As their recent album The Foot of the Mountain showed, Birmingham-based Roots band Kingston Express are as diverse as they are talented. And this classic track from 2018 shows their deeper, more brooding side as they team up with Horseman.
Horseman Mr Bigman, release via Kingston Express Records, once again has Sticky Joe on production duties. He brings an intricacy to proceedings that plays well to the composition – notably raising the levels of certain lines across the track and also applying some deft use of decay and EQ to maximise the unsettling feel of the track.
It’s a multi-layered, complex piece of orchestration with large amounts of detail, light and shade in the scale of the instrumentation. Mr Bigman opens with a rasping synth organ playing the root triad, which is then flipped up an octave and syncopated; drums accompany this nervy intro before the track gets going proper.
All the fundamentals are there, being brought in and out at certain points. The drums perform a classic one drop, with the kick on the two and four. But the use of a vibraslap also on these upbeats hammers the rhythm home. An unfussy but deep and booming bass breaks with more modern arrangements, focusing on just the root triad notes and interestingly not generally dropping a beat as is common in Roots/Dub. But it is rhythmically syncopated, using semiquaver/quaver riffs to keep the otherwise reserved BPM moving forwards. The organ mimics the melody at times, still working around chords at others. Keys perform a bubble rhythm with the organ joining in at points. Dub use of elongated reverb increases the unsettling vibe, and the whole affair makes for edgy listening; a feeling compounded by the main bridge.
Mr Bigman has everything stripped away at this point except the bass, the last echoing remnants of the percussion and the solo vocal vowel sounds. It marks an unexpected break, given the slow but driving nature of what came before. But the keys then come back in, with some intricate harmonic improvisation; the drums return and the track then returns to finish what it started. And driving this disquiet is Horseman.
He has one of the more distinctive voices to have come out of UK Roots: deep, bellowing and full of rich timbre. And it’s perfectly suited here. He delivers in some respects a mesmerising performance: carefully controlled to attract and then hold your attention, Horseman uses some clever intonation to hit you with particular phrases. But his relentless performance matches the musical arrangement well; not least the bass, as coupling them together gives Mr Bigman its ominous overtones. And what the track also delivers is a perfect marriage of musical and lyrical content: Horseman’s stark, cautious warning reflects the arrangement perfectly.
On side B of the 7” vinyl, Richie Phoe comes on board to deliver a Dub version just as nervy as the original.
Horseman Mr Bigman is one of those tracks where the music and theme are in perfect synergy. It’s a discomforting yet compelling piece of work, showing the range of Kingston Express’s abilities and Horseman’s vocal skill well. Anxious and thoughtful.
Horseman Mr Bigman review by Steve Topple (17th May 2020).