From The Village Voice, September 2004: on
Is It Rolling Bob? A Reggae Tribute to Bob Dylan
Eyes wide shut against pluming ganja smoke, the spliffn’ rastaman and Dylan both elevate cantankerousness with a spiritual bent, but the closing track of “Is It Rolling Bob, a reggae remix of “I and I,” featuring Dylan’s original vocals, proves no one does him better. Still, this collection of tropical warriors challenges World Bank-ravaged Jamaica’s status quo--an even more bruised context than disgruntled middle Amerika for Dylanesque ironies and disjointed juxtapositions...if the roots rebels get them. “The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carrol” takes the piss out of an unrecognizably sweet Michael Rose, Black Uhuru’s soldierly front man and reggae’s most intimidating locksman, and Beres Hammond smoothes all the neat pleats and twists of “Just Like A Woman.” Others bring their own convictions to Dylan’s vision rather than enshrine it. Toots’s old-time soul fortifies “Maggie’s Farm” with an anti-Massa meditation, and Sizzla’s “Subterranean Homesick Blues” turns Bleecker Street pyschedelia into Heart of Darkness nightmare. For “The Times They Are A-Changing,”Apple Gabriel’s breaking vocals transpose Dylan’s dust bowl twang from prophecy to threat. But Dominica’s Nasio Fontaine, stands proudest alongside the Master and Jah, on the high ground of “Gotta Serve Somebody.”
From The Village Voice, August 2004: on Tanya Stephens, “Gangsta Blues”
Reggae seems mostly man’s work, unless you count harmony sweetening, which I don’t. Blame apron strings tied to Jamaica’s shaky economics, the Church and Rastafari’s shared dictums on woman-as-rib decorum, and the fact that few females can pull off the macho edginess and refusal of all but penis work that underlies even lighthearted dancehall raunch. Lady Saw is a feisty exception, but bound as she is by her batty rider, I can’t imagine Saw unleashing a heartfelt, “I hate you so much right now!”
I don’t have to imagine that or any other raw sentiment from Tanya Stephens. Gangsta Blues,
the third CD from the diminutive but deep-voiced powerhouse--takes reggae “way back” to its creative source, as the title track promises, at the same time opening up and rocking dancehall hard with the strength of Tanya’s literate mind. Recorded in Jamaica following her 3 year sentence of voicing alt-rock in Sweden, Blues
is all about the liberating brain flash that brought the dancehall queen back: If it’s all blues, why can’t it be all dancehall? Ain’t everyt’ing everyt’ing?
Take “Other Cheek,” an achingly personalized primer on Jamaica’s social, economic, and political ills. Forgoing the easy slogans and demonizing of politicians that win knee-jerk audience calls “to bu’n fiah,” Tanya gently backs Jamaica’s P.M. into her corner with a husky, rub-a-dub-styled vocal that breathes an urgent litany of suffering. And P.J. Patterson must take pause at the vocalized pain of “Sound of My Tears”--all the more gut-twisting for the breaking toughness of Tanya’s rude bwoy persona. She zooms in on vivid details and ratchets up the honesty level, like in “Can’t Breathe,” a scorned woman’s atomic bomb of rage and despair. Emotional intricacies and cathartic productions elevate the “Ricky Lake” plots of “Gangsta Gal,” “Little White Lie,” and “It’s a Pity” into revelatory heartache. And when it comes to poom-poom ‘n wood themes evoking Tanya’s 90’s naughtiness masterpieces (“Yuh Nuh Ready (Fe It Yet),” “Draw Fe Mi Finger,” and “Big Ninja Bike”), Gangsta’s
“Tek Him Back” and “Boom Wuk” speak x-rated witticisms that will wind up on rude gals’ outgoing cellie messages. Reggae connoisseur Wyclef was added to “This is Love” at the last minute. But Tanya’s one Jamaican who doesn’t need a leg up to American R&B/rap charts. From the moment she opens her mouth, Gangsta
grabs hold and won’t let go.