Morgan Heritage: Loyalty

US family band Morgan Heritage are back with a fine album of reggae songs, more consistent and stronger than previously and definitely worth hearing. The band – Gramps, Peetah and Mr Mojo – completed this album from their various locations around the world and the global influences are evident in this selection of tracks. This album is the band’s 12th studio release and the upbeat summery single ‘Beach and Country’ is taken from the album.

The album displays the range of styles and influences we have become accustomed to in hearing Morgan Heritage (see previous reviews on 1st May 2015 and 15th May 2017). The 16 tracks feature a number of collaborators including Diamond Platnumz, Stonebwoy and Patoranking, Reggae Rock stars Pepper and Iration, Dancehall artist Popcaan, and the voice of journalist and broadcaster Jeff Koinange on the album intro.  

As on earlier releases there is a pronounced soul influence on some of the songs here, including the title track which develops into a strong reggae song in the classic tradition. ‘All for You’ is a thoughtful and melodic track with a slightly melancholic feel while ‘Slave and Slave Master’ is a further powerful contribution, again in a classic style. The album as a whole is strong on melody and on production. The acoustic ‘Home’ is a sweet tuneful song that sticks in the mind and could be covered far beyond the reggae community.  

The single ‘Beach And Country’ was produced by Jugglerz, Haegi and Morgan Heritage, and the video for the song was filmed on location in Sao Vicente, Cape Verde and directed by Mojo Morgan and Adilson Ramos. The group says: “’Beach And Country’ is a song to take away musically any time of the year to a tropical oasis. Music has a way to contribute to our emotions and we hope our new single takes everyone on a journey down memory lane for those that don’t live in a tropical destination.” 

Currently performing live at festivals across Europe, Morgan Heritage are due to tour the UK in Autumn 2019.

 Morgan Heritage ‘Loyalty’, release August 2019 on their CTBC (Cool To Be Conscious) Music Group label in partnership with Membran.

Marcus Upbeat: She’s So Sweet

Here’s a melodic pop-reggae sound with a feel that’s reminiscent of the old reggae classics like Pressure Drop. Released on the rejuvenated Blue Beat label it’s an infectious reggae tune delivered in an authentic style, informed by an obvious love of 60s and 70s vintage reggae. Marcus has previously supported many artists and achieved a measure of success with his former band No 1 Station with whom he released three albums. Along with Siggy Jackson, previous owner of Blue Beat, the label was relaunched by Marcus in 2004 who comments: “I wanted to return to the roots of the music and release records in the more traditional styles of classic Jamaican ska, rocksteady, and early reggae, and to revive the name ‘Blue Beat’ as the generic umbrella term to describe my new music“. 

This is a summer reggae anthem and reminds us why we like this music so much in the first place!

Marcus Upbeat: She’s So Sweet, release on Blue Beat Records, July 2019

Tallowah: Round 3

From Leigh on Sea here is the sound of Tallowah, heralding their new album ‘Round 3’ which is available in CD and vinyl format. A four-piece reggae and dub outfit, Tallowah generate a really authentic roots feeling evident in the track ‘Tyrant’ with its classic-style melodica sound and dub conclusion. This puts Southend firmly in the reggae spotlight!

Tallowah, ‘Round 3’, CD/vinyl released June 2019 on Khandha Records

Little Criminals: Running

You probably know that Little Criminals is a fine satirical song and album by Randy Newman from the 1970s but you may not be aware that Little Criminals are also an established Whitby based trio comprising Pete Gilgan (singer/guitarist), Chris Hogan (bass) and Colin Carlton (drums). They have been writing and playing rock and reggae since the early 90s and here they are with a great single entitled ‘Running (Mike TV dub mix)’. It takes the band’s basic track and at the production stage adds some studio effects and a U Roy sample. It features effective guitar over a driving rhythm and has a strong dub feel. Due for release in July, it promises well for the prospects of catching the band live.

Little Criminals: Running (Mike TV dub mix), release July 26th 2019 on Tune Core.

Mungo’s Hi Fi and Eva Lazarus: More Fyah

Glasgow’s heavyweight sound system, Mungo’s Hi Fi, are back with their new release ‘More Fyah’ alongside vocalist Eva Lazarus – her first album. ‘More Fyah’ was originally commissioned as part of the live theatre production, KID_X, created by the skills of Bassline Circus, MHz and Feral. Mungo’s Hi Fi wrote the music for the show while Eva Lazarus wrote the lyrics as well as taking a lead role in the performance itself. KID_X will be performed in Glasgow on the 31st May and 1st June and thereafter at the Edinburgh Fringe as part of the Made In Scotland Programme.

The album opens with the an upbeat and uplifting version of ‘Dub Be Good 2 Me’ taking a little while to get to the vocals, and goes on to feature, as well as the highly effective vocals of Eva, the sound of Kiko Bun on the great reggae track ‘Light as a Feather’ and a sample of no less than Max Romeo on ‘Babylon Raid’ – Three Blind Mice indeed. The title track is an assertive mixture of dancehall and dubstep, powering along a strong bass sound. The strength of Mungo’s sound is undoubtedly in their knowledge of the reggae and dub tradition alongside a readiness to cross the boundaries of dancehall, drum & bass and hip-hop. It creates their own unique and all-enveloping sound.

Describing Mungo’s work with Eva Lazarus, Craig Macleod from the sound system outfit says: “We were blown away by her energy, presence and vocal versatility on stage when we played the same night in Bristol some time back and instantly knew that we were on a similar musical path.”

Mungo’s Hi-Fi/Eva Lazarus ‘‘More Fyah’, released 19th July 2019 on Scotch Bonnet Records, vinyl, CD and digital formats

Dactah Chando and Umberto Echo: Guardians of Dub

Here comes the welcome sound of some heavyweight dub from Dactah Chando and the German producer who goes by the delightful name of Umberto Echo. This is the seventh album by Dactah, but the first in a dub style. The album comprises tracks from Dactah’s back catalogue over the past eight years or so, remixed here for a dub treatment with a very solid bass foundation.  Touring in Germany from now until August there is some opportunity for European audiences to hear this in a live setting. Otherwise just sit back and enjoy with the bass turned up.

Dactah Chando Meets Umberto Echo: Guardians of Dub, release May 2019 in digital and vinyl formats on Achinech Productions

Prince Fatty featuring Earl 16: Be Thankful for What You’ve Got

Here comes Prince Fatty, Brighton’s answer to Kingston Jamaica, with another great production in the form of Earl 16’s ‘Be Thankful for What You’ve Got’. Prince Fatty is already well-known for his production work with Hollie Cook and many others, and his adherence to the authentic reggae sound is evident once more on this new release. ‘Be Thankful for What You’ve Got’ was originally a soul song from the early 70s by William De Vaughn and the soul-tinged vocals are evident in the Prince Fatty treatment too, hinting at Marvin Gaye. But the rhythm is true reggae style and handled perfectly as always by Prince Fatty.

This is a 7” vinyl release to coincide with Record Store Day. The B side is a great dub version of the same song, designed for maximum bass and volume if it is to be fully appreciated.  

Prince Fatty feat. Earl 16: Be Thankful for What You’ve Got, release 13th April 2019 on Evergreen Recordings

The Skints: Swimming Lessons

Here come the Skints again with their forthcoming album ‘Swimming Lessons’ – their fourth – due out in May. The album’s title seems to be a metaphor for coping with all the hurdles encountered in modern life and we have already reviewed the single ‘Learning to Swim’ on these pages ( 24th January 2019). The rest of the album promises to reflect the band’s trademark blending of genres around its delightful punky reggae core and, as always, the band are touring relentlessly to spread their message. ‘Swimming Lessons’ also features collaborations with three of Jamaica’s current headliners, and the reputation of the band means that much is anticipated of this new release.

“As well as enlisting some of the absolute best of Jamaican vocal talent on the features, we’re really trying to push all ends of the spectrum of what The Skints music is and can be. Our whole back catalogue is diverse in mood and emotion, song to song, and on Swimming Lessons we’ve tried to take things a step further”, says the Skints keyboardist and vocalist Marcia Richards

A taste of the album can be found in this great track ‘Armageddon’ featuring Runkus.

The Skints: ‘Swimming Lessons’, release 10th May 2019 on Mr Bongo Records/Easy Star

The Specials: Encore

This two-CD set is a great return from the Specials with their first album of new material for almost 40 years. Their line-up here is one that we never thought would record and perform together again: Terry Hall (vocals), Lynval Golding (vocals and guitar) and Horace Panter (bass). They are supported by several other musicians including Steve Cradock (originally from Ocean Colour Scene, though he has been playing with the Specials for some time).  The overall sound is one that we’ve come to appreciate from the Specials, with Terry Hall’s understated vocals and Horace Panter’s powerful bass evident throughout.

CD 1 begins, somewhat surprisingly, with ‘Black Skin Blue Eyed Boys’, which is the Specials’ take on a hit from the Equals from the late 60s. It’s given what amounts to a funk treatment here with guitar and bass laying down a rhythm that makes you think Shaft is going to appear through a pile of discarded boxes in a New York backstreet. But he doesn’t and it’s on to another wah-wah and funk rhythm in ‘BLM’ but with frank spoken word rendition of how the Windrush generation was treated by their adopted nation, making for uncomfortable listening.

The third track is ‘Vote for Me’, the excellent reggae song selected for single release, reminiscent of ‘Ghost Town’, with a strong timely message and strong melody which makes you wonder why the Specials have been away for such a long time. ‘The Lunatics’ is a remodelled version of ‘The Lunatics (Have Taken Over the Asylum)’ originally recorded by Fun Boy Three, with Terry Hall on vocals then and now. It’s bass heavy and more assertive than the original. ‘Breaking Point’ is a song that could plausibly have originated in the ‘Cabaret’ era, perhaps penned by Brecht and Weill, and like the best of the Specials’ songs it has a superficial jollity which hides an underlying melancholy.  Then it’s back to great vintage era reggae with ‘Blam Blam Fever’, originally by the Valentines and, as Reggae Fever, by the Pioneers.

Next up is ’10 Commandments’, a radically different take on the song by Prince Buster with its now almost unlistenable original lyrics transformed into something else entirely by anti-racist campaigner Saffiyah Khan who handles the powerful words confidently. She is quoted as saying her version is not written from an explicitly political perspective, it’s just about “common sense and how we treat each other”. ‘Embarrassed by You’ is a Specials original, combining their trademark mixture of bitterness and hope, and instrumentally strong. Much the same can be said of ‘Life and Times’ with its theme of disillusion and calling out the emperor for his lack of clothing over a funky/reggae rhythm. The first CD closes with ‘We Sell Hope’, a slower thoughtful song with its message to take care of each other in a world where values have been inverted. This is, beneath the highly diverse collection of tracks, a remarkable and emotional album. As for originality, ‘Vote for Me’ certainly draws melodically from ‘Ghost Town’, and did I hear a chord change inspired by ‘Wear You to the Ball’ within ‘Blam Blam Fever’, or a bass line hinting at ‘No, No, No’ elsewhere on the album? Probably, but it doesn’t matter. Music draws from its history, reminding us where it’s coming from and where it’s heading.

As for CD 2, that’s a live collection of the Specials at their best. Comprising 11 tracks, it kicks off with a frenetic account of ‘Gangsters’ (their version of Prince Buster’s minor hit ‘Al Capone’ from the 1960s) which helped to define the 2-tone era in the late 70s, ‘Friday Night, Saturday Morning’ (one of the songs on the B side of ‘Ghost Town’) which sums up the desperation of the time all too well, and ‘Enjoy Yourself (It’s Later than You Think’), another classic made famous by Prince Buster although the song itself dates from the 1940s. The second CD closes with a song best known for its version by Louis Armstrong of all people, ‘We Have All the Time in the World’. The sad thing is that we don’t.

The Specials: Encore, released February 2019, Island Records