Jammy’s: From the Roots 1977-1985

This double-CD release from Greensleeves Records presents a key collection of tracks from producer Lloyd James, aka Prince Jammy, and is a fine introduction to his distinctive production style. Recorded at King Tubby’s, Harry J’s, Channel One and Jammy’s studios, musical input includes contributions from both the Aggrovators (featuring amongst many others Sly Dunbar, Ansel Collins, Bobby Ellis and Robbie Shakespeare) and the High Times Band (notably Earl ‘Chinna’ Smith).

Prince Jammy served his apprenticeship under the guiding hand of King Tubby but, unlike the original generation of 1970s dub producers, Jammy took the changing sound (and changing digital technology) of reggae music firmly into the next decade and beyond. With his teenage experience in putting together some of the early sound systems, he later became the bridge between the analogue era of bass-driven dub and the emergence of computer-driven dancehall. The first CD contains some excellent sounds along the way, notably What a Great Day by Lacksley Castell, a standout song of spiritual freedom atop a powerful bass line, moving from the vocal track into a formidable version that dubs along happily for more than nine minutes. Conscious Speaks by Black Crucial has a strong Aggrovators’ rhythm at its core, while the dub production in the mix of Junior Delgado’s Love Tickles Like Magic is characteristic of Jammy and his particular production style. Jah Gave Us This World from The Travellers goes straight into its version – Natty Dread at the Controls – by U Black which gives Jammy the chance to dub it up in good style. Continue Reading “Jammy’s: From the Roots 1977-1985”

Let There Be Versions

The rddim album – the single-rhythm reggae album, either wholly instrumental or with a number of different vocal tracks – is now well-established. Its origins lie in putting together the series of dubs, versions and remixes of a single vocal track – typically spread across the ‘a’ and ‘b’ sides of various 7” releases – into an album format. An entire album consisting of the same rhythm track, extensively deconstructed and reconstructed, was a revolutionary development at the time, and it’s still going strong, especially in the various digital rhythm albums released for the contemporary dancehall market. It’s useful to have a look at this by focussing on two of the key rhythm albums that started this trend, plus a newly recorded double-CD based on just one classic track.

Rupie Edwards’ Let There Be Version (the 1990 reissue of Yamaha Skank, which had originally been released in 1974) was the landmark album that kicked off this tradition. It begins with, and derives from, Slim Smith and the Uniques’ loping and laid-back My Conversation, a standout track in its own right. Its basic feel is more reminiscent of the regular dance rhythm of ska than reggae, together with a vocal borrowing from US soul. An intriguing track to use as the basis of a one-rhythm album, the other versions on the fifteen track album (twelve on the original release) more than do it justice. Following on the initial vocal track, 100,000 Dollars (credited to Rupie Edward’s ‘Success Allstars’, ‘Success’ being the name of his record store and label) is a brass-led instrumental version, drawing even more clearly from the ska tradition. Doctor Come Quick adds echo and deejay-vocalising by Hugh Roy Junior over a dub treatment of the rhythm, and so the versions and explorations continue to the conclusion. There are several highlights; Tyrone Downie’s instrumental Tribute to Slim Smith is led by an organ (Yamaha?) quite obviously on loan from Phoenix Nights; Doctor Satan Echo Chamber, again by the Success All Stars, is pure stripped-down instrumentation; while Yamaha Skank by Shorty the President adds both deejay vocals and snatches of an entirely different vocal track to the original. The legendary Heptones add Give me the Right, again a completely different song grafted smoothly onto the basic rhythm. President A Mash Up the Resident by Shorty the President may be a little more widely known than the other versions here, not least for its manic whistling backing. Continue Reading “Let There Be Versions”

Easy Star Lonely Hearts Dub Band

From the New York band, with its fluid and illustrious membership, comes the latest in its series of reinventions of classic British rock albums. After Pink Floyd and Radiohead, the Easy Stars tackle the Beatles, and not only that, they cover in a roots style the peak (for many people) of the Beatles’ achievements, Sgt Pepper.

It’s impressive on an immediate level. The packaging is Sgt Pepper-era inspired, lovingly crafted in style and tone, although that familiar bass drum on the cover now seems to have acquired a marijuana leaf within its design. The music throughout features those background noises and crowd effects that were part of the feel of the Beatles’ album, and there is a remarkable attention to detail in referencing the past, although presumably without the need to use the primitive tapes and loops of the Abbey Road studio and its four-track machines of the 1960s. Continue Reading “Easy Star Lonely Hearts Dub Band”