Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Toronto Reggae: the Cougars' "I Wish It Would Rain"

This morning I found a copy of Jamaica to Toronto: Soul Funk & Reggae 1967-1974 that its compiler Sipreano gave me during the EMP Conference in Seattle. He and Light in the Attic Records have done a good job documenting the unlikely reggae scene that started in Toronto's suburbs in the late 1960s. At the EMP Conference, Sipreano's talk included a track that blew me away, and I ran across it this morning on my way to work. When he played the Cougars' cover of "I Wish it Would Rain" at EMP, I caught moderator Garnette Cadogan's eye and started tapping a heartbeat on my chest. The track sounds like a southern soul singer accompanied by a heart monitor, with a hospital-like beep following each thum-thump. The heartbeat is a bassline so low that it's distorting brutally, so much so that it's literally the sound of pounding, not of a melody or harmony instrument. As a result, the song feels almost a cappella until the instrumental passage between the chorus and verse, when a Stax-like horn section treats the phrase as a fanfare. It seems grand after the spare verse and chorus, and makes every return to the voice and heart monitor sound spare and desperate.

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