Messenger Man
Willie Williams
Blood & Fire
August 28, 2005

Track list
  1. Messenger Man
  2. Slave
  3. Give Jah Praise
  4. Dungeon
  5. Zion Town
  6. I Man
  7. No Hiding Place
  8. Valley Of Jehosephat (Extended Version)
  9. Rocking Universally (Armagideon Style)
  10. Messenger Man Version
  11. Slave Dub
  12. Give Jah Praise Version
  13. Dungeon Dub
  14. Zion Town Dub
  15. I Man Version
  16. No Hiding Place Version
  17. Universal Dub
Rating : from 5 (excellent) to 1 (poor)
Vocals : 5 Backing : 5 Production : 5 Sound quality : 5 Sleeve : 2
"There was a psychiatrist, a doctor in Jamaica who used this "Messenger Man" album in music therapy. The music speaks for itself... I didn't know it would reach that far!" (Willie Williams in conversation with Carter Van Pelt 2005)

The problem with a lot of current European and JA based reggae in 2005 is that much of it is so very derivative and unoriginal -- The once unique and innovative rhythm concepts of "one drop" and "steppers" have been turned into dull, heavy handed clichés.

So in contrast then -- with this subtle Willie Williams album, it is a pleasure to hear reggae music from a time when it was still a deeply inspired and startlingly original form. Blood and Fire have released an insightful work here, with beautiful song structures. The drum and bass lines are hard -- but without that intrusive, banal digital computer created hammering that characterises a lot of current reggae -- the lyrics are personal and insightful too, penned long before the themes had become ubiquitous and token stereotypes. Willie Williams confirms (regarding lyrical composition) to Carter Van Pelt "most of these tracks, I had personal experience with."

Willie Williams has a reflective, gentle vocal style, which owes as much to soul and jazz styles as to roots -- He tells Carter Van Pelt in the sleeve notes, "at that time I used to check for foreign artists like Stevie Wonder and James Brown" -- and it shows. He sounds like Bill Withers and Gil Scott Heron at times. There is even a hint of Portuguese Fado vocal styles at points, notably on the excellent mantra like "Zion On My Mind" which also brings to mind mid 60's Latin American vocalists like Celia Cruz, backed up by a thunderous hooligan bass. The dub lifts the top off your skull with a carpet bomb bass approach.

The alternative vocal cut of "Armagideon Time" is also noteworthy, here entitled "Rocking Universally". The vibe is very Studio One (as are a couple of the other tunes, such as "Slave") though none of the engineering/production here is from the hands of Coxsonne. All was done at Channel One, Joe Gibbs and the little known Toronto studio, Summer Sound. Other tunes on the album are reminiscent of the rhythms from the Kool Roots album. At times the vibe is reminiscent of some of the cuts from the Coxsonne /The Ethiopian solo album, "Everything Crash." (Think similarities to "I am a Slave in a Babylon/ AKA "I Nah Work For No Wicked Man")

The title track "Messenger Man" has some anachronistic, slightly heavy handed lead guitar work -- and the dub version to "Armagideon Time" (here entitled "Universal Dub") seems to be, arguably, a fairly gimmicky exercise, and not everyone is going to like the Studio One style syn drums throughout "Valley Of Jehosephat" -- but besides that -- This is a really fine album.

The last two or three Blood and Fire albums have certainly been good -- but arguably not excellent when seen through the prism of their overall place in reggae history -- in contrast however, this album is excellent, and certainly has its own sense of confidence and assurance, knows where it stands in reggae history.

"My outlook at the time was from that rootical angle. Looking at the world, I thought that we could find a solution. I wanted to play my part." ( Willie Williams speaks to Carter Van Pelt 2005 )