Poet and social critic (as the name Poet and the Roots suggests) Linton Kwesi Johnson — born in Jamaica, raised in London — helped bridge the gap between reggae and punk, infusing the music with powerful political content and an urge for freedom rooted in his experience as a black man living in Brixton.
Dread Beat an’ Blood was a call to arms, a dark commemoration of police harassment and social repression of blacks told in a forceful but strangely spiteless manner. Speaking his poems over absolutely flawless throbbing reggae, Johnson uses the patois of the streets to speak to his audience, calling for brotherhood and vigilance. The clean, supple, vibrant music and incisive, pointed words make it a powerful and memorable political statement. Highly recommended. (The 1990 reissue — no vinyl — contains two extra tracks.)
Forces of Victory continues Johnson’s call to action. Again supported by feverish reggae, Johnson’s voice gains greater range and expressiveness while his poetry speaks of dire truths, and sounds increasingly complex, compact and expert. Muscular, dramatic stuff.
Bass Culture expands Johnson’s style, including more humor and even a shy, touching love song. The music is sparer and more coherent, and Dennis Bovell’s co-production slickens the sound just enough to remove its rough edges. Johnson is no less determined on his political numbers, but it’s nice to know there are other things on his mind as well.
LKJ in Dub is a tribute to Bovell’s engineering talents; while it has little to do with the Linton Kwesi Johnson canon, it’s an interesting and successful example of dub technique.
During a four-year sabbatical, Johnson worked as a journalist. He then reunited with Bovell for Making History, a “comeback” album as vital as any they had made together.
The two-disc In Concert documents Johnson’s strength and onstage presence. Though hardly perfunctory (the performances are all first-rate), it’s still a greatest-hits-live package, and shouldn’t deter listeners from acquiring any or all of the studio LPs. Reggae Greats is a compilation.
Seven years after Making History, Johnson repeated the feat with the all-new Tings an’ Times, an upbeat but stringently critical album that is at once traditional and modern. Backed by Bovell and a collection of ace players (including a violinist!), LKJ considers “Di Good Life” as well as “Di Anfinish Revalueshan,” attempting to make — as he discusses in the first track — “Sense outa Nansense.”