The US reggae scene is as rich with talent as it has ever been and the world is starting to take notice. Just consider the fact that US reggae acts have taken the iTunes Reggae Album of the Year award six of the past seven years. Now lets take a look at the ten best reggae albums recorded by US reggae artists.
Number One: Midnite – ‘Jubilees of Zion’ (Afrikan Roots Lab) 2000. ‘Jubilees of Zion’ is the essence of Midnite filtered through the mind of Ron Benjamin, founder and brother to lead singer Vaughn Benjamin. Produced at Midnite’s Afrikan Roots Lab in St. Croix, it is Midnite‘s third album and the first on which they had total creative control. It is on this album that Midnite finally realizes the fullness of their talent.
Number Two: Groundation – ‘Hebron Gate’ (Young Tree) 2002. Harrison Stafford, lead singer of Groundation, is without a doubt the most respected US-born reggae artist among legendary Jamaican reggae musicians and artists. The 2002 album, featuring Don Carlos and Cedric Myton, tells the story of a Dragon War coming upon the nations. The story unfolds over a twenty-four hour period with the sun rising in the beginning, setting in the middle, and finally rising again at the end.
Number Three: Midnite – ‘Unpolished’ (Rastafaria) 1997. Midnite‘s debut LP left many fans and reggae industry insiders mystified upon its release in 1997. Their enigmatic lead singer possessed the earnestness of Mykal Rose, the edginess of Junior Reid, and a vocal style all his own. While the band’s music evoked the signature rhythm structure of Jamaican reggae, lead singer Vaughn Benjamin‘s signature “chant and call” vocal stylings were something right out of tribal Africa.
Number Five: Zion Initiation – ‘Showcase’ (Armagedon). Hailing from the Boston, MA area, Zion Initiation recorded only two albums. Zion Initiation ‘Showcase’ was recorded at Boston’s Downtown Recording Studio and mixed at Harry J‘s by Sylvan Morris and Mikey Dread. It was released in the late 1970s and contains only three tracks plus versions. A rock-solid showcase featuring shadowy vocals, rootikal horns, and relentless percussion against a hazy late-seventies era psychedelic rastafunk soundscape, it is the only LP ever pressed to the private Armagedon label. Perhaps the first ever US reggae recording featuring lo-fi dub versions with multi-layered vocal arrangements and instrumentals distorted by well-placed effects giving the album a unique atmospheric sound.
Number Six: John Brown’s Body – ‘This Day’ (Shanachie) 2000. I could have easily listed their debut album (‘Among Them’) here, however, that album doesn’t kick off with “Isle of Springs” – the funky, heavy skanking tune featuring a searing Kevin Kinsella vocal and deadly horns arrangement. It is a tune (and album) that epitomizes the energy and relentlessness of this multi-talented band, one of America’s finest.
Number Seven: SOJA – ‘SOJA EP’ (2000). Arlington, Virginia’s SOJA fashioned their name after an Israel Vibration tune (“Soldiers of Jah Army”) recorded and produced just over the Potomac River in Washington, DC’s Lion and Fox Studios. This group of young, white suburbanites were as reverent as they were rehearsed. A truly remarkable showcase album and one of the finest reggae productions ever laid to tape in the US.
Number Eight: Easy Star All-Stars – ‘Dub Side of the Moon’ (Easy Star Records) 2004. Upon its release, many in the industry considered a reggae version of Pink Floyd‘s masterpiece as too gimmicky. However, Easy Star didn’t just cover these timeless tunes inna reggae style, they re-imagined each track and produced an album that works on many different levels. ‘Dub Side of the Moon’ has remained on the Billboard Reggae Charts since its release in 2003.
Number Nine: Sublime – ‘Sublime’ (MCA) 1996. This boozing and drugging post-punk outfit from Long Beach, CA had a lead man in Bradley Nowell who was deeply influenced by the sounds coming from Jamaica during the late-1970s. The loosely played ska, rocksteady, and reggae on 1992’s ’40 oz. to Freedom’ would eventually give way to the most influential US reggae rock album ever produced, and the precursor to today’s “Cali-Roots” sound, 1996’s ‘Sublime.’
Number Ten: Rebelution – ‘Courage To Grow’ (Independent) 2007. Santa Barbara’s Rebelution burst onto the scene in 2007 with this album. With its hazy California surf/rock/reggae sound, ‘Courage To Grow’ struck a chord with the youth and became the most downloaded reggae album from Itunes in 2007. The album, produced by Jim Fox at Lion and Fox Studios, Washington, DC, peaked at #4 on the Billboard Top Reggae Albums chart. Rebelution significantly influenced the sound of “Cali-Roots.”