A legend remembered
For those unfamiliar with the musical stylings of Jamaican-based artist Ewart Beckford, otherwise known as U-Roy, he is considered by many to be a staple in not only reggae music but also in early hip-hop. He was well-known for his specialization in toasting—the art form of chanting and talking around the beats—and his style has been claimed as an influence to many DJs, including Sean Paul and Shabba Ranks. Unfortunately, what was meant to be a victory lap for one of the most notable vocalists in Jamaican history turned into a posthumous offering because of his passing this past February. Nevertheless, Solid Gold gives a glimpse of the joyous feel of his music and serves as a reminder that his legacy should be handled with care.
The album begins with “Trenchtown Rock,” an energetic and tranquil introduction into the world of U-Roy. The song starts with a groovy drum beat and accompanying horns, giving the song a head-bopping and an almost soothing element to the relaxed feeling of the song. Here, Ziggy Marley—son of the legendary reggae artist Bob Marley—offers vocals that easily blend with U-Roy’s deep, booming voice. As U-Roy and Marley go back and forth with lyrics like “One good thing about music/ When it hits you you feel no pain,” Marley’s high notes and smooth melodies add emotion to the message of music bringing everyone together, a message that the world desperately needs in times of crisis.
The next track, “Man Next Door,” is a sudden change of pace from its predecessor. Instead of tropical-style instrumentals, the song relies heavily on synthesizers and electronic-sounding echos, which feels out of place for a reggae song. The instrumentals of this song are also extremely loud and in-your-face, making it difficult to focus on the song’s lyrics and on U-Roy’s voice as a whole. However, the addition of Philadelphia-based artist Santigold is an excellent choice for an otherwise subpar track. Her jazzy, gentle voice adds to the sense of mystery of a song about, in lack of better words, a strange man who lives next door.
With every album comes its flaws, and Solid Gold is no exception to this. Songs like “Small Axe” and “Tom Drunk” are mixed in a way that does not allow U-Roy’s vocals to shine through; instead, they are thin and demo-like. Although there are some elements, like an intricate electric guitar mix throughout “Tom Drunk,” that attempt to redeem the overall tracks, it is not nearly strong enough to support U-Roy’s big voice.
While all of the songs on Solid Gold are danceable and guaranteed to put a smile on your face, the track “Every Knee Shall Bow” is guaranteed to impress. U-Roy goes all out, toast to toast, with Big Youth for over 15 minutes as the band, along with Mick Jones, push everyone above and beyond boundaries, proving U-Roy was still vibrantly crafting stunning work with collaborators well into his late seventies.
Though the world may have lost a reggae and hip-hop legend earlier this year, Solid Gold shows that U-Roy’s style and substance live on and will be sure to reach a new generation of listeners and fans alike.