Sugar Minott The Roots Lover: 1978-1983

[Moll-Selekta; 2006]

Rating: 4.5/5

Styles: reggae, roots reggae, dancehall, lover’s rock
Others: Bob Marley and the Wailers, African Brothers, Dennis Brown

Many listeners listen to roots reggae with one ear closed. Some choose to block out the social context from which the music arose, translating songs and messages tied to very specific political and economic conditions into universal cries for liberation. If we do this, reggae loses a key part of its cultural identity and becomes easy to co-opt on a surface level. Bob Marley wasn't a frat guy with a Land Rover whose skin crawled at the injustice of having his dimebag confiscated by a vigilant RA, but he might as well be to millions of his American listeners.

By the same token, we miss out on Jamaican pop music's complex relationship with the international pop community if we relegate it to the realm of protest music. Completely "othering" reggae can leave us numb to its worth as anything other than an outlet for welterweight anthropology.

This collection of singer, songwriter, and producer Sugar Minott's extended singles provides a well-rounded overview of a five-year stretch of his career without ignoring his local or international importance. Because it includes tracks that he produced and didn't perform on, the album tilts slightly toward a less culturally-bound approach to Minott's music, but by no means does his political significance receive short shrift. "A Slice of the Cake" and "No Vacancy" are two of the most poignant pieces of commentary on the economic woes Jamaica experienced during Minott's career. They're reggae's answer to the blues – thick, syncopated, repetitive slices of life at its most melancholy made palatable by a silver lining of catharsis.

When Minott shifts away from lugubrious hardluck narratives, he focuses more on playful nuances than swampy atmospheres, giving relatively straightforward roots reggae numbers a shot in the arm with loopy synths, carnival percussion, and plenty of reverb. Think of him as Jamaica's Brian Eno, a songwriter with a gift for natural melodies who isn't afraid to make elaborate and ridiculous embellishments in the studio. Since this album contains five- to six-minute single versions with extended instrumental outros, it paints a particularly compelling picture of Minott as cosmopolitan pop experimenter. As psychedelic as Os Mutantes, as lavish as Steely Dan, and as soulful as early Funkadelic, tracks like "Waiting for Your Love," "Thirty Pieces of Silver," and "Leggo the Dread" rank among some of pop music's finest experiences on a purely sonic level.

Disc One:

1. Leggo the Dread
2. Dance Hall Style
3. A Slice of the Cake
4. African Girl
5. Waiting for Your Love
6. No Vacancy
7. Hold on
8. Love Life
9. In a Dis Yah Time

Disc Two:

1. Rome, Rome
2. Superstar
3. Three Wise Men
4. Sandy
5. Thirty Pieces of Silver
6. Careless Ethiopians
7. Africa
8. Dub on the Pressure

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