Taking Randy Newman’s original, The Tamlins – arguably most famous as the backing vocalists for 70s touring artists including Jimmy Cliff, John Holt, and Peter Tosh – turn the sparse melodic track “Baltimore” into something far more funky and groove-driven. Opening with a guitar that approaches the skank later found in Ini Kamoze’s “World A Reggae,” it is the foreboding keys and the soulful vocals that combine to elevate this far beyond an average late 70s reggae tune. 

That said – especially given that this was later released as part of Sly and Robbie’s Taxi series – it can certainly be argued that the prolific duo’s tight drum-and-bass backbone is equally crucial. Thus, it’s not the elements in isolation, but rather their heady interplay that makes this such a memorable tune.

While certainly an interesting choice of covers for the vocal group, the selection of “Baltimore” gives credence to the continuing influence of American R&B within Jamaica, well beyond fueling the evolution of mento into ska, rocksteady, and ultimately reggae.

The dub, as expected, minimizes the vocals and lets the aforementioned groove (complete with soaring horns) take over. A bit of haze, some key echoes, and a lazy listener might easily mishear “Baltimore” as “Babylon.” Whether intentional or coincidence, this tale of a lost seagull instead takes on near-apocalyptic overtones with its sheer musical weight. A heavy selection for the dance.

The Scientist also dubbed the track on his “Taxi To Baltimore Dub.” With prominent echoes and reverb, the bassline is pushed to the forefront until it all but evaporates to open up space for the guitar and drums. The vocals appear, condensed, around the halfway point, making this a thoroughly engaging engineering effort.

Available for purchase digitally via JunoDowload or on vinyl if you’re willing to test your digging skills…

The Groove Thief
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