While it may be an open secret among hard core UB40 fans, I just recently learned that the band is putting the finishing touches on a new album of country meets reggae music -- including covers of several country music classics and some country originals. Imagine that! You certainly have to give the band credit for trying something new and unusual.
Saxophonist Brian Travers confirmed the news in an interview this past spring, but the band has not been in a rush to get the record out, missing several reported release dates timed for this past summer. According to Travers:
“I’m not supposed to tell anyone, but we’re doing a country album. We’ve done some serious old classics and I’ve written seven songs on the album. It’s reggae and country music, which probably sounds very criminal, but it’s absolutely beautiful. We’ve got a guy called Melvin Duffy playing lap steel guitar on it, he’s a fucking genius and the nicest guy in the world."But before you think Travers and his band mates have gone crazy, its important to note the strong link between reggae and country music. Believe it or not, but Jamaicans love country music. In fact, according to a must read NPR story about the Jamaican love affair with country music, the 1961 country hit by Claude Gray, "I'll Just Have Another Cup of Coffee," became Bob Marley's second single. Further, Jamaican independence was timed to the popularity of cinemas screening Westerns across the island nation.
"Westerns and country tunes also appealed to Jamaica's love of the outlaw — the so-called "badman" figure famously played by Jimmy Cliff in the 1973 film The Harder They Come. Years later, dancehall deejays Josey Wales and Clint Eastwood took their names from a western and its star. Spaghetti westerns like A Fistful of Dollars are beloved in the over-the-top dancehall scene."So now that the country/reggae link has been established, how did UB40 come up with this concept? According to Travers:
“About fifteen years ago, we were with Robert Palmer, getting drunk, having a laugh”, says Brian, who used to share manager David Harper with Palmer before he died.
“He was playing a Randy Travis album, and this song called On The Other Hand came on. We thought fucking hell, great song! So we went in the studio and recorded it with Palmer singing and us playing. But then [Palmer] died nine years ago, and we’d never done anything with the song.
“We got it out recently, and there’s this lovely country tune played by us, and it’s kind of a nod to him really. We thought, we’re gonna release this, we loved him a great deal, let’s finish this off, let’s do it and put something with it.”As far as the new record goes, according to Travers it will feature UB40 versions of country classics as well as some real live country songs:
“I wrote seven country tunes in different time signatures, then we wrote them back to fours, into reggae. Some of them are going to stay as country tunes I think. I’m finding it. We’re still trying to grow, that’s what we’re always trying to do.”An intrepid UB40 fan has posted a video on YouTube of snippets of a radio interview Travers conducted where he previewed a few of the tracks including Willie Nelson's "Blue Eyes Crying In The Rain" and "On The Other Hand".