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”

Trojan Foundation Dub

This newly-released double-CD of dubs from Trojan Records is a pleasant surprise indeed. While yet another budget-priced dub collection from the Trojan archives might seem an underwhelming prospect, suggestive of a further serving of familiar sounds with superficial repackaging, this is different. First, it’s a definitive selection of versions. Second, there is a lot of it (40 tracks). Third, and important, the tracks are listed with both actual and ‘aka’ titles which makes it much easier to trace the dub back to the original vocal cut.

It opens in great style with Buckshot Dub from Rupie Edwards. This is one of the many dubs on the ‘skenga’ rhythm constructed from Johnnie Clarke’s Everyday Wondering, though it’s listed here as aka Everyday Wandering. (See also feature ‘Let There Be Versions’ on this site, 13 September 2007). Augustus Pablo follows up with Gun Trade (aka Fire Burning dub), a melodica-driven dub with a sharp percussive sound, produced by Tommy Cowans. Then it’s the unmistakable Lee Perry production of Susan Cadogan’s Fever, rendered here in the dub suitably entitled Influenza Version. Thus the pattern continues. Continue Reading “Trojan Foundation Dub”

Joe Gibbs: 12″ Reggae Showcase Volumes 4 and 5

These two further collections of extended 12” mixes from the Mighty Two – Joe Gibbs and Errol Thompson – completes the excellent collection that began last year with the release of the first three volumes (see album reviews 29 December 2009 for a review, together with a brief history of the music of Gibbs and Thompson).

As before the tracks are all presented in complete 12” format with a listing of musicians that includes Tommy McCook, Vin Gordon, Bobby Ellis, Tony Chin and Sly and Robbie. With tracks recorded at Joe Gibbs’ studio at Retirement Crescent, Kingston, volume 4 covers the period around 1979 and 1980. The results are pretty diverse. Opening strongly with the familiar bass line of Junior Byles’ Dreadlocks Time and its intriguing version from Kojak and Liza, the next track is Hortense Ellis’ take on Ann Peebles’ I Can’t Stand the Rain, a mainstream MOR sound which is made more interesting by the addition of Prince Weedy’s Same Complaint version. Ruddy Thomas’ attempt at Michael Jackson’s Shake Your Body Down to the Ground is unusual indeed. Continue Reading “Joe Gibbs: 12″ Reggae Showcase Volumes 4 and 5”

FC Apatride Utd: Firing the Truth

From Urban Sedated records, whose reggae releases commendably respect both the rights of the artist and the integrity of the music (see ‘news’ on this site, December 23, 2008), comes this new album from FC Apatride, seemingly the only stateless Marxist Muslim football club in the world.

Recorded in central Serbia, it reflects the interior atmosphere as well as the recent history of a troubled country: constrained, dark, but also hopeful. The storms of the mountains where it was recorded are reflected in the opening and closing instrumental tracks, featuring acoustic and slide guitar. The tracks in between are pure reggae: guitar, bass, vocals and drums. There are no studio embellishments. The arrangements are sparse and the mood is sombre, with the deep vocals from Abdelraheem Kheirawi prominent in the mix. The bass is powerful and the tempo is slow, sometimes very slow (as in Selling Illusion) where the rhythm almost stops and we can hear the silence in between. Continue Reading “FC Apatride Utd: Firing the Truth”

Jammy’s: From the Roots 1977-1985

This double-CD release from Greensleeves Records presents a key collection of tracks from producer Lloyd James, aka Prince Jammy, and is a fine introduction to his distinctive production style. Recorded at King Tubby’s, Harry J’s, Channel One and Jammy’s studios, musical input includes contributions from both the Aggrovators (featuring amongst many others Sly Dunbar, Ansel Collins, Bobby Ellis and Robbie Shakespeare) and the High Times Band (notably Earl ‘Chinna’ Smith).

Prince Jammy served his apprenticeship under the guiding hand of King Tubby but, unlike the original generation of 1970s dub producers, Jammy took the changing sound (and changing digital technology) of reggae music firmly into the next decade and beyond. With his teenage experience in putting together some of the early sound systems, he later became the bridge between the analogue era of bass-driven dub and the emergence of computer-driven dancehall. The first CD contains some excellent sounds along the way, notably What a Great Day by Lacksley Castell, a standout song of spiritual freedom atop a powerful bass line, moving from the vocal track into a formidable version that dubs along happily for more than nine minutes. Conscious Speaks by Black Crucial has a strong Aggrovators’ rhythm at its core, while the dub production in the mix of Junior Delgado’s Love Tickles Like Magic is characteristic of Jammy and his particular production style. Jah Gave Us This World from The Travellers goes straight into its version – Natty Dread at the Controls – by U Black which gives Jammy the chance to dub it up in good style. Continue Reading “Jammy’s: From the Roots 1977-1985”

Let There Be Versions

The rddim album – the single-rhythm reggae album, either wholly instrumental or with a number of different vocal tracks – is now well-established. Its origins lie in putting together the series of dubs, versions and remixes of a single vocal track – typically spread across the ‘a’ and ‘b’ sides of various 7” releases – into an album format. An entire album consisting of the same rhythm track, extensively deconstructed and reconstructed, was a revolutionary development at the time, and it’s still going strong, especially in the various digital rhythm albums released for the contemporary dancehall market. It’s useful to have a look at this by focussing on two of the key rhythm albums that started this trend, plus a newly recorded double-CD based on just one classic track.

Rupie Edwards’ Let There Be Version (the 1990 reissue of Yamaha Skank, which had originally been released in 1974) was the landmark album that kicked off this tradition. It begins with, and derives from, Slim Smith and the Uniques’ loping and laid-back My Conversation, a standout track in its own right. Its basic feel is more reminiscent of the regular dance rhythm of ska than reggae, together with a vocal borrowing from US soul. An intriguing track to use as the basis of a one-rhythm album, the other versions on the fifteen track album (twelve on the original release) more than do it justice. Following on the initial vocal track, 100,000 Dollars (credited to Rupie Edward’s ‘Success Allstars’, ‘Success’ being the name of his record store and label) is a brass-led instrumental version, drawing even more clearly from the ska tradition. Doctor Come Quick adds echo and deejay-vocalising by Hugh Roy Junior over a dub treatment of the rhythm, and so the versions and explorations continue to the conclusion. There are several highlights; Tyrone Downie’s instrumental Tribute to Slim Smith is led by an organ (Yamaha?) quite obviously on loan from Phoenix Nights; Doctor Satan Echo Chamber, again by the Success All Stars, is pure stripped-down instrumentation; while Yamaha Skank by Shorty the President adds both deejay vocals and snatches of an entirely different vocal track to the original. The legendary Heptones add Give me the Right, again a completely different song grafted smoothly onto the basic rhythm. President A Mash Up the Resident by Shorty the President may be a little more widely known than the other versions here, not least for its manic whistling backing. Continue Reading “Let There Be Versions”