The Itals
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The Itals

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"Bonnaroo 2009"

Best Pure Reggae Experience: The Itals
Ital means "pure" or "natural" in Rastafarian patois and, as much as any reggae vocal group to emerge in the '70s, Westmoreland, Jamaica's Itals have embodied that ideal. Set to snaking guitar lines and spongy, occasionally dub-inflected beats, the trio's tightly woven harmonies have for more than three decades been reggae's answer to black gospel quartet singing and doo-wop. They sing to lift the human spirit, but as their version of their '70s hit "Brutal Out Deh" at the What Stage on Friday revealed, an acute awareness of suffering and oppression lies just beneath the surface. Midway through their set, in fact, lead singer Keith Porter wryly observed that while dreadlocks were everywhere to be seen at Bonnaroo, there was a time when he could've been arrested in Jamaica for wearing his in public. Brutal indeed. -- BFW

- Spin Magazine


"Staying Power!: A Review of Let Dem Talk by The Itals"

Gliding ever so quietly beneath the radar has been the prodigious Itals who may not be as well known by casual Reggae fans or even Reggae heads of a younger age, as they haven’t REALLY been pushing themselves in that crowd as of late but obviously they haven’t been exactly absent either. For me personally, however, I have always held the Itals in a VERY high esteem as a tune they made when I was a very young child, Rasta Philosophy (they also had an album by the same name), is one of my favourites of all time and at such a very hard time in my life was definitely one of several which helped get through and literally helped to change my life at the time, so, although I may not as actively pursue their material or their ‘whereabouts’ (musically speaking, of course), I do hold them in a bit more personal regard than maybe even every other artist that I’ve mentioned thus far. So, I wasn’t too shocked but I was quite happy when I learned that lead singer/songwriter/producer Keith Porter and company would be releasing a brand new album for 2009, Let Dem Talk. The album is (by my count) the third on their very own imprint, Itals Music and is brought to you worldwide by the increasingly necessary Zojak. Almost by habit or maybe even ‘lowered expectations, I think tend to look at albums from older artists with less of a critical eye (which is COMPLETELY my fault and is probably one of the reasons why I don’t write about them as much, outside of the obvious) but judging by Thompson’s Ghetto Living and now Let Dem Talk perhaps that is a silent rule of thumb that I may need to revise at this point. Let Dem Talk while, by certainly any means the BEST album I’ve heard this year or from The Itals altogether, is SWEET music. It is exactly, as you might imagine, very very focused and meditative and sometimes jovial and sometimes sullen: Its just a very warm album and even with the tunes which aren’t exactly of the “rah rah” variety, the vibes here are just SWEET. I liken Let Dem Talk to an opposite comparison that I always make as posing the question of who of today’s age would have been good in past eras: Now if you were to reverse that and ask ‘who from yesteryear would sound just as good today as in their primes, x-amount of years ago?’. Well, The Itals, for one, as evidenced by Let Dem Talk.

Keith Porter’s voice and overall vocal approach has never, in my opinion, been all that remarkable. Its nothing at all that would shock you by listening. HOWEVER, it was and, evidentially, is still absolutely PERFECT for the type of heavy Roots Reggae he and The Itals make. There’s something almost perfectly imperfect about it (if that makes any sense) (and it doesn’t) with its kind of earthly and rugged tones which make you just understand that definitely this man has, indeed, been through some hard times but just as definitively, has come through and is a better man because of it. The first tune on The Itals latest release, Let Dem Talk is a very nice display of those hard times and good times alike, the clever ‘ska-ified’ It’s Not Easy. This song will have feet tapping, finger popping, shoulders rolling and heads bobbing and is simply one of the most impressive pieces on the album. I’ve never been too much of the Ska-head but, at such right times, it definitely hits the spot and I suppose It’s Not Easy was the right time as the tune just simply makes you feel good and breaking away from the vibes themselves, it gives a very strong message as well to hang in there because, although it’s not easy, times can change and change for the better. BIG TUNE and I’m smiling when I type that. The opener makes way for what is, in my opinion, the only CLEAR step up from it in terms of quality on Let Dem Talk because it’s the best song on the album, the laid back WONDER which is Who Reign. I’m grown and I’m “in touch with my feelings” which is why I can tell you that Who Reign made me cry! Porter sounds like he’s half asleep singing the tune which kind of cleverly makes “Who Reign” sound like “Hooray” at times, both, however, are extremely appropriate in this case, giving praise to His Imperial Majesty. The song is just SIMPLE brilliance and rather easily becomes one of my favourite Itals tunes of all time and the shining star of Let Dem Talk. Although that’s not to say that I can’t see why they named the album Let Dem Talk and not Who Reign because the title track is a big tune in its own right. It strums in to close the opening. The song, for me, is almost double entendré as, at times it appears as if Porter is speaking of himself, while at others, it seems as if he is speaking about His Majesty. Regardless the subject, however, the song is very very well done and ends a big opening on a big note.

Perhaps given my ‘history’ with the Itals, I find that I’m more inclined to enjoy their more spiritual material on the album. Thankfully most of the songs here are spiritual to some degree or another. There’s a potent stretch of three such tunes in the middle of Let Dem Talk which really make up a great deal of the best material on the album for me. The first tune of the bunch is the very nice No Mercy, which comes through across the well traveled Hard Drugs riddim and urges PATIENCE and UNITY in a very interesting way (Porter also kind of sounds like both a less agitated version of Buju Banton and a more agitated version of Gregory Isaacs at times). Next is the BIG So Many Times tune which is one of the best written tunes on the album and definitely pushes an ADDICTIVE vibe. I’ve listened to this tune SO MANY damn TIMES in about ten days’ time that I feel like I wrote it myself (I WISH). it’s a very heavy vibes and it struck me as a song speaking of personal redemption and, by extension, FREEDOM, in the tangible sense. The best of the three, however, in my opinion, is the downright dynamic There For Me. This song is DIVINE (literally) and one of the best songs on Let Dem Talk. It speaks of relying on His Majesty through times, good and bad and it also happens to feature THE line of the album when Porter says, “. . .was lost, was down, but now dat I’m found, HE picked me up, FILLED MY MOUTH WITH WORD SOUND”, very very casually in the stirring second verse. EPIC! And of course, as the title suggests, there’s the later tune, All Is Vanity which has such a nice BOUNCE to it that you can’t ignore the sound. Upon further inspection, however, it proves to be a very nice song on its own merits (with one nice piece of riddim) as it tells all to focus on things of more SUBSTANCE and not those which are fleeting and sometimes not even that. That is not to say that the rest of the tunes on The Itals’ Let Dem Talk is rubbish because its ‘s definitely not. Check the very conscious and anti-violence piece, Chill Out. This tune, although clearly very well done, took a few spins to grow on me and when it finally did synch with my tastes I saw its strength (it’s a SOLID tune and I think I had initially left it as being too cliché for me). The song is kind of unintentionally funny as well as you would seemingly tell someone to “chill out” to stop doing something which is annoying or just in a playful manner but Porter uses it on the grand scale of telling those running around and keeping violence’s place in Jamaica and worldwide to simply chill out. And you know that he’s right. Anything gets VERY close to being a big tune that I may even give it the last few places or so as it begins a nice string of love/relationship tunes. The HUGE sounding Because Of You is a step up in that category, however, as it has a hell of a nice slow dance with the wife written all over it and it was one of my favourite tracks here. True Love, sappy as hell and all, is even pretty doable also, largely to the very nature of Keith Porter’s voice and PERSONALITY which shines through as you would a expect from a gentleman of his standing in the music. I’ll also mention the fact that the song, My Way High Way, Let Dem Talk’s first single, is probably my LEAST favourite of the bunch, although not even that one is a bad tune. Wonderfully, completing the album is something that was very unnecessary but very NICE, horn heavy, ska’d up riddim for the opener, It’s Not Easy. This track might even be one of the best here also and I also love and appreciate when an artist or a label or whoever, decides to do such a thing as an add on to the album (and it helps me make my point about the tune because, apparently, I’m not the only one who thought it was so nice). I walked in the door dancing and I’m walking out the same way! Well done Itals.

Overall, I’m slapping a rather open ended seal of approval on Let Dem Talk from The Itals. The first is to, of course, Itals fans, who probably already have it and I’m sure are definitely enjoying it right now but the second is a bit more ’curious’. If you are a fan of Reggae music who is older but not still quite young (someone in the 24-35 age range) and you don’t typically find yourself either not enjoying or just not even listening to some of the older artists for one reason or another, Let Dem Talk is an EXCELLENT opportunity for you to get on board (just as Ghetto Living was). I’d use the standard and tired ass cliché of “and see what all the fuss is about” but I won’t. Instead, maybe its time we created a new fuss of our own because after more than thirty years in the business, The Itals are still going very strong. Let Dem Talk proves that CLEARLY and turns back the clock for some of us who may have missed the vibes the first time around. - achisreggae/blogspot.com


Discography

LPs:
Brutal Out Deh
Give Me Power
Rasta Philosophy (Grammy nominated)
Cool and Dread
Easy to Catch
Early Recordings
Mind Over Matter
Modern Age
Calling Rastafari
Mi Livity
In A Dis Ya Time
Let Dem Talk
First hit single: Ina Dis Ya Time
Most recent single: Let Dem Talk

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Bio

Out of Savana La Mar, Jamaica, the mighty Itals - Keith Porter, Ronnie Davis and David Isaacs - have reunited to tour the U.S. this year in support of their new album, Let Dem Talk, the follow-up to the December 2008 release on VP Records of the Lloyd Campbell produced compilation of their early hits on his Spiderman label, In A Dis Ya Time. Known for their tight harmonies and uplifting songs, these reggae ambassadors have been touring strongly since the early eighties. After many years on the road, the Itals are living examples of the “Rasta Philosophy” album that brought them a Grammy nomination.

Long before the Itals were a spark in their producer’s eye, Keith Porter recorded his first hit single, “Hitey Titey”, with the Westmorelites on the Studio One label in 1967. Tiring of the club scene around 1975, Keith ran into Ronnie Davis on Orange Street in Kingston and asked him who was auditioning. Ronnie gave him a cassette with a rhythm he’d just had a hit on. “I was so happy with that rhythm I didn’t look any further,” says Keith. “In less than a week I had written Ina Disa Time and came back to Kingston to record it for Lloyd Campbell’s SpiderMan label. Lloyd felt it needed some harmonies with my lead, so Ronnie and I both added harmony parts. There was no intention of forming a group called the Itals.. After the song was on its way to becoming a hit in Jamaica, we all went out to do some promotion. Lloyd, Ronnie, myself and Brian Thomas of RJR were sitting out back in the cantina, when Brian said ‘why not call them the Itals’, because now there was more than one person singing. Everyone liked that name. It sounded good, so all of a sudden, Itals was a group. It was never intentional. I’ve always wondered if the name was the result of Brian noticing how strict I was about the food I ate, strictly Ital.”

Campbell quickly repressed the record as ‘the Itals’ to meet demand. Today the song remains the Itals' signature tune, and has been described by Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones as “the perfect reggae track”. It is included on the Rolling Stones’ Artist Choice cd, released in 2003, available through Starbucks Coffee from Hear Music, a division of EMI, and in selected major chains.

The success of "Ina Disa Time" saw the group return to the studio with the addition of Lloyd Ricketts singing a third harmony part on a series of superb recordings for the SpiderMan label. Tunes like "Don't Wake The Lion," "Brutal," and "Temptation" followed on 7” release in Jamaica and New York in ’77 and ‘78, establishing the Itals among the best Jamaican singers and songwriters. The Itals were twice finalists in the Jamaica Festival Song Competition, and their 1981 tune, "Jamaican Style," earned them a place at Reggae Sunsplash that year. 1982 saw the release of the first Itals' album, "Brutal Out Deh" on Nighthawk Records. The Itals toured the US and Canada backed by the Roots Radics. Their second album, "Give Me Power," was released to critical acclaim and hit #1 on CMJ's Reggae Route chart. In 1985, Pollstar Magazine placed them in the top 100 artists of the year.

Their third album, "Early Recordings," gathers together all the Itals' early singles and several rare pre-Itals tracks for a collector's feast from Nighthawk. The Itals' fourth recording, "Rasta Philosophy," won a Grammy nomination for best reggae album in 1987, followed by "Cool And Dread." Next came the Rhythm Safari album “Easy to Catch”, followed by “Modern Age” on Ras Records, and continued touring throughout the U.S., Canada and Europe. 2003 saw the release of “Mi Livity”, with an emphasis on Keith Porter and a later compilation album entitled Mind Over Matter, in 2007, both on Ital Music.
Over the years, the Itals have performed countless shows worldwide. Although the background harmonies have sometimes changed, they always sound as sweet as ever. Look for the new Itals album, Let Them Talk, released digitally through Zojak World Wide and physical copy available through ebreggae.com. Check out myspace.com/theitals or youtube.com/theitals for music and videos