BBC review: Little Roy Battle for Seattle

September 1, 2011

A daring and brilliant covers collection that provides Roy with deserved exposure.

Angus Taylor 2011-09-01

Unusual cover versions have long been a reggae staple. But it’s hard not to be surprised by the effectiveness of this Nirvana tribute from producers Prince Fatty, Mutant Hi-Fi and veteran singer Little Roy (despite the sum of its parts).

Little Roy, born Earl Lowe in Kingston, was the first artist to top the Jamaican chart with an overtly Rasta tune – Bongo Nyah – in 1969. His songs have been versioned repeatedly through the dancehall era – his Tribal War was even used on Nas and Damian Marley’s Distant Relatives album – but he has yet to crash the mainstream himself.

Roy appeared on both Fatty’s albums and, with hindsight, it’s easy to see why Mr Pelanconi chose him for this project. In addition to his obvious talents his voice has a similar grain to that of Kurt Cobain.

His bleak life and lyrics aside, Cobain’s songwriting gave an uplifting quality to Nirvana’s music. And this quality translates perfectly to a series of sprightly vintage rhythms played by Ruff Cutt band’s Bubblers, The Wailers’ Junior Marvin, Fatty mainstay Horseman and Leroy ‘Mafia’ Heywood – a central force behind Roy’s excellent previous album, Heat. The arrangements are classic Fatty: swirling organs, softly parping horns, and Ark-era Lee Perry-style backing vocals.

Standouts include a ‘flyers’ cut of Dive (with quick diversion into the Real Rock rhythm), a dubby Come as You Are and a cantankerous, clavinet-driven About a Girl. Roy had never heard Nirvana prior to recording this, and the gruesome words of his favourite song Polly sound strange from such a spiritual singer (“horny” is changed to “happy” on the 60s-flavoured final track Lithium, presumably for this reason). Only Sliver’s repetitive “Grandma take me home” refrain feels like it could have been reduced.

Where this set’s likely inspiration, Easy Star All-Stars’ Dub Side of the Moon, mined the safe student bedroom crossover between Floyd and dub, Battle for Seattle is far more of a gamble. Daring and brilliant, it showcases the visionary side of Prince Fatty’s retro stylings while bringing Little Roy the exposure he deserves.


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