Review: Taj Weekes and Adowa’s A Waterlogged Soul Kitchen by United Reggae

From: United Reggae

By Angus Taylor

It takes a very special talent to make all this work.

There is a certain style of roots reggae pioneered and popularized by the late Bob Marley, where many latter-day cultural singers rightly fear to tread. Its swung rhythms, bouncy clavinet, Scratch Perry-inspired, curiously-phrased vocals and rebel stance can easily sound hackneyed in the wrong hands.

Yet once again, the NYC-based St. Lucian singer Taj Weekes and his band Adowa (named for the Ethiopian victory over the Italians in 1896) have stepped up to the plate with the confidence that sires success. Just like 2008’s predecessor Deidem, third album A Waterlogged Soul Kitchen indicates the kind of special talent who can update this archetypal persona and make it work.

As before there are three key elements to Taj’s achievements: his songwriting, his lyrics and his voice. His grainy, otherworldly falsetto could imbue even the most trite doggerel with deep meaning, yet his words have depth all locked down. Again, his focus is on the big bleak events that have affected the world: war, natural disasters, terrorism, and environmental destruction. His love of dichotomous concepts still features strongly: opening track “Just A Dream” ponders, “when in life, death is all that’s seen” while “Before The War” weighs up its protagonists life “before and after the war.” Meanwhile Adowa’s clean, crisp rhythms still channel classical roots reggae through modern studio technology with the added bonus of extra horns.

But there are also more daring departures from Deidem‘s template, suggesting a new level of assurance and maturity here. Like Clinton Fearon’s ‘Mi De Yah,’ also cut in the States, strings create an at once bucolic and global feel for both “Janjaweed” (referencing the Sudanese gunmen of the same name) and abuse tale “Sunny Innocents” (which also assimilates abrupt dancehall stabs – think the Stepz rhythm – into its beat). The acoustic shuffle of “Anthems Of Hope” even bears a verse sung in a child’s voice – mirroring Weekes’ own ageless tones.

And there are familiarities. “Two Joints” is a breakup song similar to Deidem’s “Hollow Display.” “Shadow Of A Bird” has a pre-roots tempo like the previous record’s “Since Cain,” and “Rain Rain” revisits the effects of Hurricane Katrina, which Taj first examined on piano ballad “Louisiana.” This time the closing ballad, “Drill,” targets the oil industry, marrying driving chords and BP-spill-evoking gull sounds. At a trim 11 tracks there’s no filler to be heard.

The phrase “A Waterlogged Soul Kitchen” makes for a catchy if strange album title – yet listen to the music behind it and it makes perfect sense. Out for download since October 26th, 2010, this predictably impressive follow-up is now available as a physical release…