Carlos Jones and the P.L.U.S. Band – Leave a Trail (Little Fish Records, 2009)
Public Property – Work to Do (Little Fish Records, 2009)
American reggae fans have long since left off wondering how it will play in Peoria, because there’s been reggae in the Heartland for some time and will surely be for a long time to come. It all goes well beyond the very good pair of examples I’m holding up here, so further investigation on your own is warranted.
Cleveland’s Carlos Jones has been making reggae for 30 years, time enough to absorb what the foundational Jamaican masters created and give it his own signature. In the case of Leave A Trail, Jones’ latest with his Peace, Love and Unity Syndicate Band, that makes for lengthy, hook-filled songs and a full sound with real drums, bass, guitars, keyboards, a trio of percussionists and the recurring horns of Afrobeat band Mifune lending fire.
Jones has only a hint of island inflection vocally, but he’s got reggae’s positive ideology locked down on lessons like “Walking in the Light,” “Where Reggae Comes From” and the title track. Some rockish solos and a couple of soca-fueled songs (one lighthearted, one not) aside, the trail Jones wants to leave is marked by the finest roots. For reggae on the right path, turn here.
Go a few states westward from Ohio and you’ll get to Iowa. Not a hotbed of reggae, but perhaps the place is warming up to become one with the emergence of Iowa City’s Public Property. They’re a skilled, versatile band, reggae for sure, but with unobtrusive adornments including jazz, gospel, hip hop and ukulele riffs to shake things up in a way derivative of no one. They make reggae sound as much like a rural as an urban music, which is as it should be.
Chiming in on the title track with that same “country” vibe is the legendary Toots Hibbert, but his spirited singing is only one of many great things about this album. The insightful songwriting of lead singer David Bess matches his strong but relaxed vocals throughout songs sweetened with female harmonies even as they’re toughened by an unwavering reggae spirit and an attitude that will similarly not be moved. Seriously delightful.