The New Town Kings – who hail from New Town, Colchester – have just re-released their well-received four-track EP, ‘Pull Up & Rewind’. This is Essex reggae/ska influenced in part by the sound of the Two Tone era but also with the strong imprint of the reggae greats, the originators of all this.

The EP opens with ‘Change’, a committed political tour-de-force, with bass and brass driving things along convincingly. ‘Luna Rosa’ is a great fast-paced ska song, with hints of a Latin influence in the brass-led refrain. ‘Grabbed My Hand’ is closer to the mellow melodic tradition of the reggae masters and the soul singers of the same period. The set concludes with ‘Cool the Pressure Down’, pointing to the need for a steady calm in circumstances where others are losing their patience. Together, the four tracks serve to showcase the different but complementary styles of this nine-piece band. The themes and lyrics of the songs here – political and personal – as well as the music itself reference the reggae tradition respectfully but the result isn’t sombre or serious. It’s upbeat live-oriented reggae/ska for a new audience.

New Town Kings: Pull Up and Rewind; release 8th December 2014. 

All the way from sunny Brighton here comes King Porter Stomp with a new single, ‘Warning’. With production in the safe hands of the formidable Prince Fatty this promises to be a track well worth hearing and, happily, it is: a slow-paced brass and bass-heavy political reggae song, resolving into a fine dubbed-up section with guitar and brass fading in and out over the firm bass and drum rhythm. With a version produced by the well-respected Nick Manasseh on the flip side of this 10” vinyl release, it is a great reggae single firmly in the mainstream roots/UK dub tradition. Eight-piece King Porter Stomp, named after a classic Jelly Roll Morton song from almost a century ago (now, that would be an interesting tune to hear ska-style!), have been around for a while now – see earlier review on 15th September 2012. They rightly continue to attract attention for their style which manages to sound technically accomplished and effortless at the same time: a fine achievement indeed.

King Porter Stomp ‘Warning’, release 24th November 2014 on Feet Up Records, limited edition 10” vinyl and digital download.     

317_xlFuture Dub Project are a group of musicians, producers, collaborators and guests gathered into a collective inspired by the traditions of bass-led dub, but reaching out into new directions. Formerly of reggae-dub act Strobe Circus, James Duff and Kyle B have added bassist Mike Pocket and DJ Thomas James to become the Future Dub Project. With the addition of guest vocalists, and Tree House Fire’s (see 4th August 2014) Sam Rothon, ‘Captain Hook’ emerges as a tight and forward-looking EP.

Starting with the title track ‘Captain Hook’, with vocals from Chainska Brassika singer Ashley James and trumpets from Jonny Murray, the feel is upbeat – ska and 2-tone influenced – but with lyrics (and video) that conjure up a less insular and more diverse world than is often portrayed in reggae culture. The other core track, ‘Boogie Walk’, features Sarah Iman Telman on vocals. Its feel is different from the opener, providing us with a dancehall, electronic, assertive reggae sort of rhythm which resolves itself into a pleasingly noisy sort of rock-influenced conclusion. The production throughout is excellent and contemporary: future dub indeed. Aside from this, there are remixes of these two tracks: the radio edit ‘Smoove Remix’ of ‘Captain Hook’ is worthy of mention for its dance/funk inspiration, while the ‘Sean Paul Mash Up’ of the same song is a great toasting headlong dancehall version, again moving into dance mood as it progresses.

“For me the best thing about starting The Future Dub Project was that we came at it with a fresh energy,” says James. “With all the experience gained from playing in live bands for most of our lives, we’ve had the time to learn what works both in the studio and on stage.”

The Future Dub Project: Captain Hook EP. Release 3rd November 2014.

As well as being an album by Peter Tosh, ‘Mystic Man’ is also the name of an emergent artist based in Dordrecht in the Netherlands. ‘Creating Reality’ is his debut release, produced from his own studio, bringing us spiritually-influenced new music but very much in the style of vintage dub. Nicotine Dub has all the elements of echo, reverb and bass/drum-heavy dub that you could want, plus some electronic effects that all conjure up the great dub artists and classic-era producers as it makes its stately progress. Krishna Dub points up the album’s strong spiritual roots: more upbeat, but again with that great far-away drum sound echoing away behind the dub instrumentation and lyrics devoted to Hare Krishna. Gunman leans a little more toward dancehall in its style, while Calling Annunaki is vocally and melodically strong, again with its religious message up-front. Swedish Dub is, well, a great old-style dub that – although betraying little that is obviously Swedish – deserves some serious volume on playback. Plus, like all the other tracks here, the production is crystal clear. A surprising and welcome ten-track album release that is definitely worthy of attention.

Mystic Man: Creating Reality, release October 2014 from Ditto Music

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