Justin Hines & the Dominoes, ‘Jezebel’ (12/27/76)

Had Jezebel, the first American album by Jamaicans Justin Hines & the Dominoes, been released four years ago, along with the Harder They Come soundtrack—at the time, pretty much the only reggae music readily available in the United States—it wouldn’t have seemed as odd as it does today, nor as self-effacing. Remember “Draw Your Brakes” by Scotty, “Johnny Too Bad” by the Slickers, “Shanty Town” by Desmond Dekker, or the sublime “Rivers of Babylon” by the Melodians? That’s the kind of music Hines and the Dominoes, who have been recording together for 12 years, make. It’s music of restraint: cool, quiet, beautifully precise singing; subtle, allusive melodies; and an unhurried and infectious beat. A clean, uncluttered band sound links the form to such basic, timeless rock-and-roll styles as Sun rockabilly, early Stax-Volt soul, and Al Green’s work with Willie Mitchell. To followers of the Maytals or the Wailers, Hines’s music may seem archaic, but it might just as likely seem remarkably fresh.

The point is never pressed on Jezebel. The pace of the music is even; singers move comfortably within strict limits. A small horn section, playing simple, distinctive charts, is the most memorable element of the sound; the horns move the tunes gently along, suggesting a calm but celebratory funeral march—the music of necessary business settled in the proper manner. Hines begins the album singing “Natty take over,” but it sounds more than a little like “Natty take cover,” and also, “Natty take comfort.” And such possibilities—of desire, shelter, and reassurance—are what one hears all across the album. As opposed to the brooding, messianic intensity of Bob Marley or the abandoned affirmations of Toots Hibbert—music that demands liberation and thus, for the music-making moment, must assume it—Hines and the Dominoes sing from the shadows. Their music seems to speak for a people who are biding their time, a people who with quiet self-control seek peace of mind wherever they can find it, and with this lovely, impeccably made set of songs, Justin Hines & the Dominoes offer nothing less.

Village Voice, December 27, 1976

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