Back in the ’80s, Black Uhuru, a Jamaican band that has had more roster changes over the last few years than the New York Yankees, set a benchmark with such albums as Anthem and Chill Out, which couched their reggae style in a blistering rock shell to very exciting effect.
Now (Mesa/Bluemoon) reunites founding members Garth Dennis and Don Carlos with Duckie Simpson—playing together for the first time in 13 years—for a much simpler, more traditional reggae sound. Granted, there’s a wired-up guitar solo by Frank Stepanek on the antidrug dance tune “Reggae Rock,” but most of the songs, such as “The Heathen” and “Imposter,” rely primarily on a thick bass line and a multifaceted percussive attack, with occasional staccato piano phrases counterpoised to the rhythm.
Michael Rose, Black Uhuru’s singer during the Anthem era, is a tough act to follow—as Delroy Reid (the group’s subsequent lead singer) can attest. But Carlos I has a balmy, sonorous voice, especially when he’s dropped into the echo chamber on songs like “Army Band.”
Speaking of voices, Norman Espuet, the lead singer for Kotch, has a ravishing, seraphic falsetto that makes him sound like a Caribbean Smokey Robinson.
On their debut Kotch (Mango), the six-piece band covers two Smokey standards, “Ooo, Baby, Baby” and “Tracks of My Tears.” They also cover Eric Clapton’s “Wonderful Tonight” and a number of lesser-known compositions, such as “Broken Hearted Melody” by Sherman Edwards and Hal David, all in a lilting fashion. But it’s Espuet’s Smokey simulations that make you second his emotion.