Tuffer Than Stone
The Ethiopians
Roots & Culture Records
June 15, 2014

Track list
  1. Long & Dusty Road
  2. True Rastaman
  3. Reggae Magic
  4. We Can Fix It
  5. Tuffer Than Stone
  6. Rockaway
  7. Ungrateful Johnny
  8. Somewhere Out There
  9. Mystic Man
  10. Throne Of Justice
  11. Knowledge Is Power
  12. Misleaders
  13. Africa Is Our Home
  14. I'm Not Losing You
  15. Play By The Rule
  16. Tribute To A Hero
Rating : from 5 (excellent) to 1 (poor)
Vocals : 5 Backing : 5 Production : 4 Sound quality : 5 Sleeve : 4
The Ethiopians were a vocal group around Leonard Dillon. They started in the 1960s in the Ska era, and Dillon told that it was Peter Tosh who introduced him to the music business in Kingston, Jamaica's capital. Hailing from rural Portland, Dillon would then become an interesting, somewhat underexposed artist in the Jamaican music history. Of rural origin, he carried the tradition of Mento (an earlier Jamaican music form, more rural than Ska and later genres) with him. In fact his first recordings under the name Jack Sparrow were mento-influenced. This rural Mento influence remained even on his Ska and later - Rocksteady and Reggae - songs. While going with the flow with different genres, he made his own distinctive mark with his "country" style, but also with strong, catchy songs. A lively, upbeat feel was somewhat typical of him, though "bluesier" songs were not absent (the slow Ska of "Free Man" being a beautiful example). Interestingly, he also made songs somehow combining traits of Ska and Rocksteady, rendering them original.

That "creative flow through different Jamaican genres" is, I think, what made Dillon interesting as an artist. He first teamed up with his friend Stephen Taylor and, temporarily, Aston Morris. Stephen Taylor was killed in a car accident in 1975. This loss affected Dillon strongly, making him retreat from the music business for a time. In time he became active again.

He made the transition from lively Ska, to groovy Rocksteady, via energetic early Reggae, and then to "dreader" Roots Reggae. This later album - "Tuffer Than Stone" (1999) - proves he adapted well to the Roots Reggae era. While continuing the name Ethiopians on his own, he now worked with female backing vocalists. Again he proves his talent for catchy, memorable songs. The lively, rural feel is also still there. The Rastafari message became even more prominent. His later song tended to be more spiritual, the earlier ones in his career a bit more topical.

This album is representative of the Ethiopians' later work, but without digital, Dancehall-influences. Relatively lively, and a bit Mento-influenced, but still Roots Reggae lyrically and musically. With a "live band" sound. The musicians on "Tuffer Than Stone" are perhaps not the most well-known of the Roots Reggae era, but are capable enough. It is recorded in the well-known Tuff Gong studios, however. There is a strong Nyabinghi influence, with Dillon playing percussion himself.

This album contains several catchy, engaging songs as Dillon - who unfortunately died in 2011 at the age of 68 - has proven to be capable of writing, since the Ska days. A few songs might seem repetitive, but several are quite memorable: melodically and rhythmically. Some seem simple but really have to grow on you: quite an accomplishment. Such is the case with the good, catchy "Play By The Rule", the 'dread' "Mystic Man" and "True Rastaman", the militant "Misleaders", and the nice, mellow "Reggae Magic". The vivid title track, as well as "Throne Of Justice" and "Tribute To A Hero" (the hero being Marcus Garvey) are likewise solid. Songs that remain good for a longer time. Most other songs are a bit less of quality, but still nice enough, with the vibe remaining appealing. The story-telling/philosophical lyrics also maintain interest: "What are you doing to deserve this life you're living on this earth..", he asks wealthy (mis)leaders. "Ungrateful Johnny", "Rockaway", and "Somewhere Out There" are overall nice, but perhaps a bit too simple, while a few others only 'seem' simple, but in fact have some deeper musical and lyrical layers, making them have enduring qualities.

All in all, the musical and lyrical highs - several good songs with nuff catchiness - outweigh the fewer lows on "Tuffer Than Stone", while a lively, and groovy vibe throughout also helps to keep it a pleasant listen.