Taj Weekes: Love Herb & Reggae
Review by John Powell
“Let your voice be as loud as your silence,” Taj Weekes starts off his fifth album, Love Herb & Reggae (Jatta Records, 2016). With Adowa–the roots group that has been Taj’s backbone since the beginning–behind him, he scores with another set of finely-tuned tracks.
While at first listen the songs are roots reggae–perhaps accentuated by his Marley-esque voice– Taj has always written in a more folk style. He paints scenes using just a few words and calls the people to arms. He describes current events and his songwriting reshapes the genre.
However, for the music to fit the album title Taj and Adowa have sewn together some of their most rootsy work to date. The opener “Let Your Voice” is an immediate highlight. Harkening to the minor key skanks of early-day rockers, the song rolls over Taj’s acoustic rhythm guitar. This, along with the piano, helps make the band’s sound distinct and adds to the folkier sway of the timbre.
“Life In The Red” is a beautiful reggae song. For those who do not normally distinguish between rocksteady and reggae, this song epitomizes the guitar’s role in a slinky groove, a lesson in the application of minute rhythmic choices. Taj holds nothing back on any of his songs, and here he dangles, “I traded my day for the convenience of life,” and later, “Still I can’t be what I wanted to be/ I look back on yesterday morning.” The song dissects the contemporary pursuit of what is easy over what is right. It is magnificently done.
The other key track is “Mediocrity”, which, despite its content, is rather upbeat. Taj sings, “Tired spirit having flown/ then came a clouded feeling/ and the music lesson learnt/ don’t aggravate the rhythm.” I mean, how beautiful! Sure, in many ways the songs stick to classic reggae themes, but Taj pushes the lyrical vocabulary. To punctuate that he sings, “I won’t settle for mediocrity.” In this line even he speaks to his own desire to scribe unique verses.
The glistening horns play a significant role throughout the album, as do the backing vocals. The instrumentation is understated, but Adowa is a super tight band that elegantly plays up Taj’s guitar work and voice.
Even the love songs on the album stand out. “Full Sight” is the album’s catchiest. “In my heart I know I dread/ all them thoughts inside my head,” Taj moans and continues with,“She stood there like the moon/ in the middle of the night/ Out of reach in full sight.” Cue the trumpet fills and you’ve got something familiar, yet distinct.
Over his career, Taj has been both a roots revivalist and a future-sighted artist, bridging the gap. The title Love Herb & Reggae is even a jab at the famous saying, “Sex, Drugs & Rock n’ Roll”- an opaque suggestion that he believes society’s focus is often on the wrong things. Because Taj has no need for the fame, he goes relatively under the radar of pop culture, but he and Adowa continue to make gorgeous music.