New Kingston: ‘Kingston City’ Album Review

With the November 2014 signing of Brooklyn reggae outfit New Kingston, New York City indie reggae label Easy Star Records proved itself, yet again, to be much more than just “those guys who dubbed out Pink Floyd’s ‘Dark Side of the Moon’.” New Kingston’s new album Kingston City, their debut album for Easy Star, which was released on January 27, 2015, has impressively debuted at #1 on the Billboard Reggae chart. The album is the band’s third studio album and their first release to claim the #1 spot on the Billboard Reggae chart.

New Kingston, a family group featuring three brothers (Stephen, Courtney Jr., and Tahir) and their father play a refreshing brand of reggae that is as authentically Jamaican as it is refreshingly unique among other U.S. reggae outfits. A Jamaican roots reggae vocal trio at their core, New Kingston displays a remarkably expansive vocal range, impressive diction (check “Conquer Dem” featuring Sister Carol), an inspiriting lack of pretense, surprisingly adept musicianship, and musical sensibilities that span many sub-genres within reggae. For three youths who grew up in Brooklyn, they sport the gully bank-patois of a Kingston original.

Kingston City is an album that starts strong and moves from strength to strength from start to finish with only a couple of minor missteps. The group gets right down to business as they hail one of their most profound influences on the album’s second track, an infective tune titled “Mystery Babylon,” which is a brilliant retelling of Israel Vibration’s 1995 single “Rudeboy Shufflin’.” While the brilliance of Albert “Apple Gabriel” Craig’s sure-shot at 90’s reggae slackness (and a veiled warning shot to former Vibes producer Tommy Cowan) was its gentle tone, the strength of “Mystery Babylon” is in its unabashed, no-nonsense directness. “Mystery Babylon,” which features former Roots Radics and Soul Syndicate drummer Carlton “Santa” Davis, Maad T-Ray and E.N. Young of Tribal Seeds, is one of the highlights of the album and a well-deserved shout to one of Jamaica’s greatest vocal trios.

There are plenty of pleasant surprises throughout the album and guest appearances by a diverse group of musicians and artists. Winston “Pipe” Matthews (Wailing Souls) comes strong on “Protect Me” and Kimie Miner loves it up inna fine stylee on “You Are Mine.” New Kingston shines brightest on the heavy “Honorable” and the undeniable Sydney Mills-produced “Key To Life” (“dem can’t employ me, dem can’t destroy me, solid as a rock when dem try to warn me back”), which features flawless drumming by former Melody Maker Wilburn “Squidley” Cole. However, the ill-advised and poorly executed Certain Girls,” featuring the vocals of late crooner Sugar Minott, is underwhelming at best (please let Sugar rest in peace!) and the jumpy and discordant “Can’t Stop A Man” should have been shelved altogether. These are minor hiccups that are all but forgotten by the time you reach the phenomenal closing track “Conquer Dem” which features an always game Sister Carol. She murders her verse in proper fashion rhyming “Give me a ride inna Selassie I vehicle, time to separate me seh the weed from the weevil.” The track also features the signature New Kingston vocal volley that is the true strength of the trio as they sing “Some people work hard for the money, to some it comes easy, and some people sell dem soul fi de money, better you believe me.” The album features top-notch production and engineering by the multi-talented Fabian Cooke as well as the masterful guitar work of Andy Bassford.

Kingston City is proof-positive that Easy Star Records is the hottest reggae label within the U.S. today as it seems Eric Smith, Lem Oppenheimer, Michael Goldwasser and Remy Gerstein have their collective finger on the pulse of what today’s youth want to hear. What they have accomplished with Easy Star is nothing short of extraordinary.  With the signing of New Kingston, Easy Star has quietly become the driving force behind the emerging U.S. reggae sound.  That’s right…The States have a reggae sound and the world is beginning to take notice.