Sahra Indio: The Tru I

American singer and songwriter Sahra Indio started her musical career in the Jahringa Reggae Band in 1993 in Hawaii, and since becoming a solo artist has been involved in several well-received releases. Thus we come to her third solo album ‘The Tru I’, from Olumeye Records and her new collaborators at Roots Lab Intl, drawing from songwriters in a number of different countries and involving several members of her extended family in the recording.

‘Big Fish’ invites us all to ‘wake up to conscious living’ with a strong soul-influenced melody, understated dubby rhythm track,  tight production and economical instrumentation. ‘Humanity’ is very much in the roots reggae mainstream while ‘Testify’ again adds a certain feeling of soul. ‘Right Fight’, with its simple rhythmic drum pattern, is effective precisely because of its simplicity. ‘Roger Dat’ is an acoustic reggae tune around injustice and drug laws with sparse guitar and drums, and, as throughout, very strong vocals. The same theme is picked up in ‘Pro Marijuana’. ‘DNA’ directly references its African roots in both the sound and the words, while ‘I’m Not the Only One’ gives us the luxury of an additional ‘I’m Not the Only Dub’, a very fine dub which, to be given a fully sympathetic hearing, demands volume and bass indeed. ‘At the Awa Bar’ is an acoustic song, light and effective.

With strong songs and smooth production, the album – especially the vocals – could have come from a soul or R&B release, and the album is all the more effective and powerful for that.

Steve Steppa: Zion Door

From Come Fi Conquer and Springline Jamaica Recordings comes another fine release, this time featuring the melodic reggae sounds of Steve Steppa on a new 11-track album (available on DDL and CD). It begins with ‘Another Morning’, kicking off with a slow drum intro before going into the classic roots sounds of percussive keyboard and gentle reggae rhythm. ‘Don’t You Vex’ has a lilting musical style which is more akin to lovers’ rock and its predecessor rhythms and introduces some intriguing vocal manipulation that makes itself known on other tracks too. A couple of tracks are accompanied by good old-school ‘versions’ – ‘Version Tree’ in particular standing as a tight rhythm track with Steve Steppa on melodica over the top of the original backing track. ‘Version Zone’ is a serious dub, while the curious concept of ‘Urban Camping’ introduces an atmospheric keyboard sound to a brooding melody. The album closes with a delightful ‘Zion Door’, sounding very much like something from the dawn of reggae, with a structure suggesting the earliest influences of mento and calypso. With excellent production from Gibsy Rhodes throughout, this is new reggae in the old tradition with an influence from classic-era soul, and nothing wrong with that combination at all.

Steve Steppa: Zion Door, release November 5th, Roots Lab Intl

 

Soothsayers: Human Nature

This new album from London’s mightily impressive Southsayers, produced by Manasseh and Yesking (in the Prince Fatty Brighton studio), is a splendid collection of urgent tracks. The style is three- part harmony from Robin Hopcraft, Idris Rahman and Julia Biel, underpinned with precise dub and reggae rhythms meticulously produced in a classic reggae style. It opens with the brief ‘Human Nature (Intro)’ which sets the vocal and dub tone for the rest of the album. ‘One Day’ follows up with strong melody and vocals (with a short dub version a few tracks later…). ‘Hard Times’ is reminiscent of 70s/80s British urban reggae with its slow and purposeful melody and rhythm. ‘Human Nature’ follows in full with a different rhythm, before encountering ‘We’re Not Leaving’, an excellent reggae song that could well have come from the vaults – but didn’t, here it represents a fine contemporary band in full flight. An acoustic version of the same song is included – powerful, and more affecting for its sparse instrumentation: a standout song.

There is little to be unhappy about here. Then we get to ‘Streets of London’ which does come as a bit of a surprise. Had I learned in advance that the Soothsayers were contemplating a version of Ralph McTell’s song I would not have believed it, and, were I persuaded to believe it, I would have walked a considerable distance, in my worn out shoes, to avoid hearing it. But what a mistake that would have turned out to be; the version is a revelation. The descending/ascending chords that could have underwritten melodies over countless years are startlingly fitting for a reggae treatment and are here given a tight effective makeover. ‘Streets of London’ is also the initial single release from the album, comprising – as a single – three tracks that get progressively dubbier: the original vocal version (radio edit), a dubbed up version of the original and finally a perfectly mixed dub version proper. Let me take you by the hand…

The album closes with a nice little ‘Leaving Dub Outro (Prince Fatty Mix)’ and what a pleasant and surprising journey it was. Let’s be honest here – this album deserves to be heard widely and loudly.

Soothsayers: Streets of London single, release 1 October 2012; Human Nature album (CD/download) release 29 October 2012, Red Earth Music.

Prince Fatty: Ali Baba/Ku Fu Battle ina Brixton

Here comes another single release from ‘Prince Fatty Versus the Drunken Gambler’, that recent and well-received album of dubbed-up frantic reggae fantasy (see reggaemusic.org.uk 26th August). This time it’s a version of John Holt’s classic ‘Ali Baba’, with Winston Francis taking the lead and Dennis Alcapone providing his characteristic background contributions. This is paired on the single with another track from the album in the form of ‘Kung Fu Battle ina Brixton’, with the remarkable Horseman taking charge.

As if that were not enough to be going on with, Mr Bongo records commissioned Sinna One  – a Brighton-based artist with a distinctive cartoon style of illustration influenced by street graffiti, comic books and sci-fi – to paint a large Prince Fatty mural on the side of a pub. Obviously. You can see it below.

Prince Fatty: Ali Baba/Ku Fu Battle ina Brixton; release 5th November 2012 on Mr Bongo records

The Scribes Present: Ill Literature

This release from alternative hip-hop outfit The Scribes together with a host of collaborators and guests offers a bass-driven but subtle sound together with a collection of surprisingly melodic takes on urban themes and, well, whatever was on their mind at the time. Comprising Shaun Amos (The Scribes/Exposure Music Award’s Best UK Urban Act), multi instrumentalist and bass specialist Jake Galvin (Cosmo Jarvis/Bass Guitar Magazine) and singer/guitarist Jack Joyce (Spoken In Sonar), with contributions from a large team of others, this is hip-hop with feeling, not the empty material obsessions of the predictable kind of hip-hoppery that descends into self-parody. So we have a strong collection of songs to begin with: Buried (and for that matter Burning Bridges) leading with a guitar that’s somewhere between rock and funk; Heavy Wait similarly leading with guitar up-front (and also with a powerful remix of the same track concluding the album) while Pipe Dreams could most accurately be described as lyrical, not typically an adjective associated with hip-hop. Not a Dancer is a sparse and surprisingly effective mix of beats and piano. The somewhat unusual single Monsters appears to have Super Mario guesting on keyboard- but that’s OK, and you can see the weird video for yourself below. A really strong album that’s difficult to categorise, but that’s no bad thing. Melodic thoughtful hip-hop with soul: now, some PR company could definitely run free with that combination.

The Scribes Present Ill Literature: released October 7th on CD/Digital download, see http://www.scribesmusic.bandcamp.com

By The Rivers: Don’t Say You Love Me

The first single release from their debut album finds emergent Leicester-based band By The Rivers displaying an intriguing range of musical styles. They have generally been labelled folk/reggae but that doesn’t quite capture it. The lead track, ‘Don’t Say You Love Me’, suggests in its opening bars that we might be in for something at the twee end of the MOR spectrum, but happily it evolves quickly into a driving ska treatment of its upbeat melody, slowing later from ska to reggae and back, evoking the feel of the 2 Tone sound – perhaps not surprising for a new band that supported the Specials on tour last year. ‘Vulture’ is a heavier sound indeed, its ponderous remix charting a course through something that conjures up a bass-driven reggae sound and hints at, but never quite delivers, a hip-hop voice over the top. This interesting release concludes with a nice little acoustic take on their single ‘One Word’, which is altogether a far lighter reggae strumalong than the preceding tracks. Eat yer hearts out Mumford lads.

By the Rivers: Don’t Say You Love Me; Kompyla Records; release 1 October 2012.