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Little Roy – Battle For Seattle

Little Roy, Battle for Seattle

Review by Jack Foley

IndieLondon Rating: 2 out of 5

NIRVANA’S back catalogue has long been covered by numerous artists and given interesting interpretations. One of the most striking I can remember, for instance, was Frank Sinatra’s songwriter Paul Anka giving a rock swing makeover to Smells Like Teen Spirit.

Now it’s the turn of reggae sensation Little Roy – aka Earl Lowe – to revisit those songs in a style that embraces reggae, dub and dancehall.

Little Roy is best known for becoming the first artist to top the Jamaican chart with an overtly Rasta tune – Bongo Nyah – in 1969 and he has confessed to never hearing the songs of Kurt Cobain and company prior to embarking upon this ambitious recording project.

But once discovered, he was instantly smitten and so set about reinterpreting them in his own distinct style with a little help from Ruff Cutt band’s Bubblers, The Wailers’ Junior Marvin, Fatty mainstay Horseman and Leroy ‘Mafia’ Heywood.

The result extracts the more upbeat melodic structure of Nirvana’s songs without compromising the lyrical darkness. But it makes for a curious mix that doesn’t always feel like a match made in heaven.

Lesser known Nirvana standards such as Very Ape, in particular, feel more like a classic ‘70s reggae standard that casual Nirvana admirers may struggle to even realise belonged initially to Cobain.

While the upbeat rhythm structure of Heart Shaped Box somehow diminishes the atmospheric grunge-y elements that Nirvana brought to the song to make it their own, even though the familiar style of the chorus brings a welcome sense of recall to those original, decade-old recordings.

Hence, Battle For Seattle is a very acquired taste that may upset more Nirvana fans than it impresses, and which may actually play best to Little Roy fans and those who’ve perhaps never heard of Nirvana and like their songs sun-soaked in rasta/reggae elements.

The Hammond organ intro to Come As You Are provides another case in point where the grunge guitars are sorely missed, while Polly, with its female backing singers, also feels a million miles removed from the sadness inherent in Cobain’s lyrics.

There are some moments worth checking out, though, such as the slightly more meaty dub version of On A Plain, the effective Lithium (in which Roy replaces the word ‘horny’ with ‘happy’, perhaps unwisely) and the laidback About A Girl, which drops in some nice Jamaican horn.

Curiosity value aside, though, this struggled to convince as a whole.

Download picks: Lithium, On A Plain, About A Girl

Track listing:

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