When it comes to roots reggae, Clinton Fearon is a too-long-overlooked and under-recognized master. Fearon, who turns 60 this year, began making music in his homeland of Jamaica back in the late 1960s, founding The Brothers at age 17 and becoming a full-time member of The Gladiators when he was 18, laying down bedrock bass and soaring vocal harmonies. (Dig into the vintage roots music that came out of the heydays of Studio One and Scratch Perry’s Black Ark and you’ll find Fearon’s tasty bass work all over the place, as well.)
Fearon formed The Boogie Brown Band in 1994 and has released a steady string of albums since, ranging from full-band efforts to solo acoustic (2005’s brilliant Mi An’ Mi Guitar) and classic dub (_Faculty Of Dub_, released in 2008 and featuring Fearon strapping on his bass for the first time in almost 20 years). And that’s the deal: anyone who has ever been enchanted by Bob Marley’s “Redemption Song” should be listening to Mi An’ Mi Guitar; dub gets no better, no more mystical, denser, or multi-dimensional than it does on Faculty Of Dub; and any of Fearon’s output with the Boogie Brown Band is textbook roots reggae that manages to avoid cliché at the same time. Mi Deh Yah is the latest chapter in a story that deserves far more attention than it’s ever received.
Simply put, Mi Deh Yah is classic Clinton Fearon. Take the dog-with-a-bone groove sensibility of, say, Burning Spear, combine it with clever, passionate lyrics of Blackheart Man-era Bunny Wailer, and throw in a bit of catchy soul and R&B dabblings ala Toots & The Maytals vocals and you’ll begin to approach the sound of Fearon and his Boogie Brown Band.
Things kick off with the positive vibes of “Life Is A Journey”, which balances can’t-help-but-sway bass and drums against dryly-recorded rhythm guitar and hints of strings, all of which complement Fearon’s thoughtful lyrics and soulful delivery. If you desire anthems, Mi Deh Yah is loaded with them – tunes such as “Rock And A Hard Place”, “Working For The Man”, or “The Best” offer inspiration without preaching, always leaving room to dance. Or drop the needle on “Tell The World” and catch yourself wondering, “If Marvin Gaye had gotten into reggae …” And go ahead – try to define “Feeling Blue”, with its wisps of violin dervishes (seriously) weaving around a killer riddim while Fearon testifies from deep in his soul. Or just enjoy the happy horns on “Focus”, combining moments of serious just-close-your-eyes-and-blow jazziness with spaghetti western silliness.
What do you want out of your reggae? If passion, groove, and imagination mixed with well-played vintage sounds mean anything to you, put an ear to Clinton Fearon’s Mi Deh Yah. Now.