Leroy Brown has been chugging away contentedly on the Canadian reggae scene for the past twenty years or so producing a benign strain of reggae that picks up the off local media award. But back in the day he was capable of writing, arranging and producing material of the highest quality although very rarely struggling gaining much recognition beyond the hardcore reggae market. This excellent reissue of tunes cut with a stellar line-up of JA sessioneers between 1976 and 1982 at Channel One, Tubbys and Treasure Isle in Jamaica plus Sound and Kink in Canada is dominated by several takes on the title track, the original followed by Skully’s percussion cut, a horns version, Clint Eastwood’s DJ version as an extended mix of the 7” horns version and the dub of the original – phew! The repetition is strictly anti-glop as this is a great tune and the different treatments are a master class in versionology, or re-use if you like, that is the peculiar alchemy inherent in reggae music albeit one derived from an economic necessity. Also there, the equally ‘in yer face’ “Metro Pigs”, “Gone Gone” ‘”Prayer of Peace” (with DJ Captain Charghand (sic)) qualify Brown as a reggae lyricist in the league of Joe Higgs, Alton Ellis and Leroy Sibbles.
SOME A THIEF / RASTA CONGO MAN
CONGO MUSIC 10” VINYL
The vocal on this piece are lifted from the "Feast" album out on Kingston Sounds, a subsidiary of the regularly vilified Jamaican Recordings label. “Some A Thief” turns out as a version of "Crazy Baldhead" with Cedric Myton utilising the falsetto style which became the signature sound of the Congos at the height of their vocal powers when recording for Scratch. The ten inch single is recommended as a taster – plus there are dubs - \for the album is a disappointing affair. Cedric Myton and Congo Ashanti Roy (Roy Johnson) are still estranged so Brent Dowe, one time lead singer of the Melodians (of “Rivers of Babylon” fame), is enlisted to provide some harmony balance. Of course for the original Congos sound Lee Perry had Watty Burnett add a rich dimension with his baritone harmonies. Judging by the voice naked in front of the mix this is a Cedric Myton solo album, but his voice just cannot carry this kind of scrutiny, on top of that the material is weak and the playing plain tired.
CARIBBEAN COOKE VOL.2
STUDIO? 7” VINYL
The first edition of “Caribbean Cooke” was a knockout featuring “Love Me” and “ Lost And Lookin’” over chunky rhythm beds from Studio One’s Sound Dimension and acapellas carved out of Cooke’s pop songbook between the Soul Stirrers and his RCA heyday. The second volume cannot be recommended as the novelty is stretched when the vocals turn out as far less clean and there is a nasty clash of keys between voice and the grafted backing. The tunes are “Little Things You Do” and “Teenage Sonata” the latter running on a dub of John Holt’s “Love I Can Feel”. However the latest and most exciting breed of reggae blends and mashups have not yet been pressed on vinyl, highly recommended are the vitual meetings of Macy Gray and King Tubby on “I & I Try”, Madonna vs. The Congos on “The Power Of Goodbye” fitting sweetly on the Fisherman rhythm and most bizarrely Britney Spears coos “I’m A Slave 4 You” on the late Desmond Dekker’s “007 - Shanty Town”!
CARL HARVEY MEETS THE DUB MASTERS BUNNY LEE & PRINCE JAMMY
ECSTASY OF MANKIND
Despite the obligatory reggae title hooks this is an instrumental outing rather than a dub set. The album has a checkered history as the last time it appeared is was issued as ‘Guitar Boogie Dub’ by Lee Perry – who had absolutely nothing to do with the production. In late 1977 Carl Harvey was employed for his guitar skills on session work by Bunny Lee and the tracks were recorded in a two hour studio slot the night before his return from Kingston to Canada. For many great instrumentalists working in reggae the free exercise of skills was often subordinated to comply with the strict requirements of the genre; that constraint is blown away in this set where Harvey runs a stylistic gamut from funk to rock to jazz to pop to the prevailing reggae ‘chunka chunka chops’contemporary. The opener "Peace Truce” is apparently on a Cornell Campbell piece but comes like Hendrix versioning “I Shot The Sheriff”, “Mercury Stars” is the ultra funky Jackie Mittoo tune otherwise know as “The Sniper”, “Misty Night” is Tony Joe White’s “Rainy Night In Georgia” originally versioned for Jamaican consumption by the great Lord Tanamo whilst “Late Night Raver’ is yet another cut of “Queen Majesty” the Curtis Mayfield song that launched a thousand versions and “Breezing” is a take on the old George Benson soft-jazz staple usurped in Jamaica by Mikey Chung. For lovers of version, the flip side of dub addiction, this album is a real fun find.
GREAT JAH JAH
The duo Jezzreel, Clive Davis and Christopher Harvey last seen in Sugar Minott’s backline, took their name from Jezreel, the Biblical city founded by the tribe of Issachar, where God is said to have cursed Ahab for his greed. Bodes well for an album chock full of hardcore righteousness and indeed there is a quota of rasta spirituality but mixed with a little lovers too. The six extended cuts of Channel One style steppers come in showcase style with segued dub or DJ versions driven by Jah Scotty’s New Breed Band – another aglomeration of Wackies’ in-house session artillery - with production from Bullwackie himself plus Jah Hamma aka Prince Douglas its one of the label’s heavier mixes with bass dominant as the tracks break down. The vocals rely more on Clive Davis’ lead as the harmonies are thin and a long way short of the standards set by key contemporaries such as Earth, Stone and Fire and the Viceroys , the lyrics textbook and predictable, so when DJ Calabash arrives for an unannouced chant on “Roman Soldiers” the interest needle peaks.
ROOTS TONIC MEETS BILL LASWELL
ROOTS TONIC MEETS BILL LASWELL
How refreshing that Uncle Bill has a proper job for a change instead of the usual extended jam into infinity ground-out format or the irresistible but irretrievably dismal remix projects he get sucked into. Roots Tonic is the backing band for Hasidic reggae superstar Matisyahu; this kind of sub-subculture could probably only exist in New York City. Laswell produced Matisyahu’s Billboard top five album “Youth” and seduced the band back to his Orange Studios for this dub workout which finds him on top form on the desk as the discipline induced by a tight working band gives him plenty of opportunity to refresh his blunted mixing skills. Although this album is referred to by the producer as a “futurist space/dub transmission” there’s a sense, to borrow and bend Bambaataa’s title, that’s its more a mission in search of the perfect rhythm upon which Laswell is engaged. It’s a relief to discover that the tunes here are laced with a lyricism usually absent from his work, as on the awkwardly titled “Employees Must Now Wash You Hands” where Josh Werner’s plangent Rhodes (?) weaves between Jonah David’s furious percussion layers or the Perryesque opener “Road to Axum” that has Aaron Dugan’s bathetic guitar line convincing us there’s a lost and lonely vocal missing in space. Laswell’s method adopted for this album strips twenty five years from his musical age and put me in mind of some of those witty but controlled dubs provided by Errol Thompson for Joe Gibbs.
DUB FROM THE GHETTO
RAS RECORDS CD
These albums from the RAS label, now a Trojan subsidiary, seem to slip by in a generic stream, so time to stop and recognise this retrospective set from Scientist in his young gun prime as about the best around. Modelled around the old album “Scientist meets the Roots Radics: Dubbing With Horns” this picks some of the engineer freshest moments whilst emerging from the tutelage of Tubby and Jammy; and if there is one cut to represent that view then without doubt its “Baltimore” a masterly filleting of Sly & Robbie’s production on the Tamlins of the Randy Newman tune immortalised by Nina Simone. Mostly dropping the sublime horn section and allowing the deep end piano roll and impossibly sweet flute take the melody to stretch the rhythm is a pure masterstroke. There are dubs to Linval Thompson’s chasmic “Pop No Style”, Johnny Clarke’s “Blood Dunza” and Barry Brown’s “Separation” all heavy dancefloor fillers from the early eighties plus a host of rhythm spotting opportunities, not least Tristan Palmer’s awesome “Entertainment” utilising the immortal “Heavenless” and elsewhere the always impressive “Shank I Sheck” and “Real Rock” (aka “Armagideon time”) riddims. Just this side of ear bleeding even with the controls in your hands.
KING CULTURE PRESENTS CUSS CUSS
BASIC REPLAY 12” VINYL
One of the most versioned rhythm in reggae, Lloyd Robinson first cut this for Harry J back in 1969 and then for Studio One in the early seventies. Perhaps the best loved version in the UK was the opening track from Dub Syndicate’s “Strike The Balance” album with vocals from the late Bim Sherman. But the weight of versions came in the eighties, nineties and through until today as “Cuss Cuss” continues to be a favourite of ragga artists. The six cuts here are collected from singles and dub flips produced by King Culture in Toronto and Kingston, Jamaica, during 1980-81. The high tenor of dancehall favourite Rod Taylor’s “Little Girl” was voiced in JA, the version is a remarkably brutal piece of dub architecture despite the little casi traceries around its portal. Stamma Rank was on the wire for the JA sound Taurus and the “Taurus Special” tough DJ bump was his recording debut. Mixing for all these tunes was at Tubby’s, where apprentices Professor and Puggy unleashed the Delta 4 machine tape-delay to mx effect.
TAKE ME TO JAMAICA – THE SORY OF JAMAICAN MENTO WITH STANLEY MOTTA, IVAN CHIN & KEN KHOURI FROM 1951 TO 1958
PRESSURE SOUNDS CD/2LP
Long before reggae, rocksteady or ska another music filled the dancehalls of Jamaica, mento, a form that was to provide the essential key to the later genres that became an inextricable part of the island’s popular image – the backbeat that provided the signature of reggae’s rhythm and the vehicle for transmitting news, opinion and social commentary to a population whose cultural history depended more on oral transmission than libraries. There has been a scattering of mento albums around in the past few years, most notably Stanley Beckford’s “Plays Mento” and last year’s “Mento Madness” selection from V2, but this new one from Pressure Sounds is the music’s most complete and serious retrospective thus far, sourcing material over its golden age from its most renowned producers. At one time seemingly impenetrable our sensibilities have changed so that mento can now be acknowledged as presenting lyrics of wit and scathing intelligence delivered with vocal agility and accompanied by musicians with a high degree of sophistication as they adapted the form from rural to urban settings. One the one hand tunes like “Monkey’s Opinion” (a take on “The Monkey Speaks His Mind” a piece of New Orleans practical philosophy from Dave Bartholomew) by Alerth Bedasse and Chin’s Calypso Sextet or “Ten Penny Nail” by Hubert Porter could be regarded as socio-anthropological treatises but I prefer them as just rocking good music.