TOSHI REAGON calls "Justice" her first album, even though she released a cassette-only album, "Demonstrations," in 1983. Nonetheless, after years on the D.C. music scene as a guitarist for Casselberry-DuPree, as a solo artist and as a sidekick to her well-known mother, "Justice" marks Reagon's emergence as a mature artist in her own right.
Her mother is Bernice Johnson Reagon, the founder/leader of Sweet Honey in the Rock, and Toshi has taken the gospel, feminist and protest strains of her mother's music and married them to the 1970s rock 'n' roll Toshi grew up with as a teenager. The result is a most original hybrid; it's as if the Freedom Singers were backed by the Police. On the title track, for example, Toshi's guitar and ex-Waitress Tracy Wormworth's bass establish a steady reggae-rock groove, and Toshi and Casselberry-DuPree sing the social protest lyrics with seductive three-part harmonies.
The album's opening track is Sting's "Walking in Your Footsteps"; Toshi and Bernice Reagon transform the song with Sweet Honey-like call-and-response gospel harmonies, but Toshi and Wormworth add a modern tension with their nervous, twitchy guitar-and-bass patterns. The anti-racism anthem, "Colors," and an alienation confession, "Nature Tells," boast a similar chunkiness.
Other songs have a leaner, more acoustic sound, and they resemble the minimalist folk-rock of Tracy Chapman. Toshi's biggest weakness is her less than subtle lyrics, but she has a real gift for vocal arrangements. She layers voices in ways that are both pretty and forceful; it's a knack she obviously got from her mom, but she uses it with a different beat.