The late reggae icon U-Roy was the first DJ to bring sound system toasting into the recording studio, so it’s appropriate that Solid Gold U-Roy – his final album – plays like his definitive songbook of the genre’s classics: Queen Majesty, Stop That Train, Wake the Town and Man Next Door are brought up to date with contemporary instrumentation without losing the spirit of the originals. The high point is a joyously berserk take on Every Knee Shall Bow, with U-Roy and Big Youth skimming freestyle lyrics across a sizzling hi-stepping tempo, an overload of horns and random SFX mixed by Scientist.
Even on the tracks that don’t feature such an illustrious collaborator, U-Roy – in his late 70s at the time of recording – is at the top of his game, always toasting the track but never letting the song get in the way of his impressionistic approach to lyricism. Vocal sidekicks Shaggy, Rygin King, Santigold and David Hinds understand the mutual benefits of tag-team toasting and flourish in the presence of a true great, although Ziggy Marley and Richie Spice haven’t quite grasped their role in proceedings, bringing an introspective energy ill-suited to the collaborative atmosphere. Other weaknesses lie in Small Axe and Tom Drunk – the thin, demo-like mix not nearly strong enough to support U-Roy’s big voice.
Fortunately, none of this spoils Solid Gold U-Roy: a lovely reminder of the giant we lost and a righteous reminder that his legacy should be handled with care.