On this outstanding new release, the core Specials membership of Terry Hall, Horace Panter and Lynval Golding is supplemented by a range of invited guests to cover twelve songs from across the decades. The sound is not confined to the ska/reggae tradition we associate with the Specials but reflects instead the band’s take on the songs they have chosen, and this varies widely. Following the album ‘Encore’ released in 2019 (see reggaemusic.org.uk 11th February 2019), ‘Protest Songs’ further cements the band’s enduring reputation: if the Specials didn’t exist, we’d have to invent them as they are our musical and political conscience. The choice of songs is not what we might expect, being pleasingly idiosyncratic. It ranges from the Staple Singers’ ‘Freedom Highway’ held together by a strong crisp drumbeat, Talking Heads’ ‘Listening Wind’, and, on more familiar reggae ground, an innovative arrangement of the Wailers’ ‘Get Up, Stand Up’. The treatment of Leonard Cohen’s ‘Everybody Knows’ makes it worthwhile to buy the album even without taking the other tracks into consideration. More!
The single rhythm album has long been a feature of the reggae music scene and has been assessed on these pages before (see ‘Let There Be Versions’ reggaemusic.org.uk September 2009). Here is a new collection from New York producer Adrian Hanson wherein an impressive gathering of reggae performers present their individual vocals upon the foundation provided by the driving freedom sound rhythm. Amongst the tracks are names including Mykal Rose (‘Give Me Love’) and Lutan Fyah (‘Fade Away’). Also included is the San Diego band Big Mountain (‘Hear That Sound’}, who charted in the UK with their cover of ‘Baby I Love Yor Way’ back in 1994 (and also released a great version of Al Green’s ‘Let’s Stay Together’ a couple of years later). The closing track, credited to Adrian Hanson, gives the basic rhythm room to breathe and lets us appreciate the underlying strength of the music here.
Adrian Hanson: Freedom Sound Riddim, release 17th September 2021
The word ‘legend’ is mightily over-used in the world of reggae but it is rightly applied to a select group of Jamaican performers who have generated the music and spread the word about reggae music – those such as the late Toots Hibbert, the unique Lee Perry and, in this instance, the enduring legacy of Jimmy Cliff. Now aged 77, Jimmy Cliff has popularised reggae music through the film ‘The Harder they Come’ (1972) and with songs such as ‘Many Rivers to Cross’, ‘Let Your Yeah be Yeah’ and ‘You Can Get it if you Really Want’, going right back ‘King of Kings’ and ‘Miss Jamaica’ in the early 1960s. These latter songs were firmly in the ska tradition, reggae having yet to develop into the music we know today. And they still sound good, an astonishing 60 years later.
Jimmy Cliff is now back with a new single entitled ‘Human Touch’ (from his forthcoming album ‘Bridges’, his first album for nine years). It’s not the Bruce Springsteen song of the same name, but a gentle song by Jimmy Cliff with words written some time ago but newly relevant today as pandemic and lockdown remind us of the pain created by the lack of closeness to others.
No, I haven’t got the year wrong: this is a new release from indie/surf-rock/reggae band Gecko Club. Its theme is last summer’s disappointment and despair during lockdown. As it’s now hot weather again this summer, even up here in the North of England, what better time to revisit our fears and hopes?
Musically, it’s a gentle, upbeat lilting reggae song with understated guitar throughout, reaching a rock crescendo before returning to the reggae beat. In different hands, it could almost be recast as a lovers’ rock tune from the 80s which is no bad thing.
Highlighting their thoughts on the track, Gecko Club say “We started writing this song in lockdown last year when we were all feeling pretty down about our plans for the year being cancelled. 2020 was supposed to be the year we set off on our first tour outside of the UK with our mates The Koalaz from Holland, as well as a strong list of festivals we were booked to play at. We kinda had a chat at the start of last year and with everything we had booked, we’re confident it was going to be a big one for Gecko’.
‘Boomtown is a big part of our summer together and the fact we couldn’t go this year was killer. We decided to focus the lyrics around the festival but really it represents something much greater than just the festival itself. We don’t really like writing depressing songs and we design our live sets to be a party, which is why the song sounds the way it does, you know, upbeat and easy to have a skank too. At face value it comes across as a happy feels song but listening deeper to the lyrics you realise, er well, we missed the summer and we’re cut up about it.”
It’s sometimes hard to grasp just how long UB40 have been around. Formed in 1978, their initial album ‘Signing Off’ (1980) was a strong introduction to their sound and the single ‘King/Food for Thought’ remains an excellent debut release, deservedly sending them into the mainstream charts and into popular acclaim. (By the way, the refrain of ‘Food for Thought’ is ‘Ivory Madonna’ not ‘I’m a Prima Donna’ although the frequent mishearing of that line might be a more accurate summary of the band’s subsequent evolution). Some very strong releases followed, including ‘The Earth Dies Screaming’ (also 1980): well worth hearing even today in its 12” incarnation and, like the best of the band’s output, sharp and political.
Thereafter, UB40 moved closer to the pop/reggae mainstream which displeased some and is welcomed by others and were subject to some unreasonable criticism simply for being popular or, in a racially-tinged comment, for producing a ‘pastel’ brand of reggae. Latterly, the band split into two separate UB40s, with lead singer Ali Campbell (along with Mickey Virtue and Astro) going his own way after the kind of brotherly divergence we’ve seen with, for instance, Oasis. Some releases met with a decidedly mixed reaction including their foray into country reggae on ‘Getting Over the Storm’ (2013) (see reggaemusic.org.uk 12th September 2013).
This new release from the original UB40 (minus Ali etc) builds on the first ‘Baggariddim’ (1985) and this time features some strong collaborations with the likes of Tippa Irie and Inner Circle amongst others. The band are touring the UK in late 2021, and presumably this gives us the chance to hear some of this live. It’s fine confident reggae music: maybe ‘listen without prejudice’ is the best approach here for those interested in the music rather than interpersonal squabbles.
Previously featured on this site on 1st November last year, here’s Hungarian band Manaky with another fine reggae tune ‘Reborn’ from their album of the same name. It’s unadorned by the electronic and studio effects of 80s and 90s reggae and represents instead a return to the strengths of the traditional guitar/bass/drums reggae sound. As you may see from the video, it also features flutes and parrots which can’t be said for many releases these days.
This new compilation is put together and released digitally on Thompson Sound. It features classic artists including Linval Thompson, Lone Ranger and Horace Martin in a collection of sounds that echo the vintage reggae era. The selection kicks off with Linval Thompson’s title track (featuring Jah Mickey and Lone Ranger) and takes us through twelve tracks of this vital reggae music. Each vocal track is followed by its dub version, credited to Thompson Sound, and if you like reggae music to any degree you’ll need to hear this very welcome release.
Various Artists: Life Crisis, digital release (iTunes, Apple Music, Deezer, Spotify) April 2021
This new release from Lee Small is a great reggae album in the classic tradition. Originating from the English midlands area, Lee has developed his career over the past ten years in London, with a style that displays his rock and soul influences. The new album ‘Chameleon’ is a full-on exercise in reggae music with high production values and strong vocals throughout. The impact of listening to the reggae masters at an early age is evident, and the album is all the better for that.
The title track is a fine echoing dub-influenced reggae song with vocals hinting at Lee’s soulful history. ‘Back to Babylon’ has a faster lilting reggae rhythm, while ‘Life is a Landslide’ hints at the direct impact of the reggae greats: it is no exaggeration to say that you can picture Marley singing this at his peak. ‘Positivity’ is another dub-based soulful track, while ‘London Town’ is once more a strong reggae song with a classic feel. The album closes with ‘Big Love Lil’ People’, a happy and uncomplicated song which sums up the feel of the album as a whole: love and happiness. And we need that right now.
Lee Small: Chameleon, release in various formats, 9th April 2021.
With the passing of the reggae masters U Roy (February) and Bunny Wailer (March) it falls to a new generation to take the music forward. Here’s a release from Perfect Giddimani, intended as a tribute to producer and musician Drew Keys who also died earlier this year. It’s a mid-paced electronic rhythm with additions of melodica in the mix and Giddimani’s dancehall-influenced vocal over the top. It’s a sweet and gentle sound, dedicated to those we have lost.
Perfect Giddimani: Goodbye (Genna Genna), released February 2021 on Giddimani Records