Sunday, July 10, 2016

What the World Needs Now (Love) From A Most Unlikely Source

It's been a rough week in Lake Woebegone (Minnesota) and across the nation for that matter.  First Baton Rouge, then here in Minnesota only to be followed by Dallas, one might think the human race was going backwards, regressing.  But despite all the negative incidents of late I have hope for humanity and truly believe that the things that unite us, like the love for music, is stronger than hatred and evil.
Case in point, a phenomenal record that came out in 2015 but only recently came to my attention thanks to an old friend.  While my tastes tend to run in the Blues, Soul and Americana genres I try to remain open minded, remembering that old line by Louie Armstrong.  "Pops" use to say "there's only two kinds of music" (good and bad) and "I like all music as long as it's good".  Now when it comes to world music or reggae I would be the first to admit I am no expert.  Sure I love the classic reggae artists (Toots, Cliff, Tosh, Sly and Robbie, et al) and one would have to be dead not to recognize the genius of Bob Marley, but it was not until I was turned on to Rock Steady, the roots of reggae if you will, especially the music coming out of Studio One, that I got hooked.  
So when an old friend of mine suggested I listen to a reggae project by Rusty Zinn, I have to admit at first I was a little incredulous.  I said "you mean Rusty Zinn the blues guitarist?"  It is strange how the human mind operates and our need to categorize and file knowledge.  I know this makes my musician friends see red.  Nobody likes to be reduced to just one thing or if a musician or other artist, be limited by other people's perceptions to just one genre.  That is what makes Rust Zinn's latest cd "The Reggae Soul of Rusty Zinn:  Journey to the soul of Lover's Rock Steady" so fearless, so courageous.  Rusty Zinn was not unfamiliar to me.  An accomplished West Coast blues musician and guitarist, I saw him live many years ago in Minneapolis, I believe at the now defunct Biscuit n' Blues.  He was at that time obviously in the top tier of young blues guitarists on the circuit.  To have put in all that work, paid your dues if you will and then in mid-life completely switch gears and go out on a limb and attempt an art form so pure in my mind is absolutely fearless and courageous.  Even more important and impressive Zinn absolutely nails it.

This record was no fluke as the wonderful liner notes by Roger Steffens aptly document.  It is obvious to anyone who listens to it, "The Reggae Soul of Rusty Zinn" was a labor of love by someone who truly understands the genre and its history.  Not only does Rusty possess a stellar voice but his singing is free of any affectation that would normally ruin a performance in my mind.  The music I love must have authenticity and above all tone.  Zinn gets it.   I am going to be brutally frank here, this is no white boy wannabe trying to ape a life style, but rather the work of a serious musician who has studied an art form and then used his own unique strengths and talents to create a work that stands on its own.  Wow!  Did I really say that? Yes and I mean every word.

This rarely happens with me, but this music is on constant rotation in my car, on my computer and I am not in the least getting tired of it.  Listening to songs like "Rise Up", my personal favorite "Pushing Toward a Dream" and "Gift of Love" you cannot help but to think of Alton Ellis and John Holt and how they could take the familiar yet make it their own.
With a voice so sweet and beautiful, Zinn reminds me of the second coming of Johnny Ace but without the Don Robey baggage.  But if you don't believe me go to his website and read the conversations Rusty has with my old friend and former Island Records curator and Trojan Records label manager, Bob Bell, a guy who knows just a little about Jamaican music.  As Bell is quoted in the liner notes:  "Rusty really knows his music; he can recognize players after a couple of notes.  I'm blown away by how he has really mastered the genre and the 60's aesthetic of rock steady and reggae and written songs around it that will stand with anyone's songs.  And he sings them beautifully."  Praise just doesn't get any better than that.

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