Barrington Levy and OBF: Sweet Sensimilla  

Barrington Levy epitomises the move toward the dancehall reggae sound of the 80s and 90s and is well known for songs like ‘Under Mi Sensi’ as reggae music discovered the new possibilities of the digital age. This new release features three versions around the same familiar rhythm, beginning with Barrington Levy and OBF offering Sweet Sensimilla, with his instantly recognisable vocals atop a melodic reggae track, before we encounter Nazamba adding his spoken vocals to the existing track in a version entitled The Herbs. As if that were not enough the third track – Green Dub – credited to OBF alone is a satisfying and largely instrumental dub of the original rhythm. Jah bring me good sensimilla!

Barrington Levy and OBF: Sweet Sensimilla, released July 2022  

Flox: Square

The seventh album from ‘electro reggae’ artist Flox is an impressive excursion in reggae music, with a firm electronic rhythm throughout and roots in an obvious familiarity with the chords and feeling of the reggae tradition.

Although labelled as ‘nu reggae’ the album is closer to the spirit of reggae than we would find in dubstep or in some hip-hop reggae variations of recent years. Opening with ‘Smoke Grass’ we hear the sharp electro-dub rhythm which is the trademark sound of Flox. ‘Herbs and Spices’ continues in this distinctive way, while ’Morning Tempo’ slows things down to a deliberate and thoughtful pace. ‘Move On’ is a great reggae track in the classic mould, while the album closes with the strong and heavy sound of the title track.

Flox (Florian Gratton) is of a French/British background and his sound is certainly his own, based on several elements: technical mastery of the electronic instrumentation at his disposal, a feel for the sound and vitality of vintage reggae, a preference for simplicity and clarity in the finished product and – not least – an evident creativity.

He says, talking of his own productions, “I have to hear something. It can be a bass line, a bird, someone whistling in the street, a phrase on the radio – there are no rules.” The music develops from there.

Flox: ‘Square’, release July 2022  

Zion Head: Jah Watching EP

France-based producer Zion Head has come up with this new EP entitled ‘Jah Watching’ which showcases both his vocals and his production skills, the latter previously demonstrated on a series of one-rhythm tracks to great effect. The dramatic vocal and background music in the introductory track suggest we are about to experience a Western movie, but fortunately we go straight into a series of strong reggae tracks which are surprisingly melodic, with the crystal-clear production you might expect. The backing tracks are for the most part dub infused while giving prominence to the vocal sound generated by Zion Head. In contrast, the distinct electronic instrumentation of ‘Bless Me Jah Jah’ takes us firmly back to the 80s!

Adrian Sherwood: Dub No Frontiers

Reggae music has without doubt been male dominated over the years. There are many cultural reasons for this, and of course at the peak of old-style analogue dub in the 1970s women were not exactly in the driving seat in any areas of music. Although there were many female artists – in Motown especially, and, within the reggae world, in lovers’ rock – but managers and producers were almost all male.

Producer Adrian Sherwood now presents ‘Dub No Frontiers’ and it is intended as a platform for leading female artists currently ‘operating to unite and celebrate in dub’. With contemporary digital recording equipment plus the global reach of net-based communication, vocals could be added to rhythm tracks generated by Sherwood relatively easily. “Many of the singers said they felt the dub/reggae arena was a male preserve and a little intimidating even, so we decided to invite artists to perform a song of their choice, all in non-English on our rhythm tracks.” This new collection aims to redress the balance a little, and its interpretation of dub is bang up to date.

The ten tracks produced by Sherwood (with additional production contributions from the late Lincoln ‘Style’ Scott, with arrangements from Skip ‘Little Axe’ McDonald,) are arresting in their impact, including Rita Morar’s ‘Meri Awaaz Suno (Hear My Voice)’, a gentle track sung in Hindi over the Sacred Ground Rhythm; Tunisia’s Neyssatou’s strong version of Bob Marley’s ‘War’ sung in Arabic; and Kerieva McCormick’s (who led the project with Sherwood) ‘Chavale’ sung in Romani.

The creation of the new versions began in London with leading reggae figures including keyboardist Franklin ‘Bubblers’ Waugh, who played with Sly and Robbie; the late bassist George Oban and drummer Style Scott, together with Sherwood’s ty rhythm section, plus guitarist Vince Black and the Ital Horns. “We broke the rhythms down and re-cut them,” he says. “We remade them, rebuilt them completely, then upgraded them, making them better and better and better each time and then we invited the singers to sing over them. The project kept evolving. It kept growing and has turned into something extraordinarily powerful.”

The album artwork includes an image of Afeni Shakur Davis painted by artist, musician and filmmaker Peter Harris.

Adrian Sherwood presents Dub No Frontiers’ release 22nd July 2022 via Real World Records,

Hollie Cook: Happy Hour

I suspect that Hollie Cook must get mightily sick of being referred to as ‘daughter of Sex Pistol Paul Cook’ as she has now surely done enough to establish herself as one of the leading British female reggae artists in her own right (see reviews of her albums on this site 2012 to 2017). Her new album entitled ‘Happy Hour’ is due for release in June and will further reinforce her reputation in current UK reggae music. Previously enjoying the production skills of Prince Fatty (Mike Pelanconi) this new album finds Hollie Cook herself at the production desk alongside General Roots band members Ben Mckone and Luke Allwood together with executive producer Youth. The album is supported by a short UK tour in summer 2022.

“Particularly with the songwriting, I was trying to really push myself and be open, to not be restricted in any way. I have always been a fan of theatrical pop music and wanted to experiment more with the song form.”

Ahead of the album’s appearance, Hollie Cook has released the video for ‘Full Moon Baby’, the first single from the album. It illustrates the development of her songwriting while still conclusively demonstrating her mastery of the authentic lovers’ rock sound with just a hint of dub trying to get through.

“I can’t get away from it,” she says. “Making this music that I love, I do turn deep inside myself. It makes me explore a lot of human truths and feelings that we should not shy away from, and it feels like a release to turn them into songs.”

Hollie Cook: ‘Happy Hour’, release 24th June 2022 on Merge Records

Dennis Bovell: Caught You in a Lie

Barbados-born musician and producer Dennis Bovell has spent most of his subsequent life in London, and from there has built up a formidable reputation in reggae music. He formed the band Matumbi and wrote the song ‘Silly Games’ which became a hit on the mainstream pop charts for Janet Kay. This new release, ‘Caught You in a Lie’, is a cover of Louisa Marks’ 1975 original and, like ‘Silly Games’ and much of his other output, takes us right back to the lovers’ rock era. ‘Caught You in a Lie’ is released ahead of his forthcoming album ‘The Dubmaster: the Essential Anthology’ due for release on 25th March and supported by a number of live performances in the UK.

In addition to his own work in the reggae tradition, Dennis Bovell has also worked in conjunction with a pretty diverse range of artists including Edwyn Collins and Orange Juice, The Boomtown Rats, Sade, Jarvis Cocker, Bananarama, Bobby Gillespie, Boy George, Arcade Fire and Joss Stone. He also featured in the recent and well-received TV presentation Small Axe.

Quite a pedigree. The full tracklisting from the double vinyl album reveals a very broad choice of material from reggae and beyond. The CD/digital version differs. But worth a listen in either case.

Mike Brooks: I’m a Superstar

Probably the first review on this site to discuss footwear, this modestly titled song celebrates the popularity of Clarks shoes in Jamaica. On this second single from his new album, Brooks extols the virtues of such shoes, drawing from his involvement in selling them from London to his birthplace of Jamaica. “Clarks in the morning, Clarks in the afternoon, Clarks at nighttime, too” is a sentiment about which we shall not pass judgement, concentrating instead upon the music.

Produced by Elijah Salomon, this track essentially takes us back to the 80s musically, with its electronic rhythm and dancehall-style vocals. Its repetitive rhythm relentlessly drives home the beat and the feel of the music and, for Brooks commercially and musically, the meaning too. Available as a 7” vinyl release or a digital download, it’s difficult to miss the message.

Leaving aside the specifics of this track, Brooks has been involved in reggae music for over 50 years and has worked with the legendary Treasure Isles studio and also with the late Lee Perry. He has been a producer at Channel One studios and certainly has a strong reggae pedigree. His vocals are powerful and the sound authentic – whatever shoes you are wearing.  

Mike Brooks: I’m a Superstar, release 28 January 2022 on One Camp Records.

Priestly Meadows: Prime

No, not another attempt to get you to sign up to Amazon’s delivery service, but the title of the debut EP from Priestly Meadows. This is confident reggae music from the Czech band who offered the first listens to their EP in Prague’s Palmovka area, not too far from the hipster bars and cafes of the Zizkov district. Lead vocalist Luisa Blahova is ably supported by guitars and brass from the rest of the band, and this four-track EP gives you a good insight into their sound as a whole. The featured track ‘Journey’ (featuring Manlio Calafrocampana) is an upfront and up-tempo workout, providing a good introduction to the sound of Priestly Meadows

RIP Robbie Shakespeare

Once again reggae loses one of its finest with the passing of Robbie Shakespeare, following surgery in the United States. As a bass player he was best known as collaborator with drummer Sly Dunbar to form one of the finest rhythm sections in reggae music. He was also an accomplished producer. He played with leading names including Dennis Brown and Black Uhuru and contributed bass to countless other albums including the vastly underrated Sinead O’Connor collection ‘Throw Down Your Arms’ (2005) which he also co-produced with Sly Dunbar. His style was based not so much on technical virtuosity but instead was grounded in power, volume and, above all, an intuitive feel for the music. It certainly worked. He is the only bass player I have ever seen take centre stage to applause at a live reggae concert – and again it worked. Rest in peace.

Captain Accident: ‘Bad Press’ Album/Tour

Captain Accident? No, not a debut release from Boris Johnson, but the pseudonym of Cardiff reggaeman Adam Parsons. With his band, the Disasters, the Captain has built up a reputation for what he has described as ‘clumsy’ reggae from his home studio, and now prepares to embark on a tour of small venues around the UK in early 2022. These are scheduled to kick off in Bristol in January, ending in Falmouth in March. The tour is due to feature music from his fourth album ‘Bad Press’ (released in Summer 2021) which is a quirky and in many ways surprisingly melodic release. Not to be taken too seriously, and all the better for that.