Horace Andy – Straight To Hell – Fe True Records – 45 r.p.m. stereo vinyl (20 min.) ****:
Jamaican homage to The Clash remains topical.
(Featuring Horace Andy and Big Youth; The Welders; Eric Blowtorch – guitar; Michael Dr. “Bassie” Bell – bass; Cecelia Negron Jr. – drums; Robin Pluer – organ)
When the Clash burst on the scene, punk rock was shoving nearly every other pop music form aside. In addition to the social anger, political resentment was being voiced. At the same time, reggae music was influencing both British and American bands. Despite the joyful grooves, a darker political message was being transmitted by the likes of Bob Marley, Peter Tosh and Third World. Jamaican singer Horace Andy started out as a hit maker with songs like “Skylarking”, “You Are my Angel” and “Money Is The Root Of All Evil”. Years later, he recorded with “trip-hop” purveyor, Massive Attack. On a global scale reggae, punk rock and hip-hop was fused.
Fe True Records has released a four-song 45 r.p.m., Straight To Hell. Horace Andy had previously collaborated with Joe Strummer in 1999, The two musicians shared a mutual admiration that dated back even further. Thirty-four years after its original release, “Straight to Hell” is experiencing a second life, thanks to Andy and Milwaukee’s favorite musical son, Eric Blowtorch. The title cut is initiated with a snazzy drum intro. The album employs a modern studio aesthetic that envelops the vintage reggae sound. With a prominent, loping bass line, bleeding organ and occasional horn accents, this classic protest song is transformed. While Strummer’s basic references address subjects like economic steel plant woes in Northern England, Vietnam and violence toward ethnic groups, the underlying themes of immigration are at the timely center of the message. Horace and Big Youth give a mesmerizing performance. Lyrics like “…There ain’t no asylum here, King Solomon he never lived ‘round here…” take on an eery relevance in 2017. The basic musical hooks are hypnotic and flow gracefully in contrast to the disturbing message.
Continuing the chilling theme, “Pair Of Dice” is a direct criticism of U.S. immigration policy (“… trouble on the border line…Homeland Security…”) Big Youth handles the vocals with hip-hop style and there are plenty of studio-altered voice effects to enhance the arrangement. The chorus melody (“…Go straight to hell, boys…”) is repeated throughout the song. This repeat hook appears on “Asylum Seekers”, too. There is an opening digitally stretched piano chord that emphasizes the modernistic studio engineering. The three tracks seem to comprise a “Straight To Hell” suite. The finale, “Christmas in Ladbroke Grove” (written by Blowtorch) is a eulogy of sorts to Strummer who passed away in 2002. The irony of the lyrics (“…Christmas not so quiet…”) is palpable.
The EP vinyl Straight To Hell is an updated interpretation of punk and reggae. It is compelling and musically accessible. The sound mix has excellent separation. The basic structure of reggae gets a boost from the various special effects
Side A: Straight to Hell; Pair Of Dice
Side B: Asylum Seekers; Christmas In Ladbroke Grove