With a history of some forty years, Bristol Roots Reggae group Talisman are set to release their fourth bonafide studio album (many of the singles are collected together on a compilation) and the line-up features two of the original members. Dehvan Othieno (vocals / guitar), Dennison Joseph (bass and vocals, Dennis Hutchinson (keyboards), Pete Fletcher (guitar and vocals), Stephen Russell (keyboards), Marqus Lynk (drums). There are two versions of this release: a digital download which includes a version of each song as a dub rework and a single edit of the lead track, there is also a vinyl version which features 4 of the songs and its dub rework.
Relijan kicks off this album in classic Roots Reggae fashion and has all the trademarks of the late 70s and early 80s: heavy but tight bass, chanking guitars, stabs of keyboards, blasts of brass, beats that sparkle and synchronize all the tunes and vocals that recall the spirit of Bob Marley, Steel Pulse and Peter Tosh. The song itself has a dark atmosphere and speaks of the divisions created by religious beliefs. It moves along at an unhurried pace which allows the melancholic lyrics to breath while the layers create a rich tapestry of sound moving in the same direction. Talkin’ Revolution picks up the flavour of the lead track but takes a lyrically pro-active approach encouraging people to fight against injustice and stand up for their rights against the powers that be instead of just giving it lip-service and ‘walking with Babylon’. There’s a beautiful saxophone solo in the middle which has a Jazz-edged and tense feel to it, this lifts the song at the right moment and adds a bit of spice. The third tune is She Look Like Reggae has trendies in its sights – those who wear a t-shirt without knowing anything or caring about the group! This has a lighter feel to it but still has the air of ‘show your true self’ permeating through it. It isn’t as attention grabbing as the first two songs but doesn’t sound out of place either. The title track, Don’t Play With Fyah, is next and added to the mix is the sound of an overdriven guitar and the tune, with all it’s Roots flavour, has a somewhat added Rock edge (although this is all in a Reggae context). With this change in approach for this specific tune, it does sound like the stand out track on the album although for some it might stray a little too far from what they want to hear. Track number five, Hear No Evil, brings into play a slightly commercial sounding edge amongst the vibes that permeates the release but it does grab the attention with it’s easy and uplifting feel. It still has a serious message but takes the listener along on a grooving path – a sure fire radio hit. Back to the sounds reminiscent of the early 80s with Racism Never Sleep with the obvious message about intolerance. This, more than the other songs, has the old school music touches about it and an abiding message / sentiment – much like Talisman‘s early 80s recordings which focused on Tory Britain. Again, this isn’t a song which sounds out of place next to the other songs – this shows the strength of the production as much as the song writing. The final track Wheel And Come Again has the good vibe that will make people get up and dance. Again, there is a commercial edge to this song but it retains the Rastafarian spiritual vibe that is carried throughout the release. Bright backing vocals and a singolong chorus add a light and airy atmosphere along with a playful horn solo that make this another tune that should get radio play. That is the bonafide studio album over but there is extra music in the form of the album but in a dub version. Each of the songs gets a psychedelic treatment where the bass remains untouched as a constant, other instrumentation comes in and out of play, has delay sprinkled liberally over it and generally the flow of the songs is turned into a surrealist Reggae mix. The final track is a for radio / single version of Relijan. The vinyl version features the first four songs (Relijan, Talkin’ Revolution, She Look Like Reggae and Don’t Play With Fyah) paired up with their dub versions.
I’m not so much of a Reggae fan but this ended up becoming quite fun listening especially the dub versions. The pity of it that such as group as Talisman have ended up with a slender back catalogue although it could also be argued that there is more quality and so the group have avoided making needless albums to cater for changing styles (certainly the production has changed but the essence remains the same). Dennis Bovell (Matumbi, Steel Pulse, Linton Kwesi Johnson, Aswad, Madness, Orange Juice, The Slits, The Pop Group, Arcade Fire, Joss Stone) was taken on to produce and mix what has ended up on the album and the sheen does not obscure the Roots Reggae character. This may not be an album of much interest to many readers here but there are those reading this review who are willing to search out music and artists who historically have connections with bigger names (in this case, Talisman supported The Clash in the 80s) and so are at least willing to check out what they have to offer recently. If you’re a Roots Reggae fan be prepared to have a ball listening to fifteen tracks that fulfil your every need.
With a history of some forty years, Bristol Roots Reggae group Talisman are set to release their fourth bonafide studio album and the line-up features two of the original members.