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What I’m listening to this week: Rootz Underground

April 19, 2009
Movement – 2008

After seeing Rootz Underground perform at a KEXP event in the Austin City Limits studio at KLRU during SXSW last year, a non-reggae devoted friend of ours was so taken by the band’s performance that he immediately downloaded Movement. Having sat through many a reggae album at our house, he kept telling my husband and I we needed to get it. Seeing as how this friend had once declared Eddie Money cool…less than a year ago…I wasn’t exactly in a hurry to take his musical advice. Finally after several months of bringing it up, he thrust his “car copy” of Movement into my husband’s hands – yes, he even had two copies – and we listened to the album as soon as we got home.

I was blown away. Movement is some of the freshest roots reggae I’ve heard in years. It is especially impressive that it is the Rootz Underground’s debut. Movement begins in a tradition that I rather enjoy, the Rasta spoken-word introduction track. The songs start on a serious note with the Exodus-esque “Time is an Illusion”. Along with that, “Victims of a System”, “Herb Fields”, and “Hammer” are excellent, message-inspired cuts, and some of the strongest to come out in some time. The cornerstone of the album is the fantastic “In the Jungle”, which is an anthem for Rootz Underground like “Welcome to Jamrock” is for Damian Marley. “In the Jungle” tweaks the old-school roots tradition with a hard rocking chorus, rousing, driving vocals from lead singer Stephen Newland, and roars from the rest of the band. Newland has an amazing voice for reggae; just the right amount of rasp and zeal capably leading the feel of the each track.

Movement is quite a long album, with most of the songs nearing the five minute mark, so naturally there is a bit of a slump beginning with the spoken track “Climbing to the Rootz”, which is only interesting the first time you hear it, that doesn’t let up until the album is almost finished with “How Much Longer” and a slightly inferior dub remix of “In the Jungle”. The first 10 songs alone would have made a brilliant album, but Movement doesn’t suffer too much from the excess because most of those 10 songs are so great. It’s an exciting debut from a band to watch.

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