Flox: Square

The seventh album from ‘electro reggae’ artist Flox is an impressive excursion in reggae music, with a firm electronic rhythm throughout and roots in an obvious familiarity with the chords and feeling of the reggae tradition.

Although labelled as ‘nu reggae’ the album is closer to the spirit of reggae than we would find in dubstep or in some hip-hop reggae variations of recent years. Opening with ‘Smoke Grass’ we hear the sharp electro-dub rhythm which is the trademark sound of Flox. ‘Herbs and Spices’ continues in this distinctive way, while ’Morning Tempo’ slows things down to a deliberate and thoughtful pace. ‘Move On’ is a great reggae track in the classic mould, while the album closes with the strong and heavy sound of the title track.

Flox (Florian Gratton) is of a French/British background and his sound is certainly his own, based on several elements: technical mastery of the electronic instrumentation at his disposal, a feel for the sound and vitality of vintage reggae, a preference for simplicity and clarity in the finished product and – not least – an evident creativity.

He says, talking of his own productions, “I have to hear something. It can be a bass line, a bird, someone whistling in the street, a phrase on the radio – there are no rules.” The music develops from there.

Flox: ‘Square’, release July 2022  

Zion Head: Jah Watching EP

France-based producer Zion Head has come up with this new EP entitled ‘Jah Watching’ which showcases both his vocals and his production skills, the latter previously demonstrated on a series of one-rhythm tracks to great effect. The dramatic vocal and background music in the introductory track suggest we are about to experience a Western movie, but fortunately we go straight into a series of strong reggae tracks which are surprisingly melodic, with the crystal-clear production you might expect. The backing tracks are for the most part dub infused while giving prominence to the vocal sound generated by Zion Head. In contrast, the distinct electronic instrumentation of ‘Bless Me Jah Jah’ takes us firmly back to the 80s!

Dennis Bovell: Caught You in a Lie

Barbados-born musician and producer Dennis Bovell has spent most of his subsequent life in London, and from there has built up a formidable reputation in reggae music. He formed the band Matumbi and wrote the song ‘Silly Games’ which became a hit on the mainstream pop charts for Janet Kay. This new release, ‘Caught You in a Lie’, is a cover of Louisa Marks’ 1975 original and, like ‘Silly Games’ and much of his other output, takes us right back to the lovers’ rock era. ‘Caught You in a Lie’ is released ahead of his forthcoming album ‘The Dubmaster: the Essential Anthology’ due for release on 25th March and supported by a number of live performances in the UK.

In addition to his own work in the reggae tradition, Dennis Bovell has also worked in conjunction with a pretty diverse range of artists including Edwyn Collins and Orange Juice, The Boomtown Rats, Sade, Jarvis Cocker, Bananarama, Bobby Gillespie, Boy George, Arcade Fire and Joss Stone. He also featured in the recent and well-received TV presentation Small Axe.

Quite a pedigree. The full tracklisting from the double vinyl album reveals a very broad choice of material from reggae and beyond. The CD/digital version differs. But worth a listen in either case.

Mike Brooks: I’m a Superstar

Probably the first review on this site to discuss footwear, this modestly titled song celebrates the popularity of Clarks shoes in Jamaica. On this second single from his new album, Brooks extols the virtues of such shoes, drawing from his involvement in selling them from London to his birthplace of Jamaica. “Clarks in the morning, Clarks in the afternoon, Clarks at nighttime, too” is a sentiment about which we shall not pass judgement, concentrating instead upon the music.

Produced by Elijah Salomon, this track essentially takes us back to the 80s musically, with its electronic rhythm and dancehall-style vocals. Its repetitive rhythm relentlessly drives home the beat and the feel of the music and, for Brooks commercially and musically, the meaning too. Available as a 7” vinyl release or a digital download, it’s difficult to miss the message.

Leaving aside the specifics of this track, Brooks has been involved in reggae music for over 50 years and has worked with the legendary Treasure Isles studio and also with the late Lee Perry. He has been a producer at Channel One studios and certainly has a strong reggae pedigree. His vocals are powerful and the sound authentic – whatever shoes you are wearing.  

Mike Brooks: I’m a Superstar, release 28 January 2022 on One Camp Records.

The Specials: Protest Songs 1924-2012

On this outstanding new release, the core Specials membership of Terry Hall, Horace Panter and Lynval Golding is supplemented by a range of invited guests to cover twelve songs from across the decades. The sound is not confined to the ska/reggae tradition we associate with the Specials but reflects instead the band’s take on the songs they have chosen, and this varies widely. Following the album ‘Encore’ released in 2019 (see reggaemusic.org.uk 11th February 2019), ‘Protest Songs’ further cements the band’s enduring reputation: if the Specials didn’t exist, we’d have to invent them as they are our musical and political conscience. The choice of songs is not what we might expect, being pleasingly idiosyncratic. It ranges from the Staple Singers’ ‘Freedom Highway’ held together by a strong crisp drumbeat, Talking Heads’ ‘Listening Wind’, and, on more familiar reggae ground, an innovative arrangement of the Wailers’ ‘Get Up, Stand Up’. The treatment of Leonard Cohen’s ‘Everybody Knows’ makes it worthwhile to buy the album even without taking the other tracks into consideration. More!    


Adrian ‘Donsome’ Hanson: Freedom Sound Riddim

The single rhythm album has long been a feature of the reggae music scene and has been assessed on these pages before (see ‘Let There Be Versions’ reggaemusic.org.uk September 2009). Here is a new collection from New York producer Adrian Hanson wherein an impressive gathering of reggae performers present their individual vocals upon the foundation provided by the driving freedom sound rhythm. Amongst the tracks are names including Mykal Rose (‘Give Me Love’) and Lutan Fyah (‘Fade Away’). Also included is the San Diego band Big Mountain (‘Hear That Sound’}, who charted in the UK with their cover of ‘Baby I Love Yor Way’ back in 1994 (and also released a great version of Al Green’s ‘Let’s Stay Together’ a couple of years later). The closing track, credited to Adrian Hanson, gives the basic rhythm room to breathe and lets us appreciate the underlying strength of the music here.

Adrian Hanson: Freedom Sound Riddim, release 17th September 2021   

Jimmy Cliff: Human Touch

The word ‘legend’ is mightily over-used in the world of reggae but it is rightly applied to a select group of Jamaican performers who have generated the music and spread the word about reggae music – those such as the late Toots Hibbert, the unique Lee Perry and, in this instance, the enduring legacy of Jimmy Cliff. Now aged 77, Jimmy Cliff has popularised reggae music through the film ‘The Harder they Come’ (1972) and with songs such as ‘Many Rivers to Cross’, ‘Let Your Yeah be Yeah’ and ‘You Can Get it if you Really Want’, going right back ‘King of Kings’ and ‘Miss Jamaica’ in the early 1960s. These latter songs were firmly in the ska tradition, reggae having yet to develop into the music we know today. And they still sound good, an astonishing 60 years later.

Jimmy Cliff is now back with a new single entitled ‘Human Touch’ (from his forthcoming album ‘Bridges’, his first album for nine years). It’s not the Bruce Springsteen song of the same name, but a gentle song by Jimmy Cliff with words written some time ago but newly relevant today as pandemic and lockdown remind us of the pain created by the lack of closeness to others.

Jimmy Cliff: Human Touch, released August 2021

Gecko Club: Summer 2020

No, I haven’t got the year wrong: this is a new release from indie/surf-rock/reggae band Gecko Club. Its theme is last summer’s disappointment and despair during lockdown. As it’s now hot weather again this summer, even up here in the North of England, what better time to revisit our fears and hopes?

Musically, it’s a gentle, upbeat lilting reggae song with understated guitar throughout, reaching a rock crescendo before returning to the reggae beat. In different hands, it could almost be recast as a lovers’ rock tune from the 80s which is no bad thing.

Highlighting their thoughts on the track, Gecko Club say “We started writing this song in lockdown last year when we were all feeling pretty down about our plans for the year being cancelled. 2020 was supposed to be the year we set off on our first tour outside of the UK with our mates The Koalaz from Holland, as well as a strong list of festivals we were booked to play at. We kinda had a chat at the start of last year and with everything we had booked, we’re confident it was going to be a big one for Gecko’.

‘Boomtown is a big part of our summer together and the fact we couldn’t go this year was killer. We decided to focus the lyrics around the festival but really it represents something much greater than just the festival itself. We don’t really like writing depressing songs and we design our live sets to be a party, which is why the song sounds the way it does, you know, upbeat and easy to have a skank too. At face value it comes across as a happy feels song but listening deeper to the lyrics you realise, er well, we missed the summer and we’re cut up about it.”

Have a listen and enjoy!

Gecko Club: ‘Summer 2020,’ released June 2021

UB40: Bigga Baggariddim

It’s sometimes hard to grasp just how long UB40 have been around. Formed in 1978, their initial album ‘Signing Off’ (1980) was a strong introduction to their sound and the single ‘King/Food for Thought’ remains an excellent debut release, deservedly sending them into the mainstream charts and into popular acclaim. (By the way, the refrain of ‘Food for Thought’ is ‘Ivory Madonna’ not ‘I’m a Prima Donna’ although the frequent mishearing of that line might be a more accurate summary of the band’s subsequent evolution). Some very strong releases followed, including ‘The Earth Dies Screaming’ (also 1980): well worth hearing even today in its 12” incarnation and, like the best of the band’s output, sharp and political.

Thereafter, UB40 moved closer to the pop/reggae mainstream which displeased some and is welcomed by others and were subject to some unreasonable criticism simply for being popular or, in a racially-tinged comment, for producing a ‘pastel’ brand of reggae. Latterly, the band split into two separate UB40s, with lead singer Ali Campbell (along with Mickey Virtue and Astro) going his own way after the kind of brotherly divergence we’ve seen with, for instance, Oasis. Some releases met with a decidedly mixed reaction including their foray into country reggae on ‘Getting Over the Storm’ (2013) (see reggaemusic.org.uk 12th September 2013).

This new release from the original UB40 (minus Ali etc) builds on the first ‘Baggariddim’ (1985) and this time features some strong collaborations with the likes of Tippa Irie and Inner Circle amongst others. The band are touring the UK in late 2021, and presumably this gives us the chance to hear some of this live. It’s fine confident reggae music: maybe ‘listen without prejudice’ is the best approach here for those interested in the music rather than interpersonal squabbles.

UB40: Bigga Baggariddim, release 25th June 2021