Audio Reviews
Wishbone
by Jackie Mittoo
Light in the Attic (1971)
Wishbone
10 / 10
For those of a certain taste, there's nothing quite as rapturous as a rocksteady cover of a soul song. And while there's plenty to choose from, some even surpassing the originals, on Wishbone Jackie Mittoo went beyond homage to perfectly blend the two kindred genres. This achievement should come as no surprise for those familiar with Mittoo's work: having spent his late teens with The Skatalites, as a producer for the acclaimed Studio One, and later ushering in the rocksteady era with the song Last Train to Skaville, Mittoo is a seminal figure in the history of Jamaican music.

Upon emigrating to Toronto when he was twenty, Mittoo set out to fuse the Jamaican sound he was instrumental in shaping with the music of his new homeland. Soul was an obvious choice, with Jamaican radios picking up American stations the island had long been bathed in the songs of their Northern brothers and sisters. But Mittoo strove for more than reinterpretation and merely pairing lyrics from American hits with Jamaican beats. Instead he and the musicians he recruited in Toronto added elements of soul, funk, and jazz (think: sweeping string arrangements, organ solos ala Jimmy Smith, and achingly suave sax) with the exuberance of rocksteady and ska hallmarks like the bouyant up-stroked guitar and blasting, dirty horns. Giving the album its epic, symphonic sound was an accompanying thirty-two piece orchestra. The result is a triumph of hope, sorely needed at the time in both North America, reeling from the war in Vietnam, and a poverty-stricken, politically-divided Jamaica.

The first strains of opening track Satisfaction come off like a ballad: all sentimental, rising strings and straight-forward drumming. Soon enough the wonky guitar, electric organ and bongos slip in, setting the tone for the rest of the album: just when you think you have Wishbone figured out, Mittoo and company pipe up with an unexpected instrument or shift into another genre. For instance, the title track combines the corny yet irresistible ebullience of Henry Mancini's Baby Elephant Walk with ska's boisterous horns. Instead of easing into another song with the Jamaican sound, Mittoo launches into the swaggering cool of Grand Funk, an about-face that is pulled off so smoothly it makes crystal clear sense. Opening with an Eastern-tinged guitar solo, buzzing feedback and bongos, Grand Funk is the soundtrack for stepping out in the city, especially when Mittoo's low-end organ reverb kicks in. Immediately following is a return to heavy rocksteady influence on La-La Girls and Cha-Cha Boys. And so on with the rest of the album, the only consistent elements being the unflagging cheerfulness and expertly-executed vision.

In 2007, maybe Mittoo's achievement with Wishbone has lost some luster, but the fact that his forward-thinking genre-soldering could be less than remarkable is a testament to his influence. From hip-hop, two ska revivals, all the permutations of reggae to modern day dubstep, Jamaican music's mash it up sensibility has become commonplace, and we have, in part, Jackie Mittoo to thank for that.
Posted by: R. Baker

Audio Reviews (February 16th, 2007)