Live in Paris with the Dennis Bovell Dub Band – Linton Kwesi Johnson
Linton Kwesi Johnson’s jagged Jamaican accent is abrupt at first, his pronunciation phonetically intrusive, and his subject matter often dark and desperate, painting vivid portraits of social injustices and praising unknown heroes. Johnson’s status as a reggae legend has been cemented by a body of work spanning four decades, through immense education and activism, and filled with acclaimed poetry, inquisitive journalism and mesmerizing reggae.
Live in Paris with the Dennis Boevell Dub Band illustrates the qualities of the vibrant verse and forceful delivery that have paved the way for Johnson since his first album, Dread Beat An’ Blood, in 1978. Recorded in April 2003 before a sold out audience at the Zenith in Paris, France, Johnson employs long time collaborators the Dennis Bovell Dub Band, who bring his fiery songs to life. And from the first burst of tom toms, the perfect pairing of Johnson and band is evident, with his politically charged lyrics balanced by the upbeat dub swing that permeates the album. Tonally, Johnson’s voice slides just above the bouncing beats, seemingly off-key at times, dangling with exotic Dylan-esque charm. At times his gruff dialect is overwhelming, yet storied explanations by Johnson offer insight into the subject matter, creating an air of authenticity that has surrounded his life’s work.
Johnson’s talent as a consummate poet is ever-apparent in his word play and inflection, those defining decorations of most songs on Live in Paris. He is capable of stepping outside of himself and into the minds of those oppressed or up against oppressors through verse sprinkled across vibrant reggae workouts. His presentation is that of a weathered wordsmith, and although the tone and timbre of his music isn’t befitting of repetitive play, it is clearly a worthy introduction to a very literate writer whose work has broken through international barriers.