Posts filed under 'Reggae'

Black Slate – World Citizen

black slate
Title: World Citizen

Artist: Black Slate

Formats: CD, MP3

Label: Unit 8 Records

Release date: April 15, 2014

 

Hailing from England, Jamaica and Anguila, Black Slate is a global phenomenon formed in reggae’s second home: London. Touring as a backing group to acts like Dennis Brown and Ken Boothe during the 1970s, Black Slate also performed extensively as an independent act until calling it quits in the mid-1990s. However, they returned in 2013 with the majority of their original members to release their first album since Get Up and Dance (1995).  On World Citizen, Black Slate recaptures the original sound that made the group a force to be reckoned with. Maintaining a perfect blend of solid instrumentation with vocals that sound as fresh and powerful as they did in the 1970s, Black Slate offers another great contribution to the contemporary reggae scene. Strong tracks include “World Citizenship,” “Mozart in Trenchtown,” and the beautiful “Living in the Footsteps.”

Following is the official video for the single “World Citizenship”:

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Reviewed by Ian Hallagan

View review May 2nd, 2014

New Reggae Releases

Heptones Good Life cover

Title: Good Life

Artist: The Heptones

Format: CD, MP3, LP

Label: VP Records

Release date: March 3, 2014

 

 

The Heptones will forever be in the pantheon of legendary Jamaican vocal groups. With a busy and very prolific career in the 1960s through the ‘70s, 1979’s Good Life would be the group’s eleventh album, although the second without original member Leroy Sibbles, who had earlier left to begin a successful career as a solo artist. With Naggo Morris taking over for Sibbles, there’s a noticeable shift in comfort. The group doesn’t sound as tight as with Sibbles, although “Can’t Hide From Jah” and “Natural Mystic” allude to a start of adapting to the changes. While not necessarily a reggae classic by any means, Good Life still brings a selection of strong tracks and reggae history from the beloved Heptones. Thanks to VP Records, the album is finally available on CD.

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Errol Bellot

Title: Youthman: The Lost Album

Artist: Errol Bellot

Formats: CD, LP

Label: Reggae Archive Records

Release date: July 22, 2013

 

 

The gritty, raw talent on Youthman: The Lost Album highlights the missed opportunity for a truly gifted musician to shine as a result of inept record company practices. With his music spread over a host of singles across several labels, the heavy roots reggae musician was unable to gain a strong foothold on the British reggae scene. Working with the likes of Jah Bunny and Ras Elroy, songs such as “The Wicked Them” and “Jah Guide Over Me” makes you wonder how such songs never received much airplay in their time. Packed with all sorts of goodies, like additional dub versions and disco mixes, Youthman: The Lost Album is an underground reggae classic that is finally receiving it’s due.

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mighty mystic

Title: Concrete World

Artist: Mighty Mystic

Format: CD, MP3

Label: VPAL Music

Release Date: January 28, 2014

 

 

The Jamaican-born, but Massachusetts-raised Mighty Mystic has been making waves in the reggae charts, and for good reasons. With the hit single “Cali Green” making its way onto an upcoming VP Records release and Concrete World debuting at #6 on the Billboard Reggae Chart, the world is beginning to take notice. Speeding up the tempo a bit and adding in some tinges of rock and electronic influences, coupled with the all-important vocal talents, Mighty Mystic has created a contemporary reggae hit in Concrete World.

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In addition to “Cali Green,” notable tracks include the title track as well as “Mr. Big Man.” While reggae has a great deal of dedication to the past, Mighty Mystic has proven that reggae is still alive and well in the new millennium, and continues to be an important form of musical expression.

Reviewed by Ian Hallagan

View review April 2nd, 2014

New Caribbean Releases

Tambutronic

Title: Tambutronic

Artist: Kuenta i Tambú

Formats: CD, MP3

Label: Jiga Musica

Release date: January 14, 2014

 

 

Curaçao-based Kuenta i Tambú (KiT for short) has been making waves since a feature in the December issue of Rolling Stone on their song “Waya Waya” brought the music of their small island into the spotlight. Located a hop and a skip from Venezuela, KiT is a group that has taken traditional genres and added the contemporary sounds of electronic dance music. Combining the percussive tambú with the electronic music native to Dutch clubs, Tambutronic is an album that can’t be truly summarized by just a song or even a handful of tracks.  Rather, the whole album flows flawlessly together to create a highly entertaining party album that is sure to bring even more creativity and imagination into the active electronic music scene.

Take a listen to the first single off Tambutronic, “Jackhammer”:

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juakali

Title: Feathers Too Bright

Artist: Juakali

Formats: CD, MP3

Label: Foreign Familiar

Release date: November 25, 2013

 

 

The Trinidad-American artist Juakali has had a profound impact on the dubstep scene. Heralded as “the voice of North American dubstep,” Juakali has helped fuel a rising popularity of the music among American audiences. Flawlessly melding the deep, gritty bass-heavy tone with a singjay style, Juakali’s newest release, Feathers Too Bright, continues to build on the success of the artist’s previous slew of singles and EPs. For those interested in a creative approach to the dubstep scene, Feathers Too Bright is a brilliant place to start.

Check out the first track off the new album, “Bad Mofo”:

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Reviewed by Ian Hallagan

View review March 3rd, 2014

Desmond Dekker – Black and Dekker: The Complete Stiff Recordings 1980 – 1983

black and dekker

Title: Black and Dekker: The Complete Stiff Recordings 1980 – 1983

Artist: Desmond Dekker

Label: Pressure Drop

Format: CD, MP3

Release Date: November 25, 2013

 

 

The career of Jamaican musician Desmond Dekker is closely connected with the United Kingdom. Dekker was one of the earliest reggae musicians to make a huge splash outside of Jamaica, with hits like “Israelites” and “007 (Shanty Town)” beloved by skinheads and the larger pop culture alike in the late 1960s.A ska revival in the late 1970s—led by assorted 2 Tone acts such as The Specials and Madness—catapulted Dekker and his contemporaries back into the spotlight. While mainly specializing in Post-Punk and New Wave acts, Stiff Records looked to capitalize on the renewed interest in ska and quickly signed Dekker in the early 1980s to a contract that resulted in two full albums and a host of singles. Unfortunately, the releases didn’t catch on and quickly faded into obscurity, as low sales brought Desmond Dekker’s brief time with Stiff to an end. But such music can’t stay lost forever. Pressure Drop has for the first time on CD released Dekker’s complete works on the Stiff Records label, providing an accessible and concise look into another era of the famous musician’s career.

Dekker’s first full album release through Stiff, Black and Dekker, reworked several of his early hits into a style more suitable for the 2 Tone ska revival. Generally, this meant a more rock-flavored tinge and a “busier” sound. For example, the original 1968 and updated 1980 versions of “Israelites” have several key differences. While the original was laidback and reserved, with the band keeping a steady rhythm throughout, the updated rendition has drums opting for a driving beat through the hi-hat and snare, as guitar is replaced by vocals imitating the instrument. In a clear attempt at connecting with huge acts like The Specials and Madness, there’s a saxophone solo in the middle that further stresses a more rock-oriented sound. The same holds true for older hits such as “007,” “Many Rivers to Cross,” “Rude Boy Train” and “Lickin’ Stick,” as well as new compositions. Though the album went largely unnoticed, hardly making a dent in the UK charts and only reaching the Top Ten in Belgium, sales were strong enough to warrant a second album, 1981’s Compass Point.

On Compass Point, Dekker sought a change from the 2 Tone sound, adopting differing contemporary styles. His decision to record in the Bahamas, away from the influences of the UK scene, facilitated this change in direction. While the majority of the album is rooted in  reggae, there are allusions to American rock and R&B. “Cindy” is the epitome of every ‘80s rock song, while “That’s My Woman” is the same idea, only this time it has an electrified, funky R&B edge. The most interesting and strongest track is the dubbed-out “We Can and Shall.” If I hadn’t know any better, I would have thought the song was produced by the great Adrian Sherwood—the heavy emphasis on incorporating African rhythms and sounds, along with tinges of Lee “Scratch” Perry through the use of roaring lions and tweeting birds is absolutely crazy in the best of ways. While the rest of the album is overall a very accessible collection of songs, “We Can and Shall” is a quick flash of odd brilliance that’s gone as quick as it started. Regardless, Compass Point was unable to garner any major attention, and Dekker was subsequently dropped from the label soon after.

It’s a shame that Dekker’s four-year stint went largely unnoticed by the general public at the time. After Stiff Records was unable to produce profitable releases, Dekker declared bankruptcy in 1984. Keeping himself afloat solely through live performances for the rest of the decade, Dekker released only one album, a live performance, during that period. Dekker’s luck would change, however, in 1990 when a Maxell TV advert used his song “Israelites,” catapulting him back on the scene. Working with the Specials in 1996, Dekker continued to perform, introducing a new audience to his music. While leaving this world too early in 2006, Desmond Dekker nonetheless continues to be appreciated for his musical talents and amazing voice. Black and Dekker: The Complete Stiff Recordings 1980 – 1983 is a wonderful addition to Dekker’s catalog, showcasing an interesting reinterpretation of assorted hits and original creations reworked for a 2-Tone generation.

Reviewed by Ian Hallagan

View review February 3rd, 2014

Lee Perry – Roaring Lion: 16 Untamed Black Art Masters & Dub Plates

PSLP82 Litho AWV3.indd

Title: Roaring Lion: 16 Untamed Black Art Masters & Dub Plates

Artist: produced & directed by Lee Perry

Label: Pressure Sounds

Formats: CD, LP, MP3

Release date: December 3, 2013

 

 

Roaring Lion is the latest in a series of releases from Pressure Sounds of rare 1970s cuts from Lee “Scratch” Perry’s work in his homemade studio the Black Ark. The “Black Art” mentioned in the subtitle is one of the labels Scratch used for releasing and distributing purposes. According to the accompanying booklet by Jeremy Collingwood, the selections on this disc were recorded or remixed in 1976 and were never included on any album or other commercial release.  Included are “a dozen tracks straight off a single master dub tape” along with some previously unissued selections. These tracks are all heavily dubbed with even more than usual of the sound effects, distortion, and multiple tracking for which Scratch is justly famous. Having never been issued, most of these tracks are not mentioned in the various Perry discographies, but given the helter-skelter nature of record keeping in the Jamaican music industry of the time, and at the Black Ark in particular, this is not all that surprising. These recordings originally appeared on dub plates intended for use by the local sound systems in Kingston’s outdoor street parties and dancehalls.

Strong bass lines were a must, not only because they define reggae and dub, but also to carry the sound long distances in order to attract crowds to the sound systems’ set-ups. As Collingwood notes, “Scratch employed an ever changing cast of musicians,” so individual credits are hard to assign, but the bass players listed are Boris Gardiner from Scratch’s house band the Upsetters, and a young Robbie Shakespeare who became half of Sly & Robbie, among the best known bass and drum contingents in reggae, and world music stars in their own right. Augustus Pablo’s eerie melodica riffs and Vin Gordon’s evocative trombone stylings twist through the mixes, while Scratch, Skully, and Sticky add their trademark percussion lines. Backing vocals are provided by the members of Full Experience featuring Aura Lewis and Candy McKenzie, both of whom have seen vintage recordings they did with Perry finally get issued in the last few years. With the constant re-releasing of Black Ark obscurities being done by various labels, Scratch’s works would seem to never be entirely lost. The tracks collected here were intended for immediate, very temporary duty with the sound systems with no thought given to preserving them in a more permanent medium. Consequently the sound quality of the surviving source material is a little bit rough and noisy in places, but in its way this only enhances the murky and mysterious mood the songs set.

“By 1976 Perry was helping to transform [dub] into an art form and he was beginning to create several different dub mixes of each rhythm [i.e., instrumental track].” This “re-mixing strategy meant he could offer different product to UK companies and exclusives to Sound Systems” for “several hundreds of pounds for each dub plate.” Scratch’s income was greatly augmented by this practice giving him the wherewithal to, among other things, buy more studio gadgets to augment the Black Ark’s recording capabilities. Most of the songs on this album are re-cuts of previous recordings. Therefore familiar bits, beats, and melodies rise and fall in the individual mixes, sometimes identifiable and sometimes not, possibly because some of these intricate creations are dub versions of previous dub versions of earlier recordings. Three Jah Lion cuts are included: “Truth and Rights” and “Generation from Creation” have him toasting over Winston Heywood & the Hombres’ “Backbiting” and “Africa.” The song “Roaring Lion” contains the quintessentially Scratch lyric “When the lion roar, the weak heart tremble,” which Jah Lion delivers with gusto. Rather than a re-cut, this track appears to be a Jah Lion/Upsetters original with tasty dub effects (including a very nice melodica line) added to the mix. Jah Lion was Jah Lloyd when he recorded for other producers (including himself), but Scratch credited him as Jah Lion. Scratch’s universe does not always correspond to mundane reality, then and now. Other highlights include “Emotional Dub” by Junior Murvin (based on his “False Teaching” from the Police and Thieves album) and “Rocky Road,” which starts with a vocal line “from unknown vocalist” and segues into “a rhythm dub of the Fantails’ ‘Stand & Look.’” That Fantails’ number was originally recorded at King Tubby’s studio for sound system operator Fatman who “requested that Tubby make use of a phaser in an effort to emulate Perry’s Black Ark sound.”*  Then there’s a previously unreleased dub of Bob Marley’s “Natural Mystic,” which was “cut for Jah Wise’s Tippertone Sound,“ and is “the original dubplate mix of what became one of Bob Marley’s most iconic tunes when re-recorded for Island” Records after Bob signed with Chris Blackwell’s label. “This early take was made more eerie than the later version on Marley’s Exodus album by the inclusion of a haunting male chorus that Scratch overdubbed at a later session with the Meditations; Marley was not present when the harmonies were laid.”** This version of “Natural Mystic” was “never officially completed”** so this is the first non-bootleg release of it to be available.

Collingwood asserts the selections contained here “are real ‘smokers’ delights’ as they weave patterns in glorious swirling and bouncing rivers of sound.” Of particular interest to the smokers might be “Loco Negril,” Scratch’s maximally dubbed version of an Althea & Donna song (“Going to Negril”) that sounded a lot like their mega-hit “Uptown Top Ranking.” Scratch gave it a full dub treatment not unlike how he created “Disco Devils” from Max Romeo’s “I Chase the Devil.” Eerie sounds, echoes, ethereal horns, and a particularly booming bass line turn the song into the reggae equivalent of psychedelic rock. “Anasawa Dub” and “Dub Dyon” are further dubs on the dub track called “Dyon-Anasaw” on Scratch’s Return of the Super Ape album. “Beat Down Comrade Man” is Junior Byles’ revoicing of his own “Beat Down Babylon,” recast as a political endorsement of 1970s People’s National Party leader Michael Manley. Perhaps American political campaigns might be improved by introducing dub techniques to campaign songs. Also included are “Big Gal Sally” and “Big Boy Wally,” spirited dubs of Scratch’s “slack” masterpieces “Big Pussy Sally” and “Big Cocky Wally.” The altered titles may reflect the less salacious lyrics presented here, but the lyrics are tamer mainly because so much of the vocals drop out of the mix or are distorted beyond recognition. Artistic in its own way.

Scratch’s work at the time (“fueled by spliffs and rum and rum and spliffs”) “wrapped up political and cultural voices in a dense ‘dub-reggae’ sound: a sound that came to define the Black Ark.” Shortly after these tracks were recorded, Perry would leave Jamaica because of the violent political and social milieu that was a consequence of the ongoing street war between the two major Jamaican political parties—a phenomenon described in Scratch’s biographical opus “City Too Hot” (a 1977 single later re-released by Mojo Magazine). Scratch is still active, recording and touring, but sounds like these gems from the Black Ark have never been equaled and probably never will be. Thanks to Pressure Sounds for bringing them back.

* from People Funny Boy by David Katz, p. 320.

** from People Funny Boy by David Katz, p. 268.

All quotes not otherwise attributed are from Jeremy Collingwood’s booklet and liner notes.

Reviewed by Mike Tribby

Participants:

Bass: Boris Gardiner, Robbie Shakespeare

Drums: Basil “Benbow” Creary, Sly Dunbar, Mikey “Boo” Richards;

Flute: Egbert Evans

Guitar: Geoffrey Chung, Robert “Billy Boy” Johnson, Willie Lindo, Ernest Ranglin, Earl “China: Smith, Ranny Williams

Melodica: Augustus Pablo

Organ: Robbie Lyn, Winston Wright

Percussion: Noel “Skully” Simms, Uziah “Sticky” Thompson

Piano: Theophilus Beckford, Keith Sterling

Saxophone: Glen DaCosta, Richard “Dirty Harry” Hall

Trombone: Vin “Don D Junior” Gordon

Trumpet: Bobby Ellis, David Madden

Backing vocals: Aura Lewis, Candy McKenzie, Pamela Reed aka ‘The Full Experience”

 

Set list:

Truths and Rights / Jah Lion & the Upsetters

Upsetters Shuffle / the Upsetters

Roaring Lion / Jah Lion & the Upsetters

Pride / Augustus Pablo and the Upsetters

Loco Negril / Althea and Donna

Big Gal Sally / the Upsetters

Generation from Creation / Jah Lion & the Upsetters

Big Boy Wally / the Upsetters

Beat Down Comrade Man / Junior Byles & the Upsetters

Stand and Look / the Fantels

Rocky Road Dub / the Upsetters

Natural Mystic / Bob & the Upsetters

Anasawa Dub / the Upsetters

Dub Dyon / the Upsetters

Emotional Dub / the Upsetters

Dub Stand / the Upsetters

The other Pressure Sounds releases in this series are: Sound System Scratch (2010), The Return of Sound System Scratch (2011), High Plains Drifter (2012) and The Sound Doctor (2012). They all feature rare and obscure 1970s cuts from Scratch, mostly from the Black Ark.

View review February 3rd, 2014

Etienne Charles – Creole Soul

creole-soul
Title: Creole Soul

Artist: Etienne Charles

Label: MRI

Formats:  CD, MP3

Release date: July 23, 2013

 

 

Creole Soul, the fourth album as a leader from Trinidadian trumpeter Etienne Charles, is a warm and satisfying listen.  Unfailingly lyrical, this is contemporary jazz refracted through the lenses of reggae and calypso.

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Charles displays an agile, buttery trumpet tone, whether trading solos with saxophonists Jacques Schwarz-Bart on tenor and Brian Hodges on alto, or simply stating a beautiful, unadorned melody, as on the covers of Bob Marley’s “Turn Your Lights Down Low” or Mighty Sparrow’s calypso number “Memories.”  Every track demonstrates the trumpeter’s predilection for memorable melodies, and the soloists, while always technically challenging and rhythmically exciting, never stray too far off the harmonic pathway.  “Green Chimneys” by Thelonious Monk gets reimagined as a punchy calypso, while Dawn Penn’s 1967 rocksteady hit “You Don’t Love Me” goes the other way, receiving a funky, Jazz Messengers-esque hard bop makeover.  The first-class rhythm section—Obed Calvaire on drums, Kris Bowers on electric piano and piano, and Ben Williams on bass (with guitarist Alex Wintz joining on a few tracks)—lays down deep, lush grooves throughout, from the spirited opener “Creole” to the happy closing calypso of “Doin’ The Thing.”  Jazz was once one of the country’s most popular forms of music; with Creole Soul, Etienne Charles has shown that it can still, all at once, move your feet, make your heart thump, and engage your brain.

Reviewed by Terry Simpkins

View review January 6th, 2014

Musiq Soulchild & Syleena Johnson – 9ine

9ine

Title: 9ine

Artist: Musiq Soulchild & Syleena Johnson

Label: Shanachie

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: September 24, 2013

 

 

Mixing soulful vocals with their own interpretation of reggae, R&B greats Musiq Soulchild and Syleena Johnson unite for an album of soulful music. Taking a more pop-oriented route, 9ine contains infectious beats and enchanting lyrics that are sure to keep you humming a song for the rest of the day. Take a listen to the first single off the album, “Feel the Fire,” and hear for yourself:

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Reviewed by Ian Hallagan

View review November 1st, 2013

Bombay Dub Orchestra – Tales From The Grand Bazaar

Bombay-Dub-Orchestra-Tales-From-The-Grand-Bazaar-e1374881580129

Title: Tales From the Grand Bazaar

Artist: Bombay Dub Orchestra

Formats: CD, MP3

Label: Six Degrees Records

Release date: October 8, 2013

 

The ambient, East-Meets-West mix of instrumentation and electronics has proven to be a potent formula for Bombay Dub Orchestra. Formed almost a decade ago, the band continues their success on their newest release, Tales From The Grand Bazaar. Bringing in musicians from across the globe— including India, Turkey, the United States, the UK and Jamaica—the years-long project has ultimately culminated into a solid, yet very creative techno-dub release.  With the addition of traditional Middle Eastern instrumentation, the trance-like feel put out by the electronic instrumentation is complimented by the likes of the ud and qanun. Coupled with the dark, heavy bass and drums by famous Jamaican session musicians Robbie Shakespeare and Sly Dunbar, the continuous groove at the outset blends into a ceaseless stream that blends into one, uninterruptible creation. From start to finish, Tales From the Grand Bazaar flirts with a host of unique sounds and instruments that blends the electronic with the traditional, and is effortlessly combined and mixed in such a way that is extremely listenable, and easily enjoyable.

Reviewed by Ian Hallagan

View review November 1st, 2013

Linval Thompson & The Revolutionaries – Boss Man’s Dub

linval

Title: Boss Man’s Dub

Artist: Linval Thompson & The Revolutionaries

Formats: CD, MP3

Label: Hot Milk (dist. via Cherry Red)

Release date: August 6, 2013

 

 

The late 1970s were a critical and extremely creative time for the development of dub music. The Revolutionaries, comprised of the amazing talents of Sly Dunbar, bassist Lloyd Parks (later augmented by Robbie Shakespeare ) and Tommy McCook, among others, helped to churn out some of the most unforgettable dub tunes of that era, and of dub music in general.  Likewise, Linval Thompson, after teaming up with renowned producer Bunny Lee, began to establish himself as an extremely talented musician as well as producer. Thus, the combination of an adept studio band with an equally gifted producer was a match made in heaven. However, as often happens, essential recordings disappear or are lost to the passage of time. Boss Man’s Dub, released at the height of dub excellence in 1979, was one such album, resulting in its incredible rarity.  But after decades without a proper reissue, Hot Milk has brought this old classic back into the spotlight. Now this remarkable album that collects dub versions from the likes of Freddy McKay, Michael Black, and Anthony Johnson as well as Thompson himself, can once again be enjoyed to the fullest.

It’s a cover of a Delfonics’ tune that first introduces the listener to Boss Man’s Dub. Thompson’s dub version of the classic “La La (Means I Love You)” is warped and formed in a way that preserves the solid horn section, as Thompson’s vocals come together with guitar right before the bass hits and takes over. As Thompson continues with scattered vocals and the temporary chorus, keys are dispersed throughout along with the twang of guitar. Continuing along, Freddy McKay (of “Picture On The Wall” fame) gets a dub interpretation on the rare track “Gonna Be Sorry,” with lazy horns maintaining a solid groove that periodically combines with guitar, while bass and drums keep the slow yet energetic track moving forward. Rounding out the original tracklist is none other than Anthony Johnson, riding the Declaration of Rights riddim on “Africa.” Though drums oddly dominate the intro, the bass brings in that ever-familiar line while guitar and keys compliment where necessary to create a tight, but unfortunately short track.

Boss Man’s Dub is an album well overdue for a reissue. The delightful dub rendition of “La La (Means I Love You)” and the somewhat melancholy horns on “Gonna Be Sorry Dub” make these two tracks alone worth a definite listen. The remastering of the album is phenomenal, with subtle sounds that further showcase the extraordinary sonic layers that dub versions are capable of. And for those wanting even more, this release features two equally-compelling bonus tracks: Sammy Dread’s dub version of “Morning Love” as well as the famous Cornell Campbell performing “Wherever You Need Me.” Boss Man’s Dub is another solid album released by the folks at Hot Milk, who are among those leading the way in amazing reissues of once-lost albums.

Reviewed by Ian Hallagan

View review September 3rd, 2013

The History of Blue Beat: The Birth of Ska, BB76-BB100, The A & B Sides

blue beat
Title: The History of Blue Beat: The Birth of Ska, BB76-BB100- The A & B Sides

Artists: Various

Format: 3-CD Set

Label: Not Now Music

Release date: June 25, 2013

 

The music that helped to welcome Jamaica’s independence from Great Britain in 1962, known as ska, was heralded as the first uniquely Jamaican music to come out of the country. Indeed, the walking bass line and emphasis on playing the upbeat which characterized the music eventually paved the way for subsequent genres including rocksteady and reggae. However, ska was not an overnight creation. Before the optimistic tones of independence, Jamaica fell in love with American rhythm and blues, brought to the island via Jamaican seasonal workers.   Finding this dance music extremely infectious, local acts began incorporating elements into their performances. And for Jamaicans leaving their country to find work in places such as the United Kingdom, the demand for the music of their homeland grew significantly. This demand ultimately culminated in the formation of the English record label Blue Beat, which became famous for releasing some of the earliest Jamaican R&B and proto-ska tunes.

Over the past few years, the importance of Blue Beat has been recognized by the various labels compiling and re-releasing material from the Blue Beat catalog. Not Now Music is one such label, releasing a slew of singles with the goal to ultimately make available all A & B sides—an essential task for Jamaican musical history. The third set in their series, The History of Blue Beat: The Birth of Ska BB76-BB100 contains all A & B sides from the 76th to the 100th Blue Beat singles.

Through these songs, some of the earliest hints at what would eventually become ska emerge. Piano and guitar will periodically play strictly on the upbeat. In fact, some of the fathers of ska are featured on this compilation: Derrick Morgan, Alton Ellis, and even Prince Buster indirectly through Busters Group. Early Blue Beat songs alluding to the ska format include Derrick Morgan and Yvonne’s “Meekly Wait,” where the guitar rides out the entire song playing solely on the upbeat. But just as one is introduced to this new form, the accompanying B side “Day In Day Out” returns to an American-style R&B ballad. What is probably the most unique and interesting song on this compilation, however, concerns the Winston & Roy track “Babylon Gone,” featuring Count Ossie. This song is one of the earliest musical mentions of the Rastafarian “Babylon” and includes African drums in a Niyabinghi style which, as Rastafari became more prevalent in the Jamaican music scene, was evermore incorporated into popular reggae songs. The B side, “First Gone,” is even crazier— the rhythm and blues side of things is even more pronounced, yet the African drumming continues throughout.

While this set only covers a very small part of the Blue Beat catalog, it’s enough to convince this listener that the influence Blue Beat had on later Jamaican genres was both crucial and undeniable. Additionally, through the release of these compilations, there is indeed a clearer picture of the birth of ska. The  Blue Beat  singles showcase a turning point away from a Jamaican copy of rhythm and blues to the  creation of the first truly unique form of Jamaican music .

Reviewed by Ian Hallagan

View review September 3rd, 2013

The Mighty Diamonds – Planet Earth / Planet Mars Dub

Title: Planet Earth / Planet Mars Dub

Artist: The Mighty Diamonds

Format: CD

Label: Hot Milk (dist. By Cherry Red)

Release date: May 7, 2013

 

 

There are few groups that have been together for as long as The Mighty Diamonds. Formed in 1969 in the Trenchtown area of Kingston, Jamaica, the group has played to countless audiences over the world throughout their 40+ years of performing. The amount of material they have released over the years is just as impressive, practically equal in number to the years they’ve been together. But with such an extensive catalogue, the albums will eventually be lost to time if no reissues are forthcoming. But leave it to the minds over at Hot Milk, who have given the proper treatment to two rare Mighty Diamonds releases that have finally been put onto CD. Coming off last year’s release of Keith Hudson’s Torch of Freedom, Hot Milk’s latest project is a double album release of the vocally smooth and instrumentally sound Planet Earth and its dub accompaniment Planet Mars Dub.

Hot Milk has opted for the intertwined version of both albums, with the dub version following immediately after the original reggae version. It’s refreshing to listen to this method, since hearing the reggae version seamlessly flow into the instrumental dub version leaves an appreciation of not only the vocal talents of the Mighty Diamonds trio, but also the instrumental virtuosity of the Icebreakers. Dub versions echo the same laid-back style of the Mighty Diamonds, though with a more barebones approach to the reworking of the songs using reverb, echo, and delay as the main driving forces for each mix. And suffice to say, this preference was a great choice as it allows the album to flow from song to song at a perfect pace. But not enough can be said of the Mighty Diamonds, whose vocals throughout both albums show them at the height of their career in the late 1970s. “Let The Answer” is indicative of the whole album: tight vocalization, beautiful lyrics, and strong musical accompaniment.

The remastering work of Hot Milk is absolutely flawless, giving nothing but love and devotion to a release that had unexpectedly been lost for so long. Additionally, liner notes provided by reggae expert John Masouri give a concise overview of the long and brilliant history of The Mighty Diamonds, and an in-depth look at the album itself. Hot Milk continues to release great material, and this reviewer waits for whatever grand ideas Hot Milk has in store for us for the rest of this year.

Reviewed by Ian Hallagan

 

View review May 1st, 2013

Two Black Roots Releases

Title: On the Ground

Artist: Black Roots

Formats: CD, LP, MP3

Label: Sugar Shack

Release date: September 25, 2012

 

 

As one of the many roots reggae bands to make their way out of Bristol, England, Black Roots emerged in the ‘80s as one of the most important and influential groups on the British reggae scene. With albums such as their self-titled 1983 debut and 1984 release The Front Line, named after a British sitcom for which the band composed the theme song, the deeply political and raw music of Black Roots was something truly unique.  So it was an unfortunate turn of events in 1990 when the group disbanded, ending a significant period in British reggae. The band remained quiet for over a decade, not releasing any material or appearing to be on the verge of a reunion. But in 2012, there was news that several of the original members were coming back together, and this ultimately culminated in On the Ground, the first album of original material since 1990’s Natural Reaction.  On the Ground is a return-to-force of ‘80s-era Black Roots music, and the accompanying dub mix only exemplifies the group’s instrumental talents.

The first thing one notices about On the Ground is how tight Black Roots remains, regardless of their nearly  20 years hiatus, as well as the unfortunate loss of bassist Derrick King in April 2011. But the band has made a speedy recovery, playing with the same deep and dark roots from the days of The Frontline and Black Roots.  From the opening tracks “I Believe” and “Long Long Ago” they make it seem as though On the Ground is an immediate follow-up to albums produced when the group was at their peak in the 1980s. But while the deep, heavy sound is still present, there has been a change lyrically to something more positive and optimistic. This is by no means a negative change, and in fact the songs are expertly written, addressing issues ranging from helping and actively changing society to making it through a broken system.

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Title: On The Ground In Dub

Artist: Black Roots

Formats: CD, LP, MP3

Label: Sugar Shack

Release date: February 13, 2013

 

 

The aforementioned hard-hitting tracks of On the Ground are given even more emphasis on the album’s accompanying dub release.  Louis Becket, known for his work with groups such as Misty in Roots and Culture, is on the mix with Black Roots, reworking fifteen of the original album’s seventeen songs. Pushing away the extensive use of various effects, Becket mainly preserves the traditional elements: drum, bass, echo and reverb. However, there is another addition to the formula, one which is executed fantastically: the horn section. “Militancy Dub,” for example, exemplifies their talents exceptionally well, sounding tight and focused with plenty of drive to give the tracks, and others like it, that unique dub sound. Other strong tracks include dub mixes of “Slavery,” “Struggle,” and “Call Me Out.”

Although as is often the case for an original strong reggae release, On the Ground in Dub goes to show that the accompanying dub releases can be nothing short of fantastic. And in the hands of an experienced engineer like Becket, the album lives up to its greatest possible potential.

Reviewed by Ian Hallagan

View review April 1st, 2013

Jashwha Moses – No War on Earth

Title: No War On Earth

Artist: Jashwha Moses

Label: Sugar Shack

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: April 8, 2013

 

 

Sugar Shack’s mission to resurrect and promote the once-forgotten thriving Bristol reggae scene in England continues to be a monumental task that has culminated in a series of releases, bringing the English city into the general mindset as an area thriving with deep roots reggae. The dedication is partly seen from their rediscovery of Jashwha Moses, a musician from the late 1970s who was practically lost to the general consciousness. Painstakingly compiling rare material, their work eventually paid off in last year’s release of Joshua to Jashwha –30 Years in the Wilderness. This year, Jashwha Moses finally returns with No War on Earth, an album full of all-new material. The end effect is an album maintaining the old roots reggae feel whilst mixing with new and creative musical ideas.

As you get deeper into No War on Earth, you begin to wonder just how Jashwha had been forgotten in the first place. “Good Over Evil,” with anti-racism lyrics given further strength through a thick, dark sound that is only exemplified by the dub version that follows. The attention to detail in classic roots reggae is just as present in “No Weep” and “No War,” but Jashwha has a talent for expanding beyond tradition. I can only describe the track “Power Crazy People” as robotic dub; Jashwha manipulates his voice over multi-layered instrumentation and effects that sound practically haunting in the best way possible. The following track “Steel (Version)” only makes it better, as the same modifications to Jashwha’s voice are complimented by a strong driving beat and staccato moans that sound as though the song is a mash-up of roots reggae with Herbie Hancock’s “Watermelon Man” off Head Hunters.

While Jashwha Moses effortlessly preserves the traditional roots reggae sound, his ability to expand to incorporate new and interesting sounds in the music sets him apart from others. With No War on Earth, the revival of Jashwha Moses, and in a greater sense the Bristol reggae scene, has begun.

Reviewed by Ian Hallagan

View review April 1st, 2013

Bad Brains – Into the Future

Title: Into The Future

Artist: Bad Brains

Label: Megaforce

Formats: CD, LP, Mp3

Release date: November 30, 2012

 

Bad Brains has the misfortune of being a band whose place in history was crystallized and immortalized about 30 years ago, as rough and tumble break-through Black artists in the D.C. hardcore scene. Bad Brains the historical object, however, has never stopped Bad Brains the band from performing and recording with an ever changing line-up.

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Into the Future is the group’s seventh release and, while definitely nowhere near a reclamation of former glories, is probably their best album in at least the last ten years. Famed, crazed frontman H.R. is back in the lead with his stream of consciousness yelping, growling and shouting. The band’s foray into reggae tinged metal has been scaled back and glimpses of their original hardcore style can be felt throughout. Bad Brains completists will want to purchase this album, and perhaps people interested in the idea of Bad Brains who were not intrigued by the abrasive, non-stop sound of their 2003 release “Banned in D.C.” Hardcore purists, however, should probably keep pretending the last 30 years didn’t happen.

Reviewed by Dorothy Berry

View review March 1st, 2013

The Lions – This Generation

Title: This Generation

Artist: The Lions

Label: Stones Throw

Formats: CD, MP3, LP, 45-rpm Box Set

Release date: February 26, 2013

 

Drawn from various groups throughout the Los Angeles area, the 17 musicians that comprise the reggae soul band The Lions have one goal in mind: to create their own classic soul reggae album. With influences ranging from the Upsetters to the Roots Radics, The Lions want a signature reggae sound that’s full of accidental moments of brilliance, whether it’s an interesting mistake by a band member or the blowing of fuses mid-recording. With This Generation, The Lions indeed pull off a great combination of soulful, moving reggae tunes.

The album starts off interestingly enough with “Bird on a Wire,” which transitions from a country folk-infused guitar riff into a reverb and echo-filled reggae jam with the amazing vocals of Malik “The Freq” Moore (The Bullets). This is followed by the title track, as Moore now trades vocals with Master of Ceremonies Black Shakespeare, the energetic “toaster” of the group.  With great contributions from all members of the band, especially that of the horn section and organist Dan Hastie, “This Generation” is a compelling single and video:

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It’s a good indication when you have difficulty selecting the best tracks on an album, and for This Generation nothing is closer to the truth. “New Girl” brings back an old rocksteady groove led by James “#1” King on alto saxophone, while the melancholic “Padre Ichiro” encapsulates a lost relationship with the lyrics “Padre Ichiro told me something my eyes start to see / She loves the marijuana more than she loves me.” But while it’s not possible to discuss every song in great detail, The Lions do, in fact, have very fews faults, if any. Full of classic sounds remade in new and exciting ways, This Generation is definitely one of the top reggae albums to look for this year.

Reviewed by Ian Hallagan

Note: For those wanting more from The Lions, Stones Throw will be releasing a 45 box set including the entire album as well as four original “dub versions” only available in this format. You can order the collection here.

View review March 1st, 2013

Barrington Levy – Sweet Reggae Music

Title: Sweet Reggae Music

Artist: Barrington Levy

Label: VP Records

Formats: 2-CD set, MP3

Release date: December 18, 2012

 

 

Barrington Levy has a storied career that began in the late 1970s.  Throughout the 1980s, while the transition from reggae to dancehall spelled the end for some Jamaican artists, Levy met the challenge with hit after hit. Working with the likes of the Roots Radics and with support from famous producers such as King Jammy and Scientist, Barrington Levy was one of the best known performers not only in Jamaica but throughout the reggae universe. Taking it upon themselves to showcase the best period in Levy’s career, VP Records has released a two-disc compilation, entitled Sweet Reggae Music, of the various hits released over a five-year period, beginning in 1979 when Levy was only 15.  Sweet Reggae Music is a fantastic compilation that an artist like Barrington Levy truly deserves.

The 40 songs compiled on Sweet Reggae Music are all hits, beginning with Levy’s early introduction into the global scene. “Don’t Fuss Nor Fight,” off of 1979’s seminal Englishman, cemented a career in the UK that would only increase in popularity with the abundance of chart toppers released throughout the 1980s. Other notable tracks include “Shaolin Temple,” “Sister Carol,” and “A Yah We Dah.” And this is only the first disc. Disc two continues much in the same vein as the first, cramming in a fantastic mix of hits. “The Winner,” “Mini Bus,” and the dancehall favorite “Under Mi Sensi” help bring Sweet Reggae Music to its end. It was a hard choice to simply pick out the favorites on each disc; there is absolutely no time wasted with weaker tracks or fluffing the album with unnecessary remixes. Each song is Barrington Levy at his greatest, and VP Records has done a great service in accumulating so many strong tunes. If there’s one compilation for those interested in delving deeper into reggae and dancehall, or simply those wanting to find a comprehensive collection of Barrington Levy’s greatest hits, then Sweet Reggae Music is the go-to set.

Reviewed by Ian Hallagan

View review March 1st, 2013

Miss Lily’s Family Style Vol. 1

Title: Miss Lily’s Family Style Vol. 1

Artist: Various Artists

Label: VP Records

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: January 22, 2013

 

On a street in downtown Manhattan lies Miss Lily’s, a Caribbean-themed diner host to several traditional West Indian dishes from jerk chicken to oxtail and curried goat. And just next to this diner is the artistic section: Miss Lily’s Variety. Carrying all types of Jamaican vinyl, from the bare essentials to those hard-to-find collectibles, Variety provides several other artistic creations and a rotating program of West Indian-themed exhibitions. But although Miss Lily’s has expanded beyond that of a diner, one thing is still more important above all else: family. Bringing together all people, regardless of nationality or ethnicity is the key to Miss Lily’s success; Jamaican icons like Jimmy Cliff and Beenie Man have made appearances at what has been described as a “Jamaican Embassy” in Manhattan. This same concept of family is key to the business’s first release via VP Records, Miss Lily’s Family Style Vol.1. By compiling a selection of songs that you might hear echoing throughout the diner and store, Miss Lily’s hopes to bring its own sense of family, albeit an audio version, to everyone across the globe.

Each track, featuring contemporary reggae and dancehall tunes, blends effectively to create a lively and energetic album. Big names abound on Family Style, with an eclectic mix of both relatively new and seasoned acts. Buju Banton and Wayne Wonder’s “Bonafide Love,” Gyptian’s “Hold You (Hold Yuh),” and, my personal favorite, Gappy Ranks’ “Pumpkin Belly” brings the homey and inviting mood right through your speakers. The fifteen tracks featured on Family Style all aim to create a sense of a larger family, and the sentiments are echoed to greatest effect. But that’s not all. For those wanting even more from Miss Lily’s, included is a mega mix of tunes by DJ Max Glazer, guaranteeing that if the food is as good as the music, then Miss Lily’s should be your first stop in Manhattan.

Reviewed by Ian Hallagan

View review March 1st, 2013

Keith Hudson – Torch of Freedom

 

Title: Torch of Freedom

Artist: Keith Hudson

Format: CD

Label: Hot Milk (dist. by Cherry Red)

Release date: November 26, 2012

 

 

The first release from the new reggae/dub/dancehall reissue label Hot Milk aims to be a big one with Keith Hudson’s Torch of Freedom. Initially released alongside other Hudson classics such as Pick a Dub (1974) and Flesh of My Skin, Blood of My Blood (1974), Torch of Freedom (1975) fell into relative obscurity as the forgotten gem of the Jamaican producer/singer/songwriter’s solo career. Maintaining that dark, sinister sound that only Keith Hudson could conjure up, the album finally gets the reissue treatment that it so greatly deserves.

Listening to Torch of Freedom, it’s hard to comprehend just why it took so long for it to be reissued, as the album contains a wealth of signature Hudson creations. With the famous Soul Syndicate, along with Robie Shakespeare and Candy McKenzie, among others, providing their limitless talents, the haunting instrumentation meshes with Hudson’s often hard-to-decipher, yet elegant lyrics to create an emotional, hard-hitting album. For a more thorough understanding of his music, take a listen to the track “Turn the Heater On” (track 8) and compare it to the dub version, “So Cold Without You” (track 9).

Hot Milk Records has come out swinging with this amazing reissue of an album that, until now, had been an almost unattainable commodity. Keith Hudson is really on top of his game, and fans of “The Dark Prince” can finally rejoice. I eagerly await what this new label has in store for 2013.

Reviewed by Ian Hallagan

View review January 1st, 2013

A Trio of Lee “Scratch” Perry Releases

Lee “Scratch” Perry has been quite busy for a Septuagenarian artist. End Records has released a collaboration between Perry and ambient house institution the Orb, The Orbserver in the Star House, Trojan Records has released a two-CD set of 1970s-era extended dub mixes from Perry’s legendary Black Ark studio, Disco Devil: the Jamaican Discomixes, and Pressure Sounds has a new release of obscure Perry cuts, The Sound Doctor. All are worth a listen.

Title: The Orbserver In The Star House (Feat. Lee Scratch Perry)

Label: End Records

Formats: CD, LP, MP3

Release date:  August 28, 2012

 

 

 

The Orb maintains a fluid membership—this time out it’s comprised of mainstay Alex Paterson and frequent contributor Thomas Fehlmann. Having already collaborated with Pink Floyd alum David Gilmour and Rickie Lee Jones, Paterson and crew are used to creatively sharing their soundscapes. Jones’s sampled vocal propelled the Orb’s best known song to date, “Little Fluffy Clouds” (from the album The Orb’s Adventures Beyond the Ultraworld); on The Orbserver in the Star House, Scratch voices a modified update, “Golden Clouds,” in which he describes the Jamaican skies in similar terms to Jones’s disquisition on the Arizona skies she remembered from her childhood there. Perry is in wonderful voice, playful and engaged, as he is on most of the album. Following is the video of “Golden Clouds” (also the name of the house in Jamaica where Ian Fleming wrote many of the James Bond novels):

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“Soulman,” also released as a single, is a moody dub workout with tasty rhythmic touches and an insistent beat. It may be based on Perry’s version of “Soul Man” (from his 1974 album Double Seven), which was a recasting of the Isaac Hayes/David Porter song popularized by Sam and Dave, but any similarity here to that original is tenuous. It opens with some elemental philosophizing by Perry before sailing away on a bass groove. Perry and the Orb also present an updating of the Junior Murvin hit (co-written, produced, etc. by Perry) “Police & Thieves,” that benefits from an imaginative mix that lends it a wistful tone that still retains a good deal of the original’s 1970s punky reggae feel. The song also features an extended toast by Perry, ruminating on street politics and a new generation dealing with “police and soldier in the street … killing the children one by one.”

Composer credits for the rest of the set go to Paterson, Fehlmann, and Perry, and the compositions share familiar attributes: booming bass, on- and off-beat percussion tracks layered over the mix, inventive found sound samples, and spotless production. “Ball of Fire,” it should be noted, has absolutely no connection to Jerry Lee Lewis, but features Scratch scatting over bubbling electronica. “Man in the Moon” is another Perry-as-resident in outer space rap about things celestial, eschatological, and musical. “Ashes” has a striking, minimalist feel, its brief duration dominated by an otherworldly rap from Perry over a collection of exotic percussion lines. And “Congo” is a more amplified skank of a similar nature.

Perry has engaged in interesting collaborations throughout his career, releasing music made with Jamaican and British producers like Niney the Observer (George Boswell), King Tubby (Osbourne Ruddock), Mad Professor (Neil Fraser), and Adrian Sherwood at various times over the years. More recently he has collaborated with Moby, Ari Up, George Clinton, Keith Richards, and the Vienna-based dub act, Dubblestandart. Not all reggae fans, nor even all Perry aficionados like Perry’s later day collaborations, and this set is no exception, though this particular collaboration seems more developed than some previous ones. The interaction between Perry and the Orb seems to be fairly symbiotic, with the vocals not only making linear sense, but sounding as if they belong with the music they accompany. Individual listeners’ mileage, as they say, may vary.

The set list: Ball of Fire; H.O.O.; Man in the Moon; Soulman; Golden Clouds; Hold Me Upsetter; Go Down Evil; Thirsty; Police & Thieves; Ashes; Congo.

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Title: Disco Devil: Jamaican Discomixes

Label:  Trojan

Format: 2-CD set

Release date:  October 2, 2012

 

 

This is another reissue from Trojan Records, and it contains many gems from Perry’s heaviest dub period, a style he could explore much more fully in his homemade studio, the Black Ark. “Discomix” does not necessarily refer to Studio 54 style relics of the 1970s. In the Jamaican sense, they were extended 45 rpm mixes issued on 12” vinyl, which “vastly improved the dynamic bass and treble ranges” available for producers like Perry to work with. “Sound quality had always been of vital importance to Jamaican sound system operators where the bass was supposed to be felt in your chest rather than merely heard.” Scratch and his bass players like Boris Gardiner, did their best to deliver that sensation, and in the process created a sort of psychedelic reggae that fit the times well.

The set list includes some of Perry’s finest efforts: “City Too Hot” describes the deteriorating situation in Jamaica in the late ’70s as the island was beset by warring political factions, especially in Kingston. “Roots Train” and “Rasta Train” are entirely danceable and both feature notable toasting (i.e., raps) by Dillinger and Doctor Alimantado.  “Open the Gate,” Watty Burnett’s song about repatriation, has ethereal effects throughout and may contain the most crash cymbal strikes of any single recording by anyone. And the title track is Perry’s notorious reworking of Max Romeo’s “Chase the Devil” (a.k.a “I Chase the Devil”). The entire cut is drenched in dub effects and saturated with layers of percussion and echo. The version of Devon Irons’ “Vampire” included here is probably the longest, most relentlessly dubbed version of this frequently-recorded song.  Ethereal horns flow through the mix and Perry stops and starts instrumental parts, once again playing his mixing board as if it were a musical instrument as Irons sings about collaborating with the Biblical prophet Obediah in capturing and burning the vampires that beset the righteous Rastas in Babylon. As Doctor Alimantado observes near the end of his rap, “You’ve got to be clean / To rally ’round the red, gold, and green.” A truly majestic cut.

Still, there is a downside to this package. While many of these songs aren’t available elsewhere in precisely these versions, Trojan has issued many of them on previous Perry collections like Open the Gate and Arkology. By and large the versions presented here are the longest, most complete versions, but there are further Scratch rarities out there that Trojan might consider for future releases. However, issuing important songs in multiple packages is just another characteristic of the reggae biz.

The set list:

Disc 1: Norman / Max Romeo & the Upsetters; Bad Weed / Junior Murvin; I Forgot to Be Your Lover (a.k.a. To Be a Lover) / George Faith; Know Love / Twin Roots; Rainy Night in Portland / Watty Burnett; Disco Devil / Lee Perry & the Full Experience; City Too Hot / Lee Perry; Words / Sangie Davis & Lee Perry; Roots Train / Junior Murvin & Dillinger.

Disc 2: Open the Gate / Watty Burnett; Neckodeemus / the Congos; Rasta Train / Raphael Green & Doctor Alimantado; (Ketch) Vampire / Devon Irons & Doctor Alimantado; History (of Civilization) / Carlton Jackson; Sons of Slaves / Junior Delgado; Party Time / the Heptones; Free Up the Prisoners / Lee Perry; Garden of Life / Leroy Sibbles.

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Title: The Sound Doctor : Lee Perry and the Sufferers’ Black Ark Singles and Dub Plates, 1972-1978

Label: Pressure Sounds

Formats: CD, LP, MP3

Release date: November 13, 2012

 

 

 

Pressure Sounds has issued another collection of truly rare Perry cuts, most of which have only appeared on vinyl—and in Jamaica for the most part—before now. Like previous Perry packages Sound System Scratch and The Return of Sound System Scratch, the sound of these early recordings has been greatly improved by modern technology, but still, in this case, there are a few places where unpleasant noises not intended by the tricky producer intrude. But all in all, this is a highly listenable set with some intriguing stuff, though probably best-suited for intense Perry fans.

The set list:

Oppression / Delroy Butler; Army of Love / Junior Byles (previously unreleased); Wam-Pam-Pa-Do / Dillinger; Sound Doctor / Bobby Floyd; Doctor Skank / Young Dellinger; Horny Train / The Upsetters (exclusive dub plate mix); Do Good / Al Maytone; Different Experience / Brother Roy; Smiling Faces / Tinga Stewart; Smiling version / Hux Brown Group; Be Prepared / Keith Poppin; 006 / U Roy; Key Card / Lee & Jimmy; Domino Game / The Upsetters; Message to the Nation / Tony Fearon; Dub Message / The Upsetters; Water Your Garden / The Flames; Standing on the Hill / Chenley Duffus; Start Over / The Gatherers; Its Impossible / The Ethiopians; Grandfather Land / Jah T; King of Kings / Pat Francis; King of Kings Version / Upsetters; To Hell and Back / Count Stocky & The Upsetters.

Reviewed by Mike Tribby

View review December 1st, 2012

Tarrus Riley – Mecoustic

Title: Mecoustic

Artist: Tarrus Riley

Label: Soulbeats

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: September 25, 2012 (U.S.)

 

Tarrus Riley is a second generation reggae star. His father, Jimmy Riley, had a string of reggae hits in the 1970s, working for a variety of Jamaican producers including Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry, Duke Reid, and Bunny Lee before becoming an accomplished producer in his own right. Whereas Jimmy Riley recorded in ska and rocksteady along with reggae, Tarrus’s recordings are generally in the roots tradition of Bob Marley or Dennis Brown with most of the lyrics centering on appreciation of Jah and living a spiritual life, or the social conditions that continue to bedevil the sufferers in the Rasta community in Jamaica and elsewhere.

Tarrus Riley’s new album Mecoustic features slow, heartfelt songs with excellent production values that provide a very clean overall sound with full-range audio response that emphasizes the top end as well as the bass, which is not always the case in reggae. This provides clarity to Riley’s soaring vocals and emphasizes the tasteful orchestration in the production. The focus is on lyrical songs of devotion with soulful backup vocals and appropriately spare arrangements. This is about as far as one can get from dancehall or dub while staying in the reggae idiom, so rather than a party scorcher, this is a set for contemplation and appreciation of Jah and his love.

Highlights include Tarrus’s duet with Jimmy Riley on “Black Mother Pray,” “Marcus Garvey” (not the Burning Spear song, but another fitting tribute to the prophet of Rastafari), and a duet with the sultry and expressive Cherry Natural on “System Set.”

Following is a live television performance of “System Set” (sans Cherry Natural):

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A timeless collection and likely a crowd pleaser, Mecoustic should add to Tarrus Riley’s string of chart toppers.

The complete set list: Larger Than Life (4:36); Black Mother Pray (ft. Jimmy Riley) (4:46); She’s Royal (4:13); Devil’s Appetite (4:10); If It’s Jah Will (3:57); Marcus Garvey (5:24); Eye Sight (4:36); Paradise (5:07); Pick Up the Pieces (6:11);  One Two Order (4:00); System Set (ft. Cherry Natural) (4:56); Africa Awaits (5:51); Other Half (3:43); Eye Sight (Bonus Track, 0:42); Whispers (5:42).

Reviewed by Mike Tribby

View review October 1st, 2012

Phoenix City All-Stars – 2 Tone Gone Ska

Title: 2 Tone Gone Ska

Artist: Phoenix City All-Stars

Label: Phoenix City Records

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: September 11, 2012

 

 

 

2 Tone Gone Ska presents a collection of popular second-wave ska songs from the legendary 2 Tone Records label filtered through a first-wave context. In other words, it’s as if the Specials and Madness were based in Kingston during the 1960s. This mood is effectively captured by the Phoenix City All-Stars, who rework these British hits into a classic Jamaican musical form.

Comprised mainly of instrumentals, 2 Tone Gone Ska is a return to a time when ska helped usher in Jamaican independence in 1962. Starting off with the Madness hit “One Step Beyond,” an entire horn section now takes over for the sole sax lead in the original. The song, and for the most part, the album as a whole provides a much heavier sound than the originals. With a prominent swinging bass, less trebly keyboards, and a fuller horn section, these songs have been completely overhauled. Through the layer of instrumental tracks, two songs emerge that contain impressive vocals by the famous Jamaican singer Dave Barker of Dave & Ansel Collins fame.  Although now 63, Barker sounds just as talented as he did on Double Barrel with his renditions of “Tears of a Clown” and “I Can’t Stand Up For Falling Down.”

Following is the album trailer:

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With a host of skilled musicians and seasoned vocalists on board to lend their talents, 2 Tone Gone Ska is an album that can easily be listened to on repeat for several days. With each listen the songs get increasingly stuck in your head, as I found myself whistling “Ghost Town” on more than one occasion. However, the album’s eight tracks measure up to being only a little over 25 minutes, which perhaps necessitates its being on repeat. This is a little disheartening, since there is so much good material that could have made its way onto this compilation. What about a cover of “Night Boat To Cairo?” Or a classic ska rendition of “Do the Rocksteady?” Whatever the reason, it is hard to deny that 2 Tone Gone Ska makes up for the short runtime with a talented group of musicians who have a great understanding of ska and are able to make unique interpretations of these classic second-wave ska hits.

Reviewed by Ian Hallagan

View review October 1st, 2012

Zvuloon Dub System – Freedom Time

Title: Freedom Time

Artist: Zvuloon Dub System

Label: Medtone Records

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: April 24, 2012

 

 

Freedom Time, the newest release from Israeli roots reggae group Zvuloon Dub System, speaks to the global influence of reggae music. Adopting Jamaica’s signature sound, Zvuloon Dub System echoes roots reggae’s message of injustice in the world and the need for peace and unity.

“Freedom Time,” the album’s title track, is a relaxing and tranquil composition, harkening back to rocksteady, the equally mellow forerunner to reggae. Zvuloon’s eight-piece band, maintaining an original and soulful sound through the horn section, gives the album its greatest strength. In fact, without the horn section Zvuloon is noticeably weaker. For example, “Voodoo Chile,” a cover of the Jimi Hendrix classic, is an ill-wrought attempt. Although an interesting idea for a reggae version, the song lacks emotion—the “riddim” drags and the organ is underwhelming.

Following is a live performance of “Freedom Time”:

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Despite this misstep, most of the album’s 11 songs are strong tracks. As an added bonus, reggae deejay Ranking Joe makes an appearance on the final track, “Nah Give Up.” The seasoned Jamaican veteran lends his talents to this relatively new group, and their combined efforts give Freedom Time a strong finish.

 

Reviewed by Ian Hallagan

View review September 4th, 2012

Marley

Title: Marley

Format: DVD/Blu-Ray (145 min.)

Label: Magnolia Home Entertainment

Release date: August 7, 2012

 

 

 

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Title: Marley: The Original Soundtrack

Artist:  Bob Marley & the Wailers

Formats:  2-CD or 3-LP set, MP3

Label: Island Def Jam/Tuff Gong

Release date:  April 17, 2012

There may be numerous books, articles, and documentaries detailing the life of Bob Marley, but Kevin MacDonald has directed something so unique that previous attempts at portraying the reggae superstar pale in comparison. For it is in Marley that one gains a much more personal understanding of Bob not only as a musician, but rather as a man.

With the beautiful panoramic images of the Jamaican countryside and more specifically of St. Ann, Marley’s birthplace, the stage is set for the story of Bob’s humble beginnings. With a white father and black mother, the mixed-race Marley was practically ostracized from the rest of society. Interviews with early friend Bunny Wailer, along with Marley’s mother and other family members, help to detail what he experienced, and how through music he was able to overcome this racial stigma.

As Marley continues, interviews with an exhaustive list of individuals ranging from family to fellow musicians and producers provide an all-encompassing look at the man behind the music. This is where the documentary strays from previous attempts—Bob’s life is not told simply through narration, but is instead explained by those who were closest to him, offering many new insights. Various musicians make appearances, including the reclusive Lee “Scratch” Perry, who surprisingly stays on topic for much of the time spent onscreen. Also included are fellow band members Aston Barrett, the back-up vocals of the I-Threes, and Junior Marvin, among others.  Interesting facts about Bob are unearthed—his love of soccer and cricket, his attention to physical fitness—all of which added to his personality. In recollections about his attitude as a father, his children from wife Rita humorously recall him racing as fast as he could against his own kids, refusing to let up even the tiniest bit. It is these insights into the life of Bob Marley that the documentary achieves so well, allowing viewers to form a very close understanding of him, beyond just the music.

Following is the official trailer for Marley:

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Plenty of footage is devoted to Marley as a serious musician, and to the message of peace, love and equality that he spread throughout the world with his music. The accompanying soundtrack aptly mixes the Wailers’ music and philosophy as the documentary progresses through Marley’s life. (The soundtrack album, available on CD and vinyl, includes a mix of studio and live performances spanning Bob’s entire career, from an aspiring solo artist in the early 1960s to his reformation of the Wailers in the mid-1970s to his final performances in the late 1970s). There is a very interesting point in the documentary in which Bob’s half-brother and half-sister give a listen to “Corner Stone,” a song that describes the feelings of rejection by Marley’s white father. Needless to say, it’s truly something special. From his attempt at ending political violence between the JLP and PNP to celebrating African independence in places like Zimbabwe, peace, love and equality was always his focal point. Black unity across the entire diaspora is emphasized just as much in the documentary. For example, through interviews we learn of the sadness that Marley felt when playing concerts to a mostly white crowd. The time that Bob dedicated and sacrificed to this cause unfortunately ends too soon. In 1981 Marley passes—he was only 36.

As the film ends with clips of Jamaicans mourning Marley’s death and the credits roll, there is a very touching series of vignettes showing that Marley’s message of peace, love and equality continues to be a driving force throughout the world, thus achieving his greatest wish. From Zimbabwe to Jamaica to India to Ethiopia to the UK to the USA to India to Brazil to Japan and everywhere in-between, murals and images of Bob Marley are still extremely important to people, over 30 years after his death. This is the greatest message of the documentary—Marley’s music has indeed created an interconnectedness that will carry well into the future.

Reviewed by Ian Hallagan

View review August 1st, 2012

Women of the World: Angélique Kidjo

Title: Spirit Rising

Artist: Angélique Kidjo

Label: Razor & Tie

Formats:  CD, MP3, DVD (PBS)

Release date:  February 21, 2012

 

 

Designated “Africa’s premier diva” by Time magazine, Beninoise singer-songwriter Angélique Kidjo has released a string of internationally acclaimed albums that draw upon traditional African music as well as jazz and other genres representing the African diaspora―in her words, “music without boundaries.” At the same time, she has lent her talent and energy to a host of organizations promoting peace, conservation, and the empowerment of women.

In 2011, twenty years after she embarked on her solo career, Boston’s WGBH celebrated the occasion with the live concert “Spirit Rising: Angéélique Kidjo and Friends” featuring long time collaborator Branford Marsalis, Josh Groban, Dianne Reeves, and Ezra Koenig (of Vampire Weekend).  The rhythm section includes Thierry Vaton on piano, Christian McBride on bass, Dominic James and Marvin Sewell on guitars, Daniel Freedman on drums, and Magatte Sow on percussion, accompanied variously by a trio of horn players from Berklee College, the Kuumba Singers of Harvard, the Borremeo String Quartet and, in the DVD edition, dancers from the Broadway show Fela!.

The concept behind the concert was to feature songs culled from different stages of Kidjo’s career, while also paying homage to her African roots.  Tracks include “Batonga” from her 1991 breakthrough album Logozo, “Tumba” and “Afirika” from the Brazilian influenced Black Ivory Soul (2002), and “N’Yin Wan Nou We” from her Latin album Oyaya! (2004). Much of the remainder of the set is drawn from her most recent album, Õÿö (2010), including the highlife tune “Kelele,” a cover of the Rolling Stones’ “Gimme Shelter” featuring Diane Reeves, and a rendition of Curtis Mayfield’s “Move On Up” featuring Marsalis. Additional tracks include Bob Marley’s “Redemption Song,” Gershwin’s “Summertime,” a Kidjo arrangement of Ravel’s “Bolero,” Vampire Weekend’s “I Think UR a Contra,” and “Pearls” sung in a duet with Groban.

Following is the official trailer for the DVD:

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Spirit Rising is Kidjo’s first live album, and fans will enjoy these new renditions of her best loved songs. The concert first aired over PBS in March 2012 and is now available on DVD, which features five songs not included on the CD version, as well as a back-stage interview with Kidjo.

 

Reviewed by Brenda Nelson-Strauss

View review August 1st, 2012

Super Eight

Title: Super Eight

Artist: George Faith; produced by Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry

Label: Trojan

Format:  CD

Release date: April 3, 2012

 

 

In 1977 Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry’s career was at its apex—artistically if not commercially. Between 1976 and 1977 he had released War in a Babylon with Max Romeo, Scratch the Super Ape (aka Super Ape), Party Time (with the Heptones), Police and Thieves (with Junior Murvin), and Heart of the Congos (with the Congos). All would eventually be acknowledged as classic roots reggae and dub works. But Island Records wasn’t promoting the releases to Scratch’s satisfaction and in fact Island president Chris Blackwell had declined to distribute Heart of the Congos and a few other releases at all, though they paid Scratch for fulfilling his contractual obligation and allowed Perry to pursue other distribution venues. But without Island’s worldwide reach, sales were minimal and the albums hard to find in many markets, especially in the U.S.   Blackwell later said that he had failed to appreciate Perry’s work from this time, but defended his decision as a good business judgment. Perry, and other Jamaican artists signed to Island at the time, suspected that Blackwell was pulling back on his efforts on their behalf to clear the marketplace for Bob Marley. Blackwell’s defense was that Marley was already reaching a wider market than the others and Island was doing the fiscally sensible thing by directing their promotional efforts to Marley.

One title Island refused to distribute was Super Eight, a collection of love songs and ballads reworked for reggae crooner George Faith. Released in Jamaica on the Black Art label and elsewhere on the Black Swan label as To Be a Lover, this collection went unreleased on CD until 2003’s Hip-O select limited edition. The To Be a Lover version had a different playlist and slightly different song titles from the original, but now Trojan has released a remastered CD of the original package.

Faith’s vocals float in and out of the mix throughout the album, and Perry utilizes the full range of studio tricks and techniques available at his homemade studio, the Black Ark. Perry himself (along with Skully) contributes layer after layer of percussion tracks, playing sticks, hand drums and who knows what else, while the main instrumental track bubbles along in a smoky, swampy mix that is the epitome of his signature Black Ark output. The studio mixing board is truly the lead instrument here, with Perry utilizing phasers, echo, and delay throughout. Oddly for roots reggae, discographical notes are fairly comprehensive on this album. Reggae stalwarts including Ernest Ranglin (lead guitar), Sly Dunbar (drums), “Deadly” Hedley Bennett (horns), Glen Da Costa (horns), and Boris Gardiner (bass) are featured, as are the Diamonds and the Meditations who provide backing vocals.

Gardiner’s stellar performance demonstrates why he deserves recognition, along with Robbie Shakespeare and Aston “Family Man” Barrett, as the best bass players in reggae, a music where the bass guitar is the customary lead instrument. Perry mixes their performances in his inimitable Black Ark style, boiling the mix down to an audio stew both languid and forceful. The totality of the instrument tracks are often melded together so completely that the only identifiable individual instrument is Gardiner’s booming bass, which the new digital mix emphasizes to the fullest. The overall sound was probably only attainable at the Black Ark, where Perry’s jerry-rigged equipment and his odd practices—like rubbing baby oil into the mixing board and blowing ganja smoke into the tapes as they turned—contribute to a dreamy quality that helps to transform, for instance, the Paul Anka chestnut “Diana” into a psychedelic reggae tour de force.

The set list includes: I’ve Got the Groove ; Opportunity ; Turn Back the Hands of Time ; Gonna Give Her All the Love I’ve Got (aka There’s a Train) ; In the Midnight Hour/Ya-Ya (medley) ; I Forgot To Be Your Lover (aka To Be a Lover) ; Diana ; So Fine.

 

Reviewed by Mike Tribby

 

View review July 2nd, 2012

Candy McKenzie

Title: Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry presents Candy McKenzie

Artist: Candy McKenzie

Label: Trojan

Format:  CD

Release date: April 3, 2012

 

 

In 1977 Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry experienced a bit of rare sales chart success when his recording of Susan Cadogan singing “Hurt So Good” scaled the UK pop charts. Trojan quickly released Perry’s Cadogan album (Susan Cadogan) to capitalize on the single’s popularity. Around this time, Perry also recorded an album by Candy McKenzie, a member of Full Experience along with Aura Lewis and Pamela Reed, who had also recorded for Perry. McKenzie’s set was never released, though a few songs trickled out including a dubbed-up version of “Long Enough” (aka “Walking in the Sun”) that surfaced on Pressure Sound’s recent Return of Sound System Scratch collection. Now Trojan has finally released a full album’s worth of McKenzie’s work with Perry.

If Super Eight is Scratch at his most ethereal, Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry presents Candy McKenzie is Scratch at his most restrained, as he attempted to duplicate the more mainstream appeal of Cadogan’s hit. Had the distribution deal with Island and Blackwell not gone by the boards around this time, this album might have been one of Perry’s most commercially successful efforts. McKenzie sings in a rich, soulful voice and Perry keeps the production effects to a minimum on this release. Call it reggae meets Motown. In any case, the album languished until this release. The backing musicians are pretty much the same aggregation of the Upsetters that appear on Super Eight, and again their playing is exemplary. Something of a stylistic departure for Perry, this album presents another side of the prolific producer’s oeuvre.

The set list includes:  Disco Fits ; Someone to Love Me ; Breakfast in Bed ; Walking in the Sun ; Jah Knows ; Ice Cream ; Sky at Night ; Keep Him Strong ; Tell Me a Lie ; When the Big Day.

 

Reviewed by Mike Tribby

View review July 2nd, 2012

Out of the Basement, Out of the Box

Title: Out of the Basement, Out of the Box (Double-EP)

Artist: Cole Williams

Label: ThatsMyWorldwide LLC

Formats: CD, Digital (MP3, FLAC, etc.)

Release Date: May 8, 2012

 

Brooklyn-based Cole Williams brings an array of differing styles and influences to the forefront on her newest double-EP, Out of the Basement, Out of the Box. This release features both old and new material over two discs. The first EP, Out of the Basement Part 1, includes material released by Williams in 2011, while the second EP, Out of the Basement, Out of the Box is comprised of Williams’ most recent works. Incorporating the aspects of her diverse neighborhood, Williams brings together elements of reggae, soul, rock, and hip hop that are complimented beautifully by her vocal talents.

What I first noticed upon listening to both EPs is that each has a distinctive sound, possibly reflecting the fact that she works with two bands:  That’sMyCole (soul/reggae/ska/rock) and People’s Champs (an afro beat/rock/soul hybrid). Of the two EPs, Out of the Basement, Out of the Box has a much heavier reggae orientation, while  Out of the Basement, Part 1 is more aligned with neo-soul and rock throughout, as is evident in the songs “Little Me,” “Why,” and “Selfish.”

Overall, the first EP is a very impressive work. Featuring an old-school soul vibe, Out of the Basement, Part 1 opens with the strongest track, “Little Me.” Everything seems to click in this song: Williams is strong throughout, especially on the chorus, while the band exhibits just as much energy.  But it doesn’t end there. “Selfish” is a classic soul tribute, from the vocals and the lyrical content right down to the drums and bass, and how great it sounds. “Part 1” and “Good Thing” follow suit, and although the drumming style in the latter track is less soulful, it is nonetheless effective. The only real downside is the mixing of the guitar parts,  which should have been given more emphasis in songs such as “I Ain’t Sweet On Him” and “Part 1.”

Following is the official video for “Little Me”:

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Taking a new spin on elements from the first disc, Out of the Basement, Out of the Box features a much heavier bass while still preserving a soulful core. Bringing her Jamaican roots to the fore on “The Box” and “88,” the soulful singing style is still present but now features syncopated bass lines and off-beat guitar. Unlike the previous EP, none of the songs necessarily stand out from the rest, though they’re all done well. Williams doesn’t seem as emotionally involved as she should be, preferring instead a more laidback style of singing. There is also a greater utilization of electronic samples, which for the most part is effective. The only oddity is the last track, “Save Me.” Near the middle of the song the volume drops, then rises again in what sounds like a dubstep bass drop. Although this doesn’t kill the song for me, it nonetheless is an unusual and disconcerting addition. However, other than this small criticism, the double EP is an excellent start to Cole William’s musical career.

Reviewed by Ian Hallagan

View review July 2nd, 2012

Meditation

 

Title: Meditation

Artist: Nazarenes

Formats: CD, MP3

Label: I Grade

Release Date: May 29, 2012

 

 

 

Coming from a family that worked for Emperor Haile Selassie I, the roots of Rastafari run deep for the Nazarenes. Formed in 1996, the Nazarenes consist of Noah and Medhane Tewolde.  The two brothers might be viewed as a living symbol of the diaspora and globalization of roots reggae, for although born in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, they now reside in Sweden and work with a producer (Laurent ‘Tippy I’ Alfred) from the U.S. Virgin Islands. Meditation, their third album and the first on I Grade Records, seeks to musically express the global issues of suffering and persecution in a form that all can understand.

What is immediately apparent is that the Nazarenes aren’t your average, everyday roots reggae band. The opening title track hits with rich layers of deep bass, trebly guitar and smooth horns. The musicianship is superb, evoking memories of the golden era of roots reggae in the 1970s. The vocals only accentuate the song, as the mix of Ethiopic Ge’ez and English have an authentic, genuine sound. This is what roots reggae is truly about: having a deep connection between what you say and what you mean, and the Nazarenes could not be a better example. As we continue through Meditation there is no cessation of what has been laid out in the first few minutes. Possibly the most surprising of all the songs was “On My Way.” At the beginning the strings definitely feel off, and the grizzly vocalization doesn’t help either. However, in a complete turn of events the rest of the band enters, perfectly blending strings with a talented horn section. And while the semi-growling in the song wouldn’t usually fit with roots reggae, somehow the Nazarenes are able to make it work.

Following is the video for “Food + Dub Food,” the first single off of Meditation:

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I have nothing but good things to say about Meditations. There’s no instrumentation that feels as if it’s too weak or unnecessary, and vocals compliment perfectly. The content of these 14 tracks are the same tried and true Rastafarian messages.  This is not a negative at all, for these messages of persecution and injustice are easily translatable wherever one may reside in the world. The Nazarenes have composed another great album that can be added to the list of greatest roots reggae albums in the 21st century and beyond.

Reviewed by Ian Hallagan

View review June 1st, 2012

Nappy Riddem

Title: One World Sovereignty

Artist: Nappy Riddem

Label: Fort Knox Recordings

Formats: CD, MP3

Release Date: October 4, 2011

 

 

Last month’s review of See-I’s self-titled release provided a look into the growing reggae party scene in Washington, D.C.  Now there comes another artist on the same label looking to bring their own sound to the D.C. scene.  Nappy Riddem—featuring Rex Riddem, Mustafa Akbar and bass player Ashish “Hash” Vyas—recently released their debut album One World Sovereignty.

Nappy Riddem aim to bring a more funk-oriented sound to reggae . The tracks “Nappy Riddem” and “Devil Needs A Bodyguard” both feature hard-hitting, busy bass and drums that make up the more funk-centric songs on the album. Vocals, provided by the talented Mustafa Akbar, also help to bring greater energy to the songs. His preference for a higher register compliments the songs very well, and at times even provides the driving force behind the music.

As we get further into the album, a reggae/soul/funk/hip-hop synthesis dominates some songs while a more traditional reggae setup takes precedence on others. For example, on the track “DTA (Dreadlock Transit Authority),” both reggae instrumentation and vocalization is maintained in the traditional sense, with the bass and guitar accompanying the vocals.  However, “Rastar” and “Ease Up” preserve the original reggae instrumentation, but take vocals into new territories, sometimes preferring a high-pitched funky falsetto or simply rapping over the track. The same formula applies to the title track, featuring vocals by rapper/educator Asheru. Following is the official music video for “One World Sovereignty,” filmed at Occupy Wall Street in Zuccotti Park:

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Although the mix of reggae with new and old elements is very successful on most tracks, on others it drags its feet, most often due to the saxophone riffs, which aren’t to my taste. However, this is a relatively small annoyance with a production that does its job at being an effective party album, and allows Akbar and Riddem to showcase their many talents.  One World Sovereignty should receive a good amount of play this coming summer.

Reviewed by Ian Hallagan

View review May 1st, 2012

See-I and See-I Remixed

Title: See-I

Artist: See-I

Label: Fort Knox Recordings

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: June 28, 2011

 

 

A reggae scene in the United States? Believe it or not, in the nation’s capital of Washington D.C. the reggae scene has been steadily growing since the late 1980s, where See-I has been at the forefront. Finally, brothers Rootz and Zeebo Steele (the founding members of See-I) have come together with Fort Knox Recordings to release their self-titled debut album.

See-I­ looks to blend soul, funk, and reggae into one party-centric movement.  There’s already a lot of overlap between these three genres, such as reggae’s and funk’s emphasis on having the bass lead and manage, while the soulful style of singing is present in all three. It is these overlaps that lead to a very original sound in See-I, allowing the band to throw into the mix an assortment of musical ideas. For example, “Homegrown 2011” features a grooving, funky brass section while the guitar plays distorted solos reminiscent of ‘80s rock.  However, in that same song the guitarist switches to a reggae style of playing on the upbeat and adds wah-wah pedal, while the organist compliments that same upbeat rhythm. What’s so great about these changes is that it’s not done extensively or without reason, but rather to keep the party going by maintaining a fresh sound throughout the album.

Following is the official music video for “Soul Hit Man”:

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The only issue that I have is with the track “How We Do.” The transition from the previous song feels rather off, although both are among the most “laid-back” songs on the album. This is possibly due to a subdued brass section, which seems to slow everything down. Additionally, the song itself seems a little too laid-back for a party band. However, the blues from this speed bump is quickly diminished as See-I begins “The Inside Move” and the brings the album to a fitting end on “Reign In 2 Light.”

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Title: See-I Remixed

Artists: Various

Label: Fort Knox Recordings

Format: MP3

Release Date: November 22, 2011

 

The diversity of See-I’s debut self-titled album featured soul, reggae, and funk coming together to form something truly unique. Now, in See-I Remixed, a grab bag of assorted artists brings even more diversity to the original material. Going from old school dub to modern-day dubstep, there’s something for everybody in this collection. The album kicks off in Subatomic Sound’s version of “Dangerous,” calling back the old-school dub style of extensive echo and delay, while pushing bass and drums to the forefront. Continuing on, the remix of “Soul Hit Man” by the Funk Hunters instead focuses on modern day dubstep, with wobbly bass and an overall much more electronic sound. Knight Riderz’s remix of “Blow Up” is possibly the strongest track on the album, mostly due to the great reworking of vocals to compliment the dubstep reworking of the song. What’s more, the addition of electronic instrumentation, either intentional or not, brings to mind the Power Rangers theme. Continuing on the theme of odd but creative sounds, Turntable Dubbers & Sebski’s chiptunes-esque remix of “Blow Up” teeters between dubstep with the common treatment of the bass, but also throws in sounds from Game Boys. As the album draws to a close, the party starts to die down as the last two songs are much more relaxed and ambient. Clayton & Fulcrum’s remixing of “Reign in 2 Light,” although less energetic than the previous song, transitions well to “Disturbancy,” the last track, which brings a relaxing close to the high-energy album.

There are a few remixes in the bunch that feel rather weak. Take Drumagick’s version of “Soul Hit Man,” for example. The track is full of dubstep clichés, as electric drum machines gain speed before running into a overly-wobbly bass that has been heard a thousand times over. What was nice about the Funk Hunter’s version was when it did hit the bass drop it wasn’t as intense and seemed almost ambient in comparison. Additionally, the Funk Hunter’s build-up suited the song much better. However, this seems to be an isolated incident, as the rest of the songs of the album range from average to great.

Reviewed by Ian Hallagan

View review April 2nd, 2012

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