CD Review: Andy Bassford “The Harder They Strum”

Just recently, Andy Bassford, a musician who has spent many years playing for many Reggae artists such as Yellowman & Sagittarius Band, Toots & the Maytals and plenty of other well-known artists within the Reggae genre took a gamble that seems to have paid off in a big way. In the recent past, Bassford spent time recreating one of the most famous soundtracks (and albums in general) of Reggae music. That album is called The Harder They Come.

Throughout the history of Rock and Roll and the genres that have been spawned from it, there have been albums that have sold steadily over the years. And within those albums are some albums that have become no less than legendary. Dark Side of the Moon; The White Album; Bat Out of Hell… The list goes on and one. These are only a few of the titles where you can mention only the title and you know the album and the artists that released them. Another album that should be right up there with these and other classic albums is the one entitled The Harder They Come.

Released back in 1972, the legendary motion picture soundtrack to The Harder They Come was created in conjunction with the motion picture of the same title that was written and created by songwriter Jimmy Cliff. While the original release of the movie went nearly unnoticed, it would pick up an audience several months later. However, the soundtrack to the movie has since become a classic within the Reggae genre. So much so, that it has become of the biggest selling albums in that genre of All Time. In fact, for its fortieth anniversary, the album received a 2-CD re-release treatment with one CD featuring the original album in its entirety and a second CD featuring other reggae music from the same time era.

Now, a few years have passed since the release of the fortieth anniversary packaging for the soundtrack album to The Harder They Come. And just over 45 years after the original release of the album comes Andy Bassford’s tribute album based around the music found on the original release. The new album from Bassford is entitled The Harder They Strum.

The new release of The Harder They Strum from Andy Bassford begins with the track “You Can Get It,” one of the tracks on the soundtrack that was actually created by Jimmy Cliff. From the very beginning of the track, you can tell where the album is going as the song features a rather strong guitar presence to go along with the album title’s play on the original title. The instrumental version of the song that began the original album feels very similar in style to the original except for the fact that where there would have been singing, the track features even more horns that replace the vocals. “You Can Get It” by Andy Bassford sort of feels like a MUZAK version of the original track.

Anyone familiar with the original soundtrack for The Harder They Come will no doubt picture the first few seconds of the track “Draw Your Brakes (Stop that Train)” from Scotty. The spoken introduction is part of what makes the song so magical. So to have a different version of the song without that intro wouldn’t work. After the spoken introduction that feels rather identical to the original, the track takes a feel that is very reminiscent of the original…with a lot less words, of course. But the inclusion of the refrain to the song helps give the song the basic essence of the original. With this version, one thing that is different is the inclusion of a piano solo that gives the song a little more jazz-like quality.

One of the tracks that separate itself from the original version on the original album is Andy Bassford’s version of “Many Rivers to Cross”. The organ and electric guitar combination on the track creates more of a Rock and Roll track than one that feels like Reggae. The delivery of the electric guitar on the track brings to mind the style of someone like George Harrison. While the Reggae flavor may be missing from this track, the version of the song by Bassford shows off his ability as a song arranger.

Because of the overarching theme of guitar arrangements to the songs that runs through the album of The Harder They Strum, very few of the tracks included in the album come complete with the full lyrics that appear in the original release. However, one track that does include the full lyrical content of the original song is the Toots and the Maytals track entitled “Sweet and Dandy”. To bring those lyrics to life, Andy Bassford called upon The Soul Sisters Six, a group of ladies who were assembled for the recording, who do a wonderful job of interpreting the vocals from the original track. “Sweet and Dandy” from Andy Bassford does the original tune justice while giving the song a different musical feel.

Much like with the track “Many Rivers to Cross,” the title track of the original album, “The Harder They Come,” seems to have a stronger Rock and Roll approach as an instrumental. But unlike “Many Rivers to Cross,” there is still plenty of Reggae flavor in the new version of “The Harder They Come” to please fans of the style.  

While many of the tracks on The Harder They Strum contain some sort of guitar as the main instrument, the album’s final track of “Sitting In Limbo” contains the sound of the melodica. The use of the instrument instead of vocals crates one of the more unusual moments on the release. With the addition of the melodica, the track ends up with a Dancehall flavor. 

The Harder They Strum, Andy Bassford’s take on Jimmy Cliff’s The Harder They Come soundtrack is an interesting idea for an album. Where the original soundtrack release contained many voices creating one album, this new album seems to solidify the songs under one voice. The use of actual Reggae artists in the making of the album ensures that the album feels authentic even though it is not the original artist who is now performing the tracks.   

(Editor’s note: If you know Jimmy Cliff’s The Harder They Come soundtrack album, you will recognize that the style of the artwork for Andy Bassford’s new release is absolutely based around the actual artwork for the original album. The artwork for the album cover to The Harder They Strum belongs to Earthman Maxwell.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

To purchase a copy of The Harder They Strum, check out the information on Andy Bassford’s website

To experience some of the magic of The Harder They Strum, Andy Bassford has a provided a link to a small album sampler.