Sibling trio New Kingston graduate from Kingston University and hit the premier league with their third album Kingston City, issued on New York’s independent reggae powerhouse Easy Star Records. Hailing from Brooklyn, New York—the same borough that incubated reggae’s veteran sibling quintet Morgan Heritage—brothers Stephen, Courtney Jr. and Tahir Panton (and abetted by father Courtney Sr.) present an album that surveys reggae, its diaspora and its American hybridization with a natural, cohesive ease.
Cultivated in the soil that germinated Island Records’ more vanguard artists like Third World and Steel Pulse, New Kingston is rooted in roots, but brings textures and styles from across the spectrum and the time continuum, colored in the under-heralded hues of reggae music that are unique to New York’s Five Boroughs.
Kingston City has some familiar neighborhoods: “Mystery Babylon” harkens Bob Marley & The Wailers’ Kaya album with splashes of mid-’90s Anthony B, while opener “Today” is an in-the-pocket modern American roots cut. Elsewhere, one could easily hear the voices of Sizzla or Tony Rebel scathing across “Honorable” and “Conquer Dem” during the Rasta Renaissance of the mid-’90s.
The album takes a refreshing turn with “Can’t Stop A Man,” the kind of boogie down push pull rhythm that once fueled the chats of New York transplant Shinehead. The smokey tones of Hawaiian singer Kimié Miner poises the pulsing “You Are Mine” to be the new sound of Lover’s Rock. The dual acoustic guitars on “I Believe In Me” steers the archetypal reggae ballad away from “Redemption Song”/“Untold Stories” and closer to the baroque pop of the 1960s. Amongst this, “Protect Me,” featuring elder statesmen The Wailing Souls and sounding like an outtake from their 1981 Junjo Lawes-produced Fire House Rock album, sounds remarkably fresh. And it is difficult to not feel a bit of melancholy as the voice of the late Sugar Minott spindrifts across the ’90s dancehall pound of “Certain Girls.” Through all of this, the brothers’ vocal fluency unifies the album, with gruff chat and soaring harmonies handled with equal, effortless aplomb. While dancehall-ready snippet of “Yeah man, a New Kingston, yuh know?” that watermarks the opening of nearly half the cuts gets wearing, it hardly negates the fact that Kingston City is an engaging album.
Examiner Picks: “Who Tell Them,” “Can’t Stop A Man,” “Honorable,” “Protect Me [featuring Wailing Souls]”
Suggested for fans of: The Green, Giant Panda Guerrilla Dub Squad, Bullwackies, Conscious Ragga