Jay Spaker may best be known for his work in John Brown’s Body, but he’s been on the scene for over two decades: guitarist, singer, singjay, DJ, frontman, and sideman. Over the years, Jay’s taken on reggae in all its forms, and now, under the moniker Double Tiger, he releases Sharp & Ready (2017) on Easy Star Records. The album was recorded in Brooklyn, where Jay lives and soaks in numerous influences. He plays most of the instruments and had his hands in nearly every element of the album’s inception, development, and production. His style is fast, upbeat, powerful, and in your face- even in the most danceable and rootsiest of songs. Overall, Sharp & Ready is a homerun. Double Tiger just knows his stuff too well to flop.
The opening track and first single is actually one of the album’s least impressive; however, “Rocking Time” introduces Double Tiger’s flow, complete with backing vocals from JBB’s Elliot Martin, (we already know the two work wonders together). “When you’re hot like a pepper/ and you’re bad like a stepper,” he offers in the second verse. Behind him, extra-tight percussion, extra-fat bass, and extra-heady keys pull this song in like a deep inhale. This attunement to structure persists throughout the 12 tracks.
Double Tiger takes on several love/lover’s rock songs. Now, Jay has always been able to develop infectious melodies, even when his creativity stumbles. On “Crème de la Crème” he’ll steal the airwaves with cool, dogged flow with instrumentation that sounds like Black Uhuru in their epoch. Still, the song offers little new in the way of messaging: “Let me know now/ will I ever see your lovely face again/ Will I feel your embrace again?” but it hardly matters; the song is constructed too well to really care.
“A Feelin’” is another love song, with a slower tempo without losing the intensity. “I love the way you smile when I kiss you,” Double Tiger offers. “A Feelin’” is the album’s least original, and even lacks the emotion Jay pulled off on JBB’s “Like a Queen”. Conversely, “Falling” is one of the album’s key tracks. It’s gushy, ripe, sexy, and funky. Tiger seems lost in a lustfully poetic place as he swoons over his lady. “Like honey to a bee/ a natural blend, yes,” he offers up; “I know our love is growing stronger every day.”
Ultimately, though, “Time Has Come” has been on replay for me. It’s fresh and robust and Tiger is at his best when he singjays through crushing verses. The topic at hand is not new to reggae: Babylon sucks and the time has come to stand up. But even during political moments, Tiger holds onto a sexiness in his song construction. You’ll grind to this song as much as you’ll raise a fist.
Double Tiger is both a product of his influences and a revolutionary of his own sounds; proof of the bi-directional relationship artists can have in a lush musical scene. Over the past two decades, the independent reggae scene has become saturated- a good thing because reggae is awesome, and also a difficult thing to navigate because there’s almost too much to choose from, so I’ll offer this: Double Tiger sounds east coast and respectful of the Jamaican roots. His knowledge of reggae music propels this album, over any desire to write a good hook. Fans of everyone from Eek-A-Mouse to Peter Tosh, from The Green to The Expanders, will like this underdog album. Check it out and vibe.