Jah Van I: Warrior for a Cause

Jah Van I’s album ‘In My World’ was released during Jamaica’s anniversary independence celebrations in the summer of 2012, its Jamaica/Martinique sound bringing an optimistic feel to a powerful collection of reggae songs with strong production throughout. (see review on reggaemusic.org.uk 7 July). This new single, ‘Warrior for a Cause’, is taken from the album and is a fine roots anthem in the classic tradition: see and listen here.


Jah Van I: Warrior for a Cause; single release October 2012

King Porter Stomp: Shuffle

Brighton-based collective King Porter Stomp generate an unusual and original brand of music, fusing elements of funk, reggae, world music, and brass/horns into something that’s difficult to summarise. The nine tracks on ‘Shuffle’, their new release, may be hard to categorise but they all carry a lively and immediate sound with, in the broadest sense, a roots inspiration. ‘Breathless’, for instance, resides somewhere between reggae and hip-hop with a hint of James Brown thrown in there somewhere, ‘Hot Coals’ is a slow two-tone influenced workout, while the closing track, ‘Mama Needs a Hand’, sails closer to the shores of South America than Jamaica in its rhythms. It’s difficult to recall such a disparate mix of styles from a currently active band (although we might recall the similarly vital sound of Dubwiser, see reggaemusic.org.uk 1st November 2011). This is music that was made to be heard live – have a listen and look here:

King Porter Stomp ‘Shuffle’ released September 2012, Comm:UNITY label, CD/digital

Doktor Lond featuring Agarfa: Rise Up and Love

Produced and recorded by Doktor Lond in his ‘Doktor Lond Live Dub Mixing Studio’, here is a sharp set of rhythm tracks featuring Doktor Lond on keyboards, synths, drum programs and other percussion which is enhanced further by the decisive vocal contribution of Agarfa. Although entirely new, this material has the sense and feel of roots reggae. The album opens with ‘Steppin’ Up’, a slow synth-led roots song which, if you were to imagine it with a Marley-era guitar and bass arrangement would not have been out of place in the Lyceum. A similar comment can be made about ‘Rise Up’ with its faith-based lyrics on the vocal version, closely followed by its dub which very much adopts a vintage dub template in its overall sound and mix. The splendidly named ‘spiritual disco mix’ of ‘7 Days and 7 Nights’ comes in at over nine minutes of eastern-tinged instrumentation, with soulful vocals from Agarfa and a strong melodic thread running throughout, resolving itself midway through into a dub/version instrumental excursion around the basic rhythm – a strong track that marks this out as a serious album.

‘Move It Up’ is a faster paced roots song, followed again by a separate instrumental version which is more inventive than it seems at first, using the bass and percussive structure of the classic dub style, but adding a lot more contemporary electro/synth instrumentation over the top and ultimately leaning toward the dubstep end of reggae. ‘Messiah’ is another devotional roots track, again followed by its dub or what is termed here, accurately enough, its ‘percussive meditation dub mix’. The vocal and dub treatments of ‘Don’t Be a Victim’ are based on a persistent bass pattern and a percussion that invokes, if anything, latter-day drum-and-bass. The album closes as it began with ‘Steppin’ Up’, this time in a traditional dub version, but before that there is ‘Swane Koko’ in its curious ‘sugar my porridge disco mix’, an intriguing mixture of vocals, sweeping keyboard, synthesiser and dub, coming in at over ten minutes.

This all amounts to a collection that is clearly inspired by the roots reggae tradition but is delivered through a medium of electronically generated sound, with significant contemporary influences, prominent percussion, and, running throughout, the rich vocals of Agarfa. Quite a mix. Strangely enough, despite the digital programmed sound, the album manages to retain a live and immediate feel: it remains unpolished, in a good way.

Doktor Lond featuring Agarfa ‘Rise Up and Love’; release 7th September (Roots Lab Intl label, CD and download)

Easy Star All-Stars: Thrillah

The Easy Star All-Stars had established a reputation for giving a complete reggae makeover to venerable rock records including Dark Side of the Moon, OK Computer and Sgt Pepper before they finally released a full-length CD of their own material, ‘First Light’, in 2011. As well as being a touring band that faithfully reproduces the sound and production of these releases, the Easy Star All-Stars studio line-up has included a list of reggae luminaries who have added their own flavour to the proceedings under the guiding hand of producer Michael Goldwasser.

For this new record it’s back to the business of covering a classic album, this time none other than ‘Thriller’. Whether this latest Easy Star recreation is ambitious or misguided depends on your point of view but as always the production is a particular strength. This is not the first time Jacko’s songs have been given a reggae treatment – Sly and Robbie’s synth-heavy ‘Billie Jean’ is well known. Less widely disseminated, but significantly more impressive, is the Yellowman and Peter Metro take on ‘The Girl is Mine’, a brilliant dancehall revision of the original, complete with its dubbed-up instrumental mix and, perhaps unfortunately for the Easy Stars, a high benchmark for anyone contemplating further reggae reinventions.

As for ‘Thrillah’, alongside regular Easy Star performers including Jenny Hill and Kirsty Rock, the guest contributors on this release include Michael Rose, Mikey General, Luciano and Steel Pulse.  So it ought to sound good, and in the sense of production values it does. Following the sequencing of the Michael Jackson original, the album opens with ‘Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’, then ‘Baby Be Mine’, but in this translation they don’t lend themselves easily to the off-beats of reggae. ‘The Girl is Mine’ finds its reggae hook more readily, with some involvement from Steel Pulse, generating a gentle lovers’ rock sound. ‘Thriller’ itself is an intriguing take on the song, more understated and less dramatic than the original. When it gets to ‘Beat It’ (featuring Michael Rose) and ‘Billie Jean’ (featuring Luciano) the album finally comes into its own, both tracks suggesting a clubby sort of mix and a slightly melancholy feel that adds something different (and something more contemporary than the Easy Star’s usual approach to reggae). The same can be said of the closing track ‘The Lady in My Life’. Meanwhile ‘Human Nature’ and ‘Pretty Young Thing’ handle their source material in a straightforward reggae style pleasantly enough. Not for the first time on Easy Star releases, the final dubs – ‘Dub It’ and ‘Close to Midnight’ – are amongst the best things here.

Additionally, a separate ‘Billy Jean’ EP release, available on download, includes the title track and ‘Human Nature’ plus three further Billy Jean remixes.

See reggaemusic.org.uk 15.3.09, 2.4.09, 3.7.10 for earlier Easy Star reviews

Easy Star’s Thrillah released August 2012 on Easy Star Records – CD, download and (with extra tracks) vinyl.