With the holidays over and the two coldest months of the year ahead, now is the time when winter in New York City and much of the country quickly loses its romantic appeal and instead becomes, to be polite, a real drag. Sorry to remind you, but remember, the weather doesn’t really get consistently nice around here again until around the time we have to get our taxes in.
So, to “tropicalize” the atmosphere of events that you may have planned in the next two or three months of our annual struggle through blizzards, slush, and 37-degree rain, here’s two songs that are sunny, cozy, and fun. Both are Jamaican rhythm and blues tunes. If that genre sounds unfamiliar, don’t be surprised. It’s a rather small and obscure style, but fortunately some of its best songs recently have been made much more accessible for those of you who don’t have the time or interest to spend digging in record crates for hours a day by the release of the excellent compilation Trojan Jamaican R & B Box Set. Both songs here are available on the box set, as well as a few other less comprehensive compilations.
Jamaican R & B, born in the late ‘50s, is both like everything and nothing you’ve heard before. It combines shuffling jazz beats, the upbeat horns of what would soon become ska, festive Trinidadian-accented vocals of calypso, and a bit of the sultriness and gritty attitude of rhythm and blues and early rock ‘n’ roll. Most people are familiar with each of these styles, but put together in the right amounts, they create a sound that feels new and fresh and most of all, cozy and friendly.
Both these mid-tempo songs here have pleasantly catchy melodies that will get your snow-stained shoes tapping at any sort of event. “Continental Shuffle,” by Rico and the Matador All-Stars, a brief but swingin’ instrumental with masterfully mellow, pre-ska “skank” of a horn riff, immediately seems to brightens the mood of any room when we play it. The same reaction happens when we spin “Nobody Else,” by Owen Gray and the Jets. With its sturdy piano, its warm, fuzzy saxophones and its sweet calypso-inflected vocals, the song sounds like what Ray Charles might have recorded if he got his start in Kingston.
Have a listen to both; I think you’ll agree they’ll make things feel a little less “January-ish.”
Matador All-Stars – Continental Shuffle
Owen Gray & the Jets – Nobody Else