I pride myself on following a variety of genres and I dig musicians who experiment outside of their comfort zones. But I really dig and have an intense appreciation of my fellow music fans who dedicate themselves to one aesthetic or sound and know a ton about it or the musicians who do what they do, honing their craft, taking their time to create something beautiful and undiscovered in an already established framework. (I know that sentence was a long and maybe hard to follow, but please bear with me.) The artists that manage to do this consistently throughout their careers are few and far between. Even more rare is the reggae artist that manages this feat, as reggae is one of the most rigidly defined genres around and can sometimes hamper an artist's ability to sound fresh. With Goodness, the powerful Clinton Fearon - he of reggae legends The Gladiators - has proven himself to be among those few artists that continue to create music that sounds both old and new, that is at once familiar and invigorating.
Reggae historian and guy who changed the path of my writing, Roger Steffens said to me that reggae music is "the sound of the beating human heart at rest." It is music born out of struggle and pain, but rather than just reflect that pain reggae seeks to flip it upside down and destroy it. From darkness comes light. From the opening notes of "Blame Game" it's clear that Fearon is a protector of the light, of the good roots of well, roots reggae. When Fearon sings "Don't get stuck in the road, stuck in the road/Playing the Blame Game, that dirty old game," it is the sound of man with wisdom to impart. The result of a life lived thoroughly. Lyrically, Goodness is full of wisdom - each little bit delivered with the love and compassion of a loving grandfather. (Surely Fearon must be a frontrunner for World's Coolest Grandpa, if he has grandkids, of course. I can't confirm or deny this at the time of writing.) Even obvious tidbits of wisdom like "When you're feeling sad, talk with a friend" ("Talk With A Friend") come across like much-needed reminders to take warmth and love from the people and things right nearest to you. Like Fearon singing on the title track "Goodness, goodness, goodness, rising up slow...," this music doesn't need to move along at a frenetic pace to do what it needs to do.
But let's not forget, as it is music from born of struggle, reggae can't exist in any meaningful way if it doesn't address problems directly from time to time and the moments when Fearon does turn his eye to more social worldview are some of the most arresting here. The tale of poverty and subservience "Poor Nana" slinks along through the drudgery of unglamourous of unpaid labour. When Fearon sings "United we stand, divided we fall/Why can't we understand that life is for one and all?" his voice is wrought with both frustration and hope. "Come By Yah," is unwavering in its anti-power stance, even as it breezes along at a hopelessly breezy pace with Fearon strong in his peaceful resolve in the face of tyranny, "The people that in are control they seem to have no soul/To hold and keep them power they treat us way too cold/But we won't loose our mind, we won't be unkind/Dem a go run run run..."
Even with the tastily, simple, relatable lyrics, the music is the star here. Fearon wrote, composed and produced the record himself and Goodness sparkles for it. Fearon is a master craftsman, not jumping on trends and shifts in style but rather honing and perfecting his traditional music. The production is clean, with crisp drums holding the beat, walking basslines strolling all around the place and windy-guitar licks adding radiant splashes of colour. (Check out the liquidy guitar work on the burner, "The Hunter.") Fearon is proof that mastery is as important as experimentation, and that the best artists solidify the best parts of themselves as they age.