Featuring legendary tracks by some of the godfathers of reggae music playing their heavy-hitter tunes, it's required listening/viewing for any young lion, just entering the scene. An album of that level is dangerous to touch, when coming at it from an interpretive standpoint. People will judge each track alongside the originals, and that's often a losing proposition for any musician. That said, Andy Bassford's mostly-instrumental version of the album exists without fanning any flames of discontent, in terms of the original soundtrack release.
Bassford (a long-time session guitarist in the reggae field) has managed to massage these tunes in a manner that re-imagines without stepping on any toes. Bringing in band members from the likes of Steel Pulse, Sly & Robbie's Compass Point All-Stars, and Lee Perry's session musicians, Bassford would've had to work pretty hard to slip here. Bring in the power house recording/ mixing team of Gordon Williams (Lauryn Hill / Santana) and Lio Ortiz (Shaggy and Keith Richards), and it's a lock.
Bassford comes with credentials. Having worked as a session guitarist with the Roots Radics at Jamaica's own Channel One, having spent eight years working with Dennis Brown and over two decades with Toots and the Maytals, and after performing with a list of artists from various genres, Bassford has little to prove, in his market.
The legend of the original soundtrack is proof of the quality of the songs being twisted and turned in this release, but there are some standouts. "Stop That Train" highlights one of the few vocal teases before locking into the musicianship that steers this release, "Rivers of Babylon" carries an expectedly quiet, requisite reverence over the sharp strums of the tune before shifting into Louisiana-style horn play that will send feet to dancing, and "Sweet and Dandy" is a perfect party track, complete with the track's lyrical inclusion.
"Johnny Too Bad" is a favorite tune of mine, so I was scared to hear what twists and turns might have been placed upon it. Bassford rides a six string bass through the song, and it's a beautiful transport. The playing makes the listener focus on the melody, while spoken snippets from the original movie are woven throughout the track. For anyone familiar with the movie, it creates a cohesive song that nods to the past, while being open to change.
Not many people have the background required for Reggae culture to allow them to interpret such a soundtrack as The Harder They Come. Andy Bassford comes with all of the credentials he needs, and his time at the core of reggae acts as the polish for this work he has put together. Through deep instrumental layers, The Harder They Strum lives as a warm "thank you" to the wisdom of the genre's forefathers and as a great introduction to the history of Reggae music.
- Jeremy Sanchez