A Righteous Reagon

You may not have heard of her yet, but Toshi Reagon has been around, making a name for herself in live shows around the country and especially in her hometown of New York for years. Her band, Big Love, was named “best band, signed or unsigned,” by the New York Post. But until now, with the release of her third CD, The Righteous Ones, Reagon hadn’t managed to convey the fire she brings to her performance gigs to the recording studio.

Reagon comes from an eclectic musical background; her mother, Bernice Johnson Reagon, is the founder of the famous acapella vocal group Sweet Honey in the Rock. As for her other influences, Reagon includes blues and activist folk, but also mentions KISS, classic R&B, and The Police. It’s clear she likes to mix things up; indeed, that’s one of her strengths.

A few years ago, Reagon had a short-lived major-label deal with Elektra, but left them without cutting an album. She cites one too many attempts to mold her image-it seems she wasn’t glamorous enough, nor easily categorized, for the execs’ tastes. Too real, too direct, too uncompromising, in other words. So Reagon has stuck with the independents, with mixed success so far. She self-published her first album, The Rejected Stone, in 1994, and later released Kindness on the Smithsonian’s Folkways label. But neither album reflected her true spirit; to aficionados, they sounded watered-down and overproduced.

The Righteous Ones is her third CD (her first with label Razor &Tie) and it seems that Reagon has finally caught on tape the passion and energy of her live act. This disc gets everything right, from the compelling opening of the first song, “Real Love” (recorded with her mom’s group, Sweet Honey in the Rock), to the sweet rocking of the closing “I’m Just an Egg Don’t Mind Me.” In between are gems such as “There Are,” “Happy and Satisfied,” and “Mean Ol’ World.” In fact, there’s not a dud in the bunch.

Reagon has a big, bold voice that’s flexible and confident. But there are a few constants (besides that molasses voice): a love for funky rhythm and full-throated harmony, catchy melodies, a high-energy delivery, and a joyous, celebratory atmosphere. You’ll play this album again and again for the joy it brings your soul. Now that Reagon’s found her footing in recordings as well as in live performance, let’s look forward to her having a long, successful career.