Vinyl LP, Compact Disc (CD)
The first time many listeners outside of Jamaica heard reggae legend Horace Andy was in 1991, on the song “One Love” from Massive Attack’s watershed album Blue Lines. Over a slow drum pattern and an occasionally scratched-in piece of a brass riff from Isaac Hayes’s “Ike’s Mood,” Andy told the tale of an ideal romance, his sweet, lilting voice carrying the song’s melody. Despite the fact that Blue Lines introduced him to pop audiences, Horace Andy had already been a star for two decades, releasing classics like “Skylarking” and recording many sides at Coxsone Dodd’s legendary Studio One facility in Kingston.
Today, at 71 years old, Horace Andy’s voice endures. Time has been kind to the crystal clear tone that has served him throughout his 50+ year career; his latest, Midnight Rocker, is full of soulful cuts with production by British dub pioneer Adrian Sherwood (Lee “Scratch” Perry, Mark Stewart). The album opens with the epic roots tune “This Must Be Hell,” a wailing song hot with pain and frustration. The chorus finds Andy lamenting, “Lord, this must be hell because there’s no peace amongst mankind.” His voice articulates deep sorrow and anguish at the state of the world. In a nod to his Massive Attack collaborators, Andy turns up with a laid-back, earnest cover of “Safe From Harm,” syncopating the original’s rolling, sampled bassline while he reinterprets Shara Nelson’s iconic lead vocal. For his part, Sherwood honors the character and distinctiveness of Andy’s voice by presenting it alongside relatively uncomplicated production and arrangements. Occasionally there are some welcome flourishes of delay that remind us that Sherwood is among the great living dubmasters, particularly skilled at enhancing a recording with dub signature effects.
Midnight Rocker is packed with great songs and powerful nuggets of wisdom that touch on life’s pain and joy. “Try Love” is a sugary and romantic anthem, while “Materialist” discusses the seductive lure of money and possessions. “Watch Over Them” finds Andy pleading with God to steer the youth clear from the many traps and temptations that would derail them. “Today Is Right Here” is a sobering reflection on the brevity and impermanence of life. While recalling a talk with his mother, Andy reminds us that life is fragile, short, and precious: “My mama told me when I was a child/ Said all of the best things take a little while, but mama was wrong wrong wrong/ The best things in life, they come and go in the blink of an eye.”