Saturday, December 18, 2010

Overlooked Records 1: Andrew Tosh -- Original Man

     Andrew Tosh  recorded and released his first lp, Original Man, in 1987, shortly after his father's tragic murder at his Kingston, Jamaica home. 

     Like all albums by the children of famous parents  (Andrew's father is Peter Tosh of The Wailers; his uncle is Bunny Wailer), and especially debut releases, comparisons are inevitable, rather than invidious, and usually the younger artist's work is found wanting.  Not in this case, however.  Although clearly the work of a nascent artist, Original Man triumphs completely. 

     The record combines strong self-penned material (Original Man, Poverty Is A Crime) with interpretations of both well-known (Maga Dog, Jah Guide, Same Dog Bite) and fairly obscure (the dark and evocative Heathen Rage and Too Much Rat) Peter Tosh songs, performed in both full band and amusingly retitled dub versions.  Backing musicians include members of  Peter Tosh's last Word, Sound and Power line-up, including Keith Sterling, George "Fully" Fullwood and Carlton "Santa" Davis (aka the legendary Soul Syndicate).  As any reggae aficionado knows, these guys are as good as they come. 

     What marks and makes the record and makes it so distinctive and such a pleasure to listen to is its graceful and light touch, clearly the work of producer Winston Holness (aka Niney The Observer), a very great artist in his own right.  Niney ensures that the ingenuousness of Andrew Tosh's youth shines through, illuminating the songs and relieving them of the portentousness that can easily attach itself to reggae's sometimes fire-and-brimstone  subject matter and "herb coma" drum and bass lines.  This deft balance allows the younger Tosh to sound like himself and establish his own identity, rather than seeming a pale imitation of his father, like Ziggy Marley, an obvious point of comparison, always does. The sharp, spare, tough and elegant musical arrangements continually lift Andrew and the songs to considerable heights and invest the words and music of Original Man (including Andrew's unmistakable "Tosh-y" vocals) with the feeling of prophecy inherent in the best Jamaican music.

     Andrew Tosh's debut record still sounds great and contemporary after 20 years and I think these songs  would find great acceptance among today's youth.  If you decide to seek this record out, you should look for the original version released on Trojan/Attack. Apparently, the subsequent Heartbeat US re-release is a different record altogether -- essentially a re-recording intended to capitalize on a change in beat, not a unique occurrence in reggae.  

    Assuming you do find and enjoy the record, I strongly suggest you also acquire Peter Tosh's posthumously released final record, No Nuclear War, a masterpiece which is more relevant than ever, as well as Tosh's Arise Black Man collection, which collects some of the bits and pieces scattered in various places throughout the part of his career before he and The Wailers achieved international stardom with Catch A Fire.

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