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Ten Years After ( Tamoki Wambesi, 1999 [orig. released 1980])

Another jewel from The Royals!  If you've enjoyed their Pick Up the Pieces album (Tamoki Wambesi release), you're going to like this one at least as much.  Ten Years After is a compilation that incorporates about half of their Moving On album and singles recorded at Channel 1 in the seventies.  It is studded with gems like "Malnutrition," "My Sweat Turns to Blood," "Rising Sun," "Free Speech and Movement," and the stunning "No One Knows."  There is nothing to throw away on this very smooth compilation (only "Familiar Music" and "Make Believe" are sort of average).  The Royals' recipe is the same: tremendous vocal harmonies, beautiful melodies, heartfelt lyrics, solid rhythms aptly delivered by the Channel One house band (most likely the Revolutionaries) and, last but not least, Roy Cousin's undeniable flair and taste for quality music.  Yet again, the songs speak of hardship and sorrow in the most eloquent way and without ever being over-gloomy.  How the Royals manage to infuse such levels of melancholy, wisdom, and hope into their reggae continues to baffle me.  Most songs on this album also have some kind of density that, to me, is a trademark of the group's superior interplay between the lead and harmony vocals.  It is difficult to describe (probably something like "the whole is very much superior to the sum of the individual parts"), but when you recognize it, you feel like the music is tickling your eardrums all over and seeping into the dustiest sections of your brain.  So far, I have only had this feeling when listening to some of the early material from the Wailing Souls (Wailing Souls and Soul and Power) and to Burning Spear's initial releases from Studio 1 (Burning Spear and Rocking Time), when the mighty Winston Rodney was more than backed by a superior vocal trio.  There is no need to add much; Ten Years After is simply a highly enjoyable reggae classic that will make you lift up your head and walk straight again.  If you're already in a positive mood, well, good for you; I don't know, try levitation or traveling to Orion. A final word of caution: most tracks on Ten Years after are infectious and will leave a long-lasting print on your brain.

- Kinfe Gabriel

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Track Listing
1. Malnutrition
2. My Seat Turns to Blood
3. Stand and Give Praises
4. Familiar Music
5. Rising Sun
6. No One Knows
7. Make Believe
8. Come a Long Way
9. It's Real
10. Down Comes the Rain
11. Freedom Fighters
12. Free Speech and Movement
Ten Years After
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Pick Up the Pieces (Pressure Sounds, 2002)

When you speak of The Royals, you are basically speaking of Roy Cousins (I think it's just a coincidence that his name appears in the group's name), the brainchild behind the group and the one constant in a line-up that was in a constant flux during its run -- indeed, the liner notes list the "quartet" as consisting of 14 people!  This ever-changing membership is apparent in the tracks on Pick Up the Pieces, which feature no less than 8 different lead singers.  Still, there is a cohesiveness leant by Cousins' presence as songwriter and producer (and occasional lead singer) that makes the material feel like a whole rather than disparate portions of a compilation.  This album is indeed a compilation, however, as it gathers tunes from the group's 15-year career, particularly the years 1968 to 1979, at which point Cousins departed from the other three members (who then re-named themselves The Jayes and promptly faded into relative obscurity).  The original Pick Up the Pieces album was released in 1977 on the Tamoki Wambesi label, but this Pressure sounds edition adds 8 tracks to that 12-song collection, presumably to give Royals fans more bang for their buck.  However, as with Joe Higgs' Life of Contradiction re-release, I found that adding the extra tracks actually diminishes the impact of the core material; I probably would've actually given the original Tamoki Wambesi release a higher rating, despite fewer tracks.  The alternate versions of "When You Are Wrong" and "Promised Land" ("Message" uses alternate lyrics) aren't really necessary, and the added tunes "Make Believe" (both versions), "Leave Out of Babylon," and "Down Comes the Rain" are comparatively dull.  “Genuine Way" is the only one that adds anything, and that was actually "Genuine Way" is the only one that adds anything, and that was actually recorded after Cousins left the group.  Pick Up the Pieces is a popular pick by reggae "experts" as one of the great undiscovered classics of the genre, and while I can understand why, I'd personally stop short of calling it an outright classic (particularly the Pressure Sounds release).  The Royals do, though, have a classic sound rich in the tradition of reggae harmony trios (or in this case a quartet).  Rather than the heavy, righteous sound of acts like Culture, The Itals, and The Abyssinians, The Royals tend more toward the somewhat lighter, more soulful style of trios like The Techniques, The Melodians, and The Heptones -- although somewhat paradoxically their lyrics tend to be quite somber and grounded in social ills ("Ghetto Man" "Heart in Pain," "Sufferer of the Ghetto," "Facts of Life").  Since this album covers over a decade of material, the sound ranges from vintage rock steady/early reggae rhythms ("Pick Up the Pieces," "Ghetto Man," "Sufferer of the Ghetto," "If I Were You," "When You Are Wrong") to a heavier, more rootsy feel ("Only Jah Knows," "If You Want Good," "Make Believe," "Facts of Life," "Blacker Black"), all the while maintaining a base grounded in classic American R&B and gospel.  The older, rock steady style is certainly more dominant, so if you're looking for a lot of blistering roots reggae, don't start here; but there are three great examples that should prove quite thrilling to roots fans: "Blacker Black," "Only Jah Knows," and "Facts of Life," whose somber lyrics are instantly memorable:

A crying child may be smaller,
But it’s hard to see a big person cry…
When you see a big man cry,
Then you know that something is wrong.

Track Listing
1. Pick Up the Pieces
2. Ghetto Man
3. Heart in Pain
4. Only Jah Knows
5. Sufferer of the Ghetto
6. If I Were You
7. When You Are Wrong [Version One]
8. When You Are Wrong [Version Two]
9. Promised Land
10. Message
11. Only for a Time
12. Genuine Way
13. Blacker Black
14. Peace and Love
15. Facts of Life
16. If You Want Good
17. Make Believe [Version One]
18. Make Believe [Version Two]
19. Leave Out Babylon
20. Down Comes the Rain

Pick Up the Pieces
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