Following this summer’s label sampler New Dimension of Soul & Reggae and the debut 45 from soul singer Xiantoni Ari Lynch, Los Angeles’ freshly formed Angel City Records has issued the debut EP by their rising young rocksteady singer Jackie Mendez. The six song Introducing… reprises her two contributions to New Dimension—covers of Roy Panton’s “Endless Memory” and Basil Daley & The Conquerors’ “Nice Like Rice”—and adds a cover of The Gaylads’ “Let’s Fall in Love” plus three originals.
Though in her mid-twenties, Ms Mendez is hardly the ingénue, showing her ability to get inside the covers and make them her own. “From the moment I heard ska music, I was hooked,” Ms Mendez tells The Examiner. “I fell in love with the early sounds of ska, reggae and rocksteady, and I always wanted to pay tribute and cover some classics. It’s a different feeling when you sing a song someone else wrote that you love because you can relate and still sing it with as much feeling.” With “Endless Memory,” Ms Mendez goes beyond relating: Wearing the lyrics like a tattered coat, her voice is filled with befitting bitterness, regret and weary longing.
There is a tendency throughout the EP, however, for Ms Mendez’s timbre and delivery to skirt a little too close to that of early Gwen Stefani’s, conveying a sense that the young singer hasn’t fully discovered her own voice. This quality is thankfully, powerfully, absent from the EP’s opener, the original “Hard to Handle.” A chugging early reggae cut, Ms Mendez approaches her lyrics with a soulful grit, heft and smolder that echoes Fay Hallam of the ’80s garage soul outfit Makin’ Time.
Ms Mendez is backed by Thee Hurricanes, a quintet of some of the City of Angels’ top reggae musicians, whose collective CV includes work with Jimmy Cliff, Rancid’s Tim Armstrong, Hepcat and Los Angeles’ classic reggae statesmen The Aggrolites. The band’s sound is fresh, authentic and organic, giving the singer a solid musical foundation on which sway, swing and croon. A welcomed contribution to Los Angeles’ maturing classic reggae scene, Introducing... shows that Ms Mendez will, too, develop into a vocal force to be reckoned with.