Lotek (feat. Spikey Tee): Rebel Hi-Fi Remixes

Wayne ‘Lotek’ Bennett follows up last year’s ‘International Rudeboy’ album with this new six-track release from First Word Records. It features remixes and reconstructions of ‘Rebel Hi-Fi’ from Warrior One, Andy H, the Ubiquitous Dub Legitimizers and of course Lotek himself. The initial track begins with a sound that hints at vintage reggae DJ style but quickly develops into something else, its unrelenting rhythm track powering along in the background with strong bass and echo, concluding in a much more contemporary mix of sounds that are then taken further in the remixes that follow. Thus the ‘Lotek Remix’ follows-through with a complex mix, its electronic bass-heavy rhythm placing the vocals further back as the dubstep-influenced sound takes over.  Warrior One’s ‘Trancehall’ mix is accurately named, the original vocals being selectively deployed at the service of a merciless drum-and-bass derived rhythm. Andy H’s remix starts off with a straightahead reggae rhythm but quickly transforms itself into a dancehall-based reinvention complete with a highly persistent descending electronic bass line. A further Andy H remix – the ‘Jungle Refix’ – is pretty much what would be expected from the title, the jungle/bass-and-drum feel establishing itself assertively at the outset, interspersed with traces of the original rhythm, and quite possibly the fastest beat recorded on any recent reggae release.  The dub reinvention from the Ubiquitous Dub Legitimizers starts off like a dub version in the received tradition, with powerful bass and echo, then adds some strong electronic beats, concluding with a rich mix of sound that takes the music much further than anticipated from the opening track. Australia-based British producer Lotek, having produced a Mercury prize winner and established a strong reputation from his work with Roots Manuva, Speech Debelle and others manages on this release to demonstrate exactly what can be generated from working at the boundaries of reggae, hip-hop, dance, electronics and latter-day dubstep, drawing from each but not being limited by any of them.

Lotek: Rebel Hifi Remixes. Download release July 2012, First Word Records

Reggae Roast Feat. Earl 16: Occupy the Session

Earl 16 enjoys a deserved reputation as one of reggae’s leading vocalists, having started out at the celebrated Studio 1, and over the years going on to release classic tracks produced by Jamaica’s A-list including Lee Perry, Linval Thompson and Clement Dodd. Reggae Roast are a DJ/post-dub contemporary-roots sound collective who have built up a formidable live performance reputation gained at festivals including Glastonbury and Bestival, and residences in London. So putting the two together promises much indeed. This new single release (on Reggae Roast Records) offers up five versions of ‘Occupy the Session’ with remixes, constructions and deconstructions at the hands of some top contemporary producers including Noisses, the highly respected Nick Manasseh, and newer names like Adam Prescott who has previously remixed for outfits including Mungo’s Hi-Fi (see reggaemusic.org.uk 2nd November 2011) and the eardrum-challenging Iration Steppas.

To start, the base track, ‘Occupy the Session’ is produced by Manasseh and label boss Moodie, and in this original form is a straightahead vocal version with Earl 16 mixed up-front, backed by a subtle instrumental mix and an overall upbeat feel. No assault on the senses here, just the uplifting feel that reggae has promised and delivered from the start. There is also a fine and straightforward instrumental ‘version’ in the time-honoured tradition, again produced by Moodie and Manasseh, lilting along without a care in the world and almost inviting some DJ to declaim, albeit gently, over the top. Adam Prescott’s ‘Full Up Mix’ radically strips down the instrumentation, with familiar riffs from reggae appearing and disappearing in the mix, together with elements of the original vocal manipulated into what amounts to a contemporary definition of dub. The ‘Carnival Mix’, courtesy of Noisses, is a great dubstep/drum and bass/dance take on the rhythm with a deep electronic pattern running through that deposits you somewhere between Jamaica and Ibiza. Maybe Cape Verde.  ‘Occupy the Session Dub’ is a Manasseh dub take on the initial rhythm track, this time treating dub in the received tradition of the great dub producers of previous years, and a highly pleasing treatment it is too.

What a joyful little record. Bankers, government ministers and captains of industry should be compelled to listen to it. They might become better people.

Reggae Roast Feat Earl 16: Occupy the Session. Release 6th August 2012, 12”/digital (Reggae Roast Records)

Jah Van I: In My World

From Royal Warriors Music comes a new album from Jah Van I, recorded in Jamaica and Martinique. The twelve tracks on In My World, composed by Etifier ‘Byr’ Johann, are mostly in a melodic, sometimes mellow, reggae style but are saved from predictability by the quality of the rhythm tracks, the instrumentation and the production. ‘Hello Suzy’ for instance is a straightforward song with a spoken introduction, but the mix and the driving echo of the percussion keep it interesting when set against Jah Van I’s strong vocals. ‘Down a Yard’ is led by a powerful rhythm, with strong instrumental backup, while the closing track ‘Reggae Music’ (why bother with a complicated title after all) is a roots song with hints of both dancehall and disco somewhere in the mix. Some of the instrumental rhythm tracks have been available separately on download since late 2011, and strong they are too (hear if you can the Ika Overdub Instrumental Riddim – the rhythm track of ‘Down a Yard’). The vocal style and sound of this new album will interest an audience that listens to the likes of Luciano or Gyptian and it should get an appreciative hearing in Europe, given its homage to influences from the classic era of reggae alongside its cutting edge instrumentation and production.

 Jah Van I: In My World: Royal Warriors Music, release July 2012


Web Cam Hi-Fi: Feeding My Faith

From Tube Dub Sounds Records and the guiding hand of Fredread comes this second album from Web Cam Hi-Fi.  With guest vocals from, amongst others, El Fata, Trevor Junior, Kiko and Lyrical Benjie the album generates the feel of a musical collective rather than a reggae band. Adopting the tried and tested format of vocal track followed by dub version over the same rhythm , the album is very much in the classic tradition of reggae releases from the past, although the instrumentation and production values are highly contemporary. Based in south west France, and having toured extensively to French audiences and those further afield, the music of Web Cam Hi-Fi reflects the roots European reggae tradition of gentle and soothing sounds from a time before the assertive style of dancehall and the electronic bass-saturation sound of dubstep changed things forever. Musically, a track such as Oooh Noo (feat. El Fata) recalls the tradition of reggae great Gregory Isaacs while the sharp skanking guitar of Dub Garden hints at the characteristic sounds of roots of the Marley era, and Sweetest Sound (feat. Faye Houston) is melodic reggae at its best atop an interesting and lively rhythm. The album is issued as limited edition vinyl, with additional tracks on the digital download.

Have a listen and look for yourself here:


The Congos: Dub Feast (Jamaican Recordings)

Along comes a brand new dub release from the Congos, not a reissue but a complete dub of their 2006 ‘Feast’ album, with one additional track for good measure. In between the guitar, bass, echo and reverb there remain traces of the original vocals from Cedric Myton, backed up by Brent Dowe. Original production is from Bunny Lee, with these new deep dub mixes courtesy of Dub King and Nuton Williams.

Reggae has always renewed itself by continual reinvention, turning the old into the new, and this has never been more abundantly clear than on this album. The rhythms are those of some classic tracks from the peak of the vintage reggae era, given new vocals in the 2006 release, and now deprived of those vocals again in constructing a dub version of something that was already a re-creation, something simultaneously new and old. Bewildering. But good.

The instrumental tracks are those of legendary musicians including Aston Barrett, Tommy McCook, Augustus Pablo, Sly and Robbie and Vin Gordon. The album opens with A Fat Dub (version of the Congos’ vocal track Fat Cook) which in turn draws its rhythm from Cornell Campbell’s Bandulu, the distinctive bass line instantly recognisable. A Party (version of Going to a Party) comes up next, using the familiar sound of the ‘real rock’ rhythm track, while God’s Kingdom Dub (version of God’s Kingdom) uses Johnny Clarke’s Prophesy a Fulfil as its source. These three opening tracks set the pattern for the rest of the album, comprising fifteen dubs in all. Amongst these, it’s sweet to hear Rasta Congo Dub (version of Rasta Congo Man), based on the joyful strains of Lee Perry’s Curly Locks rhythm. Heaven Dub (version of Heaven Rejoice) uses the great Satta rhythm, no less welcome for being so frequently deployed in reggae reconstructions over the years.

So we have an excellent collection of dubs, drawn from re-imagined vocal versions, over the top of original rhythms from the classic reggae era. Not sure in what sense this amounts to a Congos’ album, given that the sole Congos presence of Cedric Myton is, by definition, almost mixed out of the picture for a dub reworking.  Not to worry, the end result is powerful bass-driven dub reminiscent of its golden age – and how nice of those persons at Jamaican Recordings to bother.

The Congos: Dub Feast. Jamaican Recordings; release April 2012 (CD); May 2012 (vinyl)

Keith Hudson: Rasta Communication/Dub Deluxe Edition

At the end of the 1970s, Keith Hudson had managed to overcome the commercial failure of earlier releases such as Too Expensive (his only album for Virgin) by releasing the universally well-received Rasta Communication. Initially released on his Joint record label, and subsequently for wider distribution on Greensleeves, Rasta Communication looked set to propel Keith Hudson at last toward the reggae stardom of some of his contemporaries. But this was not to be. Subsequent releases did not always strike the mood of the moment as reggae evolved during the 80s, and Keith Hudson died in 1984 at a time when he was still actively recording with ex-Wailers Carlton and Aston ‘Family Man’ Barrett.

Listened to afresh, Rasta Communication, recorded at Randy’s Studio and Channel One in Jamaica, at Chalk Farm studios in London, and mixed at King Tubby’s, still sets a musical benchmark. The musicians involved include Earl ‘Chinna’ Smith, Robbie Shakespeare and Sly Dunbar, with Prince Jammy and Clive Chin to be found amongst the engineering credits and not surprisingly the production values are high throughout.

Overall the songs combine melodic reggae tracks such as I’m Not Satisfied with roots songs like Felt We Felt the Strain, while the two versions included of Jonah rock along in classic reggae style. For this brand new Greensleeves release, the ten tracks of the original vinyl album are supplemented by five further 12” mixes and versions, only one of which (the 12” version of Nah Skin Up) was included on the earlier Greensleeves CD release of the album.

Still more, this ‘deluxe edition’ now includes a second disc consisting of dub versions of the entire album with some standout dubs – including My Eyes are Red  Dub and I Broke the Comb Dub, plus another Jonah version – that stand alongside any of the dub classics of the time.

This release finally does credit to the potential of this album. Listen to it if you can alongside his other great reggae release – 1974’s Pick a Dub – and you’ll know all you need to know about Keith Hudson.

Keith Hudson. Rasta Communication deluxe edition, double-CD, Greensleeves Records, release April 2012

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