Review: Little Roy, Battle For Seattle

This album came as a surprise to me and has taken quite a while to get hold of; even the mighty Amazon couldn’t get it to me within three weeks and no music shops I went to had even heard of it, let alone stocked a single copy. But now I have my grubby mitts on it it’s been pretty much all I’ve listened to for the last week.

Little Roy is one of the original reggae artists and released his first hit single, ‘Bongo Nyah’, in 1969 and has worked with many of the big names in reggae including The Wailers (Bob Marley’s backing band), Lee “Scratch” Perry, and Prince Buster, amongst others.

This album, produced by Prince Fatty and the Mutant Hi-Fi, is a compilation of songs originally recorded by the hugely influential grunge band Nirvana. It includes ten tracks mostly from the breakthrough album ‘Nevermind’, but also a good scattering from the other albums in Nirvana’s canon. I’m sure that this may split opinions right down the middle with both reggae and Nirvana fans, but I’m sure there will be more people who are open to the idea of the album than against it. The track listing is as follows:

  1. Dive
  2. Heart-Shaped Box
  3. Very Ape
  4. Come As You Are
  5. Sliver
  6. Polly
  7. On A Plain
  8. About A Girl
  9. Son Of A Gun
  10. Lithium

The album was approved by the original Nirvana camp as well as friends of the band, including Russell Warby, their original agent, who released it on his label, Ark Records. The photo on the album cover was even taken by the same photographer (Charles Peterson) who took the front image of ‘Bleach’, Nirvana’s first album. So it’s hardly an unofficial cash-in from an artist who really doesn’t need to expand his fan base into other genres of music.

Little Roy admitted on the album’s website that it was a struggle getting to grips with the songs:”When I listened to the lyrics as he sung them, I found it hard to pick up on what he was saying. The lyrics came too quickly for my ears and were buried in the music. It sounded to me like he was crying out. You have to listen deep to get it. The melody was always there, though, so I knew this was a chance for me to bring them up so people could really hear what Kurt was saying. People could enjoy the words of these great songs through me singing them in my reggae style – reggae fans like me who didn’t know about Nirvana would love the songs, and Nirvana fans could enjoy the music all over again”.

He certainly achieves this in spades. There are certain lyrics that I couldn’t make out on Nirvana’s own recordings but are clear on Little Roy’s. Another thing that makes this album brilliant is the fact that, like Johnny Cash’s ‘American Recordings’ albums, he has taken songs that are well-known and deeply personal to Kurt Cobain and Nirvana fans and made them his very own without changing the structure of them. Even so, songs like ‘Dive’ are virtually unrecognisable whereas ‘Come As You Are’ is true to the original.

I really enjoyed this album and I urge you to have a listen to ‘Lithium’ below and to the other songs from the album and let me know what you think of it.

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