Rocksteady: The Roots of Reggae is the soundtrack to the film that chronicles what happened when several reggae legends reunited and remade some of the genre’s classic songs. Like the film, the album ultimately makes its bones off the history of the event rather than the remakes themselves, but that’s OK. These songs show that these musicians still have fire and passion for the music and their faith, and they are clearly energized by the experience.
Of the remakes, Ken Boothe’s “Shanty Town,” U-Roy’s “Stop That Train” and Leory Sibbles’ “People Rocksteady” stand out. Overseen by producer and legend Ernest Ranglin (and mixed by Errol Brown), all the songs produced, at Tuff Gong Studios, have a joyful vibe, even if some ring flat. Still, any session that includes Derrick Morgan, Hopeton Lewis and Marcia Griffith is fine with me — even if, of those three, only Morgan, on “Tougher Than Tough,” takes any real vocal chances.
Safe can be comforting at times, and Rocksteady sure is that. The old-school style has never grown stale — its rhythms still smart and hypnotic and the basis for so much Caribbean (and alterative Western) music that has followed. Those looking to experience rocksteady for the first time may want to look elsewhere, but for the initiated, this will put you in a mellow state.