few changes in lyrics. A beautiful track which has become one of my favorites.
GOLD ALBUM – “a tribute to the Sisters, Mothers and Daughters and celebrating the feminine balance which is needed in modernity! All songs handpicked to contain a powerful message with 3 original songs and featuring versions of songs by Prince Lincoln (Lincoln Thompson) and the Royal Rasses, Nina Simone, Crowded House, Amy Winehouse, The Lioness I-nergy is very high on this chapter of the project which welcomes the brilliant vocals of Desiree Dawson, Nattali Rize, and Brina X.” [Rootz Underground]
It was difficult for me to pick standout tracks from this album as every track is exceptional.
I am a huge fan of Nattali Rize, so I had to include “No Fairytales.” Written by Stevie Lightening and Nattali Rize, this track reminds us that real love needs communication and understanding to survive and not the sugar-coated version that the media portrays. “Love is not a game. This ain’t no fairytale”.
“One Common Need” is a song from 50 yrs ago by Prince Lincoln (Thompson) and the Royal Rasses. This song is a classic reggae track on the subject of those that have material things in excess and those that don’t have enough to get by. Something that doesn’t seem to have changed in the 50 years since the song was written. Stevie Lightening and Brina have done justice to this classic by making it sound relevant to the day but keeping the classic reggae feel.
Desiree Dawson and Rootz Underground bring a new refreshing version of the classic Nina Simone song “Young Gifted & Black,” previously a big reggae hit on mainstream radio for Marcia Griffiths and Bob Andy (R.I.P.) This classic one drop with a modern feel will bring the same inspiration to black youth everywhere, as did Bob and Marcia’s version in 1970.
“Don’t Dream It’s Over,” a classic song previously recorded by Crowded House, is as relevant today, if not more so, as it was when written in 1986 by Neil Finn. Now produced in a reggae version by Desiree Dawson and Rootz Underground, it highlights the issue of the world intruding into life and relationships, especially relevant during the difficult time in the last few months.
The final track on the Gold Album is “Lonely Stars,” written by Stephen Newland and beautifully sung by Desiree Dawson and Stevie Lightening. I had to include this song as it gave me goosebumps. Performed with a solo piano accompaniment by Vern Hill, this song is the most beautiful love song I have heard in a very long time.
GREEN ALBUM – “Putting a spin on a “Best of Rootz Underground” release concept, this is a 2 chapter, 19-song compilation remixed and remastered of the bands’ classics. The Green Album also includes five previously unreleased songs and delivered in chapters 1 and 2. Also, express musically the band’s moods and evolution over 20 years. The Green Album embodies the band’s studio recordings. from 2000-2020 and includes guest performances by Vaughn Benjamin (Akae Beka), Junior “One Blood Reid”, Toots Hibbert (Toots & the Maytals) and Sherieta Lewis. A stirring reminder of why quality and content matter”. [Rootz Underground]
Originally included on the “Return of The Righteous” album, “Fret Not Thyself” has been remastered for this album. This song is a reminder of the “what goes around comes around” and “what goes up must come down” philosophy. Treating people how you want to be treated is the way to live. The infectious instrumentals with horns in a classic Caribbean style will have you up and dancing to Rootz Underground.
“Kingston Town” is another song that was initially on the “Return Of the Righteous” album. The song is about the troubles in West Kingston that took the lives of 400 people and the resignation of the Prime Minister and extradition of one of Jamaica’s top area leaders, as told by a resident of Tivoli Gardens. The song to the tune of “House Of The Rising Sun” made famous by The Animals in 1964, was greatly enhanced by Toots and The Maytals and has been remastered for this album. There is a wicked guitar solo at the beginning of the track.
Rootz Underground, Natural High, and the late Akae Beka (Vaughn Benjamin of Midnight) R.I.P join together with “Frontline,” which was previously on the “Thunderground” album. Listening to the lyrics of this remastered song, you could quite believe it had been written in 2020 instead of 2017, as it is very relevant to what is going on today. “Babylon deceive the whole frontline.”
GREEN ALBUM VOL.2
Another track that has a video on the “must check out” list is the beautiful “Always.” This song by Rootz Underground touched me spiritually. With it’s Nyabinghi drum beats combined and calming vocals, it transports you away from all the stress of this world to a place of peace, for just a little while, and reminds us to hold on.
“One Thing” with Rootz Underground, Natural High, and Junior Reid is a powerful song reminding us to keep life simple. The “one thing” to focus on is Jah’s love. The diversity of the voices in this song adds to the strength of the lyrics, giving contrast with the complexity of vocals, against the simplicity of the message. “Now all the trouble precipitate like a storm on the horizon. Jah pickney don’t worry if you feel some sorrow ‘because joy, in the morning come.”
“Still Raining” is a lively, more light-hearted version of “Rain” on the “Movement” album. This track is a previously unreleased version, although there is a hilarious video on YouTube from 2012. I think this version of the song better portrays the premise that staying positive and optimistic, even on bad days, is the way to go. Co-writer Sherieta Lewis adds to the vocals, giving it a fun feeling.
I was going to stop there, but after once again listening to the Green Album, I have to include the final track by Rootz Underground and Natural High, “Long Time”. Originally on the “Thunderground” album, this track has been remastered for and included. The lyrics have become very relevant this year with the pandemic, the lockdown and the protests, with words like “It’s been Long time, we nu dance out a street free, Babylon, they got their eyes keenly! World seduce all your souls gently. It’s been a long time, dem a put on the pressure tightly, walk with JAH daily and nightly. Haile Selassie I, Almighty!!!!”
It was definitely challenging writing this review of Rootz Underground’s “Red-Gold-Green Album”, not because it was hard to listen to, but because it’s a fantastic project which made it difficult to decide which tracks to feature. On rare occasions, I come across an album where every track is excellent, and I wouldn’t skip one, but to come across a project with 37 tracks that I wouldn’t skip is phenomenal.
Rootz Underground, it’s been a long time, but you are back!!!