ff58234da17e44931aaf0d0a63455bf2.700x700x1Here’s some fine old-school reggae with this excellent single entitled ‘Hey Brother’ taken from the Frightnrs’ debut album ‘Nothing More to Say’. This is gentle vocal reggae, with a keyboard sound reminiscent of the 60s or even 50s soul and early R and B, and a lead vocal hinting at the soulful feel of Marvin Gaye. The rest of the album is equally strong, including ‘Gonna Make Time’ with similar instrumentation but a faster pace, and the great rocksteady contribution of ’All My Tears’ or ‘Till Then’.

Described by the record company as the ‘sweetest and the roughest’ this is unashamedly retro melodic vocal reggae with a cracking rhythm throughout. With production from Ticklah (as in Easy Star All Stars) this New York band sound as though they were as much influenced by Motown as by the reggae greats and this is especially evident in their unique vocal sound. The saddest postscript is that lead vocalist Dan Klein was suffering from a severe degenerative illness while recording the album under difficult circumstances and he finally passed away last year.

The Frightnrs: Hey Brother (Do Unto Others), released on Daptone Records

Ho ho ho!

unnamed-1The Beat released their fine comeback album ‘Bounce’ six months ago (see reggaemusic.org.uk 21st June 2016). Here is a new single from the album in the form of a double A-side 7” vinyl along with a track from contemporaries the Selecter. The two bands both played live from Maida Vale on 13 December 2016 for Steve Lamacq’s Christmas Ska Party on BBC Radio 6 and have a forthcoming co-headline tour in 2017 and their sound naturally goes together.

The current Beat incarnation is fronted by original toasting MC Ranking Roger, accompanied by his son Ranking Junior AKA Matthew Murphy, and the new single is co-written by the two of them. The mix is by none other than Dennis Bovell (The Slits, Madness). Life-long friends, The Selecter and The Beat are two enduring names to come out of 2 Tone, a powerful label and wider cultural/political movement from the late 70s and that sound still comes through loud and clear. So stand down Teresa and listen to the energetic new single, a fast ska song with the distinctive rhythm section that could be no-one other than the Beat. Hey hey hey!

The Beat: ‘Side to Side’ released December 2016, vinyl/digital

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