Album-Review: Earl Sixteen – The Fittest

May 26, 2011

Earl Sixteen is a man who has travelled to where the action is for his sweetly-sung brand of cultural reggae. He left Jamaica for the UK in the 80s when he felt his preferred niche falling out of favour. And while he still resides in England, he is increasingly to be found on European sounds and labels. The latest is Dutch double act JahSolidRock and NotEasyAtAll – who have been making glossy, critically acclaimed “showcase albums” with Apple Gabriel and Chezidek last year.

On The Fittest Earl’s voice remains the mellifluous instrument it has been for decades (Sip A Cup’s Gussie P was the voicing engineer in London) and is accompanied by the poignant, Steel Pulse-ish harmonies associated with two organizations. As you’d expect from titles like Modern Slavery and Rise Up, much of the record is deep minor key roots, while Sixteen’s lyrics are heavily socio-political, philosophical and nostalgic for that time. Yet the early dancehall sound system style Earl loves is also present. The major key This Yah Business casts the internet and the demise of Jet Star and Randy’s as symptoms of the industry’s structural decline – and features a chant from the great U Roy (no less!) on the flip.

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