Black Symbol – a rather unknown Birmingham-based reggae band from the late 70s and early 80s – has re-emerged with a brand new album titled Journey. And behind the release is legendary frontman Fatman.
Journey is Black Symbol’s second album under their own name and the first in 30 years. It was produced by the Grammy-nominated Paul Horton, who has previously worked with Steel Pulse and Pato Banton. The sound he and Fatman have created owes a lot to 80s Jamaican roots reggae.
Burning Spear and Ijahman Levi spring to mind. So does ex-Gladiator Clinton Fearon. He and Fatman have a similar tone in their voice and they also share a sincere and honest country feeling. An up-in-the-hills kind of thing.
Journey is a spiritual and sometimes meditative journey with sublime harmonizing and beautiful back-up vocals courtesy of Empress Bev. Her touch truly gives the album a character of its own.
Highlights include the nyabinghi-flavored Bongoman, the uplifting What a Joy and Let it Shine, a track with a hint of gospel in its glorious chorus.
With this consistent album Fatman and Black Symbol continue a journey that started more than 30 years ago, a journey that hopefully will go on for many years to come.
In the summer of 2011 I had the opportunity to interview gritty soulful reggae veteran Ken Boothe after his show at the Uppsala Reggae Festival in Sweden. When I wrote the story I focused on Ken Boothe’s journey to make a change through his music. I headlined the story “Ken Boothe is on a journey”. I must have understood him pretty well since his latest album is titled Journey.
The journey he refers to on the album is his 50 years in the entertainment industry – from growing up in a tough Kingston neighborhood recording rocksteady classics for, among others, Clement “Coxsone” Dodd via his smash crossover hits Everything I Own and Crying Over You for the late producer Lloyd Charmers to recording with Shaggy in the 90’s and having Snoop Dogg’s reggae alter ego Snoop Lion doing a version of Artibella, one of the greatest pieces of minor key rocksteady ever released.
Journey is Ken Boothe’s first album in seven years and was supposed to have been released in October last year, but was for some reason postponed to March 2013. It’s self-produced, recorded in his home-studio in St. Andrew, Jamaica, with notable musicians Robbie Lyn and Dwight Pinkey, and includes guest vocals from upcoming deejay G-Mac, U.S. young rapper Chauncy and veteran Jamaican deejay Josey Wales.
The latter two show up on Dancehall Girl, a salsa-tinged dancehall effort showing Ken Boothe’s interest in contemporary Jamaican sounds. The majority of the twelve tracks are however more classical-styled reggae, with the exception of a jump-up cover of Otis Redding’s Can’t Turn You Loose. Other covers include The Wailers’ gospel-flavored Thank You Lord and Spandau Ballet’s early 80’s worldwide smash hit True and famous for its catchy “huh huh huh hu-uh huh”.
Ken Boothe is one of the greatest vocalists from Jamaica ever. Possibly one of the finest singers ever actually. His raw and gritty, yet soulful, style can set any song on fire. Unfortunately Journey lacks a bit sound wise and production wise. His voice sounds shady and some of the sounds are dated. But, Journey is nevertheless an enjoying set of songs and the aforementioned Than You Lord is classic Ken Boothe. So is the political New World Order and the upbeat combination with G-Mac, who has a fine flow and the pair has a nice interaction.
Journey is now available on CD and digital platforms.