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Friday, October 01, 2004

Dub Review - October 2004




On yet another album predicated on a fusion of reggae and funk, not only does Glasgow’s Michael Hunter possess the iron balls to mess with Miles Davis on the title but he also summons up the courage to cover the immortal Meters’ ‘Cissy Strut’ in a blatant pumping Upsetter style but with ersatz brass and making a fine job of it too– can that really be Dave Barker shouting out in the mix. Carrying on the pastiche with ‘Brothers and Sisters’ the boy blatantly goes for Yabby You style impact and there certainly seems to be a direct quote from ‘Jesus Dread’ about thirty seconds from the end of the track. But disturbingly and inexcusably there seem to be no credits for Junior Byles on the ‘Fade Away’ derived ‘Hear What I Say’, clearly New Orleans is closer to Glasgow than Kingston. The obscenely gifted Mr. Hunter might effortless cruises through this smartly created instrumentally based studio set in a fashion that might set high expectations for future releases – when he will really have to face the music.




Equally as essential as its predecessor, the much lauded ‘Best Dressed Chicken in Town’, the follow-up was bound to suffer as Tado’s UK debut was time to hit the wavecrest of ‘UK punks meets Dreadies downtown’ garnering unusually effusive patronage from one John Lydon. Indeed Johnny Rotten is rumoured to be harmony (!?) vocalising with Bim Sherman on the gloriously defiant title track here extended into a stomping dubwise version and separate bonus DJ take. The rousing impact of that tune is almost immediately mitigated by the achingly beautiful sound of the late Slim Smith’s reading of ‘The Beatitude’ aka The Sermon on the Mount with the good doctor appropriating the sentiment for the Rasta preferred part one of the Good Book – and we are not talking ‘Lord of the Rings’. And from there onwards the pace does not slacken qualitywise, perhaps because the album is actually a selection from sides cut at the Black Ark, Channel One, Joe Gibbs and Tubbys - where the cream of JA’s musicians were also employed. Reason to claim an unusal degree of self-insight on behalf of Tado in the selection of his best work for this second set.




Dubdadda is none other than the new incarnation of Johno, one time member of Manchester’s Community Charge and Nucleus Roots and now spreading his infectious live enthusiasm to the Zion Train camp. The title of this set is a painfully honest admission from Johno as he seems to be keen to commit what he’s got to tape, but unfortunately we discover many of his ideas demand too much from the technology in Manchester’s Dubdadda studios. So, whereas the minimal stuff works well, best represented by the severely abstracted rhythm pulse of ‘Trod On’ featuring Stix Dan, the more demanding Johno’s tunes become then the execution is left wanting. Catch him live though – he’s a riot.




Though his place in reggae history is assured his name is not all that well known. Propelled by a burgeoning career as a solo artist Philip Fraser linked up with Bertram Brown to launch the now legendary Freedom Sounds label famous for its championing of Prince Alla and Earl Zero, going on to form other labels most notably Roots Tradition with Don Maïs. Blessed with a slight voice Fraser is able to float unruffled on the tuffest of rhythms, here demoed ‘Fussing and Fighting’ a spanking relick of Don Drummond’s ‘Heavenless’ with Dillinger in smokin’ old school DJ form as in "Tonight Dillinger is AlCapone …."! The track is extended into a version where only the percussion is dubbed, maybe Derrick May checked for this one? Most of the tracks here are either rerubs and have extended or dub versions, the title track is another Studio One evergreen ‘Real Rock’ that in its version plumbs sonic depths unexplored by Willie Williams more celebrated ‘Armagideon Time’. Engineer is Scientist at Tubby’s studios circa the early 80s, a time where he knew no boundaries. One of the best roots reissues of the year, plugging yet another gap in those lost reggae years at the start of the eighties.




A label gratefully appropriating its name from Barbarity’s Aisha Kandisha’s Jarring effects host a band merging their nu roots identity with a blend of Sonia Pottinger’s High Note and the legendary 2-Tone – augurs well and expectations are high. Hightone are a five piece live band from Lyon apparently now collaborating with Chinese electronica star Wang Lei, who hails from the city famed as birthplace of SARS, Guangzhou in the southern Guangdong Province. Given the rapid pace of all developments in that region a dubbed up China cannot be far away. Lying somewhere between the energised chaos of ADF and the nu roots stylings of Iration Steppers, Hightone can lay genuine claim as France’s premier dubsters. Incorporating the intelligent and liberal use of less obvious reggae voice samples - rather than going for the straight vocal - together with a hip hop informed deployment of breaks, loping beats and loops on top of the rockstone bass, it’s a mix of pacey steppers, droning ethno-beat and stomach-pummelling one-drops on this their third album.




LKJ himself comes right to the point in the sleevenotes where he muses on who would have dreamed that the poems he wrote, and wrought from the rhythms of reggae, fully twenty-five years ago would still beproviding source for a profession. What’s a sadder observation is that the context for many of those tunes, ‘Sonny’s Lettah’, ‘Dread Beat and Blood’ etc. could still provide a soundtrack for the urban wastelands that stretch beyond Little England and across modern Europe. Accompanied as usual by the impeccable Dub Band, led by Dennis Bovell, containing a who’s who of the UK’s greatest reggae session players – Steve Gregory, John Kpiaye, Nick Straker and Paul Blake – LKJ proceeds through a once debate-provoking set of agit-prop dub poems now consigned to a set list of greatest hits. By the time we get to LKJ’s observations on the rewards of the so-called leisure society on ‘More Time’ it’s a story too late in the telling. If there is such a thing as an ‘LKJ fan’ then this is a great celebration of his 25 years ‘in da biz’, for newcomers go straight to ‘LKJ in Dub’ and ‘Poet and the Roots’.




Moss ‘Mossman’ Raxlen hit the spot back in 2001 with his dubbed-up dishing of globalisation on "Versus the World Bank", heavily soaked in Upsetter and Pablo references the album was nevertheless a mature expression of his understanding of the genre if not exactly a groundbreaking stride into unknown realms. This one dates back from 1998 being a dub companion to the vocal album ‘Message for the World’ from Canada’s Singer Judah and Jah Children. A ‘strict’ dub album reliant on the original vocal tracks tends to suffer in the ears of the orthodox reggae lover without knowledge of the original as the version is inseparable from the tune, proven in the track ‘Mystery Style’ in which the dubbed vocal echoes tantalisingly through the rhythm. Bonus track ‘One Fine Day’ is a gem of a psyched-out dub with an extended sucker-punch ‘Jah Love’ softcore intro before moving into a stoned keyboard vamp through to a breathless conclusion. Key reference point for most of the tracks though is early Dub Syndicate especially at the points where Mossman’s melodica shines through. A fine early dub set from a talent now proven.




The return of Los Versionista! The 500cc Revolutionary Production Crew have stored up enough musical experience in their ranks to escape from the Bristol vortex of sound, but that’s where they operate best in perfecting the reggae/hip hop blend they did so much to pioneer. Maybe it’s the Spanish influences from the Caribbean that makes their work so warm, smoky and seductively smouldering even when the beats pick up to ska pace. New addition Jamaican

MC Blaze’s rap on the acoustic guitar riff of ‘Bob Your Head’ is the standout crossover track and a perfect segue into to Kenny Dope’s impossibly funky ‘Boomin’ in Ya Jeep’ from last year’s Soul Jazz ‘Nice Up the Dance’ N.Y. set, an obvious shout for a 12" mix. Nitin Sawnhey guests on ‘Talkin’ Tabla Dub’, reminiscent of Dub Syndicate’s ‘The Show is Coming’ but travelling eastwards and with a pervasive roots-style b-line that throbs on top of the mix whilst a raft of percussion shuffles onward. ‘Ras Jabulani’ from Black Roots is present again as is rudeboy DJ ‘Mexican’ and Spanish guitarist Cuffy ‘El Guapo’, obviously a not-so-closet fan of the ‘3 Amigos’.




After scaling the historical heights of dub with ‘Blackboard Jungle’ and ‘African Anthem’ Auralux finds its time again to engage with mere mortals. This is the sound of the Roots Radics and Sceintist searching for the sound they finally found under the sponsorship of ‘Junjo’ Lawes and at times veers far too close to a second rate Sly & Robbie who were at the time emerging with the triumphant metronomic Taxi sound. The overuse of the syndrum in Earl 16’s otherwise aching roots plaint ‘Trials & Crosses’ in enough to induce epiglottal spasm reactions, luck the bass holds things down. A shame also that clearly the best tune on the set, Horace Andy’s ‘Don’t Say No’, is burdened by such vacuous lyrics as the singer is clearly on top form. Nice though to have DJ Early B’s ‘Bible Story’ here and best track on the set ‘Thunder and Rain’ from the great Freddy McKay, lamentably underexposed on reissue. This is one for the hardcore collector intent on filling gaps.




Not surprising that after years UK producers flirting, finagling and fucking with reggae that a more serious business-wise attempt is made at creative and commercial miscegenation. ‘2 Culture Clash’ is portable brand masterminded by a Wall of Sound and Gee Street axis, the latter being a foundation UK hip hop label, the idea being new wave dancehall and established reggae stars come together with a batch of contemporary UK dance producers. The idea works best where the UK boys try to stretch their partners rhythmically, and if this were a real ‘clash’ JA would be the champs by straight K.O. In the company of the too hot Ward 21 Kid 606 is uncharacteristically restrained on the lurching ‘This Anuh Rampin’ and Justin Robertson comes rightly respectful in his sweet jogging rhythm ‘Save Me’ where Nadine Sutherland pleads a ‘country got soul meets reggae’ vocal. The experiment works best on Jacques Lu Cont’s two more abstract outings ‘…. And Dance’ and ‘Na Na Na Na’ both with the mightily underrated DJ General Degree. The latter is in combination with Ce’cile riding a breakneck bpm on a rhythm track qualifier for a Rephlex compilation with a frightening interjection by Degree.