18 February 2007

rudie got soul

would you believe that these two men are actually the same size? one of them only looks taller because of the mystical transformative optical power of wisdom, music, and transcendental love.

i don't know much about reggae. even though i generally enjoy listening to it, i've never made it a point to really investigate it. indeed, i feel like i still have a ways to go in clearing up some misconceptions i have about it, such as my sense that it completely predated the american r'n'b/rock/pop [from the late '50s/early '60s, as i know it from oldies radio], developed independently of it [until it was suddenly revealed to the rest of the world by bob marley in the '70s], and therefore belongs more properly to an "authentic" or "folk" tradition (like bluegrass, gospel, and folk) unlike the more individualistic (and, obviously, commercial) art forms of pop, r'n'b, etc. [this is, of course, a false dichotomy as well as faulty historiography, although it's not entirely groundless oversimplification.]

but i did have an idea about reggae recently, which is that it could be construed as a subcategory of r'n'b, and more specifically, as a form of soul music. considered this way, it suddenly becomes a lot more interesting to me. the direct impetus for this idea came from listening to this cd, which contains two of toots and the maytals' early '70s albums. i was familiar with some of the songs, especially "pressure drop" (which is mostly what made me decide i needed to own the albums), but i don't think i was prepared for the full magnitude of greatness on display here...it might be some of the most essential music i've ever heard. anyway i can't stop smiling whenever i put it on. it's reggae, but pretty hard to deny it's soul too.

so i've been trying to figure out what to do with this (hardly revolutionary, but still significant) connection. who else made music like this? bob marley, for instance, is fairly soulful, but his music never struck a chord with me in quite this way (though i should probably check out some of his earlier stuff.) i think i need somebody to explain what roots and rocksteady mean, exactly. (and bluebeat?) maybe wikipedia will do it. (hmm, sez that the maytals play "a unique, original combination of gospel, ska, soul, reggae, and rock"...well that's not helpful!)

in the meantime, i'm checking out this album, widely and unanimously raved about as a classic, albeit one that almost nobody knew about for over two decades. at first i was underwhelmed, because it just sounded like typical, dubby reggae to me. (and, well, because it didn't sound very much like soul.) perhaps i should have expected as much - turns out i actually already had one of the tracks from it on the lee perry arkology box which i've intermittently enjoyed but probably never made it all the way through. upon repeated listens...i am growing to appreciate it more; there is some lovely subtlety to the production, and some of the songs are growing on me (that was probably the biggest disappointment on first listen.) it's clear that the primary emphasis here is not on pop song structures, memorable melodies, or emotional vocal performances (elements that i'm especially interested in these days, be they in '60s soul, '70s power-pop, and '00s dance-pop) - though there is, naturally, plenty of rhythm. of course, this is from 1977, by which time soul music itself had basically dried up, and/or developed into other things.

more relevant to the issue at hand, though maybe something of an exploratory cul-de-sac, i've picked up this fantastic compilation. it demonstrates a very strong reggae-soul bond, to the extent that the music it contains - despite being the work of jamaican ex-pat musicians, is far more readily identifiable as funk and soul than as reggae.

7 i believe in music Y bob and wisdom

this track is a pretty good exampe - it's actually one of the three or four most reggae-like cuts on the cd, but what it most resembles is muscle-shoals-style gospel-soul. (there are only two tracks that i would call relatively straight reggae.)

it's also stunningly beautiful; both the musical performance and the lyrical message. it made me melt a little the first time i heard it (standing alone waiting for the subway.) i like having this message on valentine's day, because i think it's important for the holiday to be able to be about generalized, universal love, as well as just romantic love. interestingly, on the evidence of these three reasonably diverse cds, romantic and sexual love would seem to be a much less common topic for reggae than they are for soul, rock and pop. (i was considering including the deathly funky anti-war burner "love is the answer," by ram, instead of this one, but that will just have to wait...)

anyway, "music is love and love is music" is as good an explanation as any as to why ross is "of love."

and: "people who believe in music, they're the happiest people i've ever seen." 'nuff said.

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