ernest ranglin

Photo by Jonathan Chi

The father of ska and reggae guitar reaches out to the people.

Ernest Ranglin is the Energizer Bunny of guitar. At age 82, the inventor of the mute-plus-upstroke “chank” rhythm that defines ska music has recorded a new album, Bless Up, that’s a summation of his visionary intelligence as a musician and composer. His playing on the disc is relentlessly perky, propulsive, and lush, proving that his mélange of chops—a vocabulary of jazz, reggae, R&B, rock, world music, and classicism—is as fluent as when he was a pup in Kingston, Jamaica, in the ’50s and ’60s, when his performances helped take the city’s famed Studio One sound around the planet and onto the international pop charts.

Although deep reggae and ska fans revere him, Ranglin’s 11 original tunes on Bless Up—where he’s supported by the core trio Avila—prove he deserves wider recognition. Always at the core of his playing, his jazz roots extend throughout the album. It’s not just a matter of Ranglin’s sound, which shares the warm rolled-back-tone-knob, flatwound strings, and humbucker tones of his contemporaries Wes Montgomery and Kenny Burrell (respectively born eight years and one year before Ranglin’s June 19, 1932 birthday). It’s the passion and taste he invests in cuts like “Follow On” and “Good Friends,” where he leaps gracefully between chord melodies, languid single-note lines, and quick-burn solos.

Read MoreShow less