Ska, rocksteady and reggae are known the world over and most certainly going strong in Spain. That country’s premiere label when it comes to such sounds, Madrid-based Liquidator Music, has been essential in bringing out the best in a homegrown industry of authentic Jamaican runnings.
Combining the beat of early post-independence Jamaica with girl group vocals and bursts of soul, The Kinky Coo Coo’s prove themselves to be, as the title of their latest spells out, Sweet, Fun and Ready to bring their joyously infectious music to all. Stylistically, the time line is drawn before the roots reggae era, and TKCC’s sophisticated ska and rocksteady songs are layered with blazing horns, a steady rhythm section (which shows its worth through instrumental tracks and their own ongoing soloing) and exquisite female harmonies chiming throughout tunes big on good times but far from lacking substance. A marvelous romp of an album, sure to please.
A band called Smooth Beans straddles the rocksteady and early reggae eras on Keep Talking, cutting back on horns like their Jamaican predecessors and moving into the brief, bridging interval when the island’s music became more of a singer and songwriter’s outlet. In addition to being first-rate players, Smooth Beans’ vocal structures recall the emergence of harmony trios and their songs tackle many a thorny issue on personal matters and well beyond. Concluding tribute “Brevette & Knibb (Gracias Lloyd)” caps a smart set of originals that early reggae lovers will love.
Combining old timey production with melodic grace and an ear for rocksteady in its sparsest state (no horns at all), Tasty Grooves take us for a ride up, down and all around Soul Street. A heap of lover’s tunes, a couple of conscious stabs and guest turns by Big Youth and Astrid Jones make this one mighty, mighty tasty. The band goes a little dubby here, a bit psychedelic there, a shade popish elsewhere and sounds sharp in all respects.
The Oldians weigh in more on the jazz-reggae side of the nascent era, brandishing horns (though only trumpet and saxophone for the most part) and featuring vocals by Leire Extarri (who also serves as a member of the Kinky Coo Coo’s lead singing duo) that are in equal measure sensual and nimble enough to ride the serpentine rhythms on Downtown Rock. The whole disc is classy and cool, with Extarri’s vocals gracing half the tracks and the rest percolating handily in instrumental mode. An international guest cast includes Jamaican percussionist Larry McDonald, Dutch saxophonist Tommy Tornado and Italian trombonist Mr. T-Bone.
If you’re looking to be thrilled by how good Jamaican music sounds when the Spanish massive gets hold of it, you can’t go wrong with any of these releases. And if you’ve got the means to obtain them all, do so.