vj3xi4v9There are two UB40s: one of which (called UB40) still plays and tours with some of the members of the original band; and this UB40 ‘featuring Ali, Astro and Mickey’ which their website describes as ‘founding members of the original UB40’. Fans thus have two bands to follow, while those who dislike UB40’s brand of reggae can now disparage both bands equally.

This ‘unplugged’ release takes some familiar UB40 songs and gives them the semi-acoustic treatment. Some of the results of this are predictable but others are engaging including a fine version of ‘Baby Come Back’ with languid toasting from Pato Banton. ‘One in Ten’ is still a powerful song after all this time and there is a great take on Prince’s ‘Purple Rain’. An unplugged treatment of ‘I Got You Babe’ replaces the vocals originally sung by Chrissie Hynde with those of Ali’s daughter, Kaya Campbell. ‘Food for Thought’ is not up to the standard of the original – probably nothing could be – but it’s good to hear. The melodica sound on ‘Tyler’ is intriguing and it amounts to one of the strongest tracks here. Overall this album is certainly worth hearing by all those who can shake off preconceptions about UB40 and listen with an open mind. It is also a reminder that UB40 were stronger in writing their own committed songs than in performing covers of reggae classics even if they became more widely known for the latter.

The release also includes a CD of some of the original UB40’s greatest hits. This provides (with excellent sound quality) a tour of territory familiar to all those who know UB40’s music. With 20 tracks in all it’s a concise collection of the band’s chart history and there’s no denying the lasting impact and quality of very early songs like ‘King’ or the sympathetic covers of track such as ‘Kingston Town’. It is highly likely that fans already have most of these tracks so the purpose of this release isn’t really clear. While the selection of ‘greatest hits’ is always subjective there is a strong argument for re-releasing 80s’ classics like ‘Love is All is Alright’ or ‘The Earth Dies Screaming’ (ideally in 12” format) than (for instance) including ‘Can’t Help Falling in Love’ within any UB40 greatest hits collection – especially as they were original band compositions not covers. Anyway, post-UK referendum and post-US election, let’s hope some of the 80s themes of their songs are not becoming topical again.

See also review of UB40 reissues 21st February 2015

UB40 feat. Ali, Astro and Mickey: ‘Unplugged’ and ‘Greatest Hits’ two-CD release, 18th November on UMC

In rock music, issuing a live album can either be a career-defining highlight (think of the Who’s ‘Live at Leeds’) or a career-reviving contractual obligation for an ageing band (think of your own examples here). In reggae, the live album has been far less significant overall, partly because of the importance of the studio and the producer to the resulting sound. But there are significant exceptions of which Bob Marley and the Wailers Live at the Lyceum – usually abbreviated just to ‘Live!’- is a leading example. Issued in 1975, the album captured these London performances and caught the mood of the time. As the Wailers were essentially being promoted as a rock band to Western rock audiences, why not issue a live album? And it was of course very good, its seven tracks including the live version of ‘No Woman, No Cry’ that everyone knows and which charted as a single.

Now we have the opportunity to hear for the first time the complete sets from both nights of these live performances from the Lyceum. ‘Bob Marley and the Wailers Live!’ will shortly be as a three-LP set in 180-gram black vinyl and in digital form, in a tri-gatefold package that also includes a reproduction of the tour program from the band’s truncated 1975 U.K. tour. Additionally a limited edition seven-inch live vinyl disc of ‘No Woman, No Cry’ will also be available at the same time. The classic Wailers line-up on this release is bassist Aston “Family Man” Barrett, drummer Carlton Barrett, guitarist Al Anderson, keyboardist Tyrone Downie, percussionist Alvin “Seeco” Patterson and the I-Threes (backing vocalists Rita Marley, Judy Mowatt and Marcia Griffiths) – and Bob Marley.

Although reissues so long after the original release can sometimes be cynical moneymaking exercises, the big strength of this re-release is the chance to hear several songs not included on the original release such as ‘Slave Driver’, ‘Stir It Up’ and ‘Kinky Reggae’ (the original ‘b’ side of ‘No Woman, No Cry’) and the full-length versions of some other songs that were previously included in shorter form such as ‘Lively Up Yourself’.

The re-release reminds us that some reissues are definitely worth hearing after all.

‘Bob Marley and the Wailers Live!’ issued December 2016

healer-digi-nuIt’s sweet reggae music in a lovers’ rock style in this latest album from the Resonators. Beginning with ‘All the Paths’ the template is set for slow melodic reggae, with a classic vocal harmony sound and a dub-leaning instrumentation just under the surface. With the exception of ‘Trees are Gone’ which is fairly upbeat, all the tracks fall into this retro but appealing laidback sound. The longest of these, ‘Papa Daddio’, is a strong track amongst nine fine songs included here. ‘Healer’ is selected for release as a single and it includes a great old-school dub version as the flip side. The Resonators are currently on a month-long tour of the UK and are due to play on Saturday 29th October at the Caedmon Hall, Gateshead, towards the end of their live dates.

‘Imaginary People’ released on vinyl/digital 29th September 2016.

album-cover-a-band-on-hopeAll ye who enter here…this is a new and genre-crossing project from producer Kristian Sharpe and the Scribes’ Ill Literate who combine here to generate an ambitious and original 13 track collection. It’s hard to define musically: Kristian Sharpe draws from hip hop, rock, funk, soul, blues, electro and jazz, while Ill Literate contributes thoughtful and creative lyrics.

Che Lives is vital and upbeat rap-rock, with some surprisingly retro guitar interludes, and possibly the only lyrical references to New Labour and proletarians that we are likely to hear this year. Dead Angels is musically more firmly within hip-hop but with a gentle musical edge, quite far removed from aggressive rap. God Knows is another rock-rap outing, drenched in a sad feel and, like the album as a whole, exuding regret rather than anger. Mindfields is melodic, and curiously reminiscent of something a late 60s rock band might have contemplated. So Far trots along happily with a rhythm that’s hard to pin down, while Trapped Inside Escape is full-on hip-hop. As if that were not enough, Spaced Out Break Out introduces a jazz feel to proceedings.

This is quite a unique release: the quality of musical settings is rich and diverse; the words are political but overall quite low key and melancholy.

Earlier reviews of the Scribes can be found on reggaemusic.org.uk 3rd February and 14th December 2015, and 22nd October 2012

A Band On Hope: 13 track LP, released 15th September 2016 from iTunes, Amazon and other online retailers

tootsOn a brief tour of the UK before heading for America (North and South), Toots Hibbert, born in 1945, is still going strong and the audience (young and old, black and white) of course loved this set at the Newcastle Academy on September 9th 2016: a performance still vital after all these years. The nine-strong ensemble (ten if you count the very visible roadie) sounded as though they were enjoying it rather than going through the motions which must be a tempting option for bands of this vintage. Kicking off with Pressure Drop, Toots and the band took us through a variety of tracks including the hits that everyone wanted to hear: Louie Louie, Never Go Down, Sweet and Dandy, Funky Kingston (accelerating very briskly to its conclusion), Light Your Light, ending with a fine Monkey Man. Surprisingly a high-spot was the bass-driven rendition of Country Roads, demonstrating that John Denver songs can rock after all. The encore brought a reprise of Monkey Man before going into 54-46 Was My Number, finishing on a high with some crashing rock chords. The only downside to the evening was the venue: shifted (for ‘regeneration’ reasons?) from the Boiler Shop to the Academy, involving an unnecessary queue for tickets (again) and sadly illustrating that the latter venue’s poor sound system and dire-quality video screens can take the edge off a great performance. But that’s not the fault of Toots and the Maytals who gave it all they had.