Review Summary: A near perfect reggae album that is often overlooked.
A classic and often overlooked album; 96 Degrees In The Shade is an album that has not only stood the test of time but also developed the sound of reggae with the fusion of other genres.
Like many artists in Jamaican roots reggae Third World had to gig furiously around their native island before gaining any strong critical acclaim. After years of hard work they were finally signed to Chris Blackwell’s Island Records, in which a prolific stream of music flowed.
Third World’s second album has much more presence then their patchy self-titled, debut album. 96 Degrees In The Shade’s sound is not only polished but it also has a rather timeless feel to it that makes it sound like it was recorded long after 1977. This is particularly pertinent in ‘Tribal War’ which has a very ethereal sound that would not seem out of place in a modern contemporary DJ set.
‘Dreamland’, a cover of the Bunny Wailer classic, is a deeply melodic tune that nearly surpasses the original. It provides a more subtle side to album with out seeming out of place with some of the more militant sounding tracks, such as ‘Human Market Place’, a direct reference to the evils of slavery.
Unlike many of their contemporaries Third World infused different genres into their repertoire such as soul and funk. Perhaps most obviously in the albums chief highlight ‘Feel A Little Better’, which although carried mainly by a one-drop beat and deep reggae bass line, has the vocal harmonies and lyrical content that would not be out of place on many Motown recordings. The whole song is laced with a light and dreamy milieu that encapsulates the listener. (More than likely a large amount of marijuana was consumed during the whole album recording).
Opener ‘Jah Glory’ is another song where a more soulful influence is obvious and a clear indication of the band’s musicality and tightness. This track proves that drummer Willie Stewart and bass player Richard Daley are definitely the foundations of the album’s sound, everything is carried beautifully on their rhythmic shoulders.
Although the album is slightly dreamy there are elements that deal with rather more serious and important issues. Most obvious in ‘Tribal War’ and ‘1865 (96 Degrees In The Shade)’, the latter is another reference to the suffering endured by their ancestors in the barbaric slavery days. It has become the song most associated with the band and continues to feature on many reggae compilations.
On the whole 96 Degrees is a superb album, it is well written, played, produced and mixed. It is rather cruelly overlooked and certainly deserves the same recognition of albums such as Bunny Wailer’s Blackheart Man and Burning Spears’s Marcus Garvey and maybe even Bob Marley and The Wailer’s Catch A Fire. It remains a treasure for many music fans to discover.