is the long-awaited third North American release for the Reggae Cowboys.
Four Caribbean ex-pats, based in Toronto, Canada, they are winning countless
fans worldwide with their heart-rollicking reggae-based sound. Layering
influences that include a mix of Caribbean genres, rock & roll and six-string
spaghetti-western drama over reggae’s “one-drop” riddim, Stone Ranger
has come up with a unique sonic twist that points to a spiritual kinship
between the pioneering black cowboys of the wild wild west and the rough
rhythm riders of the equally untamed Jamaican music scene.
guitarist/lead singer/producer Stone Ranger steps front and center with
this set, writing all tracks except the two cover songs – Chuck Berry’s
‘Johnny B. Goode’ and Bob Marley’s ‘Concrete Jungle’. More hard driving
than their previous releases, Stone Ranger employs layered, overdriven
guitars, a big drum sound and their trademark reggae bass lines, while
still maintaining the band’s hook-driven melodies and powerful vocals.
was formed in Toronto in 1993. “We set out to be different,” recalls Stone
Ranger aka Bird Bellony, who was raised in Dominica, Guadeloupe, Martinique
and Paris before coming to Toronto 15 years ago. A fan of Jimi Hendrix,
Santana, The Meters, and The Staple Singers, as well as such seminal Caribbean
music giants as the Mighty Sparrow, Shadow, the Skatalites, Bob Marley,
Ken Lazarus, Pluto Shervington, and Jimmy Cliff, he was also intrigued
by the African-American cowboys of America's pioneer days. He launched
an intensive study, and "everything fell into place," he recalls. “I thought
the sound should be different from everyone else. If we're called Reggae
Cowboys, we should sound like cowboys, which means that ours is a guitar-based
band, with every other element working from the guitars. I think of our
sound as a unique juxtaposition.”
first composition for the group, “Searching for the Outlaw,” set the template
for the signature Reggae Cowboy style with the slide guitar at the center,
as opposed to classic reggae's focus on heavy-duty bass lines. The song
appeared in the Cowboys' first album, Tell the Truth, released independently
in 1995 in Canada and in the U.S., in 1996, through Pure/Mercury Records.
for listeners, their début earned the band its loyal North American following.
Immediately embraced by Triple A and college radio, it brought this stellar
review from Timothy White, Editor-in-chief of Billboard Magazine and author
of “Catch a Fire” the quintessential biography of Bob Marley:
some fever-in-the bunkhouse fun this year from this dreadlocked posse
of high plains drifters, whose beautifully crafted blend of riddims makes
for a memorable shootout at the conscious dancehall corral. Combining
authentic sagas of black cowboy culture with full-bandolier roots ammunition,
Reggae Cowboys have made a proud, hip authoritative record loaded with
plenty of crossover firepower. There are no bum steers on this all-original
set, although the likely single ‘Cowboy Riddim’ is – ahem – a killer,
with ‘Tell the Truth’ and ‘Searchin’ for De Outlaw’ both worthy followups.
stagnant reggae scene needs a ruff ‘n tuff live act like Reggae Cowboys
to revitalize things in ’97, and as this fine album catches on in the
U.S. and U.K., look for the band to revive a storied subgenre, sparking
heritage-minded resurrections of the wild west reggae of the late ‘60’s
and early ‘70’s.”
the group's Tumbleweed label released Rock Steady Rodeo independently
in Canada and via Rykodisc in the U.S. The CD booklet features an action
photo of Jesse Stahl, another pioneering black cowboy and rodeo champ.
"Geronimo," a hit track from that sophomore set, tells the story of the
fabled Indian chief's heroic struggle for his land. “If we're going to
talk about black cowboys, we have to talk about the first people on the
land,” Stone Ranger notes. Rock Steady Rodeo showcases the band’s seamless
integration of reggae and country-western music and garnered this review
and natural, the Cowboys’ fusion of western themes and reggae riddims
actually rediscovers a musical synthesis found in reggae's early years,
when the island was tuning into American country and western music, along
with seminal R&B...
Steady Rodeo,’ the reggae one-drop beat - laid out by rhythmic slashes
of keyboards and rhythm guitar and syncopated baselines makes for an easyrocking
foundation for the band's greatest asset, Stone Ranger’s tasteful sixstring
architecture. Soaring without showboating, his fluid guitar passages are
studded with evocative signatures from the soundtrack to American cowboy
culture, real and imagined, past and present."
response from audiences has been great,” says Stone of their live performances.
"People always say they've never heard anything like it. They really get
off, especially when they see the band live. We are a reggae band, but
I consider us more of a band with a reggae foundation and everything on
top - blues, rock, a little country, and there has to be some calypso
roots in there. People in America usually say, 'I don't like reggae; I'm
not used to it, but I love you guys.' So there must be something in there
for them. We're winning the battle, though we still have a few years to
fight this war. I think we'll win."
the Cowboy's tactics has been to share stage bills with reggae hit-makers
like Maxi Priest, Third World, Bunny Wailer, Toots & the Maytalls, as
well as the Marleys, Erykah Baduh, and Lauryn Hill at the annual Marley
Family Fest in Miami, FL. The Cowboys have also often found themselves
in the unique position as the sole reggae band performing at large music
festivals, playing alongside the likes of Wide Spread Panic, Patti Labelle,
Los Lobos, The Doobie Brothers, Gladys Knight, and the Temptations, among
Blues Traveler and other rock groups who barnstormed the way to a major
label contract and big time success, the Cowboys are building their fan
base “from live playing, a lot of live playing,” says Stone. “We’re on
the road at least 8 months a year, touring North America and Europe.”
the way the U.K.'s Steel Pulse once lent a new urban excitement to “roots”
style reggae, this latest set from the Reggae Cowboys injects fresh energy
into the form and brings more ears to the party. Their blend of musical
influences, highlighted by distinctively loping accents from the wide-open
Great Plains of yesteryear, brings to reggae a welcome breath of revival.