Picks and Pans Review: Rootsman Skanking
Tosh and Wailer were both original members, along with Bob Marley, of the Wailers, perhaps Jamaica's most important reggae band. These albums show the divergent paths these two men have followed. Less than a decade ago Tosh was widely perceived as the reggae artist who would pick up Marley's superstar mantle. One reason that promise has not been fulfilled is that Tosh has always worked at broadening reggae's stylistic and lyrical stance, usually watering down its appeal in the process. So it is on No Nuclear War (EMI America). He's still trying to find music that can communicate with all of mankind at once. The album is dedicated "to all the people of the world, and especially to the people of Africa and Japan." As you might have guessed from the polemical title, each song is a little sermonette on evils in the world, including apartheid and the criminalization of marijuana. Though the second side of the record tends to be more personal in its focus, it is no less solemn. The rhythms and the vocals throughout are noticeably sluggish. Compositionally, Tosh has burdened his reggae with a pervasive, listless approach that leads to something between a pop ballad and a spiritual. Overall he seems to have taken the sunny music of his native Jamaica and garbed it in three sweaters and a heavy overcoat. Wailer's album, Rootsman Skanking (Shanachie), is less ambitious and infinitely more enjoyable. The title—like many of the lyrics, it is expressed in Jamaican patois—refers to a dance done by a man who adheres to the Rastafarian culture. Wailer is one groovy rootman. He uses all reggae's signature elements: the fruity bass lines, the whirling organ, the sharply strummed picket-fence guitar, slightly flat horns, echo reverb and that swaying, spacious rhythm. Put it to a pretty melody, as on Dance Rock, and you've got great music. Even on the less impressive tunes, Wailer's treatment still makes for light and easy listening, just perfect for skanking.