REVIEW: MI LIVITY - THE ITALS KEITH PORTER (Ital Music)
Keith Porter has been the heart and soul of The Itals for over twenty years and on this long-awaited release the lead singer of the acclaimed Jamaican vocal group steps forward with a groundbreaking modern sound that is firmly rooted in the tradition of rasta roots reggae. The 16 tracks on the Porter-produced CD are a combination of tracks recorded recently in Jamaica and previously unreleased material culled from old Itals masters that had to be "baked". Lloyd Campbell produced three tracks and these songs bring Porter full-circle as Campbell was the producer of the very first Itals recording, the landmark single "Ina Dis Ya Time", recently selected by Keith Richards for inclusion on the "Rolling Stones Artist Choice" CD.
Early Itals members Ronnie Davis, Lloyd Ricketts and David Isaacs as well as newer members Chellum Roxburgh (who also plays guitar and bass) and Keith's daughter Kada all contribute harmonies. The stellar line-up of musicians includes members of the Roots Radics (Style Scott, Flabba Holt, Dwight Pickney and the Late Bingy Bunny) percussionists Skully Simms, Bongo Herman and The Niyabinghi Elders, horns-men Bobby Ellis, Tony Greene and Barry Baily, keyboardists Earl Fitzsimmons, Garfield Gabby, Steve Culture and Patrick Murray and programming from Mafia and Fluxy and Marquis Birch.
There is plenty here for fans of the classic Itals sound. Tracks like "Sing Song Children", "Don't Fight The Feeling", "Live You Live" and "Mighty Ruler" are true to the roots tradition. The clever lovers' rock tune "Lip Service" is reminiscent of early Gregory Isaacs with sweet, sweet horns and soulful vocals. The spiritually-inspired singing on the full-band nyabinghi chant "Holy Holy" made the hair stand up on the back of my neck! My favorite tracks are the title track, "Battlefield", "Omnipotent" and the Campbell-produced "The Half". On these songs, Porter explores the same musical territory as modern roots hero Luciano, bridging the gap between old and new with breath-taking, soaring vocals over up-to-the-minute (but still evergreen) riddims. Porter also stakes out some new musical territory as he "sing-jays" on the tunes "Humanity" and the irresistibly danceable "Te Ta Toe". The most impressive and most surprising song on the CD is "Fragile Love" a soul-reggae tour-de-force with a gravelly baritone vocal from Porter that is clear evidence of what could have been had he been born in Memphis or Detroit instead of the Jamaican country-side. Beres Hammond fans take note! The other two tracks produced by Lloyd Campbell "The Way You Are" and "The Song" have a digi-rocksteady feel to the riddims that brings out a whole different side of Porter's voice, betraying his early years spent singing for tourists on the Jamaican hotel circuit in the '70s.
Like the "Ital" food that the group got it's name from, "Mi Livity" is pure and natural musical, lyrical and spiritual food for the soul. While the Itals have released CDs on several different labels, (including the grammy-nominated "Rasta Philosphy" on the Nighthawk label) this latest release is the first on the Ital Music label.