Alpha & Omega Mystical Things
As Alpha & Omega Christine Woodbridge and John Sproson have been producing a tough post-digital roots reggae, mostly in a dub style, since back in the late eighties. Initially they appeared on their own eponymous label, before signing a deal with Greensleeves. It seems that now the latter label has taken more of a hardcore turn A&O are leading an itinerant life moving from label to label internationally. Conquering the West Coast, A&O's last set "Dub Magic", came out via Seattle's Zion Gate. This new one stays in the area appearing on BSI, the label based in Portland, Oregon, that recently gave us a posthumous release from Bryn "Muslimgauze" Jones. Developments here are towards more vocals, though the heritage of Jah Shaka is still pre-eminent in the duo's largely processional, militant steppers style. Lovers of A&O will not be disappointed, but it's a well-loaded chalice for newcomers!
Ronnie Davis Power of Love
Lee's 7" pre-release
Bunny "Striker" Lee, that most pervasive of Jamaican producers through the seventies, has been slowly repressing his back catalogue through deals with revival labels such as Blood & Fire, but also as represses on a series labels with both song and version on the 7" vinyl so beloved of reggae fans. Here we have the criminally underrated Ronnie Davis with one of his best sides, but more crucially, the flip features one of King Tubby's top dub workouts - the awesome "Tubbys in Fine Style". Get it before it disappears again for another twenty years.
Lee Perry The Upsetter
Lee Perry Black Art Singles Selector
Serendipity intervenes as two Scratch compilations worthy of recommendation are released at the same time as Dave Katz's delayed, but essential, biography of reggae's most renowned innovator. The Metro set is at budget price and sourced from the Trojan vaults, put together and annotated by a true lover of Perry's oeuvre - Ian McCann. About half the eighteen cuts are pre-Black Ark vintage where the wit, invention and creativity are so apparent that even now its confrontational qualities shine through. This is best represented by the three skanks, "Cow Thief, Bathroom and Kentucky", where water flows, rhythms are cut together, tapes rewound and soul hits sampled. Pity the subtitle reads "Essential Madness From The Scratch Files" conforming to the usual obvious presentation. In fact all the stuff on this album is the right side of the line justifiably called genius.
The second set is another from the Australian-based Ascension outfit. All of the tracks are the "a-sides" of a series of Black Art singles reissued in the UK over the past few years. A few years ago a selection like this would have been to die for, but now the standards have been ratcheted up. The cuts are prime Perry with at least four or five of the tunes essential in an all time top twenty from the producer (Jnr Delgado's "Sons of Slaves, Pablo's "Vibrate On", Silvertones' "Jah Jah Children2 and Sons of Light's "Land of Love). On the downside Perry doesn't get paid as its licensed from Pauline Morrison and Omar Perry, the tunes are not clean enough being mastered from disc rather than tape, there are no notes on what are basically treasures of reggae music, and lastly, but most importantly - is there another volume, because we need the dubs!
Max Romeo & Tribu Acustica In This Time
Count Ossie & The Mystic Revelation of Rastafari Grounation
When I heard Max Romeo had recorded an album with a group of Italian musicians playing in a foundation style I admit I was sceptical. But the fresh and open approach of this enterprise is immediately disarming. The result is a set that will appeal to all free-thinking fans of reggae and dub. The material is a mix of nyabinghi motifs such as "Rastafari Calling" blended with treatments of classic roots tunes like Max's own "Sipple out Deh" (a "War inna Babylon" version) and extending into older traditional material of Caribbean and Afro-American origin such as "Mama Look a Boo-Boo" and "Study War No More". May sound corny but check it! The acoustic dubs are delightful, a light and delicate production avoids all the usual easy shot dub cliches.
With the addition of musical director and Studio One saxman Cedric "Im" Brooks, together with brass brothers Nambo and Ras Sam II, the Count Ossie Group became The Mystic Revelation of Rastafari. In 1973 this collective recorded an all-time classic of Jamaican Music - "Grounation", released as a triple vinyl set on the Vulcan label. On top of Ethiopian melodies, poetic recitations accompanied by free sax and wild improvisations, the set included versions of Charles Lloyd's "Passin' Thru" and the Jazz Crusaders' "Way Back Home". Devotional, inspirational and fundamental to an understanding of the diverse strands that have shaped reggae, this most influential of Jamaican recordings is reissued here on a budget label. Shame that the excellent booklet which accompanied the original issue is not reproduced here.
Nucleus Roots Nucleus Roots
Roots style straight outta Crumpsall - well, somewhere in Manchester! Paul Lush and his musical associates who make up Nucleus Roots have been plugging away solidly for some time in the tough North-West England roots reggae scene. They have self-financed their first album which is currently self-distributed until they secure a deal. Which hopefully is soon as these guys have worked hard to produce a fine first outing, mixing roots tunes, instrumentals and dubs, with a full crew of vocalists, DJs (including long-time Suns of Arqa collaborator Country Ranking), musicians, engineers and technicians. Singer Moses has the quality of a young Freddie McGregor on standout track "Still Here" where the uncredited DJ comes on like a reborn Dennis Alcapone! The semi-digital production may make for mobility when playing live but in the studio can make the tunes a little too naked. The band are at their best in the set's closing tracks where they dub it up.
Various Artists French Dub Connection Volume 2
Echo Beach EBCD032
OK! Its time to stop sniggering at the back - now its serious! The occasions upon which this column features dub created either in France or by the French is reaching a level where it can no longer be a surprise. Travelling through Paris, Strasbourg, Bordeaux and Lyon this first set copes with an explosion of influences that have taken place on the French dance scene since the early nineties and reflects them back in a range of styles which blur the edges of fusion. An urban, sophisticated feel pervades the affair, which is a co-production with Coda magazine (The Wire's French equivalent?). The house oriented Aleem opens the set with the smooth "Yoga Dub", the legendary St.Germain follows with the relatively old, but nicely placed, "Dub Experience" and Kayla come up with a sweet Brazilian dub held together by washes and stabs of keyboard. In contrast Grant Phabao and Improvisators Dub tend more towards minimalism and abstraction whilst not quite reaching Rhythm & Sound territory. "Black Voices", the final track, comes from the Fela Kuti drummer Tony Allen whose Gallic credentials are obviously as beyond doubt as his current hipness. I'm not arguing, this is a hugely enjoyable and varied album which builds on the success of the first volume.
The Dijns, also featured on the above album, turn out to be the dub tip for the top! Apparently oblivious to any copyright laws samples abound right from the start. In fact, Lee Perry intros the opener "Les Freres" which is a stop/start stone killer with a beautifully wrought descending bass line and griot chant, surely deserving a 12" vinyl cut? The second track seems to have an acapella doo-wop loop, the third opens with a kora solo before surrendering to a violin and "Refl exion" captures "Mi cyann believe it" from the late dub poet Michael Smith and incredibly "Don't Believe the Hype" from PE. The ten minute "House Fever" comes across like a mad Marshall Jefferson from his early days. The big surprise comes on the closer which is the only vocal of the album. "Paradise Jungle" is the kind of reggae inflected dance which makes some of the tunes being produced on the UK dance scene sound more than a little lame. I'd be surprised if these guys just disappear.
Various Artists Don't Call Us Immigrants
Pressure Sounds PSCD/LP28
One might expect a compilation of British roots reggae from the seventies through to the early eighties to be suffused with a mood of righteousness indignation, for the artists who produced this music were doubly handicapped. Firstly they were living in an overtly racist society and secondly they suffered from the perverse judgement at the time that their music was somehow less worthy than the reggae being produced in Jamaica. This album will no doubt provoke the reaction in many reggae fans of "Why was this track or that track not on the set?" It certainly elicited that reaction in me, which only goes to argue that this should be number one in a series that is long overdue. Misty in Roots open the album with their ultra-rare first single "Six One Penny" and Lion Youth continues with his elemental "Rat Cut A Bottle". But it's the dominating presence of the great Dennis Bovell, appearing under different guises on a number of tracks, which begs the question where have all his great dub albums gone such as "Strictly Dub Wize", "I Wah Dub" and "Brain Damage"? Must be overdue for reappraisal. Pablo Gad's perennial dancehall favourite "Hard Times" makes an appearance, as do Black Slate's "Sticksman", Aswad's "It's Not Our Wish" and Steel Pulse's "Nyah Wish".
Various Artists Studio One Showcase Volume 1
The hearts of hardened reggae fans who have possessed (not in the carnal sense) this album for years won't skip a beat when this CD reissue hits the racks - which is to miss the point. New generations are still awaiting the unbound joy of hearing this music for the first time, preferably played at a sensibly loud volume with the bass testing the bins to the max. The seven selections on the original album are added to by Johnny Osbourne's "All I have is Love", Cornell Campbell's treatment of Curtis Mayfield's "Ten to One" and the Tonettes' "I'll Give it to You". All ten tracks are mixed with the dub following the vocal in discostyle by Studio One stalwart Sylvan Morris. The inclusion of the sublime "Undying Love" by Ernest Wilson always leaves this set filed within easy reach.