Toots and the Maytals: Flip and Twist

On first hearing it’s quite difficult to know what to make of this album from Toots and the Maytals, but after several listening it becomes…quite difficult to know what to make of it. It is certainly branching off in a different direction. Recorded in Jamaica with some A-list musicians in support, it comes from the man who popularised the word reggae all those years ago, but is not in any sense a reggae album. It would be much more accurate to say this is R and B, so long as that’s understood as Rhythm and Blues in the old school/soul/Stax sense rather than contemporary club-oriented R and B.

Written for the most part by Toots, some of the songs herein are pretty good. The opening track, Fool for You, would have fitted well into a set from vintage Otis Redding and it’s no exaggeration to say it would have passed an audition for inclusion on Otis Blue without much difficulty. In similar period R and B style is Perfect Lover, soulful deliveries over strong melody. Good Woman goes back further: simple 12-bar blues. Continue Reading “Toots and the Maytals: Flip and Twist”

Little Roy: Sliver/Dive

Implausibly enough Little Roy has turned Nirvana’s angry and slightly desolate song of childhood into a brilliant 7” reggae single that sounds as though it was minted in Channel One in the early 70s and has just been discovered in someone’s attic, complete with period production values and a relentlessly upbeat feel that puts the original into a different place entirely. It seems even less likely that Lil Roy (or anyone else) would have a go at a reggae take on Dive, but – hey!- here it is. What a pleasant surprise. Here we are now, entertain us!

Ark Recordings, released June 27th 2011.

Diplo: Riddimentary (Greensleeves Records)

At first sight it seems unlikely that an album featuring classics such as Gregory Isaacs’ Night Nurse or John Holt’s Police in Helicopter would be much more than yet another compilation of familiar tracks, but there’s something different and much more interesting going on here. The clue is in the guiding presence of DJ and producer-of-the-moment Diplo, a name more usually associated with hip-hop, rock, and remixing with the likes of MIA, Radiohead, Britney Spears and, not least, Bart Simpson. Closer to reggae, Diplo has also (with fellow MIA producer, Switch) been responsible for the dancehall idea, Major Lazer. Diplo’s intriguing CV brings him to this new project, addressing mainstream reggae full-on for the first time.

This release unearths some of the influences on Diplo’s characteristic production and mixing style but it turns them into something that sounds new, driven along as a continuous cut for 45 minutes. Riddimentary is essentially a bass-heavy mixtape featuring some of the best 80s and 90s reggae from Greensleeves Records, given a Diplo makeover. There is thus something of interest both for those who arrive here through their familiarity with the underlying reggae tradition, and those who arrive here via Diplo. The opening sound is that of Alpha and Omega’s classic Who is the Ruler, originally from their album Watch and Pray, firmly setting the spiritual tone of dub and roots in equal measure although – interestingly – this dates from the 1990s, a wayward sort of note on which to begin. Continue Reading “Diplo: Riddimentary (Greensleeves Records)”

Scientist Launches Dubstep into Outer Space

From Scientist comes this serious double-CD of dubstep rhythms. One CD consists of ‘dubstep originals’ in the shape of 12 unreleased tracks from producers including Kode 9, Shackleton, Pinch and Mala; the other comprises Scientist’s mixes of the same rhythms.

It opens with Pinch (ft Emika) and the atmospheric ‘2010’, the synth intro opening out into a dubstep percussive sound, before reverting to its outer-spacey themes in the outtro. The Scientist mix adds much echo and a very heavy treatment of the rhythm to generate another take on the same track. Guido’s ‘Korg Back’, a fairly straightforward three chord rhythm, retains its simple structure in Scientist’s hands, along with a haze of electro sounds. The collection closes in cosmos style with ‘Abeng’ from Kode 9 and Spaceape, the feel justifying the ‘launch into outer space’ theme of this release. Overall it’s an ambitious bunch of tracks but interestingly it remains accessible to audiences that might not yet be fully signed-up to dubstep. Continue Reading “Scientist Launches Dubstep into Outer Space”

The Jolly Boys: Great Expectation

Mento, the first Jamaican music to be recorded in the early 1950s, is usually seen as a counterpart to the calypso tradition of Trinidad. With its roots in local folk music as well as in popular influences from outside Jamaica, mento sounds today like a recognisably pre-reggae musical form. But unlike reggae and ska, mento never became particularly fashionable beyond Jamaica itself. No doubt this is partly because audiences outside Jamaica didn’t take mento as ‘seriously’ as they took reggae’s focus on themes of religious redemption or political liberation. The prurient themes of mento seemed trivial in comparison. Record companies in Europe and elsewhere were similarly uninterested in promoting mento, presuming it wouldn’t sell. Continue Reading “The Jolly Boys: Great Expectation”

Bob Marley – Catching a Fire

As we all know, the Wailers’ album Catch a Fire (1973) became a turning-point in the international development of reggae music. But its impact has been controversial, particularly in the way its original sound – the music of the Wailers themselves – was augmented by hired rock musicians designed to broaden its appeal. The ‘deluxe’ two-CD Catch a Fire (2001) provided a rare opportunity to compare the ‘original’ Jamaican versions of the songs alongside the album as released in the UK, and to re-evaluate the music within.

Prior to the early 1970s, the UK market for reggae had largely been confined to singles. These varied massively in nature and quality. Marcia Griffiths’ and Bob Andy’s Young Gifted and Black (1970) was straightforward reggae based on drums, rhythm guitar and bass, with the unfortunate addition of an overblown string arrangement intended to boost commercial appeal (try to hear the original without the strings – for instance on the Trojan Records sampler CD 2002, TJPCD 001 – it’s worth it). Jimmy Cliff’s Vietnam (1970) was a thoughtful attempt to move toward new audiences. Other releases maintained the depressing British tradition of the novelty reggae single: did anyone really buy Johnny Reggae by the Piglets (1971)? Apparently so, as it reached the top 3. In contrast, the socially conscious Jimmy Cliff got to no 46. Continue Reading “Bob Marley – Catching a Fire”

Lee Perry – The Ultimate Upsetter

Lee ‘Stratch’ Perry, pre-eminent reggae producer, started out in Kingston, Jamaica, in the late 1950s, initially working for Clement ‘Coxsone’ Dodd. Perry operated Dodd’s sound system and helped to bring acts like the Maytals to a wider audience. By the late 60s, Perry was established. Taking his nickname from the single Chicken Scratch, he worked briefly with leading producer Joe Gibbs before recording his seminal track The Upsetter, the name under which Perry’s many dubs, versions and musicians would henceforth be billed. Perry then went on to produce the Wailers at that crucial point between the late 60s and their signing to Island in 1972 (see feature on Catching a Fire…)

Perry’s skills now turned to perfecting his own style, which became synonymous with dub versions of his own vocal productions. Working alongside the first true dub producer Osbourne Ruddock (better known as King Tubby), Perry went on to build his own studio, Black Ark. From 1974 tto the end of the decade this studio provided the unique sounds to be found in the important collection, Arkology (Island, 1997). This three-CD set provides both an excellent introduction to his music and some of the best productions he ever came up with. Continue Reading “Lee Perry – The Ultimate Upsetter”

The Wailers: Live at the Cluny, Newcastle

Following the cancellation of the Green Phoenix Festival – where the Wailers were due to headline – the Jumpin Hot Club managed to secure the band to play here in the small club atmosphere of the Cluny. Pity about the festival, but even before cancellation the organisers had been concerned that their commendable reliance on natural sustainable energy just wouldn’t be enough to power the bass requirements of the Wailers, and, judging by tonight’s formidable output, they were probably right.

Much of what you would want to hear from the Wailers’ catalogue was here, including Natural Mystic, Rastaman Vibration, Trenchtown Rock, Kaya, Bend Down Low, Jamming and a lengthy encore that started with Redemption Song and found its way into Exodus/Punky Reggae Party. Two of the highlights were not necessarily the most obvious: one was an excellent driving take on Soul Rebel which, if anything, conjured up the sound of the Gladiators/U-Roy versions even more than the memory of the original; the other was a strong rendition of Kinky Reggae which, in its live incarnation on the ‘B’ side of No Woman No Cry, included a memorably relaxed bass interlude, reproduced here nicely by the remaining Marley-era Wailer, Aston ‘Family Man’ Barrett. Continue Reading “The Wailers: Live at the Cluny, Newcastle”

Toots and The Maytals: Live at O2 Academy, Newcastle

No need to persuade the audience here, who were clearly revved up for a Toots and the Maytals greatest hits session, and that’s exactly what they got. Opening with Do the Reggay from all those years ago, familiar songs followed in rapid succession, with Time Tough ratcheting up the rhythm from reggae to ska in the final bars to get people moving, a trick nicely repeated throughout the set.

After all this time, Toots clearly knows exactly how to work an audience in a seemingly effortless way, and it was straight into Pressure Drop, Amen, Sweet and Dandy, Reggae Got Soul, Louie Louie, Funky Kingston, Monkey Man and more. Continue Reading “Toots and The Maytals: Live at O2 Academy, Newcastle”

Easy Star All Stars Live: Mouth of Tyne Festival

The New York reggae outfit with a strange habit or reinventing rock albums we thought we all knew to saturation point already must have wondered what to expect from this venue – we’re playing where? On a summer’s afternoon on a stage set on a headland stretching itself out in the North Sea against a backdrop of buildings from the 13th century – some new bits were added in the 15th century – with medieval flags fluttering in the warm breeze this is definitely a different sort of place to see the band, just as it must have been to play. It seemed to have an effect on crowd and band alike with an infectious kind of positive energy. The set started in a lively style with Bed of Rose from their EP ‘Until that Day’, then it was into selections from their three covers of classic rock albums. These were principally drawn from last year’s ‘Easy Star’s Lonely Hearts Dub Band’, starting with Sergeant Pepper then into With a Little Help from my Friends, Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds and She’s Leaving Home. Continue Reading “Easy Star All Stars Live: Mouth of Tyne Festival”