Still his best - Buju's 'Til Shiloh' album led mid-90s reggae music revival
Howard Campbell, Gleaner Writer
Thirty-seven-year-old Buju Banton has not had a lot to celebrate since he was arrested in the United States by Federal agents last October, but July marked the 15th anniversary of his groundbreaking album, Til Shiloh.
On it, Banton distanced himself from the raunchy songs that had made him a dancehall sensation. Many reggae buffs rate Til Shiloh among the genre's finest moments.
Writing for the respected Allmusic.com website, Jo-Ann Greene called it a "masterpiece" while Britain's Mojo magazine named the set among its Top 50 Reggae Albums in 2002.
In a 1997 interview with this writer, Banton spoke of Til Shiloh's impact.
"What Til Shiloh did was restore life to reggae music," he said.
Til Shiloh was Banton's third studio album. Its predecessors, Mr Mention and Voice of Jamaica, contained breakthrough hits like Love Mi Browning, Batty Rider and Make My Day, but by the time he began work on his next project, the pride of Whitehall Avenue was singing a different tune.
He converted to Rastafari and delivered a spiritual set that was worlds apart from bawdy hits like Stamina Daddy and Bring Yuh Body Come that had announced him. Bassist Glen Browne said he got a hint of things to come when Banton's mentor/producer Donovan Germain contacted him to play on the new album.
"He said he wanted something spiritual on (acoustic) guitar but because my thing is bass I told him I didn't know if I could play that," Browne recalled during an interview with The Gleaner last week.
"Handel (Tucker) was playing some chords on the keyboards, Buju came in and started to sing and I just followed the vibes. It was totally spontaneous."
That "spontaneous" jam turned out to be Untold Stories, one of the hit songs from Til Shiloh. Browne's acoustic intro helped make it a bona fide classic that has been compared to Marley's Redemption Song.
Several of Jamaica's leading musicians played on Til Shiloh including drummer Sly Dunbar, keyboardist Robbie Lyn, saxophonist Dean Fraser, guitarists Danny Browne and Dalton Browne, and the team of Mafia and Fluxy.
Germain produced most of the 15 songs. They included Murderer, a tribute to deejay Pan Head, Banton's slain friend; Complaint (which featured Garnet Silk), Wanna Be Loved and Champion.
There were also strong contributions from Bobby 'Bobby Digital' Dixon with Til I'm Laid to Rest and Dave Kelly who produced the hardcore Only Man.
Banton and engineer Sylvester Gordon are credited as co-producers of Not An Easy Road, another of Til Shiloh's standouts.
Released in July by Island Records subsidiary Loose Cannon Records, Til Shiloh was a hit with critics and Banton fans in Jamaica, but was not a big seller in the United States (US). There was a better reception in Europe.
Eventually, Til Shiloh caught on among college students in the US largely through exposure on underground radio and cutting-edge magazines like Urb.
It has attained gold status for worldwide sales of more than 500,000 units.
In 2002, the Universal Music Group reissued Til Shiloh with two bonus tracks, Champion (Remix) and Hush Baby Hush.