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Duane Stephenson - Dangerously Roots

Duane Stephenson - Dangerously Roots

Duane Stephenson - Dangerously Roots

By on - 3 comments

Balances ghetto grit and crossover appeal.

With his venerable, regal voice, August Town Rasta singer-songwriter Duane Stephenson has made a career from combining roots messages and the soft smooth rhythms of mentor Dean Fraser

duaneHis first album, 2007’s From August Town, was entirely produced by Fraser; the follow-up, Black Gold, helmed by Dean and Christopher Birch. Both followed the Trojan Horse method of bringing Duane’s cultural lyrics into the mainstream with their melodic sophisticated sound.

For his third effort Dangerously Roots he has taken a similar step to fellow Fraser protégé Tarrus Riley and diversified to a variety of different producers while keeping Dean involved on key songs. But where Tarrus’ third set Contagious was less unified than its Fraser-only predecessor Parables, Duane has defied the reggae adage that single producer projects are best and has delivered his most complete record yet.

Since Black Gold came out in 2010 the Jamaican reggae trend has moved from the slick one-drop created by Don Corleon to the heavier sounds of the likes of Chronixx. Stephenson actually started and then scrapped seven tracks mid-project, wanting a different, harder sound for the concept. Though the result is unlikely to be played by Shaka any time soon, Duane’s crafted, conscious couplets are borne on slightly tougher musical vehicles - while maintaining sufficient hooks so as not to alienate long term fans.

Duane – who until recently toured with the Wailers – is at home singing big sweeping Marley-ish ballads in the vein of Jah Live and No Woman No Cry. Jah Reign, built by top Jamaican roots producer du jour Winta James, follows this template with a pleasingly muscular feel to the guitar work. Legendary arranger Clive Hunt supplies the backing to the anti-colonial London Bridge – which uses the famous English landmark as a metaphor for the mental enslavement of black people. Even Fraser constructs a robust remake of Bunny Wailer’s 1981 rub-a-dub Cool Runnings where the drum and bass hit you in the chest.

On the smoother, sweeter side of things are Birch's catchy cover of Wyclef Jean and R Kelly's Ghetto Religion featuring Tarrus Riley, and Fraser’s acoustic combo with I Octane, Julene. Yet none of these stray as far into the full-blown MOR territory of parts of Black Gold or Duane’s 2011 cover of Phil CollinsAnother Day In Paradise.

Interestingly, the opening track from Black Gold, the Birch/Raymond Charlton co-production Nah Play has been included again. This is due to its reality flavour (and Stephenson’s feeling that his second long-player didn't get enough promotion because he was busy singing with the Wailers at the time).

The best person to sum up the album is probably Duane’s friend, the dub poet Mutabaruka, who delivers two gruff spoken interludes. The intro praises Stephenson for his commitment to roots music. The outro notes his way with melody. Unless you’re the programmer of a late night lovers rock radio show, the roots levels aren’t going to ring the danger alarm. Instead it strikes a nice balance between ghetto grit and crossover appeal. 

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Read comments (3)

Posted by Romeo Juliet on 09.25.2014
Great vocals, great music with a great singer, mi luv Duane

Posted by noel chilas on 09.29.2014
dis is nyc apan ayaaaah

Posted by abdoulie on 10.11.2014
reggae music rocking into my veins

Comments actually desactivated due to too much spams

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