Mad Professor concocts a formula to return Horace Andy to his reggae roots.
The younger cousin of reggae pioneer Justin Hinds, Horace Hinds adopted the surname Andy in order to avoid confusion with his well-known relative. Trouble is, he and Studio One founder Coxsone Dodd chose that name in honor of renowned singer-songwriter Bob Andy ... which of course led to some confusion.
This effort to co-opt the name proved to be unnecessary, as Hinds (Andy) quickly forged his own unique style. With a bouncy, airy voice not unlike a Muppet, he blazed a trail of hits in Jamaica throughout the '70s.
Emigrating to New York and later to England in the '80s, he continued to make waves, although he didn't maximize his international audience until his '90s collaborations with British trip-hoppers Massive Attack. This teaming exposed Andy's enchanting sound to a new market of fans who had yet to dip their toes into the reggae river.
Andy's work with Massive Attack led to his pairing with famed British producer Mad Professor on two albums, 1992's Life Is for Living and 1994's Roots and Branches. However, neither release fulfilled the potential of the match-up's caliber. Now Andy and the Professor give it one more shot with From the Roots. Andy's first album on the RAS label in a decade, From the Roots is a comeback worthy of this legendary singer.
The album's title is appropriate, as this is a more rootsy, somber effort than we often hear from the bubbly-voiced Andy. Take the lead-off track, for instance: "Babylon Bridge", where Andy proclaims, "Babylon your bridge is burning / And you can't out the fire." He follows it up with "The Bingy Man", a brooding statement of praise, and finishes up the first three tunes with a fiery warning on "What You Gonna Do": "Mr. Wicked Man, what you gonna do / When the judgment day is up on you? / Money can't save you / The Devil can't help you / All your friends run away and left you / You a go weep and moan / Can't find higher ground / The fire must burn you / You and your wicked followers too."
Andy has touched on such serious themes before, but rarely with this much solemnity. His businesslike, no-nonsense approach virtually eliminates any of the lighter love song style that he rode to success on earlier tunes like "Nice and Easy", "You Are My Angel", and "Love of a Woman".
This isn't a complaint, though, for two of the few tracks on which Andy takes a respite from the serious tone -- "Gimmi What Me Want!!" and "Girl Don't Come" (both adopting a playful dancehall stance) -- are the weakest points on the album. The lover's rock sound of "For Me", however, is a solid addition to Andy's lover legacy.
Even with the somber feel, Andy's vocals still feature the quivering falsetto style -- a bit like Wayne Newton channeling Carol Channing -- for which he's known. If it's possible, his vibrato has gotten more prominent with age, so much so that it could prove distracting if this is your first time hearing him.
Nevertheless, From the Roots is easily the best of Andy's three collaborations with Mad Professor. Both artist and producer are on top of their games here: Andy's lyrics are provocative, his vocals passionate, and his melodies tight, while Mad Professor's music forms a rootsy landscape peppered with dub-like flourishes. It's some of the best work the Professor has done, and is certainly worthy of a dub album on its own.
Though lacking the classic material of his '70s albums, From the Roots is more than capable of not only quenching the thirsts of Horace Andy devotees, but also converting new listeners into fans.