Mr Benn: Shake a Leg

Well who can resist the opportunity to review a release from Mr Benn, a veteran socialist politician who wore a bowler hat and frequented a fancy-dress shop. Every week he would get changed into outlandish clothing and disappear into another world through a magic door at the back of the shop, before returning to demand workers’ control and nationalisation of the means of production. OK, maybe I’m confusing a couple of things there but, in any event, Mr Benn is now a reggae producer from Bristol, funnily enough the city he used to represent in Parliament, and has now come up with the first full-length artist album release from Nice Up records. The album features a host of contributors including the Ragga Twins, Serocee and Nanci Correia, and succeeds in combining reggae influences from the 70s (dub), 80s (dancehall), 90s (hip hop) and 2000s (dubstep). Like other current production/DJ outfits such as Mungo’s Hi Fi, Mr Benn is essentially keeping the sound system movement alive by redefining it.

This album has apparently taken almost four years to complete. It opens brightly with the title track, a one-chord ragga thrashalong featuring MC Blackout Ja, followed by ‘Without a Trace’ (featuring the Ragga Twins) in fairly similar style. The next few tracks reveal a more mainstream reggae influence including ‘No More Guns’ (feat. Tenor Fly) with its roots inspiration, and a melodic reggae song ‘Stand Up’, with vocals from Nanci Correia, a strong track in the reggae tradition. ‘Rising Star’, featuring Serocee, slows things down by a considerable measure, with its bitter lyrics and a mood and feel akin to hip-hop against a slow reggae beat. In contrast ‘Pull It’ brings the ragga style back in, with some dubstep rhythms keeping themselves occupied in the background, while ‘Wine Down Low’ (feat. Mad Dog) gives us some drum and bass/jungle rhythms behind an upbeat vocal. ‘Do the Move’ (feat. Top Cat) is a sweet little track that isn’t about much but moves along joyfully. The album closes nicely with ‘Shame’ featuring a whole cast of contributors – Emskee, DJ Cheeba, Souls Liberation – with decidedly hip-hop vocalising against a strong reggae beat.

This intriguing release is supported by a number of gigs across the UK and elsewhere in Europe, including Glastonbury, Bristol, Skipton, Sheffield – and Finland – during July. Mr Benn gets out of the fancy dress shop and hits the road!

Mr Benn: Shake a Leg, released 15th July 2013, Nice Up! Records, CD and DDL.

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