Listening recommendations from the past, present, Portland and the periphery.
Bunny Wailer, the reggae legend who died last week at 73, delivered an argument for the genre as pop's most vital religious tradition with 1976's Blackheart Man. Profoundly spiritual, much brighter and more playful than its forbidding title and cover might lead one to imagine, Blackheart Man easily stands alongside the best work by his former Wailers bandmate Bob Marley—whose band Bunny quit because he was opposed to playing Rastafari music in bars.
Drakeo the Ruler is one of the best rappers in L.A.—a field with a lot of competition. A convoluted legal case had him behind bars for much of the past few years, but he's out now and picking up right where he left off on his new releases We Know the Truth and Truth Hurts. The 27-year-old's droll, slangy approach to rap (think Snoop without the perma-buzz) may seem impenetrable at first—but then the ripe meanness of his punchlines and sly social commentary about the U.S. criminal justice system start to stick.
Portland percussionist Barra Brown uses his sticks to replicate the sharp, neck-snapping breakbeats associated with jungle and drum-'n'-bass music, giving his new album, LFT:RT, a sense of control and equilibrium not always common in electronic music's most frenetic genre. The cast of collaborators includes local rappers (ePP, Alexander Mackenzie) and jazz cats (Portland guitar perennial Jack Radsliff), all of whom find their footing impressively in this whirling centrifuge.
If you liked that Bunny Wailer album but want to go off the rails, Icon Give Thank is about as far out as reggae gets. A collaboration between Jamaican vocal group The Congos and American producers Sun Araw and M. Geddes Gengras, this 2012 joint is so psychedelic and sonically dense it would overwhelm lesser singers. But the piercing falsetto of Cedric Myton and the basso profundo of Roydel Johnson make at least as strong an impression as the sonic molasses through which they swim.