REVIEW: J-Roots Soundshack Specials (Forward Ever) Dubs & Instrumentals

By Gerry McMahon

Compliments to J-Roots on his return to the Irish roots reggae scene, with an accomplished 13 track album entitled ‘Forward Ever’. Over more than three decades in the music business, this talented multi-instrumentalist has an impressive track record in writing, producing and recording from his ‘Humble Soundshack’ – including time served in Laurel Aitken’s backing band. On this delightful compilation, he adds a delectable-sounding horns section to guest vocal inputs for maximum impact. J-Roots has released 3 records to date, ‘Soapbox Fury’ (2012), ‘Universal Hoodwink’ (2016) and now ‘Forward Ever’, which he aptly and accurately describes as ‘an instrumental dub mash-up of his favourites from his previous two albums’.

This release opens with a nice lazy rootsy summer sunshine feel type track, entitled ‘Roots Connection’,where a subtle, sweet and seductive sax takes centre stage, with Lariman’s vocals intermittently interjecting. This is followed by another accomplished smooth sounding sax-drenched ‘Ode to the Spear’ – a track appropriately devoted to the recently rejuvenated reggae icon and roots reggae maestro Burning Spear. Next up, Players/Slayers offers a delightful melodic sound, with a captivating male: female love-laced vocal interplay from Kitty B. and High Def. The ‘Horns Version’ then sticks with the album’s breezy roots’ feel, as the full range of instruments – set to persistent percussion – sit easily with images of a lazy lumbering summer stretch.

Thereafter ‘Universal Hoodwink’ kicks in with an array of sweet sound effects keeping the rootsy vibe going, before the album’s title track ‘Forward Ever’ lends a nice bouncy feel to proceedings, allowing the synthesiser/organ to take centre stage. ‘A Dub for Scratch’ would have been well received by the wizard himself, as its steady beat and varied effects – including lazy horns and subtle vocal inputs – make for an accomplished track. Next up comes ‘Favourite Things’, where a sizzling and sometimes spiralling sax does full justice to the popular ‘My Favorite Things’ rhythm (from Hammerstein and Rodgers) as popularised by Julie Andrews in the ‘Sound of Music’. The sound returns to the roots reggae stable on ‘A Man Named Mittoo’, as the guitars lend a wonderful staccato feel to a steady rhythm, well capable of keeping the dancers on the floor and the late Jackie himself bopping above in heaven. As you’d expect, the tempo then accelerates on the ‘Night Train to Rootsville’, allowing the soothing vocal effects and tasty trombone inputs on ‘Sound Pressure’ to shine through to maximum effect thereafter. Likewise, the ‘Return To Zero’ track offers the listener a nice long lazy rootsy seductive sound effect, where the percussion and (rarely deployed) flute come to the fore. 

Sadly, this classy compilation has to end, and so it does with ‘Creation Road’, taking the listener on a mystical magical musical journey, that may aptly summarise J-Roots’ own reggae odyssey. All round, this is an ideal sound accompaniment for what promises to be a post-Covid sweet, sizzling and reggae-filled summer. Nice work J-Roots. Keep them coming!