Lee Scratch Perry Presents Candy McKenzie

Recorded in 1977 at Lee Perry’s Black Ark studio, this album now appears in its entirety for the first time. Its recording appears to have been a trying experience for Kilburn’s Candy McKenzie who, despite earlier experience of reggae recording by providing backing vocals on Aswad’s first album, seems to have been ill at ease in Perry’s frenetic and unpredictable world.

There are some mightily impressive musical names involved here, including Boris Gardiner and Ernest Ranglin, but the end product is mixed in both its quality and lasting power. Without doubt the strongest songs are those written by McKenzie herself – ‘Jah Knows’, ‘Sky at Night’, and ‘Keep Him Strong’ – which are characterised by a slow and slightly melancholy feel, consistent with some of the emergent lovers’ rock of the time. These are also the tracks on which Perry’s trademark production is most active and effective in the background, keeping the songs moving along in a fine late-70s reggae style, and worth hearing now.

Elsewhere on this collection can be found a creditable take on the well-known ‘Breakfast in Bed’, although McKenzie sounds less than engaged in her vocal delivery. Perry’s own compositions are as idiosyncratic as might be expected. The opening ‘Disco Fits’, with its whimsical words and structure, could have been penned and produced by no one other than Perry. The rhythm of the closing track ‘When the Big Day’, jointly written with McKenzie, combines what are presumably her thoughtful words with Perry’s eccentric arrangement. It has to be added that if Perry’s nonsense track ‘Ice Cream’ had remained unreleased the reggae world would not have suffered greatly.  But it is pleasing that this inconsistent and, in places, unrefined production has eventually seen the light of day, as there is enough evidence of what might have been as reggae started to evolve further at the end of the 70s. It seems that the only previous release from these sessions was a very limited release, of which McKenzie was unaware, of a 12” vinyl of ‘Breakfast in Bed’ and ‘Disco Fits’.

After going on to enjoy success working with illustrious names like Leonard Cohen and Diana Ross, Candy McKenzie died in 2003.

Lee Scratch Perry Presents Candy McKenzie, Trojan records/Sanctuary, release March 2012

Revival of Duke Reid Label

Well it’s only been half a century, but here comes the reinvention of the classic Duke Reid’s label, courtesy of Trojan Records. Significant indeed in the pre-reggae era of ska, and the big band Jamaican fusion of musical styles at the end of the 50s and start of the 60s, Arthur ‘Duke’ Reid was a key figure in several senses: founding the Treasure Isle label, and making the decisive move from the sound system to record production. That move gives the music a certain permanence and, as to demonstrate the point, Trojan now offer a new 7″ single with the Duke Reid imprint.

On one side can be found Roland Alphonso’s rendition of the standard ‘Easter Bonnet’ (with ‘Duke Reid’s Band’), delivered in a fine brass-dominated lilting ska style. The musical support from the Duke Reid All Stars is in fact provided by those who would soon become the seminal outfit known as the Skatalites. The other side, from 1962, is ‘Feeling of Love’, from Wilburn ‘Stranger’ Cole and Ken Boothe, both still going strong.

Easter Bonnet/Feeling of Love, release May 2012: issued in 500 numbered vinyl copies.

Hollie Cook: In Dub (Mr Bongo Records)

The release of Hollie Cook’s debut album was one of the more surprising and pleasing reggae releases of last summer, an all-too-brief excursion into tuneful roots-style treatments of some new tracks, together with other songs gathered together from across the years. This new release – ‘Hollie Cook in Dub’ – now revisits those vocal tracks in a straighahead dub style, adding three additional dubs for good measure. This restyling, courtesy of Prince Fatty, generates a sound that faithfully reproduces the pre-digital pre-computer cut-and-paste echo and reverb methods of the King Tubby/Niney dub era, and excellent indeed are the results. ‘For Me You Are Dub’ is a standout, a rapid fire version of an Andrews Sisters’ song of the 1940s (which, backed with its vocal version, is released as a 7” single on 30th April). Even more unlikely, ‘And the Beat Goes On’ is a slowed-down dub reverb-laden reconstruction of the Whispers’ disco track from the white-trousered and smart-jacketed 1970s, while a dub take on the Shangri-Las’ ‘(Remember) Walkin’ In The Sand’ is possibly more than could reasonably be expected. ‘Milk and Honey Dub’ and ‘Crying Dub’ are also strong contenders. While most reviews of Hollie Cook’s music seem compelled to mention that her father is Paul Cook of Sex Pistols renown, it isn’t really necessary to know much about family lineage to appreciate this unexpected and excellent release which can readily speak for itself.

So far as live performance is concerned, Hollie Cook’s band established their reputation by playing Big Chill, V, Festibelly, One Love, Jazz Cafe in 2011. This year, there are plans for a release of a further album of new material and a 20-date tour, with notable performances confirmed at Bestival, Camp Bestival, The Vintage Festival. Summer 2012 sees Hollie Cook play to her biggest crowd in Manchester, supporting The Stone Roses in their historic comeback. Great expectations indeed.

Prince Fatty Presents Hollie Cook in Dub: release 21st May 2012

Only Joe: Revolution (Unit 137)

This new release from nine-piece London reggae band Only Joe features five versions of the same track, ‘Revolution’, in a variety of mixes, remixes and production makeovers. It starts with the original band treatment, a mid-pace roots song in the classic mould with brass and upfront vocals, ‘everywhere I go people talking fire…’ Well, maybe. It’s a melodic reggae tune in the received tradition with some thoughtful dubbing-up of the instrumental tracks in the background. Next up is the ‘version’, a fine straightahead instrumental reading, deprived of the vocal track and otherwise unadorned, in the manner of the old 7” B-side instrumental sound system versions. Things get deeper with the RSD remix, keeping fairly true to the original, before a more radical remix from Skitz and The Sea, turning the song upside down with a comprehensive reconstruction of both vocal and backing tracks. The EP closes with the Sleepy Time Ghost (STG) jungle-influenced reimagining of the song where it’s hard initially to detect the presence of the original at all. The sequencing of this release is just right, taking us from the basic track which is almost predictable in its structure and progression, through a series of remixes, to a final conclusion that has effectively turned the original into something else entirely. A bold idea, well-executed, and certainly worthy of your attention.

Only Joe: Revolution: release 23rd April 2012

Dub Mafia: Danger/Breakneck

This debut double A-side single by Bristol-based Dub Mafia anticipates the release of their forthcoming album, due out later this year. The band generate a sweeping and ambitious sound that can best be described as a mixture of drum & bass and dance, but it also references latter-day dub and certainly dubstep, flavoured along the way maybe with hints of dancehall. ‘Danger’ is a breakbeat/dance track, highly polished in terms of production values, with impressive vocals from Eva Lazarus mixed to the front. ‘Breakneck’, by contrast, is a synth/drum and bass instrumental that changes its feel and rhythm half-way through to resolve itself into something almost psychedelic before reaching a conclusion with its final electronic pulse. This intriguing debut single can now be downloaded free from www.dub-mafia.com so you can decide for yourself before the album comes along.

Dub Mafia: Danger/Breakneck release 16th April 2012

Mungo’s Hi-Fi: Forward Ever

Scotland’s very own bass-driven sound system is well known on the live circuit, whether from their residency in Glasgow’s Sauchiehall Street or from forays further south and beyond. It’s a full-on dub sound-system-sound with a dancehall feel, bass turned to 11 and a digital no-escape blast of pure volume. Following previous releases on their own Scotch Bonnet Records imprint, this new album presents a selection of fifteen tracks, sequenced as they would appear in a live sound system show. Starting off with Sugar Minott’s ‘Scrubadub Style’, this provides a deceptively sparse introduction over a Mungo riddim before the bass kicks in and sets out the agenda for what is about to follow, beginning with Pacey’s take on ‘Everyman Different’ (familiar maybe from Errol Dunkley’s version). The bass gets serious with ‘Computer Age’ from Mr Williamz in a rub-a-dub style, the lyrics managing to include Mungo’s web address and possibly reggae’s first mention of a modem.

Pupa Jim’s ‘Boat People’ provides thoughtful consciousness lyrics to counteract the expectations of some that a potent mix of sound must rule out meaningful words. Omar Perry’s ‘Dem No Like It’ sits atop a deep and slow riddim, while the excellent ‘Bad Bad Boy’ from Soom T contrasts markedly, with a riddim that almost hints at rocksteady. Soom T also contributes the very different ‘Soundboy Police’. Ranking Levy’s ‘New York Boogie’ draws from earlier reggae riddims in its style, as does the loping sound of Zeb and Scotty’s ‘Warm Up’ which is almost reminiscent of the 80s style of, say, Clint Eastwood and General Saint. The well-regarded Gentleman’s Dub Club add the slightly strange but intriguing closing sound of ‘High Grade’. Continue Reading “Mungo’s Hi-Fi: Forward Ever”

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”

Little Roy: Sliver/Dive

Implausibly enough Little Roy has turned Nirvana’s angry and slightly desolate song of childhood into a brilliant 7” reggae single that sounds as though it was minted in Channel One in the early 70s and has just been discovered in someone’s attic, complete with period production values and a relentlessly upbeat feel that puts the original into a different place entirely. It seems even less likely that Lil Roy (or anyone else) would have a go at a reggae take on Dive, but – hey!- here it is. What a pleasant surprise. Here we are now, entertain us!

Ark Recordings, released June 27th 2011.