Christos DC’s new album Tessera is a phenomenal set of roots reggae tracks that showcase the various talents of one of the most talented and significant reggae artists to emerge in the past two decades. A protégé of the legendary Don Carlos, this artist/producer of Greek heritage has been a player in the industry since the early 1990s, producing and recording with the likes of Sly and Robbie, the Firehouse Crew, The Itals, Augustus Pablo, Sugar Minot and Don Carlos. He also has co-written and recorded with the world-famous Thievery Corporation. In addition to recording and producing music, Christos also runs one of the U.S.’s premiere music labels – Honest Music DC – releasing music and videos for artists like Kenyatta Hill (Culture), Puma (Thievery Corporation), and more.
Tessera is the follow-up to Christos DC’s critically-acclaimed album The Long Road, which was released on Earth Day 2014. The first single and video from that album – “Just Talk To Me” – featured friend and label-mate Kenyatta Hill, son of Culture’s Joseph Hill. Christos teamed up with Don Carlos in the summer of 2015 for “Righteous Chant,” my selection for best reggae single of the year.
The first single from Tessera – “Speak The Fire” – finds Christos teaming up with Zafayah, one of the best up and coming reggae artists from Bulgaria, and the Skankin Monks, the powerhouse band/ production unit from Amsterdam. The video was filmed exclusively in Goa, India earlier this year while Christos was on tour there. It is a searing roots tune with an infectious groove and the perfect track to kick off this album. “Human Dignity,” another collaboration with Skankin’ Monks, is a bottom-heavy dub-reggae track with a driving bass and drum and blazing horns section.
“Life” is another roots tune with a jazzy horn sound and hammering hand drumming. It is also one of the strongest tracks in this brilliantly-produced set. Christos’ vocal is painful and soulful as ever as he sings on the rollercoaster that is this life.
“Say What You Want” is the top-ranking track of the set, an uber-heavy roots tune with a phenomenal horns section over a blistering riddim that must be heard to be believed. This track is bombs away. It is followed by the killer “What Is Happening” featuring Christos and Vaughn Benjamin (Midnite, Akae Beka) decrying the ills of society over a solid, rollicking roots instrumental. Laurent “Tippy-I” Alfred’s supreme mix brings it all together to near perfection.
Another one of my favorite tracks is “Communion” which features guest appearances by Kenyatta Hill and Harrison Stafford (Groundation).
“Pressure” is a searing tune with a slow burn. Christos lifted the Robbie Shakespeare bass line from a tune titled “International Orchitis,” which appeared on Pecker’s 1980 album Pecker Power.
A ton of credit is due the musicians on this album, including Christos DC (vocals, guitar), Leslie “Blackseed” James, Jr. (drums), Darryl “Trane” Burke (keys), Stephen “Big Yard” Samuels (bass), and Laurent “Tippy I” Alfred (organ). A special shout to the Honest Music horns section which includes Megan Nortrop, Joseph Brotherton, Brian Falkowski, Paul Hamilton III, and Herb Scott. If there is a tighter horns section in reggae today then I haven’t heard them. Every track on the album contains searing horns, a musical element which has become characteristic of Christos DC/Honest Music productions.
How is it possible that the year’s best reggae album comes from an artist hailing from Washington, DC? I really need to get my point across about the quality of music contained on this album. It is one of the best modern roots reggae albums in fifteen years, occupying that rare air that so few reggae albums reach. I’m talking Midnite Unpolished territory here. However, we should expect nothing less from Honest Music DC as the label has been releasing only the highest quality material for several years now. Don’t miss this one. It is certainly a modern roots classic.