From the net label Dubkey comes the expansive cinematic sound and video of ‘Zion’s Calling’. Taken from Apocalypse Dub Faction’s album ‘Jah Never Fail I’ it is, like previous Dubkey releases, available free to download. Thus far Dubkey has released seventeen or so collections of mainly dub sounds, providing a platform for original rhythms rather than remixed or re-produced versions of existing reggae tracks. On ‘Zion’s Calling’ it’s the UK and Malta sound of graceful digital dub. The rest of the album can be downloaded here which also serves as a way-in to previous releases from Dubkey.

The recent growth of free-to-download net labels specialising in dub reggae (see also the review of Cyprus-based net label Dubophonic at 4th October 2013) points to something positive and fundamentally different from the ‘re-release and re-visit’ orientation of some of the major labels; and it provides a potential way forward for anyone seeking to get a release of their material out to new audiences.

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Imperial Leisure have a style (described by their label as ‘alt ska’) that’s pretty hard to pin down: rock-guitar led with a strong ska-based brass section, plus hip-hop vocals and a reggae skank rhythm somewhere back there in the mix. An earlier release like their ‘Great British Summertime’ displayed this all-embracing musical remit to excellent effect. The distinctive sound of the Skints (see 27th March 2013) is maybe some point of comparison if one is really needed. Imperial Leisure have been around for a few years now with two albums released thus far and a third coming into view on the horizon. This new single release – ‘Nasty Boy’ – is a punky reggae party that storms along heavily and keeps them firmly on track as pioneers of vital cross-genre live music.

Imperial Leisure ‘Nasty Boy’ released (digital) 30th March 2014, FXD Record

From the Unit 137 label comes this impressive second release from their resident producer Sleepy Time Ghost (see 27th January 2013 for a review of his earlier EP based around the ‘Youthman Riddim’). This time round STG offers a four-track EP built upon the slow and strong roots sound of the ‘Ghost Train Riddim’. This starts with ‘Meditation’ (featuring Macka B and Zico), followed through with ‘Jah Can Read Your Thoughts’ (featuring vocals from no less than Mikey General). Next up is the remix from Hylu and Jago entitled ‘Babylon’, before the EP closes with the source rhythm track itself which will doubtless be an inspiration for further versions, mixes and dubs in the future.

Unit 137 has by now built up quite a reputation with its unique project – a South-East London-based  collective of musicians, DJs, producers, vocalists and engineers, sharing their own recording studio, record label and sound system and drawing-in a whole range of contributors. Overall this new release reinforces that reputation and manages to bring together older established reggae traditions with a contemporary nu-sound system feel based on the combination of live instrumentation and studio digital production.

Click here to listen to a preview.

Sleepy Time Ghost: ‘Ghost Train Riddim’ EP released (Unit 137) on 19th April 2014 for ‘record store day’ (vinyl format); 21st April 2014 (digital format).

Soul Jazz Records have again come up with an excellent selection of tracks for this latest compilation. ‘Rocksteady’ is defined broadly here, and overall the collection thoughtfully and successfully captures the moment when the insistent rhythm of rocksteady started to give way to the different emphasis of reggae. The eighteen tracks here may not all be familiar and it is to the label’s credit that this is not just another rehash of well-known tunes. The production on these early cuts is relatively unobtrusive, rightly drawing attention to the music itself rather than studio techniques, and reminding us that Studio One’s reputation was based on knowing when ‘less’ can be better than ‘more’ in the control room.

The influence of soul and blues is clear enough at some points, in particular Cecile Campbell’s ‘Whisper to Me’ and Ken Boothe’s ‘Moving Away’. Elsewhere different musical styles make themselves known, for instance in Ken Boothe’s striking ‘Home, Home, Home’ , an unusual excursion into gospel-led reggae with strong and unconventional harmonies, together with lyrics that can easily be read on a number of levels. The Heptones contribute two tracks including the classic ‘Love Won’t Come Easy’ where the prominent rhythm track and latter-era reggae bass start to become more evident as the old rocksteady rhythms changed and developed. The great Alton Ellis, Marcia Griffiths and John Holt can also be found to good effect within the tracklisting here.

Standout tracks include the Wailing Souls’ ‘Row Fisherman Row’ (not the Congos’ song) with its repeating reggae rhythm and a great instrumental fadeout which although not exactly dub – it sounds more like someone twiddling the tone control on an old Dansette – hints at where this music would go next. The bass is turned to 11 on the little-known Larry and Alvin’s ‘Throw Me Corn’, again anticipating the future direction of this music.  Dennis Brown’s ‘Easy Take it Easy’ with its familiar rhythm track is excellent indeed, here going straight into its instrumental ‘version’ with some early dub flourishes: it would be worth getting this album for this track alone so it can only be a plus that there are seventeen other songs that repay our attention too.

‘Studio One Rocksteady’, CD/DDL; Soul Jazz Records, February 2014

RudeAudio_sleeve_AW.inddHailing from what they describe as ‘the back streets of London’, Rude Audio offer a fairly unique blend of reggae, dub and drum and bass –  with powerful results. ‘Knockemdead’ is the lead single release from their forthcoming 4-track EP ‘Ruder’. The single, featuring strong and effective vocals from Eucalypta LV, manages to combine this South London collective’s many roots and dance-based influences with something pleasantly strange and almost psychedelic in overall mood. You can watch and listen here.