Wednesday, 5 June 2019

Gregory Isaacs

"Since I was growing up, I liked love songs - Smokey Robinson, Sam Cooke. That was the kind of songs getting the girls dancing" - Gregory Isaacs

Night Nurse (1982)

Night Nurse/Stranger In Town/Objection Overruled/Hot Stepper/Cool Down The Pace/Material Man/Not The Way/Sad To Know        

Reggae had changed somewhat by the early eighties. That essential, clear bass, cymbals and “One drop” drum sound that so characterised Bob Marley & The Wailers, Peter Tosh, Steel Pulse and the many roots groups of the mid to late seventies had been replaced by a heavier, synth drum -dominated sound and more dance floor-oriented sounds. “Ragga” was on its way. Groups like Black Uhuru still expressed black consciousness and Rasta devotion, but against a less tuneful, less musically diverse backing.

Gregory Isaacs bucked this trend, however. Firstly, although a dreadlocks, he was not one for singing out his religious fervour, praising Jah or warning of damnation. He was the self-styled “Cool Ruler”, the “lonely lover”. He was not a political man, either, at least not in his songs. He was a lover, interested in women, and, seemingly, little else. This is not to the detriment of his material - it was a kind of roots rhythms meets the burgeoning “lovers rock” genre of light, romantic tuneful songs. It was, to be honest, a breath of fresh air, after all that consciousness, Armagideon and crucial, speaker-pounding dub.

Night Nurse is very well known. An insistent, synth drum but appealing backing and a sensual, pleading vocal for Gregory’s nurse to treat him - “there’s a patient by the name of Gregory…”. 

Stranger In Town is an entrancing introduction to the “lonely lover” persona. Beautifully sung and gentle, lilting rhythms washing over you. 

Objection Overruled is one of my all time reggae favourites. Gregory’s voice is timeless, mournful yet hopeful, classic in its delivery. The backing is proper reggae and a melodious keyboard sound pushing the song along. Just a masterpiece of “ain’t to proud to beg” plaintive, pleading from a rejected lover. 

The quality continues with the impossibly melodic laid back skank of Hot Stepper. Again, this is lovers rock material but with a seriously crucial, bassy “riddim”. Such a wonderful, summery album. You just can’t play this in November, really. I am playing it now on a sunny Saturday morning at the end of June. All is one with the world. The song has a lovely piano part at the end too.

The old “side two” opened with the wryly amusing Cool Down The Pace, a slowly danceable request from Gregory to “cool down the pace for me little woman" and then we get Material Man, probably the most “roots” track on the album, that sees Isaacs ruminating on material goods and religious devotion. It has an almost perfect, subtle, underplayed rhythm. It goes without saying that the sound on this remaster is pretty near perfect. The backing is supplied by the excellent rhythm section, The Roots Radics.

Not The Way is another “lovers” style upbeat, vibrant skank. More great vocals and a totally captivating rhythm. Gregory touchingly urges us to treat our women well - “she’s your sister, so don’t mistreat her…”. 

Sad To Know is also a magnificent groove, just wonderful. Lovely backing with some intriguing percussion noises that sound like the call of some tropical bird and a constant, catchy piano line. Sad to get to the end of this album, Gregory.

Overall, I have to say that everything about this album is pretty damn perfect.

(The dub versions that come from the "deluxe" edition are excellent, particularly the saxophone-dominated Unhappy Departure Dub, which sounds as if it has come straight from the South African townships).

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