Lion’s Den, inspired by founder Ras Lion, is variously a label, studio, collective and soundsystem based in Germany and London. It’s been active in assembling different artists and producers to generate contemporary output in dub, dubstep and reggae – as well as running DubDerGutenHoffnung, a regular dub night in Berlin.
This first release from Lion’s Den is a four-track EP (vinyl/DDL), with Lyon-based producer Panda Dub generating different versions around the common riddim track. It opens with Daddy Freddy’s Hot A Di Press in a soundsystem style. An artist with a history of Jamaican collaboration with Sugar Minott, and involvement with the Studio One label, Freddy since developed his own dancehall/hip-hop style. Here he offers a relatively slow but assertive delivery against a growling bass sound while the pressure gradually builds it all up. Next it’s ‘original Rasta MC’ Brother Culture who has worked in the past with several reggae outfits reviewed on reggaemusic.org.uk including Mungo’s Hi-Fi, Reggae Roast and Dubmatix. On this track, Dance Teng, he brings a good 80s-style dancehall/MC sound to the basic rhythm. Next up, Kali Green’s Hard Working adds another distinctive vocal layer to complement the backing track. Panda Dub rounds things off with Lent Roots Pour Dub – a sharp steppers/electro-dub sound beginning with snatches of the different vocal tracks before powering along with an instrumental overlay that would keep any dub/dubstep audience happy. The track finally evolves into a straight and curiously subtle reggae rhythm – an excellent conclusion and reason for good hope indeed.
This new album from respected Jamaican vocalist Winston McAnuff and French producer/accordionist Fixi is released on October 21st by Chapter Two records.
Winston McAnuff has been recording since the late 1970s although, unlike some Jamaican contemporaries, his records were not widely released and thus his recognition remained limited. In recent years he has become more widely known in Europe, particularly in France. His music has tended to blend elements of jazz and folk as well as reggae, and this is evident on this new release. There are soul elements here too, along with musette (French accordion) and afrobeat styles.
‘Sam Cooke, Al Green, these guys were all heroes here in Jamaica so this record is a reflection and it’s definitely broad’ says Winston McAnuff and this promotional video gives some further clues about this different sort of reggae sound.
This is the first release of new material from UB40 for three years (see preview, reggaemusic.org.uk 3rd July 2013) and in essence it combines their typical sound with some standards from the country music tradition. The opening track, Midnight Rider, starts as it means to go on and, despite the departure of Ali Campbell, it could only be UB40. I’m Pretty Sure that’s Just What’s Killing Me introduces – as on many of the other tracks – the characteristic circular musical structure of country music, along with its somewhat miserable lyrical tales of inevitable sad refuge in drink, together with the steel guitar phrases you might expect. With an unobtrusive reggae rhythm beneath it all it sets the pattern. With the title track we move further into country music territory in this cover of a George Jones release, the steel guitar more prominent and the lyrics no doubt reflective of UB40’s turbulent recent history. From these first tracks the formula is more or less set for the rest of the album and you will like it or not accordingly.
If You Ever Have Forever in Mind has a slightly dubbed-up instrumental rhythm behind it and it would have been good to hear more in this vein. He’ll Have to Go is of course a classic country song and here it gets the same reggae/steel guitar treatment, the arrangement, including sax solo, thoughtfully put together. The reggae bass line and percussion of their take on Willie Nelson’s Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain gets more interesting while the words of On the Other Hand almost caricature the lyrical concerns of country music. How Can Poor Men Stand Such Times and Live, the depression era-song popularised by Ry Cooder, gets a good (though incongruously jolly) workout here with its explicit referencing of banking bonuses and health care…what do you think Gideon? Maybe worth a listen while tackling that gourmet burger?
Overall, the combination of country steel guitar and smooth-grade production reggae instrumentation becomes engaging after a while and there is no faulting the production. The change in vocal duties from earlier-era UB40 remains noticeable, a surprising reminder of how closely their sound over the years was rooted in their distinctive vocals. The album as a whole is relatively undemanding listening and a harder dubbed-up edge to some of the (meticulously produced) instrumental rhythms would have been welcome, maybe as an additional release to the vocal tracks (as they have in the past), but that’s probably not the intended focus or audience anymore.
UB40: Getting Over the Storm; released 2nd September 2013, Universal
Reggae harmony masters the Mighty Diamonds are due to tour the UK in October, alongside the release of Pass the Knowledge, part ofVP Record’s Reggae Anthology series. The release features 40 of their best tracks, many on CD for the first time including some previously unreleased dubplate exclusives. A DVD of The Mighty Diamonds live at Reggae Sunsplash is also set to be included.
Touring with the venerable Mighty Diamonds are French rhythm section the Handcart Band. Dates and venues below.