Reggae fans craving Jah’s word love this band like “cooked food,” as they say in JA. Ever since several sons and daughters of ’70s reggae singer Derrick Morgan (and his three wives) got together to spread the Message, it’s been pure love, even in response to their embarrassingly derivative ’90s efforts. Mission in Progress, thankfully, showcases an evolved Morgan Heritage sound, lushly layered and as tightly made as a soldier’s bed.
Indeed, Gramps’s vocals are Peter Tosh–like, while Peter’s tenor evokes, in turn, Steel Pulse’s David Hinds, Garnet Silk, or Marley. And yes, the band is clearly working from that classic hortatory urge to spread the Message about corrupt politics, the healing balm of One Love, and other well-meaning but well-trodden paths. There’s nothing here you haven’t heard before, more or less, but that’s more or less OK; in fact, “Raid Rootz Dance”—a burning update of “Blues Dance Raid,” Steel Pulse’s ’80s anthem of Rasta persecution—is a tacit admission of that fact. But the band has found its own voice over the years. “The Fight,” for example, may rail against the Babylon shitstem, but the track’s tough rap reaches from Jamdung across the Atlantic. As does “Brooklyn and Jamaica,” in style and lyric another hand extended in camaraderie to dancehall’s hip-hop cousins. Heritage is cherished as much for its polished take on roots rock as for its apparent vindication of Rasta philosophy; for true believers dismayed by dancehall’s alleged egotism, this peaceful, productive band of brothers and sisters hits less like a blast from the past and more like an act of grace.