Taj Weekes is undoubtedly one of the most talented reggae artists on the planet. Since 2005, he's released six fantastic studio albums, plus one excellent live disc, all backed by his long-time band, Adowa.
When news came out that he and his band had broken up, it was a real shocker. A new disc, a solo release entitled "Pause," was in the works and I wasn't sure what to expect. I had heard a demo version of his first single, "Crisis," then viewed a short video Weekes had posted with, in his words, "some greats" playing a portion of "Rainstorm." The hook immediately drew me in ('ain't it funny how the rain comes/to take and wash away/all that you've set aside/for a rainy day"). After watching it I knew that Taj Weekes was still on top of his game and was looking forward to hearing the new disc in its entirety.
A few weeks later I received the pre-release ("Pause" is set to be available worldwide on August 9th) and any hesitation I had was quickly allayed after one listen. This disc is hot. Weekes has never sounded better and the musicians he gathered to record these ten tracks are superb. Even without Adowa, this is another in a long line of exceptional recordings from this St. Lucian native.
Things kick off with a choppy acoustic intro and from there it's just over 45 minutes of the freshest, strongest reggae you'll ever hear. The production by Ziggy Coltrane is outstanding. The drums pop, the musicianship is stellar and Weekes' vocals are strong yet relaxed and his songwriting, as usual, is exemplary.
Weekes composes some of the catchiest and most thought-provoking songs by any artist, in any genre. He's honed his craft to where his songs are complex, yet simple, with hook-laden verses, choruses and bridges. It's brilliant how he constructs these songs and his unique vocal style and inflections take them to a whole different level.
"Pause" was written during the pandemic and deals primarily with that melancholy subject, always in a thoughtful and intelligent manner. Weekes also touches on, among other things, social unrest and Trump's inept response to the virus. The opening tune, "Bang, Bang," sets the tone. Early on he sings "not missiles but microbes/they're taking us down" then by song's end (after a smooth guest vocal appearance by Quino from Big Mountain) he's changed his stance: "no missile or microbe can tear us apart/we all come together/one aim and one heart," all set to an irresistible rhythm, even including the unusual, but fantastic use of mandolin.
"Rainstorm" is next, and it's the first glimpse we have of the outstanding horns that will permeate over half of the tracks, courtesy of the Dub Sonic Orchestra (they also add strings on a couple of tunes). And Weekes hits hard again with his lyrics: "I wanna stop the spread/My predicament is dread/If I stay we die from hunger/if I go out we'll be dead...some say shelter in place/in a cramped little space/safe distance we can't keep/when there's only room to sleep."
I could go song by song and say how brilliant each is, but suffice to say, they truly are all fantastic. From the third song, "Crisis," which is the first single and video, it then goes through "Sister Mary" and "Easter Sunday" (two of my absolute favorite tracks) as well as "Memoir," which has some great harmonica work.
The next three tunes are all reprises, with "Shelter In Place" being a cool version of "Rainstorm," featuring the soulful vocals of Duke D23, "Crisis (Fine Young Mix)" an upbeat, militant style of their first single and "False Choice," a ska-flavored version of "Easter Sunday." All work and all sound fantastic, but my one wish would have been for three more originals to have replaced these. But no worries, as these trio of tunes are still stronger than strong.
"Pause" closes down with the outstanding "March Of The Silent." On his classic "Love, Herb & Reggae" release from 2016, Weekes opened with the statement song "Let Your Voice Be As Loud As Your Silence." Now he closes down his first solo release with those voices being "louder than ever/march of the silent it grows/from a whisper to a thunder/it's louder than ever/where it stops, nobody knows." The inclusion of protest chants, sirens and some 'false' endings makes for one of the strongest and most relevant tunes he's ever written (and believe me, he's written many).
Taj Weekes is not just an exceptionally prolific reggae artist. He's a social activist, poet, and much more, who just happens to write some of the most powerful music in the world, irregardless of genre. As his motto proclaims, his vibe is high and his message is mighty. Taj Weekes is the real deal. Check him out.
VIEW CRISIS SINGLE
VIEW RAINSTORM VIDEO MENTIONED ABOVE
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REVIEW OF TO ALL MY RELATIONS
REVIEW OF LOVE, HERB & REGGAE
REVIEW OF PARIAH IN TRANSIT (LIVE CD)
HOMEPAGE OF TAJ WEEKES
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