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Saturday, January 07, 2006

Dub Review - January 2006



Rhythm & Sound’s championing of the Wackies has led to far most exposure, and probably sales, than the label received in its truly ‘underground’ early eighties heyday, would that a few more modern artists indulged in similar payback activity. So here we have one of Wackies' earliest and most obscure twelve inch releases by the little known Lloyd McTaggart. Featuring the Love Joys' on backing vocals and the persistent pinging of now vintage 70s synth percussion this recording comes from the same period as the altogether more serious the double sider combining the monumental Leroy Sibbles’ ‘The Time Is Now’ coupled with Stranger Cole’s ‘Revolution’, Bullwackies best single release. The lyric is typically flimsy so turn to the dub for the real interest here as the vocal side’s funky brass section is put through the mangle and the jazzy pumping sax sets up the horn to get flash over a rhythm that’s in a hurry to get somewhere fast.


THE ROOTS LOVER 1978 – 1983


In this time of maximal access to reggae’s rich recorded legacy the name of Lincoln ‘Sugar’ Minott does not appear often enough in the revival releases schedules, for played a major role in the story of Jamaican music as a singer, songwriter, producer, label owner, sound system instigator and champion of youth talent. ‘The Roots Lover’ is a collection of some of the singer’s finest maxi singles with extended versions, only three tune here, ‘Leggo The Dread, ‘Superstar’ and ‘Three Wise Men’, were originally released as seven inch single A and B sides. The drum based ‘Rome Rome’, originally released as a twelve inch on the Black Roots label in 1980, demonstrates the incompatibility of Rasta beliefs with those of the Vatican. Elsewhere with similarly conscious concerns Sugar deals with afro-centrism on ‘Africa’, ‘African Girl’ (a phased version of ‘Shank I Sheck’) and ‘Careless Ethiopians’. There are two Black Roots productions featuring Yabby You and DJ Ranking Dread, the apocalyptic vision of the former’s ‘Thirty Pieces Of Silver’ originally appeared as the flip to Willie Williams’ ‘Come Make We Rally’ and the toaster’s ‘Superstar’ on Sugar’s ‘Hard Time Pressure’ rhythm. Also here is Sugar in his DJ incarnation as Papa Honey recording with Sister Ester in 1981 on the lovers’ tunes ‘Waiting for you Love’. All in all a prime selection of Sugar’s roots and lovers outings and an essential addition to his available catalogue.




The direct follow-up to the Dub-Triptych set that attempted to trump Auralux’s exemplary retrieval of dub’s cornerstone, the mighty ‘Blackboard Jungle’, these two CDs pull together three albums of varying quality issued by Lee Perry in the mid 1970's. All three sets highlighted instrumental works with dub inflections and were only released in the UK in limited numbers so now the original vinyl copies are keenly sought in collectors markets, although there was a reissue of all the albums on a revivified Justice League label in 1997. In 1975 the UK’s DIP label release of ‘Kung-Fu Meets The Dragon’ had terrific sleeve art has Scratch as afro’d disciple delivering a sole kick to the big snakehead, certainly still worth searching out, but the music inside is still just as impressive with the Upsetter getting as near to a demented Morricone as he dare. Spongey, minimal dubs with wit, tension and a taut energy measured in equal amounts, more testament to the producer’s dub divinity, watch out for ‘Fungaa’ and the title track particularly. Although the ‘Return of Wax’ set attempts to stretch the idea in true exploitation style the same scam can’t be run twice. Luckily ‘Musical Bones’ save the day as Perry’s favourite boneman Vin Gordon aka Don Drummond Jnr. delivers a series of classy jazzed dubs.




The cover photo has Brenda in a pose between Pharoah Sanders’ ‘Thembi’ and Pablo’s ‘East of the River Nile’ with melodica pointed towards the water........ The album recorded ‘South of the River Mersey’ at Naffi Studios Universal, lair of Sir Freddie Viadukt aka the Minister of Noise. Its at this location that Tamoki Wambesi’s Roy ‘Royals’ Cousins has had his master tapes spiked up for reissue, so its only right that another occupant of the studio, Brenda Ray, becomes ‘Walatta’, Ethiopia for ‘first daughter and therefore first female artist on the label. Brenda has Liverpool music credentials going way back and her heart has always swayed between doo wop and dub. It is those influences that play out here in a mix of re-utilised rhythms and fresh beats. Old Tamkoki Wambesi stalwarts Prince Far I and Knowledge make sampled gust appearances contrasting with Brenda’s breathy Chordettes meets Julee Cruise vocals. Certainly to most unusual album to come out of Roy Cousins’ stable and maybe one that has a more legitimate claim to attention that last year’s ersatz roots affair from Sinead O’Connor.


1964 – 1981 SWEAT


Roy Cousins has never been too retiring in his constant recycling of his back catalogue, usually built around the Royals signature song and a true reggae classic ‘Pick Up the Pieces’. Although this new collection might appear to be another attempt to air that immortal tune it’s more than that with material selected back from the group’s inception in 1964, covering ska, rocksteady and reggae through producers Clement Dodd, Duke Reid, Winston Edwards, Joe Gibbs and Lloyd ‘Matador’ Daley in addition to Cousin’s own later productions. With early and obscure rocksteady undergoing something of a revival of late this album hits the spot, especially with the sumptuous opener ‘We Are in the Mood’ cut for Treasure Isle and the roasting hot ‘Save Mama’ engineered by Andy Capp at Dynamics. But the original version of that anthem of positivity ‘Pick Up the Pieces’, overseen by Sylvan Morris at Studio One, turns out to be the equal of any Burning Spear track of the era and there’s a welcome bonus with the inclusion of the original version ‘Quarter Pound of Ishen’. The later rockers version is inevitably included from 1973, along with DJ takes from I Roy on ‘Monkey Fashion’ and Charlie Chaplin with ‘Tribute to Super Don’.




I always quite liked ‘Babylon’s Burning’ interpreted as an edgy prediction from the perils of voting Tory, but like the revisiting of a loved one’s grave, the Ruts seem forever condemned to return to their finest moment back whenever it was. Not so much a one riddim album as a one lyric/one riff album, none of the remixers have a clue what’s happening before their contribution or after, and like some sonic Groundhog Day the jokes are replaced by a mounting desperation to escape and an aching desire for poor Malcolm Owen to be released from this humourless purgatory. Amongst the naively implicated are Rob Smith, Don Letts, Fundamental, Apollo 440, Dreadzone, Kid Loco, Groove Corp and Terminal Head. At least the nameless mastermind behind this hapless version hodgepodge senses the longing for relief the poor listener will be craving by the album’s close, hence the blissful calm of beatless closer by the nearly aptly named Savanarola.




Sometimes New Zealand is portrayed as caught in a fifties time bubble, an idea that I have always found seductive. But maybe now the bubble has warped through to the eighties, for that’s what it’s like listening through to this collection of remixes and radio tracks from the island’s premier dub dance band. As the mixes come from Groove Corp, Dreadzone, Mad Professor, On U graduate David Harrow and Sherwood himself it should come as no surprise as perhaps it’s these artists’ vintage pedigrees that attract. Maybe the difference in ‘acceptability’ of these retro efforts depends on whether the music is created by the playing of instruments or largely by the manipulation of programmes, or perhaps more disturbingly the retro feel is accidental. The vocals also tend to become a minus factor, almost incidental or part of an unintentional ambience, embarrassingly worthy or naïve, devoid of wit, edge or wile, dumb.




Don’t let this one pass you by, having been quietly released in summer last year this may have appealed exclusively to the coterie making up the band’s small fan base outside NYC. However this turns out to be perhaps the most cultured album of new dub of the last year, especially notable as this seven piece band are not a virtual studio outfit, but a living, breathing gigging machine. Taking the output from an after session jam (‘reggae sushi’) and a selection of their choicer previous material, the maturity borne of evolutions through punk, ska, swing, soul and reggae have resulted in an album of rare and distinct flavours. ‘Blues for Allan’ and ‘The Glide’ both decode the ‘Stalag’ bass genome, the former with splotched percussion and the latter dead-eye funk; ‘Uncle Pivo’ is one of those annoying rhythms you can quite figure (is it Studio One’s ‘Full Up’?) garnished with supine horns whilst ‘Dub for Schooling’ communes with the late Jackie Mittoo and ‘Make Me Smile Dub’ will send you searching for the vocal version.




Sichuan born musician Wang Lei is now relocated to Guangzhou City, in China’s southern Guangdong Province, where he linked up with an ex-pat Swiss bassist and engineer to start China’s first working reggae band, in a jolly west coast festival stylee. As a solo musician of some pedigree Wang also managed to develop a Sinobeat hybrid that veers between gruff techno and a new strain of downbeat head-nodding electro noodlings, naively named dub ‘n bass, that proves a skank too far for the skills of most Chinese dancers. This album originally appeared in Beijing on a pre-release about a year ago since when, championed by ex-pat French promoters, Wang has toured France a couple of times, met up with HighTone and is on the point of releasing a collaboration with the Lyonnaise nudub rockers – Wangtone! Lots of sampling of local ambience, instrumentation etc. in here, enough to tick the exotica box anyway, but it’s a case of buyer beware as the leap from old-fashioned techno in the industrial beat sense to dubbing it up maybe too big a leap. Maybe the confrontation with the ruffer end of nu roots in HighTone will be enough to reveal the true nature of bass to this expeditionary from the East.


Heartbeat had the same idea about five years ago with ‘Keep on Jumping’ but as they say in reggae: ‘if it’s nice – do it twice!’, and there turns out to be only one duplication in Jennifer Lara’s ‘Consider Me’. In comparison perhaps the Heartbeat set was a little rootsier than this new addition to the exemplary Soul Jazz Studio One series, which draws clear parallels between the soul queens of American r’n’b and their generally more uptempo, and therefore upful, Jamaican cousins. As per usual this is fairly pleasant listening for say, car radio or kitchen, but whack this up in the dance or to anny the neighbours and the sound becomes monstrous. Marcia Griffiths and Rita Marley are featured with their first group The Soulettes and the rumbunctious ‘Deh Pon Deh’, Alton’s sister, Hortense Ellis, answer’s her brother’s smash hit ‘I’m Just a Guy’ with ‘I’m Just a Girl’, there’s four tunes from the sorely missed Jennifer Lara, plus the discovery of a rare groove pearl in Jerry Jones’ ‘There’s a Chance for Me’.