Me and My Friends: Look Up

This forthcoming album is a very pleasant surprise. While it’s common to hear of bands being promoted as ‘genre defying’, in this case it’s an accurate statement of their very open and original musical approach. The opening track, ‘Another Lifetime’, featuring the characteristic ascending and descending African guitar style, a strong bass sound from James Grunwell (who also produced the album) which powers everything along and, certainly not least, the vocals of Emma Coleman that manage to be simultaneously vulnerable and powerful. This gets us off to a strong start, followed through by the single ‘High as the Sun’, upbeat and featuring the cello, again by Emma Coleman. ‘Look Up’ highlights the instrumental Afrobeats and guitar sound of the band, while ‘Promise Me This Much’ hints at Curtis Mayfield-era soul. As if this were not enough, ‘Gently Blinded’ has a guitar interlude inspired directly by jazz rather than rock, while ‘Good Life’ is the nearest thing to a reggae tune on the whole album, and impressive it is too. Proceedings come to a close with John Lee Hooker’s ‘Sometime’, a poignant song on which to end, and demonstrating that the band are at home with the blues too. A summary of this kind may make the album sound like a discordant mix of every style under the sun, but it doesn’t come over like that. It’s a collection of new and pleasing songs from a young band who are the polar opposite of the cynical heaven-knows-I’m-miserable school of thought. This album is joyous and fun and designed to be enjoyed.

Me and My Friends: ‘Look Up’, release 6th December 2018 on Split Shift Records

Spectacular: Speed It Up

Here comes a 12” vinyl release entitled ‘Speed It Up’ from Jamaican performer Spectacular. Also available in digital format, it’s the second collaboration between Spectacular and Avignon-based French label Conquering Records. As well as the lead vocal track, the single features a dub version courtesy of Jo Welders (of Welders Hi-Fi Sound System) plus two remixes from the French dubbers Mahom and Ashkabad. The remixes take contrasting views of the source material on the basic track. ‘Speed It Up’ is lyrically about the serious topic of money, no doubt a matter of some importance to Spectacular. Musically, the track is a great mix of old and new influences: bass-driven in a digital style, vocals hinting at the dancehall influence, vital and fresh. A nice sound.

Spectacular: ‘Speed It Up’, vinyl/digital, released October 2018 on Conquering Records

Black Roots: How Long

Black Roots, hailing originally from St Paul’s (Bristol) have been around for a long time now and, after a mid-career break, are still producing great roots reggae music. This new digital-release single with its strange but effective chord changes and classic reggae sound is very much in the tradition of this great band. The single is taken from the band’s forthcoming album ‘Take It’ (due for release in all formats on 2nd November 2018). The question ‘How Long’ is posed in relation to how long will mankind have to wait for its liberation and it implies references to both biblical prophecy and to the present-day troubles of the secular world in Africa and beyond. The band are touring in France in November, beginning with an album launch party in Paris. Good luck to them with this strong release.

RudeSix: Trip Club

Here’s a young band from Nuneaton in the English midlands with their brand-new debut EP entitled ‘Trip Club’. Unsurprisingly, given their name, they are a six-piece band playing reggae and ska and it’s a refreshing and lively sound. ‘Wet Wipe Boy’ is a fast reggae tune, guitar-led, more like a rock band playing reggae than a traditional reggae band- but that’s no bad thing. The title track is bass-heavy with a decisive brass input. ‘Chelsea’ is a strong reggae song with a powerful skanking rhythm and a rock outro – it would make a good single in its own right. ‘Reality of War’, with its assertive bass and distant drums, is a thoughtful conclusion. On the evidence of this EP, RudeSix will go a long way and bring new fans to the vital sound of contemporary reggae.

RudeSix: ‘Trip Club’, release 31st August 2018

The Drop: Far and Wide / CCTV

Here is the second double A-side single from The Drop’s debut album ‘Last Stand’ which is due out on Shoal Records on 14th September 2018. ‘Far and Wide’ is a mix of rock and reggae, forceful and powerful. ‘CCTV’’ is very different, a spooky extended intro taking us into The Drop’s take on this noughties classic dub step track by LV. The press release says that, as on the original version, “… Dandelion reignites his soulful vocal melodies, this time over gloomy laid-back Roots Reggae, with lashings of psychedelic guitars” which just about sums it up.

The forthcoming album. ‘Last Stand’, promises much with none other than Lee “Scratch” Perry featuring on first single ‘Dunna Runna’. The Drop are heading towards a UK tour in October and November so watch out for those dates – to be announced.

Bob Marley and the Wailers: Kaya 40 Remix

The classic ‘Kaya’ album is now forty years old and here is a brand-new remix of all ten tracks, courtesy of Stephen Marley, released in conjunction with the original album. It is hard to imagine that the original version could be improved upon, and, unlike some Bob Marley remixes (such as ‘Roots, Rock. Remixed’) there is no attempt here to construct new songs from the old ones. Instead, the Kaya 40 remix is relatively subtle: for instance, adding a dub-leaning mix to ‘Sun is Shining’ and ‘Kaya’ itself or bringing out the lead guitar (presumably from Julian ‘Junior’ Marvin) more strongly on ‘Crisis’. Stephen Marley has used Bob’s vocals from demos of the same tracks and made use of different takes of the songs to come up with something distinctive.

Musically, the band at this time, featuring Aston ‘Family Man’ Barrett, Carlton Barrett and Tyrone Downie, were at their peak. Listening to these songs today, it is striking how strong they remain melodically. ‘She’s Gone’ is a powerful song, and when it comes to final track ‘Time Will Tell’ you can almost hear the bells ringing in the local gospel church.

No fussing and fighting, this has always been a gentle and relaxed album. Now, with a more assertive remix, it gains a new, and well-deserved, lease of life. Stephen Marley’s remix respects the integrity of the original album and, unlikely though it seems, manages to improve it. A great listen.

Bob Marley and the Wailers: Kaya 40 Stephen Marley Remix; 2 CD, 2 vinyl, and digital releases, 24th August 2018

Groundation: The Next Generation

American band Groundation has been around for some time now, with a loyal following based on their jazz-tinged brand of roots reggae. Now they come our way once more with a new album (their first new studio album in four years) entitled ‘The Next Generation’, and a new single ‘My Shield’.

Featuring musicians from both Jamaica and their home state, California, the eleven tracks of the new album expand the range of the band into dub, reggae and jazz and together provide an original take on contemporary roots music. The opening brass sounds of the introductory track ‘Vanity’ are almost reminiscent of 1970s US bands like Blood Sweat and Tears before the song is resolved into a tight reggae workout. The slow reggae of ‘New Life’ is musically powerful while the wah-wah rhythm guitar of single ‘My Shield’ suggests that the disco era didn’t entirely bypass the band. A fascinating album in many ways and certainly worth hearing. Groundation have a formidable live reputation and with upcoming dates in Europe, including three UK dates in August, there is the imminent prospect of hearing them live.

Lineup: Harrison Stafford (lead singer and guitarist), Will Blades (organ and clavinet/keyboard), Isaiah Palmer (bass player), Jake Shandling (drummer), Brady Shammar (harmony vocalist), Aleca Smith (harmony vocalist), Eduardo Gross (guitarist), Craig Berletti (keyboard & trumpet) and Roger Cox (saxophone).

Groundation: ‘The Next Generation’, release September 2018, Baco Records

Mosiah: Burning Red

Here comes Mosiah (Akeil Martin) from Trinidad with a political message in his new single Burning Red. It’s a dancehall-influenced song based upon the ‘Volcano’ rhythm together with a sampling of Barrington Levy and indeed it sounds as though it could have emerged in the 1980s rather than now – but that’s no bad thing. Drawing his inspiration, and indeed his name, from religion, from Rastafari and from Marcus Mosiah Garvey, this is a vital sound that should propel Mosiah beyond his familiar audiences to wider appreciation.

Mosiah: Burning Red, release July 2018 on Reggaeville.

Protoje: A Matter of Time

Protoje (Oje Ken Ollivierre) is from Jamaican reggae aristocracy, his mother being none other than Lorna Bennett (‘Breakfast in Bed’) and his father ‘Calypso king’ and recognised sports coach Michael Ollivierre aka Lord Have Mercy. Quite a pedigree. After the weird orchestral beginning, the ten tracks on Protoje’s fourth album ‘A Matter of Time’ are varied in pace and style. Some, like ‘Lessons’, are melodic and thoughtful, while the two tracks featuring Chronixx are faster and sharper, with guitar and the influence of both dancehall and hip-hop very evident. On ‘Blood Money’, which has been around for a while, the political critique is more explicit and other tracks, such as ‘Mind of a King’ are good old-school reggae, tuneful and, toward the end, getting a little dubby. Following through his recorded success, Protoje has broken into the festival circuit and this album will cement his reputation and leave his followers wanting more.

Protoje: A Matter of Time, released 29th June 2018 (CD and digital), 3rd August (vinyl) on Mr Bongo records