Words by Jesse Serwer
The Jolly Boys—the legendary, six-decades-and-running, Jamaican mento institution currently enjoying a renaissance thanks to their link-up with Jon Baker’s Geejam Recordings and their cover-gone-viral-video version of Amy Winehouse’s “Rehab”—made their New York debut before an eclectic crowd (Fashionably attired middle-aged white folk, hot Lebanese gals) at Manhattan’s Hiro Ballroom last night. LargeUp was in the house, and even got our own intimate performance from the Boys before the show (more on that soon). Most of the band’s set at Hiro pulled from Great Expectations, the out-in-Europe-already album of smartly curated punk/new-wave/chill rock/rebel music covers (Iggy Pop’s “The Passenger,” New Order’s “Blue Monday,” Steely Dan’s “Do It Again,” Johnny Cash’s “I Fought The Law) they will release stateside in this spring. The tune they opened with, “Emannuel Road,” however, appears on Classic Mento from Port Antonio, a five-song EP the group quietly released on iTunes this week.
Great Expectations is shaping up to be one of the year’s most anticipated Caribbean music releases. Some think it could do for mento what Buena Vista Social Club did for Cuban son more than a decade back. In the meantime, Classic Mento offers a solid primer on the Boys’ “modern mento” sound. There’s no Amy Winehouse covers here, just straightforward Jamaican country tunes—the hilarious “Dog War Inna Matthews Lane” with its barking ad-libs, and the slack “Soldering” are two favorites— with the occasional reggae flourish.