BackbeatSoundsystem_TogetherNotApart_01This forthcoming release from St. Austell-based eight-piece Backbeat Soundsystem is – following earlier EPs – the band’s first full-length studio album. Comprising twelve tracks, it sounds vital, upbeat and fresh. Recorded at Cube Recordings in Cornwall and using some tried and tested analogue equipment, the album opens with ‘Fighting Bull’, its brass phrases and polished production not unlike label mates Easy Star All Stars. Vocally powerful, and moving along into a dub style, this gets things off to a strong start. ‘Against it All’ is more politically engaged, serious and defiant, again set against an unrelenting reggae rhythm. ‘Words are the Weapon’ samples Peter Joseph’s ‘artivist’ documentary ‘Zeitgeist Addendum’ and again displays classic reggae rhythms with socially-concerned lyrics. The rhythm of ‘Losing Faith’ takes us back to 2-Tone, pleasingly enough, while ‘Share with You’ displays a more thoughtful side. ‘Two Time’ is mainstream reggae in melody and instrumentation – a strong roots contribution with electric guitar breaks enhancing the overall mix.

Following their appearance at the One Love Festival in August, and other tour dates alongside the admirable Easy Star All Stars, this release moves Backbeat Soundsystem into another league and it’s built on strong musical foundations. It’s intended to be a good thing to say this sounds at times like the very earliest UB40. It’ll be interesting to see what the response is to a whole album of their upbeat reggae – a million miles removed from digital dancehall and from studio production trickery generally – but it should be a highly positive reaction, especially in these hard times where optimism can be hard to find.

Backbeat Soundsystem ‘Together Not Apart’ released on Easy Star Records 13th October 2014

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.

Tour dates just announced – correct at time of writing:  October 9th – Antwerp Mansion, MANCHESTER; October 10th – Komedia, BRIGHTON; October 11th – SECRET SHOW; October 16th – Tiki Bar and Grill, PLYMOUTH; October 17th – The Unicorn Porthtowan, CORNWALL; October 18th – Mr. Wolf’s Bristol, BRISTOL; October 24th – Donkey Leicester, LEICESTER; October 25th – Hootananny Brixton, LONDON


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.