Dubwiser: A Crack in Paradise

This original and in some ways surprising album from Oxford’s very own is a curious collection. With a live sound throughout, particularly in the mix of the bass and drums, there is a pervasive mood of urgency – put simply, being slightly frantic – as though time was running out fast and all these styles, songs and genres had to be squeezed into one (albeit very long) album before time ran out altogether.

The opening track – ‘Prophecy’ – is roots reggae in the old style to begin, before speeding-up and throwing in some guitar twiddlings that provide a direct bridge to the rock tradition from which the album also draws its numerous inspirations. ‘Ride Your Life Like a Bicycle’ (the initial single release) starts with some classic reggae chords, then proceeds toward some quirky Englishness, as though Syd Barrett had met the Specials one enchanted evening, fading out with a down-your-way harmony section, with its talk-over reminiscent of the light programme from the golden age of steam radio; what was it anyway with bicycles in the late 60s, the Prisoner and My White Bicycle aside? Continue Reading “Dubwiser: A Crack in Paradise”

Trojan Presents

Another entry in the seemingly inexhaustible catalogue of Trojan re-releases offers, by definition, nothing new, but it does on this occasion offer something that might be interesting. In these double-CD releases, there is an attention to detail together with a distinct impression that they have been compiled by someone with a love for the music rather than a manager in the marketing department. Current releases are themed along various lines including Mento/R&B, Ska, Rock Steady, Original Reggae, Roots, Dub, DJ, Dancehall, Lovers’ Rock, Ragga and Classic Reggae.

Some of these sets, it has to be said, are more necessary than others. The ‘classic reggae’ collection, for instance, does include some indispensible tracks – notably Marley’s ‘Trench Town Rock’ – but elsewhere, as in Bruce Ruffin’s ‘Rain’ or Greyhound’s ‘Black and White’, there resides a slightly depressing reminder of how reggae was pasteurised to offer up largely British hits in the late 60s and early 70s, just as we were about to embark upon a grim decade of social disruption, economic crisis and political paralysis. Nothing like today of course. The commodified version of Bob Andy and Marcia Griffith’s ‘Young Gifted and Black’, with its orchestra and strings for a Top of the Pops era, is a reminder of how the music was sometimes diluted in comparison to the original unadorned treatment (available for instance on an earlier Trojan compilation, TJPCD 001) of a song that reflects the power of Nina Simone’s proud, brave, composition. Continue Reading “Trojan Presents”

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”

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”