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Years After ( Tamoki Wambesi, 1999 [orig. released 1980])
- Kinfe Gabriel
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
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Up the Pieces (Pressure Sounds, 2002)
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"
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
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.