square_160Following the release of their debut single ‘Blackout’ earlier this year, here comes the debut EP from the Shanty band, a seven-piece outfit from North-West London who have established a distinctive niche by turning the best of the received reggae tradition into their own contemporary brass-laden sound. They have already appeared at festivals including Boomtown Fair, Leopallooza, Secret Garden Party and Glastonbury, and have shared the stage with the estimable Skints and Prince Fatty, and the venerable Neville Staple.

Recorded at Sawmills studio in Cornwall (previously better known for hosting indie bands including Oasis, The Verve, Supergrass and The Stone Roses) all songs on this new EP were written by the band. The production is minimalist in the best sense: hints of reverb, echo and dub used sparingly and all the more effective for that. The title track is straightforward reggae, with prominent brass making itself known throughout, a confident sound which suggests it would be highly powerful in a live setting. In fact the whole EP sounds as though it was made to be performed live rather than in the confines of a studio. ‘Bohemian Soul’ is a slower reggae tune – almost a reggae ballad – a regular rhythm with, again, a strong brass input, and a nice dub touch mid-way through as the instruments fade to illuminate the underlying melody more clearly: a strong track. ‘Rise Up’ offers more assertive vocals over a slowish reggae rhythm, while concluding track ‘One More’ opens with a retro scratchy sound and distant skank before heading into a relatively slow-paced song with an interesting mix going on behind the vocals. The EP as a whole can, perhaps strangely, be described as mellow – at ease with itself – and the sequencing seems just right for the four songs on offer here in adding to this impression.

Shanty ‘Leave Me Out’ EP, release 22nd September 2014

Chrisville-vilpoa-210x210This release from Jamaican artist ChrisVille features ten tracks, including the opening song and initial single release ‘Pressure’ – a straightahead reggae track in upbeat style with a dub-influenced middle section. Elsewhere it’s a strong collection of reggae tracks with a pronounced dancehall inspiration. ‘Who Feels It’ opens in spoken DJ style then moves into regular reggae mode. In contrast, ‘Let Me (Ride It)’ features Rockman in a style that can best be described as melodic dancehall with a digital rhythm – worth a listen.

artworks-000088395768-7f1nnu-t200x200Great to hear old-style upbeat ska-based rocksteady from the excellent Jamaica All Stars, who comprise some of the masters of reggae including Vin Gordon, Bunny Robinson and several contemporaries of equal renown. The fourth 7” vinyl release on Cubiculo Records, this single consists of ‘All Rudies in Jail’ on the A side, with a piano version rhythm track on the flip featuring Sparrow Martin, highly respected for his work as leader of the Alpha School Boys’ Band. In addition to the musical value of this release in its own right, the idea behind it (and that of the Jamaican All Stars themselves) was to allow the opportunity for younger people to meet the reggae masters, including a series of workshops – continuing the tradition of the Alpha Boys’ School. The song itself is bright and upbeat, infectious rhythm and clear mix, in the fine tradition of the All Stars.

Jamaica All Stars: All Rudies In Jail/Rudies Sparrow’s Piano; released September 2014, Cubiculo Records

Rivertones-dubwood-packshotReleased in 2012, and then again in a limited number of 7” singles at the end of 2013, this unique take on dub-meets-Dylan warrants an honourable mention before it disappears from view. It’s Dylan Thomas, not Bob, and comprises the rather surprising twin elements of Ali Baba as the backing track together with a voiceover of Richard Burton reading from ‘Under Milk Wood’. In reality Dylan Thomas never sounded as Welsh as imagination suggests, so it’s fitting that the late Richard Burton provides the gravitas and erudition of his commanding Welsh tones in a way that fits most people’s preconception of what this “play for voices” should sound like. As for adding this over the top of a classic King Tubby mix, well, I’m sure the iconoclast Thomas would have raised a glass and enjoyed it.

61QPpz2iMcL._SL500_AA280_At the height of reggae/punk euphoria in late 1970s Britain, Virgin Records launched its groundbreaking reggae label Front Line which released 46 albums and 26 singles over a two-year period. The reputation of the label and the staggering quality of the music endures still, long after the dreary political and economic conditions of those times have been consigned to history.

There has been previous repackaging of Front Line material, notably in the 1990 compilation ‘Beyond the Front Line’. But in this new five-CD release we have the definitive Front Line collection, featuring 92 tracks. More than 31 are new to CD, and a third of these are issued here for the first time. The reggae styles include roots and DJ/12” versions with a strong dub emphasis throughout. As well as the music, the box-set package includes an explanatory booklet, photos, and posters.

Disc 1 features iconic performers including the Gladiators, I-Roy and the Mighty Diamonds. The ten tracks of the original vinyl release are supplemented by a number of further bonus tracks. It is difficult to pick out individual songs for special attention although listening to this again after the passage of time U-Roy’s ‘Natty Rebel’ remains a standout track, an uncompromising version of Marley’s ‘Soul Rebel’ using the Gladiators’ take on the song (from their Trenchtown Mix-Up album) as its source. This is outstanding even today. The Gladiators’ ‘Know Yourself Mankind ‘– also from Trenchtown Mix-up – is included here too. Amongst the bonus tracks, ‘Killer Dub’ by the Revolutionaries and the powerful commentary of ‘It Dread Inna Inglan’ from Poet (Linton Kwesi Johnson) and the Roots are worthy of particular mention.

Discs 2 and 3 add more from the same artists and also introduce further key names from this era. On Disc 2 this includes the sweet sound of ‘I Love You So’ from the Twinkle Brothers, and the remarkable ‘Make a Truce’ by Althea and Donna, reminding us that they did much more than record ‘Uptown Top Ranking’ by offering here a neglected bass-driven dub-based angry track which may come as a surprise to some. Disc 3 brings us the great Gregory Isaacs with ‘Lonely Girl’ and ‘Let’s Dance’. Also in the melodic harmony tradition can be found ‘Natty Never Get Weary’ from Culture, while I-Roy’s ‘Fire in a Wire’ blows us away with his toasting vocal mixed so far up-front the rhythm track virtually disappears.

The final two discs focus on extended 12”/discomix versions and here the collection really comes into its own. Disc 4 opens with U-Roy’s take on ‘Small Axe’, vocalising over the top of an unrestrained dub mix of the original track. The extended version of ‘Pocket Money’ by the Gladiators is to be found here too, one of the defining tracks of the era, the only quibble being the abrupt edit mid-way through from vocal to dub versions rather than the more elegant transition to the found on the original (Virgin Records) 12” single. U Brown’s great ‘Black Star Liner’ is also included, its bass line instantly familiar to any reggae audience. On the final disc can be found some 12” mixes that are pretty much part of reggae history, including Prince Far-I’s ‘Throw Away Your Gun’. The sweet sound and smooth rhythm track of ‘I Need a Roof’ from the Mighty Diamonds excels in this 12” cut as it moves through into its dub version.

On reflection it’s hard to credit the fact that so much classic reggae was issued during the relatively short life of Front Line. It was certainly of its time, but manages to remain remarkably fresh when heard again today. Production and sound quality is excellent throughout. Not all compilations of reggae from this period are worth such attention but this one is. Indispensible.

Front Line: Sounds of Reality Box Set (5 discs) released 11th August 2014