Roots Tonic Meets Bill Laswell
Few developments in the pop music world came as quite as big a surprise as the orthodox Jewish reggae singer Matisyahu's chart hit "King Without a Crown" in early 2006. The unlikely sight of a fully bearded, overcoated, and behatted Hasid beatboxing and toasting on-stage with an electric reggae band was visually startling, but it wasn't strange enough to complete distract from the man's heartfelt lyrics of spiritual yearning and finger-wagging declamation, or from his band's powerful, sinuous grooves. That band is called Roots Tonic (there's an in-joke for music theory geeks in there), and Roots Tonic Meets Bill Laswell is the trio's chance to shine on its own, under the loving care of famous bassist and producer Bill Laswell (with whom they worked previously when he produced Matisyahu's major-label debut). If you're looking for innovative electro-dub or Jewish-reggae fusion of the Adonai & I variety, you'll need to look elsewhere; this disc is nothing but rock-solid, meat-and-potatoes instrumental roots reggae with a deep, dark production style and a pervasive dubwise ambience of the type familiar to Laswell fans everywhere. Highlight tracks include the slowly rocking "Road to Axum," a loping one-drop number titled "Employees Must Wash Their Hands," and the generically titled but supremely heavyweight "Healing of the Nations." Very highly recommended to all fans of modern roots reggae.