SAINT LUCIA: Beyond - Ronald "Boo" Hinkson
Updated: Dec 5, 2020
Easy, relaxed vibes pulsate through this collection of upbeat, jazzy tunes
The Caribbean islands have a myriad of musical styles associated with it, from reggae and calypso, to dancehall to dub, but one of the most popular styles of recent years has been soca music. A genre which was pioneered by Lord Shorty, a Trinidadian calypsonian, taking the name from a shortening of ‘Soul of Calypso’ this dance-oriented, faster-paced version of calypso music has many subgenres associated with it. Saint Lucian guitarist Ronald ‘Boo’ Hinkson is perhaps the best known exponent of jazz soca music. Hinkson was brought up on a steady diet of the music of Duke Ellington, Miles Davis, and John Coltrane, and as such jazz runs deep within his musical sensibilities. Yet, he also remains true to his Caribbean origins, by combining his jazz guitar with soca instrumentation. The result is the very charming set of 13 song that are found on his solo album, Beyond. Hinkson had already achieved success with his band the Tru Tones in the 1960s and 1970s, yet it was with his solo work he found his surest footing by combining jazz and soca in a way that feels authentic to who he is a musician. He also uses funk, pop, and R&B influences to varying degrees of success, but it does keep the album, which is already rather long, from feeling too tired or stale once you hit minute 40 or so.
“Much of the album easily conjures up breezy images of island life, whether it be the beach settings depicted on the album artwork, or the slower pace of life in small coastal towns.”
Structurally, the album is a mix of instrumental, jazzy tracks and songs with vocals that lean more towards soca, though each type of song has elements of both genres, and others. The opening song, That’s What He Said, has a reggae inflected beat to it, and has some excellent jazz guitar overlaid, and All Blues has a very strong funk influence, especially noticeable in the horns and slap bass. Simply Beautiful St. Lucia has a real ‘90s R&B vibe, which nicely fits in with the themes of the song, which are expressed entirely through the music as it is an instrumental piece. Its relaxed, chilled out tone perfectly reflects the view of Caribbean island life many have. In fact, much of the album easily conjures up breezy images of island life, whether it be the beach settings depicted on the album artwork, or the slower pace of life in small coastal towns. This is one of Hinkson’s strengths in my view, his ability to paint pictures of his native Saint Lucia through music. It is worth mentioning that if you are a fan of guitar solos and guitar music in general there will be a lot to like here. Maybe this is why I liked the album as much as I did, because Hinkson has really strong guitar playing skills, and he relishes the chance to show it off.
If I were to criticise this album, I would say that it is a bit too long for what it is. It’s perfectly lovely and listenable, with just enough variation in styles to keep my attention, but equally there’s little to really blow away the listener. Hinkson is happy in his little corner of the musical world, but rarely does he invent anything spectacular. Furthermore, the songs with lyrics can often be simplistic with little to them on a lyrical level, and the female singer he has used (I’ve tried to find her name, but I have been unable to do so) has a nice voice, but not one that can just be enjoyed for its vocal quality alone. If all of them were instrumental pieces, I don’t think the album would have lost anything much. And yet, they’re not bad, just not as good. Hinkson’s work is fun and enjoyable, with a distinctive edge considering jazz soca is a niche pursuit. With that in mind, it is a crowd-pleasing album that can easily be enjoyed as the soundtrack to relaxation, but also for certain tracks, it holds up to deeper scrutiny.