Bongo Red

The Gladiators

Heart Beat Records, 1998

REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen


Quick -- name five reggae artists or bands.

If you're having difficulty completing this list - for that matter, if you drew blanks after naming only Bob Marley & The Wailers -- don't feel too bad. The unfortunate fact is that very few reggae acts have made significant names for themselves in America. It's not that the talent wasn't there -- often, the talent was very good - but that the market window opened up just wide enough for a few bands to squeak through, then closed up after Marley's death in 1981.

This sort of explains why The Gladiators never became superstars -- but it doesn't excuse the fact. my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 Bongo Red, a collection of sessions from Jamaica's legendary Studio One, shows that Albert Griffiths and company had just as much talent as the then-young Wailers. Both bands came up during the ska movement, and you can hear its influence in the work fo both bands during much of the '60s.

But The Gladiators seemed to always keep at least one foot in ska, so the songs on Bongo Red are more lively than one might expect from the genre. With many versions never released before (and others never released on compact disc), Griffiths and crew demonstrate that this band should be in that upper echelon of reggae with the Wailers.

Each of the two versions of the vocal trios that make up The Gladiators (always with Griffiths leading the pack) are strong; in fact, it's difficult to tell the difference between the '60s lineup and the '70s. (For that matter, I would have liked to have seen a more detailed track listing, detailing dates of recording. For someone like myself who is experiencing this band for the first time, such information would be quite valuable.) Tracks like "Happy Man," "Tribulation," "Fling It Gimme" and "Roots Natty" all capture just how enjoyable and spiritually uplifting reggae music can be. Also of interest is the extended version of the title track.

Occasionally, the songs on Bongo Red sound like they've been enhanced from a vinyl source -- you can faintly hear pops and clicks in the background. Normally, this would bother me -- but in this case, I almost think the imperfections in the sound add to the fun. It's almost like you pulled these from a time capsule and are listening to them on your old turntable.

Will Bongo Red raise The Gladiators to superstardom? Probably not. But it should raise people's awareness of this band, particularly those who consider themselves "casual" fans of reggae who want to discover more about the genre. It's a pleasant enough way to spend an hour, and it reminds us that there are more bands than just the superstars who are busy raising reggae to its own musical art form.

Rating: B+

User Rating: Not Yet Rated



© 1999 Christopher Thelen and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Heart Beat Records, and is used for informational purposes only.