Natural High Music: ‘Urban Roots’ Album Review

Natural High Music’s “Urban Roots” collection saves reggae fans from an otherwise dismal summer of lackluster, humdrum “riddim” albums. “Urban Roots,” which features some of Jamaica’s most talented yet under-served reggae artists over imaginative and unorthodox productions, is a welcome oasis on the long, hot trod through the midst of a scorching summer.

Hailing from Waterloo, St. Anne, Jordan ‘TallMan’ Armond and Blaise ‘Binghi’ Davis arrived on my radar in 2014 with the release of Dre Island’s “Live Forever” / “Live Forever Dub” single. The tune, which kicks off the “Urban Roots” LP in proper fashion, grabbed my ear with its masterful mix; it is a densely-layered roots-rock-reggae anthem with a vintage throwback sound. The dub version, in particular, features an exceptional mix. While the dub of the 1970s and 1980s relied heavily upon effects, today’s dub mixing is a much more surgical process. In the same way that a hack comic overindulges in the profane and repugnant to disguise bad jokes, inexperienced or unimaginative dub mixers overindulge in effects to compensate for a lack of inventiveness and creativity.

With “Urban Roots,” Tallman and Binghi have not only created one of the year’s best reggae albums, but they have also constructed a new matrix within which reggae artists can explore their craft and test their skills. It is a sound which wholly embraces modernity without abandoning the foundation upon which dub reggae was constructed. Unlike many of today’s riddims, which lack depth, density and nuance, each riddim here is meticulously crafted to ensure that every note is perfectly placed and each space used to the fullest. Though heavy and multi-layered, the instrumentals are never overindulgent.

Highlights of ‘Urban Roots’ include Keznamdi’s “10 Pound (Hustle Marijuana),” his sister Kelissa’s “Best Kept Secret,” “Mash Me Up” by Jovi Rockwell and Jesse Royal, and Lutan Fyah’s “Royal Empress.”