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Reviews: Rootz Underground Movement! Album Launch

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Jamaica Observer
An ‘Underground’ Movement
DEBRA EDWARDS, Monday, May 19, 2008

With a skank and demeanor similar to that of Reggae Icon Bob Marley, it’s evident Rootz Underground front man Stephen Newland, with the help of his band, has major plans to secure a spot in the history of the reggae Movement.

Last Saturday fans turned up at the Hope Gardens Bandshell for the much anticipated release of Rootz’ debut album, Movement, and were treated to a thrilling reggae composed ride.

Taking centre stage, to the harmony of Time Is An Illusion, Newland greeted his audience and then simultaneously broke into song. Swinging his shoulder length locks, devoid of inhibition, Newland’s voice echoed throughout the venue, while his fellow band members rocked – playing their instruments – visually into the vibe.

By the time the band launched into songs such as Hammer and Victims of the System they had the ample crowd mystified by their aura, with some singing their tunes word for word.

“This band is good, and I suspect their following is just going to continue to grow,” said visiting Caymanian resident April General. The band’s strong stage presence continued with a stirring rendition of Fade Away.

“Is everybody feeling good?” Newland asked before commencing Slumberland, after which it was announced that, as previously advertised, Wayne Armond of Chalice and Dean Fraser would no longer be performing due to previous engagements. But even with the announcement of Armond and Fraser’s absence, the crowd was not perturbed and seemed to be more interested in hearing more from Rootz Underground.

With a cover of Bob Marley and the Wailers’ Midnight Train, Newland removed his long sleeved jeans shirt to reveal a black merino and really got the crowd moving with In the Jungle.

Abruptly finishing their set and exiting the stage, the Rootz Underground mesmerized audience demanded more, chanting, “We want more Rootz Underground,” until the band came back and continued to fill their fans’ reggae fix with a few more songs.

“Thank you so much for coming to this album launch,” expressed Newland just before for the last time existing the stage. “Dem boy yah a di real deal, and I feel like I just watched the early stages of something that is going to be big in the future,” declared a patron while existing the venue, “Something big!”

Jamaica Gleaner
‘Concert-ed’ effort at Rootz Underground launch
Mel Cooke, Monday May 19, 2008

IT WAS obvious that a concerted effort was put into Saturday night’s launch of Rootz Underground band’s debut album, Movement.

Not only were the sponsor’s buntings prominently displayed on the fences near the entrance to the Shell Bandstand, Hope Gardens, but there was a sense of good organisation from coordinated parking on the outside to free ital soup on the mound in the natural amphitheatre inside.

It was a concerted effort for a concert-style launch, which attracted a fair-size audience, clips of the band doing interviews in the recording studio, their music videos and on tour in the United States shown on huge screen at the back of the stage before they performed.

Revisiting the journey
During that near one-and-a-half hour performance, the band’s lead singer, Stephen Newland, thanked those present for coming along with the band on an eight-year journey. Judging by the size and enthusiasm of the audience, there are many who have been on the trek. And before they delivered songs from the 19-track album, including Time Is An Illusion, Herb Fields, Victims Of The System, In The Jungle, Special Place and Corners Of My Mind, as well as a cover of Marley’s Midnight Ravers, the video presentation covered points on that journey.

The band’s members are Newland, Charles Lazarus (lead guitar), Colin Young (bass), Jeffrey Moss-Solomon (rhythm guitar/ vocals), Leon Alexander Campbell Jr (drums) and Paul ‘SCUBI’ Smith (keyboards/organs/vocals).

So the music videos of Victims of the System and Hammer were shown, two members describing Rootz Underground as “the expression of the sum of all our expressions” and “the coming together of a group of friends musically”.

A musical movement
Wayne Armond, who produced Movement, said, “When I met Rootz Underground, I thought they were a cool set of youths. I did not take them seriously until I heard their songs. When you hear Rootz’s songs, you can’t help take them seriously.”

And, in examining the significance of Movement as the album’s name (there is no track by that name on the set), one band member called it a “musical movement”, among other things, adding “there are a lot of things in movement”.

In the video clip, Armond had said “from you start trod as a group of minstrels you need followers. And Rootz Underground definitely has that”, one member saying “our live show is our signature”.

And when the music started, it was clear that both statements were correct, the chemistry among the band’s members evident and Newland making many a trademark leap, although as time went on, at points, the energy output seemed a bit stilted.

The Solomonic sound system played rockers before and after the Movement launch concert, Claudette Powell introducing the band.

Rootz firm, Movement springing forward
Micheal Edwards, Monday, May 19, 2008

In an earlier generation, The Hope Zoo Bandshell was the place where well-thinking Jamaicans were exposed to a variety of musical expressions, from jazz to reggae to the orchestral strains of the Jamaica Military band. It had lain dormant for many years, and had fallen into disrepair until telecoms provider Digicel too kup the mantle late last year. Still, save for a few company functions, the Bandshell had not hosted a quality live music presentation.

That is, not until Saturday night last when Rootz Underground celebrated the release of their debut studio set, Movement.

“We buss de seal pon de venue” was lead singer Steven “Stevie G” Newland’s triumphant declaration a little more than midway through a set that was by turns rollicking and subtly layered. Through over an hour of music with scant breaks, the six-man aggregation confirmed their status as the premier reggae-rockers in the business.

Newland, perhaps even unnoticed by the large crowd that blanketed the hillock in front of the Bandshell, has successfully steered past the easy Bob Marley comparisons that lurked like a quicksand bed in the early going. Despite the familiar high-jumping, locks-shaking antics common to both, Newland brings an quicksilver intensity and one daresay, a welcome unpredictability to his stage presence. Just when you think its old hat, that spark goes off in his eyes and he’s found a new way to express the feelings in the band’s potent lyrics.

And his bandmates were right up there with him. Colin Young laid down bass lines heavy enough to flatten steel, particularly on “Herb Field” where the group was augmented by the presence of a first-rate horn section. Charles Lazarus on lead guitar showed that the inspiration he gained from watching – and listening to -Cat Coore was not lost on him. Keyboardist Paul Smith showed good vocal skills (not to mention tremendous fitness) on Slumberland, and joined rhythm guitarist Jeffrey Moss-Solomon and Newland in a three-man ‘jogging line’ as drummer Leon Campbell kept time and more.

Indeed, the big reason why Rootz is worthy of acclaim is that in their hands, reggae once again emerges as a WORLD music, assimilating other styles and sounds, but without compromising the drum-and-bass core. Their shifting tempos and chanted vocal hooks (“The enemy’s a robber Babylonian”; “Please don’t let my well run dry”) restore to the music the revolutionary power that caused it to sweep the globe in the first place.

Part of that international community was represented by Philadelphia-based sound system Solomonic, which kept both new and old jams coming before and after the set
Even before the set, the band members spoke of hte great potential of the venue and of plans for a return visit, alongside other reggae warriors.

This is one Movement we can get with.

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