Ho ho ho!

a0869349583_10Capital Letters, producing new music after a gap of several decades, have met with acclaim for their resolute adherence to the authentic sound of Midlands roots reggae. Their comeback release ‘Wolverhampton’ has been positively reviewed on these pages and now we have the complete dub version of the album on separate release. Mixing engineer Dave Sandford was given licence to play dub with the original album, commenting that “on these dubs I just went with what I wanted to hear. Of course there are the norms for dub albums, but I wanted to take it further, trying to do things that haven’t been done”. The results speak for themselves as the album sounds neither like a classic-era dub collection nor a latter-day digital experiment. Along with the dub elements that might be expected – echo, reverb, bass, drums – there are unpredictable additions of partial vocals, sounds and effects that give it all an adventurous feel rather than just offering instrumental versions of the vocal tracks. This approach is demonstrated on a track like ‘Opportunity’ which powers along happily, and also on both versions included here of ‘Wolverhampton’, one of which is a ‘stripped down’ vocal version of the original track. ‘Tell Me What’s Wrong’ has a strange staccato style that works well, while ‘Jamaica’ stands out as a strong rhythm track in its own right with snatches of vocal thrown in to accentuate the overall impact. With 14 dubs here, plus 3 further alternate versions, the overall musical feel is curiously light, fresh – and happy. Listen alongside the original vocal album and the dubs here can be appreciated further. The 14 core tracks conclude with ‘A Place on Earth’, a fine conclusion indeed.

Capital Letters: Wolverhampton in Dub, released on Sugar Shack Records, CD and digital, 16th October 2015

UB40’s mass appeal from the 1980s onwards, and their move into a more comfortable pop-reggae niche as the years went on, sometimes means that the strength of their early albums is overlooked. This is a mistake as there is power and authenticity in these early albums. These two ‘deluxe’ releases revisit ‘Present Arms’ (their second album, initially released in 1981) and ‘Labour of Love’ (their fourth album, released in 1983, which would bring them mass international success).

For this re-release, each album is issued as a 3-CD collection. ‘Present Arms’ is accompanied for the first time by ‘Present Arms in Dub’, originally issued a few months after the parent vocal album. The music within is well-known. Highlights on disc 1 include the striking sound of still-relevant ‘One in Ten’, ‘Don’t Let it Pass You By’, and the welcome addition of the 12” version of ‘Don’t Slow Down’, which curiously enough does slow down to take us into a great extended dub fadeout.  Disc 2 is ‘Present Arms in Dub’. This previously seemed a little disappointing in its interpretation of dub, but now sounds more impressive, perhaps through the improvement in sound quality or the simple passage of time. The dub of ‘One in Ten’, and the classic bass line of the closing track ‘Neon Haze’ (the dub of ‘Silent Witness’), are as good as ever. Disc 3 adds something different in the shape of live BBC radio sessions from 1981. These begin at a cracking pace with (again) ‘One in Ten’ but there are also performances of tracks from the their first album ‘Signing Off’ including ‘Food for Thought’ and ‘I Think It’s Going to Rain Today’, the latter as part of a closing run-together of three tracks. The production of these songs is excellent. Whatever view you take of UB40’s latter-day output, or which current incarnation of the band you favour, there is some great reggae music here, sharp and politically informed, mirroring some of the urban anger of the Specials’ output of the time.

‘Labour of Love’ was even more of a commercial breakthrough for UB40, and, unusually for a reggae band, charted highly in the USA as well as the UK. It consisted wholly of covers, not only of classic reggae songs like ‘Many Rivers to Cross’ but also of less likely targets such as Neil Diamond’s ‘Red Red Wine’ (which had previously been performed in a reggae style by Tony Tribe). Disc 1 is the original album, featuring the long version of ‘Red Red Wine’ and a good account of Dandy Livingstone’s (aka Boy Friday’s) ‘Version Girl’ although it ultimately sounds a little thin in comparison with Livingstone’s rugged DJ-ing take on the song. Disc 2 features ‘singles and B sides’ and there is interesting music here, including strong dubs of ‘Sufferin’ and ‘Cherry Oh Baby’, a live version of ‘Food for Thought’ and a different version of ‘Johnny Too Bad’ from that on Disc 1. The third disc is composed of BBC live tracks from 1983 and 1984, including the sweet but neglected single ‘Love is All is Alright’.

There would of course be ‘Labour of Love’ volumes II and III in later years, and the commercial appeal of covers would be evident in single hits like ‘I Got You Babe’ and ‘Can’t Help Falling in Love’ but something of the spark of a creative band started to be lost with this immersion in crossover pop reggae. But that original sound is still there in these ‘deluxe’ releases. What would be even better? Maybe an album-set consisting wholly of 12” versions as originally released, ideally including ‘The Earth Dies Screaming’ where unusually the instrumental dub precedes rather than follows the vocal track; or the lengthy dub takes on ‘I Think it’s Going to Rain Today’ or ‘Dream a Lie’, or the hard-to-get- hold-of 12” version of ‘King’. If that release ever happens you’ll hear about it here.

UB40 are touring in the UK in May and June 2015.

UB40 ‘Present Arms’ and ‘Labour of Love’, each available as 3-CD Deluxe Editions and also as 2-LP 180g vinyl, released 2nd March 2015.

This new dub album from Yabass Yaba Radics follows up the recent well-received ‘Community Rocker’ (see reggaemusic.org.uk 12th January 2013) with nine further tracks in a retro dubplate style.

Grouped around a spoof Western theme, Dubplate Drifter opens with ‘Arrival’ – a repeating two chord instrumental with its drums and bass rhythm becoming a little more assertive toward the end – before the more muscular ‘Everyday Hustling’ bursts in with some classic dub styling held together by a powerful bass, with a hint of Tubby-era hi-hat in there somewhere too. A very decent dub. ‘Saloon Wondering’ (nice word play on ‘Everyday Wondering’ to be found in these two track titles..?) follows through with another steady dub in the old style, while the final track on ‘Reel One’ offers a melodica-sound that conjures up the intended spaghetti Western theme, reflected in its title ‘Big Chief Van Cleef’. Most of the tracks on ‘Reel Two’ are perhaps too similarly slow in tempo, demanding of a bit more light and shade, though ‘Heavy Horse’ is worthy of attention, its bass phrase and drum mixed up-front, with everything else much further back in the rhythm. ‘The Rapids’ is, in contrast, a more uptempo rhythm track with a fine dubbed-up sound, instrumentation fading in and out in the familiar dub style.

As an instrumental album in the continuous dubplate style of releases of the past, the music fits the feel of the dub tradition and generates an atmospheric sound consistent with its theme. Produced by Gibsy Rhodes, and mastered at Maximal Sound in France, the imperfections of the sound are more than made up for by the period feel of the music and the sympathetic production throughout.

Yabass Yaba Radics: Dubplate Drifter. Release 20th April 2013 on CD, DDL and tape (Smash N Grab/Springline Jamaica label).

 

From the folks at Springline Records/Come Fi Conquer we encounter an album fashioned not in the trial and tribulation of Kingston, Jamaica, but in the mean streets of Willesden, North-West London. Like previous releases from this undervalued label the sound, feel and message remain true to the origins of the music and its guiding influences. The album opens with ‘Silver Locks Crackin’, a no-nonsense skanking start to the proceedings, followed up with ‘Playing Good Vibes’, a master lesson in slow, spiritual, melodic roots from Yabass, featuring also the contrasting input of Michael Rose. This strong and impressive track is followed immediately by its dub, ‘Vibez a Wa’, with Jah Wa Wa making another guest contribution – a great dub production with snatches of the original vocal and even a touch of ‘row fisherman row’ and ‘down by the riverside’ in there somewhere, this is a fine deconstruction with all the elements of a dub-era classic mix and something that sounds almost like a Tubby-era hi-hat making itself known. ‘Community Rocker’ itself comes in with a busy dubby mix, and a lot going on around and behind the simple ‘community rocker’ line and the repeat bass phrase beneath. ‘Fear No Evil’ opens with its brief childlike vocals and a biblical message, then is straight into a deep dub-led mix, along with melodica-sounding instrumentation and a sparse drum and bass pattern. A doomy sort of feel indeed.

‘Who Jah Bless’ is a delightful discovery – again, a simple repeating vocal figure, this time with a striking keyboard intervention reminiscent of play-the-organ-at-home adverts of bygone days, after which the instrumentation and vocals are stripped away to go into an echoing bass-heavy dub before reintroducing the vocals: a brilliant little track, and quite unlike anything else recently encountered, closing with a nice spoken rhetorical question: ‘who could beat that?’ Indeed – and a great job from producer Gibsy Rhodes. Listen at the You Tube link below – it’ll spread!. Next up, ‘Judgement Day’ is thoughtful roots music, nice percussive sounds in the background, a subtle and interesting mix and the album ends on a high with ‘Natural Situation’, a splendid dubbed-up rhythm track.

A surprisingly strong album and a most rewarding way to spend 32 minutes of your life: have a listen.

Yabass Yaba Radics: ‘Community Rocker’. Release March 2013 (CD/DDL/cassette), Springline Jamaica- Come Fi Conquer-Roots Lab Intl