"What's that sound down at the Nine Three O. What's that sound? It's Max Romeo!" announced the emcee in a smooth Caribbean cadence.
What was that sound?
Max Romeo's performance Saturday night at the 9:30 club was a skillful, harmonious blend of rock, blues and gospel styles, all of which were set to infectious, disjointed reggae beats. There was a ballad (or what passes for a ballad in reggae), cool, vaguely pop-ish songs, call and response vocal passages and hard rock numbers with needle-nosed guitar solos and thumping bass lines.
Romeo, whose fringed buckskin coat and long "dreadlocks" gave the appearance of a Rastafarian Wild Bill Cody, was an engaging singer. Unlike many of his reggae counterparts, he has forsaken stridency for a subtle, eclectic yet also emotional approach. Backed by a horn section, his voice at times assumed the qualities of the Stax soul masters of the '60s, while at others, he was a forceful, bluesy rocker. Beneath it all was the enigmatic presence and passion of the island musicians and a sense of personal commitment that transcended the beats and the guitars.
Max Romeo is a hearty addition to a musical style that has had its ups and downs but seems to keep going on and on.