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Jolly Boys: Aging Jamaican Troubadours Go Rock

The Jolly Boys' members make a living by playing in Jamaican tourist hotels.
Courtesy of the artist
The Jolly Boys' members make a living by playing in Jamaican tourist hotels.

The Jolly Boys' members play mento, a bawdy style of party music that preceded Jamaica's more famous musical export, reggae. The band enjoyed some international success in the late '80s and early '90s, but since then some of its members have died or become too old to perform. Luckily, talented septuagenarians were waiting in the wings, and after 20 years, the Jolly Boys' members have released a new album of rock covers titled Great Expectation.

There's something you just have to love about hearing a gravel-voiced, stylish old codger singing Amy Winehouse's "Rehab." The effect is even better when you can actually see Albert Minott's deeply lined face, stalwart glare, piercing eyes and gap-toothed grin. When it comes to bona fide crustiness, no strung-out British bad girl or rock 'n' roll bad boy has anything on this guy.

Part of the fun on Great Expectation is hearing raw and rowdy classics by the likes of The Doors or Lou Reed rendered with banjos, acoustic guitars and, in place of a bass, an enormous thumb piano called a rumba box. Even when they venture into country music, the Jolly Boys' members go for true grit — Johnny Cash, not Hank Williams.

When the band takes on slicker fare, like Steely Dan's "Do It Again," things don't work out so well. The effect starts to seem a little too bizarre, even creepy, like the music of a house band at a bar in some godforsaken hinterland.

It's worth remembering that these guys basically domake a living by playing in tourist hotels. They're purveyors of a tradition, but also eager adapters of popular music, be it calypso from Trinidad in the old days or punk-rock hits here. Longtime fans will be glad to know that they toss in a few classic mento numbers, but the main attraction on the Jolly Boys' new album is hearing the tried-and-true fare of aging rockers covered by still more aging Jamaican troubadours.

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Banning Eyre