imagesHere is the new album from dub/reggae purveyors Dreadzone, with twelve tracks recorded at the Bunker Studios of Mick Jones with the lyrical involvement of Don Letts. Their 23-year history is reflected in the diverse wealth of the songs included here. This is the band’s 8th studio album and 3rd on their own Dubwiser label, going back to the roots, dub and reggae sound that initially inspired them. Alongside core members Greg Dread, who produced the album, together with Leo Williams, Chris Compton, reggae vocalist Earl 16 and MC Spee, ‘Dread Times’ introduces younger members with newest contributor Bazil bringing an edge to the music and Greg’s son Marlon expanding the musical range further, with Lena Cullen on vocals for one track and 1990s’ ragga duo Louchie Lou and Michie One guesting on another.

The album kicks off with ‘Rootsman’, with its powerful bass sound driving the sound along and an African feel to the percussive sound, before we get to ‘Mountain’, a slow and brooding track about personal redemption which, despite its tone, is optimistic in its message and is the album’s current single release.

Initially giving the impression that the band are steeped in the received tradition of dub/reggae, which on one level is true enough, as the album develops the sound becomes wider in its scope and influences. ‘Black Deus’ for instance employs a range of beats, a largely instrumental track apart from the soul refrain, essentially political in tone. ‘Area Code’ moves along forcefully and the album finishes strongly with ‘After the Storm’, beginning with electronic sounds and with multicultural influences that make it highly interesting musically.

An excellent album, worthy of wide attention, and through its various styles driven by the always-assertive bass sound. Dreadzone are touring the UK until the end of April so there’s still the chance to catch them live while all this is still fresh.

Dreadzone: ‘Dread Times’ released February 2017 on Dubwiser

London-based Shanty are back with this track from their forthcoming EP. A soul-leaning and slow-tempo track with some hip-hop interventions toward the end from MC Levi Gordon, the song features vocalist Ben Willis and the rest of the seven-piece band with a new sound inspired by their roots origins.

It is now two years since the band’s first release and they have been favourably reviewed on these pages before (see 24th September 2015). Shanty has featured at festivals in the UK and elsewhere in Europe, including Glastonbury, Outlook, Bestival, the Secret Garden Party, Rototom Reggae Sunsplash and Kendal Calling, sharing the stage with, amongst others, Sticky Fingers, Kevin Parker, Mark Ronson, Bastille and Madness. This month they are playing a sixteen-date UK tour, some of which will be in support of the Wailers.

‘Happy to be Sad’ is a personal and emotional song and a fine hint of what will be to follow on their new EP release.

Shanty: single ‘Happy to be Sad’ from forthcoming EP ‘Strange Little Human’, released March 2017

Here is the debut album from US reggae band Common Kings who already have previous EP and single releases to their name. For the most part they originate from the South Pacific but were brought up in Orange County, California, and this legacy has no doubt influenced their generally easy laid-back style of reggae, evident in the album’s title track. The pantheon of US and UK rock greats has also made their mark on the Common Kings’ sound as well as the effect of Marley and the masters of reggae. They also seem keen on intriguing wordplays such as tracks entitled “Mary Wanna”, “Everybody Wants to Fool The World” from the album. Fronted by lead singer Sasualei “Jr King” Maliga, they successfully convey the impression of just having a good time, recently touring the world and currently in the middle of a major US tour: future big names.

Common Kings: ‘Lost in Paradise’, February 2017

unnamed-2West London-based reggae producer Jstar returns with this new single ‘Bad Boy Stepping’, the second release from his album ‘Stand to Order’. Featuring Jamaican MC Ranking Joe, the instrumentation includes trumpet from Madeiran jazzman Manuel Alexandre Figueira and trombone from New Zealand’s Gareth Thompson Darling of Newtown Rocksteady, as the digital world meets live musicians. A particular pleasure is the inclusion of several impressive remixed versions. The original mix moves along in fine dancehall-style, while the remixes from Dreadsquad, Freedo and Mo’Matic take us so far from the source that it’s almost unrecognisable – venturing into dance, bass, hip-hop and what sounds like a film score for a particularly weird night at the kino.

After the success of first single ‘Liar Liar’, which received radio plays from BBC Radio 1’s Huw Stephens, 1xtra’s David Rodigan and BBC 6 Music’s Don Letts, along with key support from Norman Jay, Andy Smith, Grandmaster Flash, and Daddy G, Jstar is likely to generate further enthusiasm during his current international tour.

Jstar: Bad Boy Stepping: EP release 11th February 2017

image014“I’m coming from a new genera­tion, blending influences and letting it come out organically in the music” proclaims Skip Marley. This third single – and debut release on Island Records – from the 20-year old maternal grandson of Bob is a powerful evocation of both dignity and resistance in the midst of troubled times. Skip Marley, born in Jamaica and growing up in Florida, speaks confidently with the message of this song. Showing that “when we are strong and unified no evil can get us” this is a timely response to the turbulence of the current political situation and it’ll strike a chord with many audiences. This is strong contemporary reggae music, although Skip doesn’t confine his music to that genre, citing influences from rock, hip-hop and dance music. “I want to spread my music to the people and help them unify,” he says. “I want people to take away a message of love, of looking at the way you are living and thinking where we can work to be our best. Whatever they’re feeling, I want them to be able to turn up my music and think, relax, and get good vibes.”

Skip Marley: ‘Lions’ released on Island Records, February 2017