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Dangerously Roots Review

Marlon Burrell

Marlon Burrell

Over-saturation and over-exposure are words that are often associated with and used in connection with reggae artists who are breaking into the industry. Duane Stephenson has managed to strategically elude that common blunder and space his recordings so that they can properly resonate with the public. In 2007 he burst on the scene with his debut set, the powerful and beautiful “From August Town.”  In 2010 he showed that it was no fluke and that he was no flash in the pan by following up with the equally impressive “Black Gold.” Timing really is everything in the music industry and with his latest release “Dangerously Roots,” he has firmly established himself as a modern day roots stalwart. Having manager/producer/band leader (those are just a few of the hats he wears in the business) in person of Dean Fraser in his corner has certainly helped his cause a great deal. Stephenson himself has shown artistic growth on this album and served as an executive producer. He works with several different producers on this project. They each brought something different to the table and yet, a seamless album feel was maintained throughout. The production standard is high and how could it not be with names like Donovan Germain, Christopher Birch, Clive Hunt, Phillip “Winta” James, and the afore mentioned Dean Fraser at the helm.

DuaneStephenson:DangerouslyRoots - Artwork

The music is impressive right from the start with the first single from the album, the Germain produced “Rasta For-I.” Here Stephenson boldly proclaims his faith backed by a booming rhythm and sweet harmonies along with some flawless saxophone phrasings. The next track is also worthy of being a single as he sings of “Good Good Love” with an easy rocking rhythm featuring a booming bass line played by Flabba Holt of the Roots Radics band fame. He then comes back with the “reality” tune “Nah Play” as he condemns the violent ways of some of today’s youth with some of the sweetest melodies you’ll ever hear. This song also features a stirring saxophone solo by the maestro himself, Dean Fraser and ends on a high note with an all too brief dub wise mix. The highlight of this set for me is the cover of Bunny Wailer’s “Cool Runnings.” For someone who has asserted himself as a songwriter of the first order, Duane certainly pulls no punches when covering a song and he just nails this one. As you listen, you might have to remind yourself that you are not listening to Bunny Wailer as producer Fraser ensures that they remain true to the original. This not so much of a cover of the song but an update. Stephenson when teamed with Mr. Fraser in the producer’s seat has shown a special knack for skillfully updating songs. On his debut album he flat out destroys (I mean this endearingly) Tyrone Taylor’s “Cottage In Negril.” On his next album, he does the same with “Members Only” and Dennis Brown’s “Stay At Home,” the latter in tandem with Queen Ifrica.

Duane Stephenson

Duane Stephenson

There is a good dose of message music to be heard here. On both “London Bridge” and “Sorry Babylon” he denounces the system and has some strong words for the oppressors. There is some solid contrast here as his hardcore message is at odds with his smooth vocals. I don’t believe that anyone has ever chanted down Babylon so sweetly but make no mistake about it; this is straight roots and is very effective. This must be why his brand of roots is considered dangerous as displayed in the album title. Stephenson teams up with Tarrus Riley on “Ghetto Religion” for a double dose of smoothness as both artists sing out their souls on this reggae interpretation of the song originally done by the tandem of Wycliffe Jean and R. Kelly. Together they are just flawless. You hardly know where one ends and the other begins. There are two more collaborative efforts on this album and the choice of artists brings further balance. “Julene” features I-Octane while Lutan Fyah makes an appearance on “House Of Lies” and both bring exactly what you would expect to their respective tracks. “House Of Lies” in particular has a bouncy arrangement and a catchy hook coupled with sweet harmonizing effectively contrasted by Lutan Fyah’s chants.


If you are familiar with Duane Stephenson’s work, you will not be disappointed. If you like roots reggae and are not familiar with his work, you are missing out big time. Stephenson’s songwriting skills are first rate and there is a great balance of spiritual, social, and love songs. Every song is expertly produced with top of the line musicians at work. Live instruments are present through and through with excellent mixes. This is a lesson in how to make roots music and I hope that others are paying attention and taking notes. It is demonstrated here that good roots music doesn’t have to be bare. You have drum and bass at the root with various other instruments, good melodies, and vocal harmonies to sweeten it. The mastering and sound quality is also as good as it gets. Enjoy modern roots at its best.

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