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

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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

A Little Bit of Love

Title: A Little Bit of Love

Artist: Junior Toots

Label: Crown of Fire

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: March 7, 2012

 

 

There’s a lot of pressure on the son of Toots Hibbert. I mean, Toots & the Maytals are one of the biggest names in all of reggae, up there with Bob Marley and Peter Tosh. Junior Toots (aka Clayton Hibbert), then, has a lot to live up to on his new album A Little Bit of Love.

On the opening track “Ready to Come Over,” you’ll notice right away that Junior’s voice has a smooth croon very similar to his father’s.  His real vocal abilities, however, come through as the album continues, most notably on “Puss and Dog,” where the gritty, grunting vocalization comes into full swing and really gives the song its energy. The feeling is replicated again in “If Africa Is Free Not Free.” Toots’ sincerity is echoed in his voice, and once again carries the tune.

Following is a live performance of “Puss and Dog”:

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(On a humorous note, notice how after 40 years American audiences still have no real, set ideas of how to dance to reggae)

Overall, the content of the lyrics can often be understood through a quick glance at the song title. The rather direct lyrics seldom drag down the tracks, although “I Believe in You” is a little too cliché. What really matters, to me at least, is that Junior Toots is sincere is in his delivery and that he does it well. This proves to be no real trouble for Junior―whether high-energy singing or smooth crooning, his voice conveys nothing but sincerity.

What is more questionable, however, is the ability of the backing band. While every musician is talented, there are only four at the core―drums, bass, guitar and keyboards―with no horns. The keyboards act to replicate the horn section, but it’s much too electronic for my tastes, and feels rather reserved compared to the vocal line. If there was at least a trombone and trumpet, with possibly a tenor saxophone thrown in for good measure, then Junior would really have a solid group to work with. The energy of this augmented instrumentation, combined with Junior Toots’ already-magnificent voice, could really draw a crowd. And with the talent Toots possesses already, he definitely deserves it.

Reviewed by Ian Hallagan

Two new Lee Scratch Perry releases

Artist: Lee “Scratch” Perry

Title: The Upsetter : The Life and Music of Lee Scratch Perry / a film by Ethan Higbee and Adam Bhala Lough

Formats:  DVD (90 min.), Collector’s ed. DVD (120 min.); streaming online video or digital download

Release date: January 24, 2012

 

 

 

Seventy-five year-old reggae, dub, and world music pioneer Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry is limned in this wide-ranging documentary narrated by Academy Award-winning actor Benicio del Toro. Jamaican actor Carl Bradshaw, in a grainy black and white clip, introduces the film by saying “I’d like you to meet a genius,” and in the footage that follows viewers are treated to testimony to that genius in the form of interviews, vintage footage of Jamaican political and music history, and Perry’s home movies. The home movies are of recent and not so recent vintage alike, and while the older ones, shot mostly at Perry’s Cardiff Crescent compound in Kingston, Jamaica, contain frequent references to Perry’s historical relevance, the newer footage of Scratch, wife Mireille, and their children skiing and playing in the Swiss snow provide something of an unexpected glimpse into the Upsetter’s apparently blissful current family life.

Domestic existence was not always so pleasant for Perry. His longtime partner Pauline Morrison left him around the time of the demise of his Black Ark studio, apparently taking tapes that later surfaced as commercial recording releases unsanctioned by Perry. His upset at her leaving plus the increasing social and political turmoil in Jamaica as the island’s two political parties engaged in street war by proxy eventually caused Perry to leave Jamaica for good.

Perry’s concurrent deep resentment at and frustration with the way he was treated by Island Records and its president Chris Blackwell is also mentioned, but curiously Blackwell is barely mentioned. Perhaps Perry is avoiding the renewal of old feuds, but given his fifty often contentious years in the music business, it would take several documentaries to adequately cover every aspect of his mercurial life and career. This nicely produced feature makes, at the very least, an excellent start and qualifies as a vital reference on Perry, reggae, dub, the history of world music, and the pre-history of hip-hop. For reggae collections, this is a must-have item―especially the Collector’s Edition, which includes a poster and over 30 minutes of bonus/deleted scenes.

Following is a brief trailer for the film:

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Artist: Lee “Scratch” Perry

Title: The Return of Pipecock Jackxon

Formats: CD, LP, MP3

Label:  Honest Jon’s Records (London)

Catalog No.:  HJRCD109

Release date: November 8, 2011

 

This is the last album of material Perry recorded at his legendary Black Ark studio in Kingston before he destroyed the facility (again) and moved from Jamaica for good. It’s also one of the last of Perry’s works to be made widely available in CD format, although some songs from the album have appeared in one form or another (re-recorded, re-worked, as unfinished mixes, etc.) on other CD releases.

According to the liner notes by David Katz, author of the Perry bio People Funny Boy (Payback Press, 2000; revised edition, Omnibus, 2006), the album was recorded at a particularly bleak point in Perry’s life in the late 1970s. “After a string of masterpieces—War ina Babylon with Max Romeo, Police & Thieves with Junior Murvin, Super Ape—by late 1978 Perry’s working relationship with Island was in the doldrums. The label refused to issue his album Roast Fish Collie Weed and Cornbread; likewise Return of the Super Ape, even–despite signed contracts–the monumental Heart of the Congos.” His wife had left him for Danny Clarke of the Meditations, his distribution deal with Island Records had evaporated, and he felt that he was being used by grafters ranging from local street people to the Kingston police. Perry was also at odds with the dreads who made up part of the Black Ark community of singers, musicians, and hangers-on. “A Rastafarian sub-sect known as the Niyabinghi Theocracy had begun using the Black Ark compound as its headquarters: Perry was briefly employed as Music Minister, to aid psychic attacks on the Pope and the Jamaican government, before a doctrinal falling out.”

The music on The Return of Pipecock Jackxon sounds disjointed in places and unfinished in other places, but in the context of Perry’s incredible and often-pirated recorded output, this is hardly unique. This new CD version offers a much cleaner mix with some subtle differences like the jangly guitar part in “Bed Jammin” being clearer and more prominent in the mix. The instrumental performances throughout are very loose as well as uncredited since there are no discographical details provided, but there are inspiring performances on many cuts and a good bit of Perry’s madcap ruminating between and within the selections.  “The Return of Pipecock Jackxon is a true milestone–not simply the sonic index of Perry’s psychic unraveling, on the cusp of the dramatic metamorphosis that turned him into the being we know him as today, but more gloriously the final work to emerge from the Black Ark before its permanent destruction.” (All quotes from David Katz’ liner notes).

The set list includes: Bed jamming; Untitled rhythm; Give thanx to Jah; Easy knocking; Who killed the chicken; Babylon cookie jar a crumble; and Some have fe hallah.

Reviewed by Mike Tribby

 

From Jamaica to St. Croix

Title: The Ruler: 1972-1990

Artist:  Gregory Isaacs

Label:  VP Records / Roc-A-Fella

Formats: 2-CD + DVD set; LP

Release date:  October 24, 2011

 

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Title:  Kings Bell

Artist:  Midnite

Label:  101 Distribution

Formats: CD; MP3

Release date:  December 13, 2011

 

 

 

These two recent reggae releases point to different eras of reggae’s history as a genre: the classic reggae sound made iconic with the success of Bob Marley in the 1970s and the dancehall-influenced sound that began to take over in the 1990s.

The two-CD retrospective of Gregory Isaacs’s career, The Ruler, pays appropriate tribute to the man who many thought was going to be the “new” Bob Marley following Marley’s early demise.  Isaacs, known as “Cool Ruler” or “Lonely Lover,” never achieved that level of fame, though he attained international success before his untimely death due to lung cancer in 1989.  While the production values and instrumentation change drastically over the course of time, the constant on this compilation is Isaacs’s voice.  Milo Miles, writing for the New York Times, once claimed Isaacs had “the most exquisite voice in reggae” and it is well-showcased here.  Even in Isaacs’s early recordings, with wavering, occasionally out-of-tune instrumentals that make contemporary ears used to digital editing and Autotune cringe, his silky, clear baritone is a delight.  This compilation hits all the high points, including “My Only Lover” (1972), his first international hit “Love is Overdue” (1974), his work with legendary producers Sly & Robbie in the late ’70s and early ‘80s, and “Night Nurse” (1982), arguably Isaacs’s most enduring hit.  For Gregory Isaacs fans who may own most of the material already, there is a bonus DVD of Isaacs performing live in 1984.  The liner notes, with an essay on Isaacs’s career and commentary on each track, round out the album.  While devoted Isaacs fans might not get that much out of the material here, Bob Marley devotees or others who are just discovering “classic” reggae will be delighted, as well as anyone teaching classes on reggae or Jamaican music in general.

Following is the promotional video featuring Isaacs performing in Brixton (from the DVD):

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St. Croix-based Midnite are one of those bands that are so prolific you wonder who, besides the artist, keeps up with their releases.  Their most recent album of new material, Kings Bell, was their fifth release of 2011 and they’ve already released their first album of 2012.  Despite the almost frenetic release schedule, Kings Bell is full of well-produced, weighty tracks that are, like much of their previous work, decidedly message-focused.  Vocalist Vaughn Benjamin’s raspy voice almost oozes roots reggae vibes and his staccato, hammer-like delivery brings to mind Caribbean vocalists more familiar to U.S. audiences like Sizzla and Shaggy.  While the kind of delivery and the earnestness and devotion to social commentary that runs through Midnite’s music makes some tracks feel pedantic and repetitive, when it works, it works beautifully.  The most solid track on the album, “Mongst I&I,” encourages us to “keep good relations” because we’re all one under Jah while also discussing geopolitical problems.  The track does all of this all with a relaxed reggae backbeat and a melody that allows the peculiar raspiness and hoarseness of Benjamin’s voice to shine.

Following is the official music video for “Mongst I&I”:

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These albums by Gregory Isaacs and Midnite offer glimpses into different points of reggae history and while both, particularly Kings Bell, have weak spots, they are certainly worth owning if you’re a reggae fan.

Reviewed by David Lewis

Ghetto Hymns

Title:  Ghetto Hymns

Artist: Winstrong

Label:  M9 Entertainment

Formats:  CD, MP3

Release date:  October 25, 2011

 

 

Ghetto Hymns—the latest release by Surinamese hip-hop/dancehall crossover artist Winstrong—is above all a celebration of the profound and intricate interconnectedness of Jamaican reggae/dancehall and U.S. hip-hop/rap, as well as of the transnational flows of people and musical styles which make such interconnections possible. This is largely a function of the fact that Winstrong is himself a product of these flows; while he grew up on the outer fringe of the Anglophone Caribbean in Paramaribo, Suriname, and still maintains a strong cultural and spiritual link to that region—and to Jamaica in particular—as a longtime dancehall artist and devout Rastafarian, he has lived in the United States since the mid-1990s and has thus had a great deal of exposure to U.S. hip-hop culture as well.

This transnational musical identity is perhaps best reflected in Winstrong’s vocal delivery, which blends his distinct Caribbean accent and his mastery of Jamaican dancehall sensibilities with some of the most iconic contemporary U.S. hip-hop vocal techniques and aesthetics. Indeed, as a ‘singjay’—the Jamaican term for a combination singer and ‘deejay’ (as rappers are called in Jamaica)—Winstrong is uniquely positioned to take advantage of the most popular and characteristic features of modern dancehall and hip-hop alike, juxtaposing hardcore dancehall-style rapped verses with infectiously melodious, R&B-inflected, and often autotuned hip-hop choruses, especially prominent tracks such as “Would you Love Me?” and “Forever.” His lyrics follow suit, oscillating between the club anthems of love, sex, and hedonism and the more socially conscious tales of urban struggle and survival that are each prevalent in both hip-hop and reggae/dancehall culture.

Similarly, the album’s musical production team has done a masterful job of composing tracks and riddims that match Winstrong’s transnational, genre-bending aesthetic. While the dominant musical influences are certainly drawn more from the styles that are popular in contemporary American DJ/dance music culture—from cutting-edge mainstream hip-hop to techno and even dubstep—than they are from Jamaican sources, certain songs such as “Rude Boy” play up Winstrong’s Caribbean heritage by mapping a characteristic reggae skank onto the more identifiably hip-hop-based grooves of the percussion tracks.

Following is the official music video for “Rude Boy” (courtesy of WinstrongTV):

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Musically and conceptually, then, Ghetto Hymns is a major departure from the much more dancehall and reggae-centered aesthetics of Winstrong’s earlier releases, and demonstrates that the artist has fully embraced the hip-hop culture in which he has been immersed for so many years. In other words, this album represents a transition away from his previous hip-hop-influenced dancehall productions and into what would more rightly be considered dancehall-inflected Caribbean hip-hop, much in the vein of Damian “Jr. Gong” Marley; it is thus a skillful and innovative foray into relatively new and unexplored sonic and stylistic territory, and certainly has much to offer for fans of reggae/dancehall and hip-hop alike.

 

Reviewed by Eric Bindler

Crazy Glue

Title: Crazy Glue

Artist: Fishbone

Label: DC-Jam Records

Format: CD, Mp3

Catalog Number: CD5051

Release Date: October 11, 2011

 

 

Crazy Glue is the latest release from LA based ska/punk/funk pioneers, Fishbone.  The seven song EP is their 15th release in the band’s 25 year career.   Throughout their journey, Fishbone has been challenging racial stereotypes and political order with their energetic, unabashed, social commentary and insanely wild live shows. Crazy Glue also marks the return of Dirty Walt Kibby, one of the founding members, who has been absent for the past few years and deeply missed by die-hard fans.  With three of the original founding members, and help from some talented new blood, Crazy Glue comes as a breath of fresh air in the punk scene.  They effortlessly traverse multiple genres in the new EP, creating seamless transitions in which the verse may be this fast and thrashing punk progression, but the chorus is some mind boggling, horn heavy, dub or funk progression!

Take a look and a listen to the video for “Crazy Glue” courtesy of DC-Jam and BlankTV:

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The EP truly feels like an adventure in music, making it rather impossible to sit still.  The album exudes an energy that makes it easy to understand their reputation of being one of the best live bands on the planet.  What it all really boils down to, is the album is just flat out fun to listen to, and after 25 years making music, the band isn’t showing any signs of slowing down.  Thank goodness for that.

Editor’s note:  Fishbone is currently on tour, and the acclaimed new documentary Everyday Sunshine: The Story of Fishbone is also playing at select venues around the country.

Reviewed by Jason Cyrus Rubino

 

 

 

Reggae’s Gone Country

Title: Reggae’s Gone Country

Artists: Various

Formats: CD, MP3

Label: VP Records/Warner Nashville

Release date:  August 29, 2011

 

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A joint production of reggae label VP Records and country label Warner Music Nashville, Reggae’s Gone Country is exactly what it sounds like: a collection of country music classics stripped down to their roots, infused with reggae aesthetics and instrumentation, and given to some of the Jamaican popular music industry’s hottest stars to interpret for a contemporary audience. If the idea seems a tad gimmicky, the first listen might not do much to help the situation; it can be a conceptual challenge to come to grips with the album’s outlandish combination of driving reggae drum, bass, and skank guitar rhythms overlaid with twangy country pedal steel, fiddle, and banjo ornamentations. Once the listener has acclimatized to this fascinating juxtaposition of musical elements, however, Reggae’s Gone Country is actually a wonderful album through and through, with several beautiful and innovative renditions of expected and unexpected country favorites by an all-star cast of reggae luminaries (like Beres Hammond and Freddie McGregor), current kings and queens of the Jamaican popular music industry (like Tarrus Riley and Etana), and brand-new up-and-coming stars such as 21 year-old Romain Virgo, whose collaboration with country legend Larry Gatlin on the Gatlin Brothers’ song “California” is the album’s lead single:

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To truly appreciate Reggae’s Gone Country, however, one must know the story behind it. According to the liner notes and an informative YouTube mini-documentary, VP Records vice president Cristy Barber dreamt up the concept for the album as a way of uniting her two loves (reggae and country music), and she assembled a crack team of Nashville and Kingston producers and musicians to help put the project together. But what many reggae and country fans alike may not realize is that country is, and historically has been immensely popular in Jamaica, and it actually shares much in common with reggae—both are musics of marginalized working class populations, both sing of love, criminals, and spirituality, and both relish a good story. Thus, the songs chosen for the album were not simply U.S. country favorites foisted upon a group of Jamaican reggae stars largely unacquainted with them, but rather some of the most popular and beloved country tunes in Jamaica itself.

While the album’s story might be an inspiring account of cross-cultural collaboration and mutual appreciation, however, the logistics of its production may have stifled some of its potential for true genre-bending creativity. Indeed, if the record sounds like a collection of reggae rhythm tracks recorded by session musicians in Jamaica, sent to Nashville for leads and ornamentation by American country string players, and then shipped off to the singers to add their vocal contributions, that’s largely because it is; the liner notes state this in no uncertain terms. While the quality of the musicians is extremely high—collaborators include reggae drum luminary Sly Dunbar and pedal steel legend Mike Johnson—the music itself is therefore fairly ‘safe,’ with each instrument playing a clear, compartmentalized, genre-defined role and straying little from it. There are, for example, occasional incidences of the backing musicians from one idiom toying with elements of the other (as when the lead banjo plays the trademark reggae guitar ‘skank’ pattern on L.U.S.T.’s rendition of The Statler Brothers’ “Flowers On the Wall”), but I think there was definitely fertile ground for more musical experimentation of this kind, and that a closer collaboration between the various groups of musicians themselves might have better facilitated it.

Overall, though, this is certainly an album worth checking out; there is not a song on here that I haven’t grown to love, though some certainly stand out more than others. Tarrus Riley’s version of “The Chair” by George Strait and Duane Stephenson’s interpretation of “Suspicions” by Eddie Rabbit are personal favorites, and even dancehall DJ Busy Signal’s autotuned vocals on his rendition of Kenny Rogers’s “The Gambler” somehow seem to work in the context of the project as a whole. In the liner notes, Cristy Barber explains that “with the music industry where it is now, we need more people at the reggae party and I am really hoping this album will give more exposure to the genre.”  I, on the other hand, am inclined to believe that it will do more to expose reggae fans to country classics than it will to inspire country aficionados to develop a taste for reggae’s contemporary trendsetters. Either way, Reggae’s Gone Country is undoubtedly a unique and thoroughly enjoyable first step in what may very well become a long series of collaborations between Nashville and Kingston, and I for one am quite interested to find out what directions these relationships may take in the future.

 

Reviewed by Eric Bindler

Live Forever

Title: Live Forever: September 23, 1980 : Stanley Theatre, Pittsburgh, Pa.

Artist: Bob Marley and the Wailers

Label:  Tuff Gong

Formats: 2-CD or 3-CD set or 2 CD + 3LP super deluxe ed.

Release date: February 21, 2011

 

This recording of the last concert Bob Marley before his untimely death in May of 1981 features one of the larger editions of the Wailers band, with seven instrumentalists plus the I-Threes (Judy Mowatt, Marcia Griffiths, and Rita Marley), all in fine form, in a very tight performance captured, for the most part, in an excellent sounding mix. The concert followed the diagnosis that Marley’s cancerous toe was not responding to treatment. He had collapsed during a jog in New York City a few days before, and directly after the show Marley departed for more cancer treatment which unfortunately proved to be unsuccessful.

The performance shows no sign of flagging energy, effort, or commitment on the part of Marley as he exuberantly performs familiar anthems from throughout his career. The band is tight as can be, an aggregation of the best reggae musicians of the time playing familiar material with spirited dedication. The sound reproduction is excellent, but unfortunately the soundboard tape from which this recording originates ran out before the end of the encore, so “Work” and the long form (6:38) version of “Get Up Stand Up” are derived from a secondary source and therefore presented in noticeably reduced sound quality.

The third disc in the deluxe 3-CD edition of the set does not contain any live recordings, but does carry five somewhat rare studio recordings plus an enhanced video interview with the Marley family that must be accessed via computer, either PC or Mac. The version of “Punky Reggae Party” on disc 3 is the version that was originally released as a 12-inch vinyl single and appears to be the Tuff Gong/Island mix rather than the Black Art label mix that was released in Jamaica. It features no Wailers other than Bob and was produced by Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry, with British reggae band Aswad and members of Third World playing and singing backup vocals at a Marley-Perry reunion and rapprochement in London in 1977. The versions of “I Know a Place, Who Colt the Game” and “Keep On Moving” presented here were also produced by Scratch in 1978. People Funny Boy, David Katz’ biography of Scratch, provides an odd story about the master tapes of Marley’s version of “Who Colt the Game” being stolen from Scratch during a mysterious break-in at his Kingston home, but the notes to this recording shed no further light on where or when the tapes resurfaced. The version of “Smile Jamaica” included here is apparently the one recorded at Harry J’s studio with the Zap Pow horn section, not the version produced by Perry.

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As a live performance, this collection is one of the best in reggae as well as a fitting farewell to Bob Marley, still the world’s most famous reggae musician thirty years after his death. Marley’s brooding version of “War/No More Trouble” (with lyrics taken from a speech to the League of Nations by Haile Selassie) and a haunting performance of “Redemption Song” are special highlights.

Singers and musicians on the album include:

Bob Marley, vocals, guitar; Carlton Barrett, drums; Aston Family Man Barrett, bass; Junior Marvin, lead guitar; Al Anderson, lead guitar; Alvin Seeco Patterson, percussion; Earl Wya Lindo, keyboards; Tyrone Downie, keyboards; and the I Threes (Judy Mowatt, Marcia Griffiths, and Rita Marley), background vocals.

Disc one includes:

Greetings, Natural Mystic, Positive Vibration, Burnin’ [and] Lootin’, Them Belly Full, The Heathen, Running Away, Crazy Baldhead, War/No More Trouble, Zimbabwe, Zion Train, No Woman No Cry.

Disc two includes:

Jamming, Exodus, Redemption Song, Coming In From the Cold, Could You Be Loved, Is This Love, Work, Get Up Stand Up.

Disc three includes:

I Know a Place, Punky Reggae Party (Jamaican 12″ version), Smile Jamaica, Who Colt the Game, Keep On Moving, and a Marley Family Interview (Enhanced Video)

 

Reviewed by Mike Tribby

A Waterlogged Soul Kitchen

Title: A Waterlogged Soul Kitchen

Artists: Taj Weekes & Adowa

Label: Jatta

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date:  December 7, 2010

A Waterlogged Soul Kitchen is the 3rd album by Taj Weekes and Adowa, and it further cements their status as rising stars in the realms of international reggae and ‘world music’ more generally. A truly multinational group, each member of Adowa hails (directly or indirectly) from a different Caribbean island; Weekes himself is St. Lucian, and Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, Barbados, and Dominica are represented as well. In addition, Weekes’ own eclectic musical influences—everything from classic reggae and calypso to American country, jazz, and blues—ensure that the band’s offerings, while firmly rooted in Caribbean structures and aesthetics, are also thoroughly international in scope.

Musically, for example, the 11 tracks that comprise A Waterlogged Soul Kitchen cover an ambitious range of sounds and styles. Though all adhere to the skank guitar pattern and one-drop drum riddim characteristic of roots reggae—with the exception of “Drill,” the hard-hitting piano ballad that closes the album—Weekes and his band skillfully incorporate bluesy harmonica licks, orchestral violin lines, winding jazz/R&B-style horn lines, and even colonial-esque flute marches into their tunes to achieve beautiful—and highly unique—musical textures. The traditional reggae structures and conventions themselves, furthermore, are frequently subject to reinterpretation and innovation; songs range from classic roots reggae instrumentation (electric guitar, bass, keyboard, and drums) to more acoustic guitar-driven numbers (such as “B4 the War”), and “Sunny Innocents” reverses the standard skank guitar pattern by putting it on the on-beats rather than the off-beats.

A Waterlogged Soul Kitchen’s compelling synthesis of roots reggae and more international influences is also reflected in Weekes’ powerful lyrics. Like the traditional calypsonians and reggae artists—as well as American country singers—he draws inspiration from, Weekes reflects insightfully on a wide range of social and political issues over the course of the album, and he certainly knows how to tell a story with his words; his purview, however, is much more global in scope than that of many of his reggae contemporaries. Indeed, Weekes devotes several of his tracks to struggles and crises far-removed from his native St. Lucia: “Janjaweed” addresses the murderous militants of the same name in Darfur, “Drill” condemns the notorious BP oil spill that occurred as the band was finishing production on the album, and “Rain Rain” and the album title itself discuss the devastating effects of Hurricane Katrina on US cities like New Orleans. Finally, there is Weekes’ voice. The singer delivers his lyrics in a unique warble that can be as powerful and haunting as it is soothing and delicate. For an example, look at the band’s recent video for “Janjaweed,’ one of my favorite tracks on the album:

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Overall, A Waterlogged Soul Kitchen comes highly recommended; it is a compelling, innovative, and thought-provoking album from a gifted group of young Caribbean musicians with a great deal to say about the world. It is clear, furthermore, that they are not all talk and no action, as the inspiring activist spirit that pervades Weekes’ songs is also reflected in his diligent charity work in St. Lucia and beyond. This is a band to keep an eye on for reggae and non-reggae fans alike, as A Waterlogged Soul Kitchen is clearly the product of an eclectic lyrical and compositional talent that will only continue to mature as time goes on.

Reviewed by Eric Bindler

The Natural Mystics: Marley, Tosh, and Wailer


Title: The Natural Mystics : Marley, Tosh, and Wailer

Author: Colin Grant

Formats: Book (Hardcover and Kindle Edition)

Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company

Release date: June 20, 2011

 

 

 

Also new this summer is a group biography of the original Wailers: Bob Marley, Peter Tosh, and Bunny Livingstone (aka Bunny Wailer). Even decades after his death, most reggae biographies are about Bob Marley, but Grant offers a group biography of Marley and his two co-founders of the Wailers. As the only surviving member of the trio, Bunny Wailer is the subject of Grant’s first and last chapters. In the opening sequence, Wailer is jeered off the stage at a show in Kingston in 1990 where the crowd was there for rude, raucous dancehall and DJ stylings and Wailer’s spiritual approach was of no interest whatsoever. In the epilogue, far from the jarring realities of modern day Kingston, Wailer speaks to the question of how the Jamaican audience that once devoured the peaceful Rastafarian message of his and his compatriots’ music had changed so very much. In between, Grant takes readers through the individual Wailers’ childhoods, their meeting and bonding in Trench Town’s mean streets, and their discovery of a shared affinity for harmony and musical performance.

A thumbnail history of reggae is provided; as teens the three were mentored by Joe Higgs, a Rastafarian singer whose mission it was to mentor ghetto youth. Eventually the Wailers scored a recording contract and authored a series of hits that, after they met and collaborated with the mercurial producer Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry, eventually made a dent in the U.K. pop music market. Sensing a commercial opening, Island Records president and native Jamaican Chris Blackwell signed the Wailers to a recording deal, but in the process of bringing them to a more polished sound for the non-Jamaican market, he caused the break up of the group and the end of their work with Perry. The result was a more Westernized reggae sound that eventually brought Marley great fame worldwide. It resulted in more commercial success for Tosh and Wailer than that enjoyed by most reggae acts, but resentment toward Blackwell festered and, especially in Tosh’s and Perry’s cases, hardened into long-time grudges (though Bunny Wailer is no Blackwell fan either).

Grant weaves a sketch of Jamaican history into the story, exposing readers to the escapades of Rhygin, a gun-slinging Jamaican bandit and folk hero whose antics presaged those of Dudus, the coke lord whose alleged reign of terror animated the news from the island in the last year or so. He also details the painfully slow process of Rastafarians being allowed to rear their dreadlocked heads in popular culture. For decades Rasta musicians had to be stationed at the rear of the stage without direct light shining on them, even recognized figures like the legendary Count Ossie. “Rastas were allowed on stage but only if they remained at the back and in the shadows, without illumination. In some regard, the position of Rastas in Jamaican society mirrored that of African-Americans at the time. […] In the same year … Dave Brubeck was deemed guilty of an unforgivable faux pas when he had the gall to introduce Eugene Wright, a black bassist, into his otherwise all-white quartet.” Brubeck was instructed to position Wright “at the back, where he won’t be too noticeable … at an American campus one night in 1959.” [p. 55] But eventually things changed: “Millie Small’s ‘My Boy Lollipop’ marked a pivotal moment in the evolution of Jamaican culture. Not only was it a huge international hit … it uncoupled the freight of negative associations [the Jamaican audience] attached to ska,” [p. 91] a precursor of reggae.

Whether Tosh was absolutely correct in his assessment of Blackwell’s effect on the Wailers and on his former collaborator Marley is open for debate. Marley certainly didn’t actively deny it and Blackwell has recently mused that whatever changed about Marley’s music after the break-up of the Wailers, it didn’t harm Marley’s career and his success in bringing reggae to worldwide attention. “Peter Tosh had an undeniable talent for self-dramatisation, but it is equally the case that during this time [the 1970s], his homeland deteriorated even further; shelves on the supermarkets remained empty, hordes of unemployed youth remained idle, the local currency was devalued more and more and the guns began to bark again.” [p. 246]

Grant’s triple biography of the Wailers augments the new Legacy Editions of Tosh’s albums very nicely.

Reviewed by Mike Tribby

Equal Rights

Title: Equal Rights

Artist: Peter Tosh

Label: Sony Legacy

Formats: 2 CD Legacy Edition

Catalog no.: 88697 4691 2

Release date: June 21, 2011

 

Much of the recording of these two albums took place in Kingston, Jamaica, while a street war between armed gangs loyal to the two competing political parties raged in anticipation of upcoming elections. At the time, none of the members of Tosh’s band held strong political views. However, as they attest in the liner notes, Peter’s counsel and the violence that had become a part of daily life in Kingston soon changed that. And speaking of the liner notes, the booklets for both Equal Rights and Legalize It are excellent, chock full of discographical information (something of a rarity in vintage reggae) and historical anecdotes delivered by recognized reggae scholars like Roger Steffens, Lee Jaffe, and Herbie Miller.

The deluxe remastering yields a big, full booming bass with plenty of top end clarity that shows off the multiplicity of percussion instruments involved: the perfect roots reggae mix. Some of the previously unreleased tracks don’t quite measure up to the sonic quality of the other cuts, though, but this is attributable to the condition of the source materials. Among the dub versions included on CD 2, “(Fight) Apartheid,” “African,” and “Blame the Yout” (the dub of “You Can’t Blame the Youth,” which appears as a bonus track on CD 1) are cast in a roiling dub stew of all manner of sounds. Tosh wasn’t as flamboyant a dub mixer as Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry or King Tubby, so for most of the rest of the dubs the effects are perhaps a bit subdued. But they serve to show off the musicianship of Tosh’s topflight back-up band, which, on Equal Rights, features Robbie Shakespeare and Sly Dunbar ,who would be at the center of Tosh’s (and other reggae artists like Black Uhuru and Culture) regular band on their way to establishing their credentials as one of reggae’s and pop music’s top rhythm sections.

Contents of Disc 1:

1. Get Up, Stand Up ; 2. Downpressor Man ; 3. I Am That I Am ; 4. Stepping Razor ; 5. Equal Rights ; 6. African ; 7. Jah Guide ; 8. Apartheid;

Bonus tracks (previously Unreleased original session outtakes:

9. 400 Years (Outtake) ; 10. Hammer (Extended Version Outtake) ; 11. Jah Man Inna Jamdung (Outtake) ; 12. Vampire (Outtake) ; 13 Babylon Queendom (Outtake) ; 14. You Can’t Blame the Youth (Outtake) ; 15. Mark of the Beasts (Outtake).

Contents of Disc 2 (primarily unreleased alternates/demos/dub versions):

1.Get Up, Stand Up (Alternate Version) ; 2. Dub-presser Man (Dub Version) ; 3. I Am That I Am (ShaJahShoka Dub Plate) ; 4. Heavy Razor (ShaJahShoka Dub Plate) ; 5. Equal Rights (Extended Version) ; 6. African (London Sound System Dub Plate) ; 7. Jah Guide (Dub Plate) ; 8. (Fight) Apartheid (Alternate Version) ; 9. Vampire (Demo) ; 10 Jah Man Inna Jamdung (Demo) ; 11. Hammer (ShaJahShoka Dub Plate) ; 12. Blame the Yout (Dub Version) ; 13. Babylon Queendom (Dub Version) ; 14. Vampires (Dub Version) ; 15. Get Up, Stand Up (Extended/Alternate Version).

Musicians:

Peter Tosh (Vocals, Guitar, Keyboards), Sly Dunbar (Drums), Earl Lindo (Keyboards), Bunny Wailer (Background Vocals), Robbie Shakespeare (Bass), Al Anderson (Guitar).

Additional musicians:

Carlie Barrett (Drums), Harold Butler (Clavinet), Dirty Harry (Tenor Sax), Tyrone Downie (Keyboards), Karl Pitterson (Guitar), Bobby Ellis (Trumpet), Skully (Percussion), Abdul Wali (Guitar).

Reviewed by Mike Tribby

Legalize It


Title: Legalize It

Artist: Peter Tosh

Label: Sony Legacy

Format: 2 CD Legacy Edition

Catalog no.: 88697 74690 2

Release date: June 21, 2011

 

 

For Tosh’s landmark first effort, Legacy has packaged an excellent remastering of the original nine-song album augmented by bonus tracks with a special treat. As with the re-issue of the Wailers’ first Island album, Catch a Fire, the earlier Jamaican mix of Legalize It is featured on the second disc. Legalize It’s iconic cover shows Tosh sitting in the midst of a field of marijuana plants, pulling thoughtfully on his pipe. The cover grabbed people’s attention and caused some concern for the record company. The lyrics to tracks like the title song are blunt, relentless expressions of Tosh’s views on issues ranging from the legal status of ganja, the primacy of Jah Rastafari, the sins of the oppressors from the slave traders of the past to the corrupt politicians of the 20th century, and the conditions of everyday life in Jamaica.

Tosh shopped his mix of Legalize It work to various record companies, and when he signed with Columbia, the company asked for some remixing and a few other changes, which Tosh accommodated. Not surprisingly, Tosh’s original mix is rougher, often slower in tempo, a bit more bass-heavy, and altogether a darkly satisfying offering. Moreover, on the album as released by Columbia, the lead guitar is more prominent in the mix and overall, the sound is spare and what the record company executives must have hoped would be heard as more tasteful. On Tosh’s mix, the bass guitar is more forceful, higher in the mix, and more propulsive. On the high end, more percussion tracks are clearly audible and much more at the front of the mix than they are on the previously released version. With both versions of the album in this package, listeners can compare, song by song, the changes Western record companies of the time demanded of their reggae artists. Tosh, who sharply criticized Chris Blackwell and Bob Marley for giving in to this pressure, might have been expected to refuse such requests, especially given stories over the years of how he could be difficult to deal with, but he acquiesced. As listeners will hear, though the changes were noticeable, on the whole they did not eviscerate Tosh’s sound, nor obscure his views.

Fittingly enough, at the time of Legalize It‘s release, Tosh recorded a public service announcement (PSA) for the National Organization for Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML). That PSA is included in the final track on disc 2, and now as then, Peter would no doubt appreciate his fans making contributions to NORML.

Contents of Disc 1:

1. Legalize It ; 2. Burial ; 3. Whatcha Gonna Do ; 4. No Sympathy ; 5. Why Must I Cry ; 6. Igziabeher (Let Jah Be Praised) ; 7. Ketchy Shuby ; 8. Till Your Well Runs Dry ; 9. Brand New Second Hand.

Bonus tracks (previously unreleased): 10. Legalize It (Demo) ; 11. No Sympathy (Demo) ; 12. Why Must I Cry (Demo) ; 13. Igziabeher (Let Jah Be Praised) (Demo) ; 14. Ketchy Shuby (Demo) ; 15. Till Your Well Runs Dry (Demo) ; 16. Brand New Second Hand (Demo).

Contents of Disc 2: “Original Jamaican Mix”

[Tracks 1-9 are the same as Disc 1, but represent the previously unreleased original LP mix); 10. Legalize It (Alternate Version); 11. Burial (Dub Version 1) ; 12. Whatcha Gonna Do (ShaJahShoka Dub Plate) ; 13. Igziabeher (Let Jah Be Praised) (ShaJahShoka Dub Plate) ; 14. Second Hand (ShaJahShoka Dub Plate) ; 15. Burial (Dub Version 2) ; 16. Legalize It (Dub Version).

Musicians:

Drums: Carlton Barrett, Santa; Bass: Aston “Family Man” Barrett, Robbie Shakespeare; Keyboards: Tyrone Downie, Peter Tosh; Background vocals: Rita Marley, Judy Mowatt, Bunny Wailer, Peter Tosh; Reggae guitar: Peter Tosh; Lead guitar: Al Anderson, Donald Kinsey (“No sympathy” and “Till your well runs dry”); Harps: Robbie and Ras Lee.

Reviewed by Mike Tribby

A Tribute to Peter Tosh


Peter Tosh (1944-1987), was one of Jamaica’s most important musicians, both as a founding member of the Wailers and as a solo artist, composer, and activist. He left the Wailers shortly after the release of Burnin’, their second Chris Blackwell/Island Records album, because he felt that his (and Bunny Wailer’s) efforts were being ignored in favor of Bob Marley’s. He also thought Blackwell was consciously molding Marley into a softer, more accessible artist in order to sell him as a star in Western popular music, particularly in the U.S. and U.K.—leading lights of the part of the world Tosh identified as “Babylon” in Rastafarian terms.

And so Tosh’s solo career began. On his first two albums, 1976’s Legalize It and 1977’s Equal Rights, Tosh very consciously moved away from the softening and sweetening of the Wailer’s sound and message that he heard in Blackwell’s product (Tosh’s militant lyrics focused on issues ranging from apartheid to government corruption to gang violence). He surrounded himself with highly regarded reggae instrumentalists, booked studio time, and got started recording his own music. And he began the journey that would ultimately lead to world renown as “reggae’s ultimate rebel poet.”  The following three reviews analyze the reissues of his first two landmark solo albums, in addition to a new biography of the three original Wailers.

Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry: New Book & CDs


Title: Revelation

Label: Megawave Records

Format: CD, MP3

Catalog No.: MEGW 0342

Release date: August 10, 2010

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Title: Sound System Scratch (Lee Perry’s dub plate mixes 1973 to 1979)

Label: Pressure Sounds

Format: CD

Catalog No.:  PSCD68

Release date: August 31, 2010

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Title: Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry: Kiss Me Neck : The Scratch Story in Words, Pictures and Records

Author: Jeremy Collingwood

Publisher: Cherry Red Books

ISBN: 9781901447965

Release date: August 2010*

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Seventy-four-year-old Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry hasn’t slowed down much. Since 2007 eight albums of new material have been issued under his name and re-packagings of his back catalog continue to appear, too, with the contents of many compilations overlapping each other even when the competing compilations emanate from the same record company. An important difference between the material released lately and that of the past is that now Scratch gets paid for most of his work after years of being relentlessly bootlegged and ripped off by various and sundry music industry participants. Two 2010 releases are of particular interest.

Revelation is a collection of new songs and finds Scratch sounding more involved than he has with some recent releases on which his voicings occasionally seemed perfunctory or poorly edited. Over the years a lot of marginal performances by Scratch have been marketed, and many fans eschew certain works or whole periods of his career. But with Revelation Scratch comes close to the beyond-reggae electronic world music highlights of his Time Boom X de Devil Dead (1987; re-issued in 1994 and 2001 with extra tracks). Keith Richards and George Clinton appear on one song each, Clinton sharing vocals and composing credit with Perry on Scary Politicians, a dubbed-up skank with self-explanatory lyrics; and Richards contributes a signature guitar part to “Books of Moses.” But the highlight of the album, both lyrically and sonically, is a jazz-tinged disquisition on the late Michael Jackson titled “Freaky Michael.” The smoky sax part (played by Tim Hill) snakes in and out of the mix as Scratch’s vocals chide Jackson for apparently turning his back on his black heritage. The tone is gentle, if pointed, and the music evokes memories of earlier horn-infused Scratch collaborations with the likes of Tommy McCook and Vin Gordon. The set list is:

1. Revelation, Revolution, and Evolution
2. Used to Drive a Tractor in Negrille
3. Firepower
4. Holy Angels
5. Scary Politicians
6. Let There Be Light
7. Books of Moses
8. Money Come and Money go
9. Psalm
10. Run for Cover
11. Freaky Michael
12. Weatherman
13. An Eye For an Eye

Whereas Revelation benefits from the crystal clear sounds of modern digital music production capabilities, Sound System Scratch arguably benefits from the crude, jerry-rigged equipment on which it was recorded. The songs here are dub plate selections that Scratch cut at the Black Ark, his legendary home studio that he built himself in the early 1970s. To say these recordings are bass-heavy is to grossly understate the situation. Dub plates were aluminum discs with a thin coat of vinyl on which the music was cut. They were not intended to be played more than a few dozen times and the recording quality quickly degraded, so the fact that these cuts survived is something of a blessing. They were intended to be played outdoors, and they were intended to be heard—or felt—at great distances, the better to draw a crowd to a sound system show. As usual with ’70s-era Scratch productions, precise personnel assignments are not available in the discographical information, but the notes indicate all of the bass parts were played by Boris Gardiner or Robbie Shakespeare, two of the very best reggae bassists.

The mixes are rough and robust: percussion parts proliferate and disappear, echo and distortion fade in and out, and occasional snippets of other instruments drop in and out of the mix. Found sounds compete with ghostly voices in a complex dub stew that creates an amazing soundscape attained without anything like a digital sampler. This is Scratch at the height of his powers, and one of the finest examples of the full-blown swampy Black Ark sound, but with even more bass than usual! Highlights include an Augustus Pablo melodica workout titled “Lama Lava Mix One;”  “The Rightful Organiser,” an even more heavily dubbed version of one of Scratch’s signature songs, “Dub Organiser;” “Roots Train Number Two;” and “Locks in the Dublight” and “Moonlight Version,” two heavily dubbed versions of “Dreadlocks in Moonlight.”  “Zeal of the Lord” and “Dub of the Lord” are smoky paeans to Jah, and “Groovy Dub” and “Living Dub” recast Keith Rowe’s “Groovy Situation” into moody sonic voyages. The set list is:

1. Dread Dub Plate – Lee Perry
2. Lama Lava Mix One – Augustus Pablo & The Upsetters
3. Groove Dubber – The Upsetters
4. Groove Rider – The Upsetters
5. Jucky Skank – The Upsetters
6. Chim Cherie – The Upsetters
7. The Rightful Organiser – Lee Perry & The Upsetters
8. Stagger – Lee Perry & The Upsetters
9. Big Neck Cut – Lee Perry & The Upsetters
10. Zeal Of The Lord – The Upsetters
11. Dub Of The Lord – The Upsetters
12. Returning Wax – The Upsetters
13. Bush Dub Corntrash – Winston Wright & The Upsetters
14. From Dub Four – Clive Hylton & The Upsetters
15. Roots Train Number Two – Junior Murvin & The Upsetters
16. Locks In The Dublight – Lee Perry & The Upsetters
17. Moonlight Version – The Upsetters
18. Dub History – Carlton Jackson & The Upsetters
19. Living Dub – Keith Rowe & The Upsetters

The “content and sleevenotes” for Sound System Scratch are by Jeremy Collingwood who is also the author of the forthcoming bio-disco-bibliography of Scratch, Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry : Kiss Me Neck : the Scratch Story in Words, Pictures and Records. Collingwood is one of the few reggae writers on a par in Scratchology with David Katz (author of the Scratch bio, People Funny Boy), and his insight into the intricacies of the Jamaican music scene provide excellent and vital information about Scratch and his career. As to just who Scratch is, Collingwood writes: “Perry is one of the few reggae stars that continue to have an interest shown in him from the mainstream. He fits into the musical-genius-gone-to-madness-and-back paradigm so beloved of the media {snip} Conversely, in Jamaica Lee Perry is no star of the music business; he’s just one of many producers who had hits in the late 1960s and early 1970s. In 2005, when a UK radio show went to JA to interview people about Perry, there was surprise that the journalist was making a program about Lee Perry. After all, Bunny ‘Striker’ Lee—’The Hit Maker’—was more successful in both mainstream and sound system terms, Bob Marley was a bigger star and King Tubby is often critically more acclaimed. But, uniquely, Perry had an unrivaled period of innovation and creativity that seems to have spoken to and inspired people of many countries, classes and colours around the world.” [p. [11]] The book presents the most comprehensive compilation of Perry’s output to date, but as Collingwood observes, “no list can ever keep pace with the escalating number of records with purported Lee Perry/Upsetter connections,” [p. 247] what with all the bootlegs and bogus collections that have flooded the market, especially on eBay.

The book itself, like dubplate mixes, is a little rough in places and the illustrations are in black and white only. But the number of original record labels, handbills, and esoterica from Scratch’s career displayed here are a treasure trove for the Scratch or reggae enthusiast. The sprawling discography section of the book is divided among Jamaican singles 1963-2009, Albums 1969-2000 (which actually covers vinyl and CD album releases through 2008), UK singles 1963-1983, UK & European discos 1977-1981, US & Canadian singles 1969-1979, US discos 1976-1987, plus a very helpful users guide. As far as being comprehensive, Collingwood even presents a listing of and identifying attributes for the many Scratch recordings released in Jamaica on vinyl with blank labels. His insightful commentary and flair for detail make Collingwood’s work a natural acquisition for library collections with an interest in reggae and individual reggae fans alike.

*Note: Amazon currently lists an April 2011 pub date; however, the book was briefly available in September 2010 (when I purchased my copy) and copies are still available on the Amazon UK site.  Presumably the book will be released again in the US next spring, with the same ISBN. The publishing process of books about Jamaican music, like Jamaican music releases, seems to hew to the spirit of the Jamaican expression “soon come.”

Reviewed by Mike Tribby