Tuesday, February 12, 2008

The Twinkle Brothers - Countrymen

The Twinkle Brothers - Countrymen
Virgin Frontline CD CDFL29

Despite having a name sounding like children's entertainers or a cheesy cabaret act, the Twinkle Brothers (led by brothers Norman and Ralston Grant) are in fact one of the heaviest and most principled roots bands of the 70s right up to the present day. Similarly, despite the tourist brochure looking artwork of their 1979 "Countrymen" album, it is a lyrically wide-ranging, yet totally musically uncompromised, album of bass-heavy steppers sure to please any fan of late 70s roots.

"I Don't Want To Be Lonely Any More" sets the scene with its heavy, intense intro and deep bass riddim. The lovers lyric is delivered by Norman with a passionate intensity rarely seen in reggae, reminiscent of 60s US soul singers, but entirely Jamaican. The foreboding horn riff and heavy drumbeats make this a riddim that would be perfectly suited for an apocalyptic roots lyric.

"Patoo", while lyrically somewhat cryptic, rides a similarly insistent riddim, with prominent syndrums and bird call effects, and the trademark Twinkle bass sound that gives the tune a feeling of floating in deep space. While nice enough in itself, however, it effectively serves as an intro for the undisputed sound system killer that is "Never Get Burn", a deadly steppers anthem which opens with a thunderous rewind sound effect. This tune is simply epic - a Biblically inspired anthem proclaiming transcendence of death with testimonies of the Old Testament prophets surviving captivity in Babylon. "Jah protect I and I bassline!"

"Free Us" is equally transcendent and anthemic, with a majestic, soaring horn line courtesy of the great Dave Madden, and lyrics of deep eco/theological mysticism. "Set us free from the garbage of decay to enjoy the liberty of today". Ralston, his voice more fragile than his bother's, takes lead vocal here, delivering a particularly moving, ethereal performance. The dub, with its deep, swirling echo and emphasis on the horns, extends the mystical journey still further into an intensely gnostic soundscape, with percussion, guitar and keyboards fracturing and reflecting off one another until the bass overwhelms them. A truly heavy musical experience.

"Jah Kingdom Come" is more minimal, with Norman back on militant, righteous form, chanting judgement on false preachers and deceitful politicians, and a fairly minimal, almost Nyabinghi style backing, leavened by judicious application of horns and keyboards, but clearly showing the Brothers' uncompromising Rasta worldview and refusal to deal with "politricks".

"Since I Threw The Comb Away" is a passionate testimony of the social rejection of Rastas by everyone from parents to employers. The riddim is as intense and charged with fiery energy as the vocals, making this another classic, rousing steppers anthem, fuelled by the same deep faith in the face of adversity as "Never Get Burn". "Go away with your victimisation, your discrimination!"

"One Head" warns piously against intoxicants, in particular alcohol, a common if somewhat strange theme among particularly religious devotees of Rastafari. The springy, slightly Lee Perry-ish sounding keyboards and clattering percussion interweave nicely for a mellow vibe despite the rather stern message. The strangely titled "Bite Me" is actually a rather moving, bittersweet love song, with particularly nice harmonies and plaintive guitar work, perhaps harking back to the group's origins in the rocksteady era. Another mellow tune, evoking the rural vibe alluded to in the title.

The album closes, arguably too soon, with another heavy roots tune, the apocalyptic "Babylon Falling", on which Norman sounds almost tortured in his proclamation of the coming fall of urban civilisation. "I and I sit upon the mountaintop and watch how Babylon falling"; a deeply prescient vision of economic and ecological disaster which rural, agricultural communities will survive, but which will leave cities as wastelands - a message which, albeit somewhat hidden under theological metaphor, is there in the whole album for those who have ears to hear it, explaining the significance of its title.

Like all Virgin Frontline reissues, this comes exactly as it did on the original LP. It would have been nice to have a few bonus tracks in the form of more dubs or (particularly) DJ versions (which definitely exist of several tracks here). However, the sound quality is excellent, and this is still a very strong album of hard yet soulful roots - one of the relatively few reggae LPs which are solid from beginning to end. May it never get burn, nor get eaten by no worm.

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