Tiny Desk

Tarrus Riley

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15 min 43 sec

For a variety of reasons, we don't often schedule Tiny Desk Concerts at 10 o'clock on Monday mornings — though the last time we did, for Raphael Saadiq, the result was spectacular. But in that calm-before-the-storm part of the day and week, reggae singer Tarrus Riley, saxophonist Dean Fraser and guitarist Lamont Savory showed up and began soundchecking.

It was immediately apparent that this was to going to be special. A crowd began to gather as Riley's voice rolled down the hallways. The group opened with "It Will Come (A Musician's Life Story)," a song about the conversation between a woman who wants her man to get a regular job and a man who insists that the irregular hours and low pay of a musician will pay off for them both eventually. Telling a recognizable story and smiling sweetly at the mostly gentle barbs we lob at our partners every day wrapped the assembled crowd around Riley's finger.

Riley explained a bit about his faith as a preamble to "Lion's Paw," which he said is not so much about the strength of his belief in Jah as it is about the strength of Jah's belief in him. Riley laughed and danced so much, he almost left mic range, so much did he endeavor to pull his audience into the song. Fraser and Riley hit every harmony, stretching out smiles on people's faces and provoking at least two false protestations of allergy-related eye issues.

But my favorite — the song I'd told the band had been stuck in my head for days — was "She's Royal," Riley's hit from the summer of 2007. It's a song for the women out there, especially on the days when you're having a hard time working through to a day of rest. It's crazy catchy, and it had men all over the building teasing the women, calling us queens for the rest of the day. We know they know, but it's nice when they say it out loud.

Set List
  • "It Will Come (A Musician's Life Story)"
  • "Lion's Paw"
  • "She's Royal"

Frannie Kelley and Bob Boilen (cameras); edited by Michael Katzif; photo by May-Ying Lam

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