Graded on a Curve:
Jacob Miller & Ray I, Natty Christmas

Natty Christmas! That wonderful day when mom and dad spark a bong beneath the Christmas tree before the kids wake up, producing a Yuletide aroma that smells nothing like gold, frankincense and myrrh. The High Holidays indeed.

And nothing says Christmas like Jacob Miller and Ray I’s 1987 LP Natty Christmas. This is the ganja-scented LP you’ll hear playing come mid-December in the streets of Kingston, Jamaica, where you’ll cross paths with reindeer scoring quarter ounce bags of Jamaican sativa to send them to greater altitudes than the one on Santa’s FAA-approved flight path above the Greater Antilles. Mr. Claus himself has been known to roll the occasional spliff, but only during the summer months. Last time he got baked on Christmas Eve, he ended up squeezing bags of toys down the chimneys of Venus.

On the album cover Miller—who died with his son in an automobile accident in 1980 and did double duty as lead singer for reggae band Inner Child—looks jolly indeed in his Santa hat, holding a sackful of pot plants big enough to keep the whole fambly high until Christmas rolls around again.

If Miller’s looking jolly, it’s not just an effect of the bammy. Miller has inborn Christmas spirit galore, and it shines through like the star above a Christmas tree on his lively-upped takes on such holiday chestnuts as “Wish You a Merry Christmas,” “On the Twelve Days of Ismas,” (that’s some cool slang y’all), “Silver Bells,” and “Deck the Halls.” Each hoary old sleigh bell sing-along has its double; some are virtually unrecognizable (compare “Wish You a Merry Christmas” to “Ahameric Temple” ).Others you’ll catch right way. “Natty No Santa Claus” is “Jingle Bells” with a cooler name; the same goes for “Rocker,” a reconstituted take on “Deck the Halls.”

It goes without saying that the Christmas season has—1984 bummer “Do They Know It’s Christmas” aside—inspired many a joyous Noel, and Miller spreads glad tidings throughout Natty Christmas. Which isn’t to say he ignores the social realities of Jamaican poverty. He simply leavens it with a perseverance laced with stoical humor. He opens “On the Twelve Days of Christmas” with the lines “On the first day of Christmas/My feeling wasn’t good/I am broker than broke.” If it weren’t for herb, Miller’s twelve day wind-up to Christmas day would be a total bust.

Otherwise all is merry in Kingston. “Soon it will be Christmas time in the ghetto,” he sings on “Silver Bells, “and children will be rocking to this song.” On “All I Want for Ismas” the only thing on Miller’s wish list is you know what, but as he sings it’s “different strokes for different folks”—others are wishing for rum, pork, beef in their X-Mas stockings.

It isn’t easy to parse the precise meaning Miller’s words given the Jamaican patois and his rapid fire delivery. He’s no Bob Marley (you always knew what he was saying), but then Marley was delivering a message to the world and wanted everyone to understand every word. But if Miller’s diction is unique to Jamaica, the gist of his message is universal as well—Christmas is about peace on earth and good will to all. The fine citizens of Bedford Falls would have no trouble understanding that. Forget the bell; a Rastafari goes to Heaven every time Miller opens his mouth..

In the spirit of the season Jacob Miller wishes you a Merry Ismas and a dancehall New Year. You don’t need an ounce of ganja to enjoy the holidays, but it doesn’t hurt.

GRADED ON A CURVE:
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