Kingston Jamaica’s Pat Kelly is a veteran vocalist from the rocksteady days, recording for Duke Reid when Treasure Isle Records was the king of the dancehalls. Kelly modeled his vocal style on US soul singer Sam Cooke, a crooner’s method that finds a likely number in Procol Harum’s 1967 hit ‘A Whiter Shade of Pale.’ Kelly doesn’t really try anything unusual or new with this 1984 recording, though a talented vocalist rendering a memorable song is worth a listen even under the worst of circumstances.
And although my eyes were open
They might have just as well’ve been closed
This 1995 cover doesn’t bring much to the memorable 1974 Carl Douglas original, though it’s worth mentioning that The Cimarons themselves –Franklyn Dunn, Carl Levy, Locksley Gichie, Maurice Ellis, and Winston Reid (aka Winston Reedy)– were class-act session musicians in Jamaica before emigrating to the UK.
Bonus FunFact: Carl Douglas himself is a native of Kingston, Jamaica.
Lyrics based on the poem by NYC’s own Abel Meeropol, Birmingham UK’s UB40 prepare a version of Billie Holiday‘s 1939 original that loses none of the shame and menace of the original. Heavy at times with synthesizers and inescapably colored by UB40’s skanking, horns-laden method the point, purpose, and aesthetic of the original reemerge.
Southern trees bear strange fruit
Blood on the leaves and blood at the root
Black bodies swinging in the southern breeze
Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees
Pastoral scene of the gallant south
The bulging eyes and the twisted mouth
Scent of magnolias, sweet and fresh
Then the sudden smell of burning flesh
Here is fruit for the crows to pluck
For the rain to gather, for the wind to suck
For the sun to rot, for the trees to drop
Here is a strange and bitter crop.
In a song with an all-time unforgettable signature riff there’s little room for improvisation, or so it would seem. Inexorably following in the melodic tracks of the original by Cream Jackie Mittoo (of Brown’s Town, St. Ann Parish, Jamaica) yet manages to turn the almost menacingly lustful original into a bit of cheerful shopping music.
Starts kind of respectful, even mechanical, but quickly assumes its own character and style. Jimmy Lindsay’s recording of the Bill Withers original brings hints of African drums, rock & roll (that sax solo!), and his nascent rasta consciousness.