Levi Roots - Red Hot
Release dateOct 19 2009
Since his leapfrog into the mainstream via the TV show dragon's den, Levi Roots has become a ubiquitous figure in the UK media. And with all the hype surrounding his Reggae Reggae Sauce, his cookbook, his TV series and even his own stage at Notting Hill Carnival, it's easy to forget he was and is a talented roots reggae singer.
Given the upbeat jollity of his 2007 brand promoting ska single Reggae Reggae Sauce one might expect his latest album (the follow up to 1998's MOBO nominated Free Your Mind) to be an ultra commercial affair. Instead, it is a very conscientious set of horn drenched almost exclusively minor key roots pieces with resolutely cultural lyrics. Only the totally unrepresentative Chi Lites cover So Out Of My Mind (whose line "I was a backseat driver in a car of love" compares rather unfavourably with his deejay version of Shakespeare’s 18th Sonnet after the second chorus) attempts to go for the pop pound. The single’s upfront placing - just behind an opening acoustic remix of the highly rootical final track Share Love - suggests Levi and co-producers Mafia and Fluxy want to acclimatise newfound followers before hitting them with “message music”.
From there on in, it's all high quality modern roots reggae. The crystal clear sound and stripped down no compromise arrangements give plenty of room to Levi’s medium-deep, earthy voice - not dissimilar to ex Gladiator Clinton Fearon’s. The choice of topics chimes with recent Jamaican roots releases: discussing Pan-Africanism (US Africa), the environment (Everything Is Natural), Rasta devotion (I Love The King), and resilience (Try Try - where Levi opens with a Capleton style "blaaaaaazing" and warns not to "diss Jah Rastafari"). He also tackles social issues with Black On Black: a call to stop urban violence – although the effectiveness of this critical message from an establishment endorsed celebrity remains to be seen.
Some people may view Levi Roots as a poster-boy for capitalism and a condescending, reggae-unfriendly media. And to his critics the choices here may seem a belated attempt to regain some underground cachet. But this surprisingly good effort is likely to introduce many new listeners to contemporary roots music - which is surely a positive thing.
Reviewed by Angus Taylor