City Roots 2019
Heady mix of reggae and Latin to make hips shake and move the mind.
The shortest distance from Jamaica to Cuba may be only about 90 miles, but the two islands’ main musical cultures don’t really mingle, which is weird – a situation that this Bay Area bunch has been trying to remedy for more than a decade now. Their fourth album offers a few parallels between the narratives, with “Soldier Dance” bearing a strain of “Buffalo Soldier” in its boisterous DNA, and opener “Exile” echoing “Exodus” in the most exciting way, although singer Jairo Vargas isn’t trying to sound like anybody else except himself. Such an uncompromising approach must contradict the record’s subject – only the sweet licks smearing happiness all over social grit support the ensemble’s message.
The brass-splashed skank doesn’t snap to an initial reggae template for the disc’s entire duration: switching the drift from English to Spanish, “El Bajo” transforms the offbeat wonder into unhurried samba groove for the troupe to pay tribute to their hometown. Yet while “Around The Way” is as infectiously lush as a sunshine-infused “Olvidaste” – which will return for the album’s finale – it’s the reserved menace of “We Gon Show ‘Em” and the belligerent “Batalla en Babylon” that get to the listener’s soul, the guitar-laden latter a perfect instance of the two genres’ compatibility.
Still, softer, if stricken with electronica, “Now That You Want It” has a contemporary R&B air about its silky vibe, whereas the semi-comic “Sospechosos” and the breezy “Runaway” should appeal to denizens of seaside discotheques. But an exquisite acoustic reading of “Not The One” from 2013’s “City Roots” reveals the collective’s reflective side, so it’s not all about the riddims; it’s also about the feel and the depth of thought. This is what makes “Resilience” alluring.