Artists on the Daptone label have an uncanny ability to perfectly replicate the sound and feel of a bygone era. And while up to now that sound has largely encompassed mainly R&B and its secular and sacred derivations, with the release of the Frightnrs debut, they’ve entered the realm of late ‘60s Jamaican music. It’s a logical progression, given both reggae and rock steady’s origins in American R&B, and the parallels are easy to trace within the band’s sound. They are at once a competent rock steady group that would not have sounded out of place at the fabled Studio One in Kingston and club-footed R&B group with a vocalist who sounds like a cross between Desmond Dekker and Smokey Robinson.
Possessing a gorgeously effortless falsetto, Dan Klein anchors the group’s sound. Recorded in mono, the album inhabits a space entirely out of time, transcending its 21st century origins and sounding as though it was instead some lost classic from the golden age of both rocksteady and Jamaican music in general.
Unfortunately, the band’s tragic backstory will largely dominate any discussion of their music. And not for nothing, as it’s an unbelievably sad series of events – Klein being diagnosed with ALS just as the band was beginning to take off, ultimately dying mere months before the album’s release – but there isn’t a minute of melancholy or hint of the band’s personal struggles within the music. Instead, it’s a stellar melding of rocksteady and R&B, both familiar and timeless.
From the opening track “All My Tears” on, Klein’s high, keening tenor proves to be the lifeblood of the album. A note-perfect recreation of a bygone era, “All My Tears” sets the stage for what’s to come, sounding like a lost late ‘60s rocksteady classic only just now making its way off the island. From the gunshot opening drums to the group’s backbeat syncopation, “All My Tears” checks all the requisite stylistically authentic boxes without sounding like a mere genre pastiche.
On the title track, the band goes full Smokey Robinson & the Miracles with Klein’s vocals straining to reach the top of its register and the band’s call-and-response echoes fitting perfectly into the mix. It’s an impressive melding of rocksteady and soul, a sound perfectly suited to the Daptone aesthetic. Similarly, “Gotta Find A Way” could easily pass for a lost Desmond Dekker or Jimmy Cliff track with its cascading organ stabs and heavy syncopation behind Klein’s gorgeous, soaring falsetto.
Those who have spent any amount of time exploring the roots of Jamaican music and rocksteady in particular will find much to love about Nothing More to Say. From the production on down, all but the most informed listeners would be hard-pressed to identify these as contemporary recordings. “What Have I Done” sounds for all the world as though it were recorded in the mid-‘60s, so perfect is the attention to period-correct sound and feel. Yet this is no mere recreation of a bygone era. Rather the Frightnrs fully embrace the work of their predecessors, bringing rocksteady firmly into the 21st century without losing any of its mid-20th century appeal.
Nearly every track on Nothing More to Say carries with it the potential for being a strong single, each an impressive statement on its own that, when combined, results in one of the best rocksteady albums of all time. Lacking any sort of filler or over reliance on a massive single, there is a cohesive nature to the album often absent from even the best the genre’s mid-‘60s luminaries had to offer.
“Lookin For My Love” finds Klein effortlessly taking his voice to the extreme edge of his falsetto. It’s one of the more impressive moments on the album and a track that any number of original rocksteady artists would have killed to be able to claim as their own. Similarly, “Hey Brother (Do Unto Others)” finds a certain level of prescience in the civil rights-indebted lyrics of the originators of politically-minded reggae and rocksteady, applying similar sentiments to the current social and political climate. It’s a natural bridging of the gap between past and present that helps make the Frightnrs one of the most intriguing acts putting out music in 2016.
And while the future of the band remains sadly in question, Nothing More to Say stands as a brilliant opening statement from a promising talent. Whether or not the group adheres to the title is another question. But, regardless, Nothing More to Say cements the Frightnrs’ position as one of, if not the best, American rocksteady – let alone soul – acts working today. Even if this does prove to be the end, there’s more than enough here to be enjoyed for years to come, let alone definitive proof of the late Dan Klein’s vocal brilliance.