Adrian Sherwood: Dub No Frontiers

Reggae music has without doubt been male dominated over the years. There are many cultural reasons for this, and of course at the peak of old-style analogue dub in the 1970s women were not exactly in the driving seat in any areas of music. Although there were many female artists – in Motown especially, and, within the reggae world, in lovers’ rock – but managers and producers were almost all male.

Producer Adrian Sherwood now presents ‘Dub No Frontiers’ and it is intended as a platform for leading female artists currently ‘operating to unite and celebrate in dub’. With contemporary digital recording equipment plus the global reach of net-based communication, vocals could be added to rhythm tracks generated by Sherwood relatively easily. “Many of the singers said they felt the dub/reggae arena was a male preserve and a little intimidating even, so we decided to invite artists to perform a song of their choice, all in non-English on our rhythm tracks.” This new collection aims to redress the balance a little, and its interpretation of dub is bang up to date.

The ten tracks produced by Sherwood (with additional production contributions from the late Lincoln ‘Style’ Scott, with arrangements from Skip ‘Little Axe’ McDonald,) are arresting in their impact, including Rita Morar’s ‘Meri Awaaz Suno (Hear My Voice)’, a gentle track sung in Hindi over the Sacred Ground Rhythm; Tunisia’s Neyssatou’s strong version of Bob Marley’s ‘War’ sung in Arabic; and Kerieva McCormick’s (who led the project with Sherwood) ‘Chavale’ sung in Romani.

The creation of the new versions began in London with leading reggae figures including keyboardist Franklin ‘Bubblers’ Waugh, who played with Sly and Robbie; the late bassist George Oban and drummer Style Scott, together with Sherwood’s ty rhythm section, plus guitarist Vince Black and the Ital Horns. “We broke the rhythms down and re-cut them,” he says. “We remade them, rebuilt them completely, then upgraded them, making them better and better and better each time and then we invited the singers to sing over them. The project kept evolving. It kept growing and has turned into something extraordinarily powerful.”

The album artwork includes an image of Afeni Shakur Davis painted by artist, musician and filmmaker Peter Harris.

Adrian Sherwood presents Dub No Frontiers’ release 22nd July 2022 via Real World Records,

Hollie Cook: Happy Hour

I suspect that Hollie Cook must get mightily sick of being referred to as ‘daughter of Sex Pistol Paul Cook’ as she has now surely done enough to establish herself as one of the leading British female reggae artists in her own right (see reviews of her albums on this site 2012 to 2017). Her new album entitled ‘Happy Hour’ is due for release in June and will further reinforce her reputation in current UK reggae music. Previously enjoying the production skills of Prince Fatty (Mike Pelanconi) this new album finds Hollie Cook herself at the production desk alongside General Roots band members Ben Mckone and Luke Allwood together with executive producer Youth. The album is supported by a short UK tour in summer 2022.

“Particularly with the songwriting, I was trying to really push myself and be open, to not be restricted in any way. I have always been a fan of theatrical pop music and wanted to experiment more with the song form.”

Ahead of the album’s appearance, Hollie Cook has released the video for ‘Full Moon Baby’, the first single from the album. It illustrates the development of her songwriting while still conclusively demonstrating her mastery of the authentic lovers’ rock sound with just a hint of dub trying to get through.

“I can’t get away from it,” she says. “Making this music that I love, I do turn deep inside myself. It makes me explore a lot of human truths and feelings that we should not shy away from, and it feels like a release to turn them into songs.”

Hollie Cook: ‘Happy Hour’, release 24th June 2022 on Merge Records

Priestly Meadows: Prime

No, not another attempt to get you to sign up to Amazon’s delivery service, but the title of the debut EP from Priestly Meadows. This is confident reggae music from the Czech band who offered the first listens to their EP in Prague’s Palmovka area, not too far from the hipster bars and cafes of the Zizkov district. Lead vocalist Luisa Blahova is ably supported by guitars and brass from the rest of the band, and this four-track EP gives you a good insight into their sound as a whole. The featured track ‘Journey’ (featuring Manlio Calafrocampana) is an upfront and up-tempo workout, providing a good introduction to the sound of Priestly Meadows

Various Artists: Life Crisis

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    

Lee Small: Chameleon

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.    

Peter Dyer: Ghost Train

Here’s Scottish reggae man Peter Dyer with his debut single ‘Ghost Train’. The track is produced by the Subatomic Sound System and is released on 25th July. One important aim of the release is to raise money for three Scottish charities with the first three months’ proceeds from the track. These charities include FDAMH who provide counselling and support to people with mental health issues, NHS Forth Valley and long-established music therapy specialists Nordoff Robbins Scotland. The track echoes Peter’s own experience with anxiety and depression. “I wanted to capture the atmosphere of these mental health disorders in music and found dub to be the perfect medium to bring out the darkness and paranoia”. Musically it’s straight-ahead reggae music with a dub influence generating a melancholy but ultimately uplifting feel.

Peter Dyer: Ghost Train, release 25th July 2020.

The Skints: The Island

The Skints have featured on these pages many times. It’s hard to believe that this punky reggae outfit from London have been active for more than a dozen years but here they are again with a fresh political edge on their single ‘The Island’. The title denotes the UK in a post-Brexit world, alone and dreaming in vain of glories in a world of Conservative fantasies.

The band says: “Well here we are. I feel there’s so much that’s been said already, and we’re all sick of it. There’s a million reasons to hate Brexit but to touch a personal note regarding The Skints; as working class musicians who until recently had the freedom to travel, live and work in the European Union as much as we liked, that right has been stripped from us against our will. It feels violating and isolating, so we wrote a song about it. Solidarity to all those whose lives are being negatively impacted much more than ours by this nightmare.”

 

The Skints’ debut album ‘Live, Breathe, Build, Believe’, released in 2009, was championed by BBC Radio 1’s Punk Show, whilst 2012’s ‘Part & Parcel’, the second full-length album by the band, further built their fan base and opened doors to extensive touring, festivals and markets outside of the UK and across Europe. The follow-up album, ‘FM’, released in 2015, reached number 5 on the Billboard Reggae Albums chart and number 7 on the Independent Albums Chart in the UK, seeing The Skints tour relentlessly across the USA, Canada and Japan. You can check out earlier review of the band on these pages.

The band has a strong live reputation and has featured at some of the world’s biggest festivals, also receiving recognition in the form of the BBC 6 Music ‘Album of the Day’ and the playlist for earlier single ‘Armageddon’, a Billboard Reggae Charts #1 for the LP and the Independent Albums Breakers Chart. Their music has latterly gained even more in confidence, drawing from reggae, soul, dub, punk, hardcore and rap, bound together by their political and personal commitments to us all.

Musically this new single (from their 2109 album ‘Swimming Lessons’) is a punky rocky thrash with a hint that the band’s background is in reggae and certainly in live performance. Touring in the UK in 2020, they just go from strength to strength.

The Skints: The Island, release 2020 on Mr Bongo/Easy Star records.

Avery Carballo: Closer

Here comes Avery Carballo (aka 77 beatz) with a fine reggae song ‘Closer’. As a producer based in San Antonio, Texas, he knows how to get the best out of a song and this new single has the crisp clear sound of the digital age underlying a strong melody and effective vocals. With a little dub around the edges of the backing rhythm this adds up to a strong release.   

Originally from Houston, 77 has clearly been influenced by his love of the reggae classics and has spent his young life generating music and beats through release on Spotify (from where this single can be heard) and working with other like-minded reggae enthusiasts including Reign Lowell, Donnie Canvas and Joey Calderaio. This single will add to his growing reputation.

Avery Carballo: Closer

Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry: Heavy Rain

Seemingly immortal, reggae icon Lee Perry is back with a new album. In a reggae career covering several decades, he’s well-known for working with acts including the Wailers, the Congos and Junior Murvin but it is in his development of the dub style of the 70s that his contribution has been most distinctive. His dubs are instantly recognisable with a shifting underwater feel to the rhythm which succeeded in transforming some familiar cross-over hits into reggae classics, such as Susan Cadogan’s hit ‘Hurt So Good’ extending to an excellent dub courtesy of Perry’s production skills and his house band the Upsetters. The numerous contrasting dubs he generated of, say, Max Romeo’s ‘War in a Babylon’ or Junior Murvin’s ‘Police and Thieves’ still inspire reggae producers and listeners today.     

The new album ‘Heavy Rain’ follows on as a ‘dub companion’ to Perry’s ‘Rainford’ album, created in conjunction with British producer Adrian Sherwood and released earlier in 2019. In addition to offering dub versions of the songs on ‘Rainford’ the new album provides some new tracks too. A couple of tracks feature the leading reggae figure Vin Gordon, trombonist with the Skatalites and the Upsetters who also played trombone on some of the Wailers’ albums. More surprising, Perry’s new album also features a collaboration with Brian Eno, long-time producer in his own right and former musical partner of Robert Fripp amongst many others. Their collaborative track is entitled ‘Here Come the Warm Dreads’, neatly referencing Eno’s ‘Here Come the Warm Jets’ from many moons ago. All in all, ‘Heavy Rain’ maintains Lee Perry’s record as an idiosyncratic but always intriguing reggae legend.

Lee Perry: ‘Heavy Rain’, release December 2019   

Prince Fatty: In the Viper’s Shadow

British producer Prince Fatty (Mike Pelanconi), known for his work with Hollie Cook and many others (see reggaemusic.org.uk April 12th 2019 ) is back with a new album entitled ‘In the Viper’s Shadow’ and new single, a version of the Ethiopians’ ‘Everything Crash’. As before he demonstrates his craft with leading-edge production work informed by an evident love for classic reggae, and especially dub, music.

This album is his second solo album. The first single from the album, ‘Get Ready’, was released in June and ‘Everything Crash’ is released this month. As usual, Fatty has secured the involvement of some of reggae’s leading names including Big Youth, Cornell Campbell, Marcia Griffiths and his established collaborator Horseman.

The ten tracks on this album include some rhythms you’ll find familiar, such as ‘Cassandra’ (featuring Earl 16) and its Al Green derived backdrop. The album kicks off with ‘Two Timer’ (featuring Cornell Campbell and Tippa Irie) with a great dub treatment, while ‘Get Ready’ (Featuring Big Youth and George Dekker) is a fine version of the old Smokey Robinson song, again given a strong, and characteristically Fatty, dub production. The album closes with ‘Trouble’ (featuring Shniece McMenamin and Horseman).

This album, as always with Fatty’s productions, is inspired by the best of vintage-era dub reggae together with state-of-the-art production, adding up to a great and compelling sound.

Here’s a taste of the original version of ‘Everything Crash’ from the Ethiopians; you won’t be disappointed by the Fatty makeover.

Prince Fatty: ‘Everything Crash’ single release September 2019; ‘In the Viper’s Shadow’ album release October 2019 on Evergreen Recordings