Though one of the most successful Reggae acts of all time, UB40 doesn’t always seem to get the appropriate credit deserved for carrying the music to broader audiences. Perhaps it’s due to the bulk of their success coming from cover songs, even though that in itself is a part of Reggae’s storied tradition — early Jamaican artists often reworked versions of R&B and Pop hits in the style.
Founded in the same year and town as The English Beat — 1978; Birmingham, England — the multiracial UB40 named itself after the government unemployment forms filled out by those going on the dole, a nod to their working class roots. With songs that incorporated social and political commentary, the group found success in their homeland fairly quickly; their 1980 debut album, Signing Off, went to No. 2 on the U.K. album charts. Follow-up albums experienced similar success, but in the U.S., airplay was mostly limited to college radio.
That all changed with 1983’s Labour of Love, UB40’s first all-covers album. The song list is all Reggae-based — even the tunes with American Pop and R&B origins were discovered by the musicians via Reggae versions. Their mammoth breakthrough hit, “Red Red Wine,” was written by Neil Diamond but UB40 originally only knew the song through the version done by Jamaican singer Tony Tribe.
The band had clearly struck a nerve and a successful formula, something they repeated with subsequent hits, including versions of “(I Can’t Help) Falling in Love with You” and “I Got You Babe” (with Chrissie Hynde of The Pretenders). Though they did continue writing original music, there were three Labour of Love “sequels” full of mostly Reggae covers. On 2013’s Getting Over the Storm the group turned to Country music and rewired songs by Buck Owens, George Jones and Vince Gill.
After 29 years with the same lineup, singer Ali Campbell and keyboardist Mickey Virtue left in 2008; in 2013, toaster/trumpeter Astro also left and joined Campbell and Virtue in a “new” UB40. The ensuing legal wrangling resulted in the trio touring as “UB40 featuring Ali, Astro and Mickey”; last year they released, ahem, A Real Labour of Love (Virtue left the project last year).
The band coming to Cincinnati this week is legally UB40 and features original members Brian Travers, Jimmy Brown, Earl Falconer, Norman Hassan and Robin Campbell, Ali’s brother. Another Campbell sibling, Duncan, is singing with the group. Earlier this year, UB40 released its first album of all-original music with Duncan, For the Many.
8:30 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 3. $25. Riverfront Live, 4343 Kellogg Ave., East End, riverfrontlivecincy.com.