ALPHA & OMEGA
CITY OF DUB
A&O RECORDS CD
Any self-respecting UK dub fan would immediately check this sound as emanating from the twin towers of Alpha & Omega, typically a pounding bass that just won’t stop thumping you in the chest whilst a melodica flutters around somewhere above your head. This time Christine and John come with a mainly showcase set with dub after the vocal, featuring a host of roots talent. Coz Safari’s Marching Warriors is a globalised update of Aswad’s anthemnic Warrior Charge with John’s melodica replacing the martial horns; regular collaborator Jonah Dan pops up twice, first off on the set’s toughest track, Nah Lef The Truth, a meditation on keep to the straight and narrow on housed in a monstrous full-on steppers lurch then with the more reflective This Is My Prayer. Amongst the many others here are old friend Nishka and one of the key voices of new roots consciousness in the UK, Gregory Fabulous.
A SMILE IS A CURVE THAT STRAIGHTENS MOST THINGS
BLANK TAPES CD
A rough analogue miscegenation rather than a smooth digital fusion sounds oh so much more appealing these days, and so it is for Bass Clef aka Ralph Cumbers another Bristolian ex-pat relocated to the East End via the Blank Tapes people. Whether the 4-track, cassette deck, drum machine, vintage synth and valve compressor that produced this music is down to choice or economics matters not as the end result stands out from a lot of its contemporaries who might be in the same area. The sparseness of the mix gives a spiky edge to the sound; Bass Clef uses both trombone and Theremin on stage. There’s a cheeky opening sample on the first track, Cannot Be Straightened, a sped up capture of Wong Chu the DJ from the Wailers version of Keep On Moving provides the song title and inspires the album title. Followed by a tune about the sound of the tune Subwoofer Loveletter the Eight Zero Eight a purple Def Jam throwback to 1984 convinces us we are in ironically educated hands.
EASY STARS ALLSTARS
EASY STAR RECORDS CD
After their hugely successful roots style re-versioning of Pink Ffloyd, Dub Side of the Moon, the Easy Star boys were left with the challenge of ‘what next’? Radiohead’s OK Computer must have seemed am immediately appealing choice, especially with the pre-packaged re-titling. Initially the sonic chasm between reggae and Radiohead seemed unbridgeable with the switches of time signatures and twisted chord changes, so this follow-up turned out to be hard work. However having Horace Andy open proceedings by wrapping his honeyed tones around Airbag and making it sound like a fifties ballad, the running order is maintained and so too are the quality of the inputs with contributions from Toots and the Maytals, Morgan Heritage, The Meditations, Israel Vibration, Sugar Minott and Frankie Paul. It’s Airbag that’s the standout track with a guitar meets cello riff and extended discomix with a dubwise reprise at the album’s close. Not being familiar with the blueprint was not too advantageous as some of the tunes seem to merge, or maybe that was due to the sheer challenge of the task that faced the arranger.
Hotflush is an internal splinter from Scuba coming with Scottish producer, Gravious, working a manipulated signal pulse running from start to end of the mix Hailing from north of the border, he's bringing a fresh sound to the dubstep marketplace mixing electronic sounds with the reggae influence of more contemporary dubstep producers. Wormsign defies accepted structural protocols and hits you in the chest with bass from the very first beat. Switching up rhythms and emphasis, adding echoed snares and searing hats, Gravious shows why he's attracted so much attention on this one. The drum roll and turn that kicks off the beats of Monolith suckers an expectation of a little roots reggae number before quickly dropping into the now established dubstep convention of a repetitive cycle of repeated riffs, but that’s relieved by a snappy fall into amen-style breaks only to return to the previously established groove. It’s this unrestrained playing with structure that rescuing dubstep from an early demise.
ENTERING THE DRAGON
TROJAN FAN CLUB CD
It’s not into this album before it becomes clear that this is a true sonic genius at work. These days Keith Hudson’s reputation is unfairly tainted with the odd critic not rating him as a vocalist but even weighing his accomplishments as producer alone would legitimately place him high in the super league of reggae’s elite. Trojan follow up 2004’s essential The Hudson Affair with one strictly for hardcore devotees, the original 1972 ‘Entering The Dragon’ LP with an added seventeen rare sides lifted from obscure collectors 45’s. The set opens with the title track, actually ‘Blackbelt Jones’, with an uncredited DJ – sounding a little like Big Youth – delivering a blaxploitationesque toast taking it to a lower lyrical level that Isaac Hayes’ ‘Shaft’!; this is followed by Soul Syndicate’s instrudub version to ‘Riot’ the rhythm that fed UK hiphop for a few months back in 1988 and one of Hudson’s most wigged-out solo efforts, the tortured off-key ‘Too Possessive And You Know It Baby (aka Fly Away)’ with spliffed-up spoken intro and dubbed vocal, after that comes a harmonica version of ‘Melody Maker’. This level of variety and invention continues for thirty tracks.
GHETTO MAN SKANK
Toyan, graduate of Killamanjaro Sound, whose gravely voice belied relative
Youth, formed one of the select band of pre-rap bad boy deejays in early
Eighties Jamaican dancehall. He owed his first success to producer Henry
‘Junjo’ Lawes who introduced him to a wider market in the UK with the
Greensleeves album How The West Was Won, after which he added to his
name the then ultimate reggae accolade of ‘Ranking’! His biggest album
however came via his association with fellow DJ and Jah ‘Nkrumah’ Thomas who produced Ghetto Man Skank, full of ‘bimmmms!’, ‘bong-diddleys!’ and ‘ribbitttts!’ and slow bouncing riddims from the Radics this is one of the classic DJ walk albums – in other words, stand still walking arms swinging is the only cool dance for this music. The language and rhythms are pure nostalgia for fans of the era with Nice It Up, delivered on Linval Thompson’s Six Babylon, the bragging Pallaving Spree where Toyan lays waste to Brixton in company of Little John and Two Bad DJ Afi Talk in combination with Jah Thomas on the riddim of his Entertainment hit. Watch out for sporadic appearances in finer vinyl emporiums of his excellent final album Hot Bubble Gum cut for George Phang in 1984, after which his career faded before his murder in 1991.
MEET KING TUBBY & SCIENTIST IN A DUB EXPLOSION
More archival material from the tape vaults of Jah Thomas’ Midnight Rock label, this time thirteen early eighties vintage dubs drawn from the artillery of the awesome Roots Radics mixed in the main by Scientist at King Tubby’s studio, with a few tracks from the hands of the dubmaster himself. As Jah Thomas explains in the notes, usually three passes would be worked on a mixdown and as this was a time when fingers on the faders were the main mix tool then usually there were multiple versions of the tune on tape; consequently few of these tracks have appeared before in this shape. Just go straight to king Tubby’s Cloud Dub for a masterclass on the art of dub where every move is clear, no tricks or efx, just the desk manipulating the pure drum and bass bed around Singie Singie’s vocal lines. The BPMs of these tunes make it much more of a smoker’s affair than a jump up dance thing, but there when there are plenty of below par Radics albums on the market to seduce the uninitiated its good to have one that lives up to its name.
SNES DUB / HORNS CRU / TRU POWWA
DUB POLICE 12”
SNES uses the same ascending/descending arpeggio device as Skream’s Midnight Request Line raised on high over a skipping steppers pegged by a sinking bassline, but according to the label it’s all from a bedroom in suburban Leeds, the virus is indeed mutating. The Dub Police label was set up in London last year to provide a platform for dubstep inflected experimentation and its good to hear the rhythms linking back to check techno tendencies and introduce a warmer side, especially on the Horns Cru cut which is exactly what it implies. Tru Powwa bangs down on the heavy button with an unstoppable maxed out bass reverb loop ploughing on regardless as bits and bobs of gameboy diversions pop in and out.
BECOMING A CLICHÉ / CLICHÉ DUB
REAL WORLD 2CD
For old-time On U Sound heads and those more recently seduced by Sherwood’s 80’s vintage outputs of the dubwise variety, best pass by the vocal set here and head straight to the versions. Not that the second solo album from the one time dub wunderkind is not a magnificent thing but those old devotees of the AMS live mix sets looking for just one more fix will have no need to further forlorn dawn searches as the first half of Cliché Dub is as crazily inventive as anything in the back catalogue that EMI has been vaguely threatening to reissue over the past year or so. Back to the album proper and Sherwood is joined by, or as the album painful artwork may have us believe, supported by, old sufferer Mark Stewart and Jah Sufferer Denis Bovell, Jah Kingdom’s Bim Sherman and reunited friend Scratch, albeit in virtual form. The shiny new rhythms are inspired by Sherwood’s immersion in dancehall over the last few years and directly from recent collaborations with Jazzwad and Sly & Robbie, so it’s a definite and welcome strike away from the primary roots sounds of old. But one can’t help conjecture what Sherwood would be capable of given his proven invention, if he were to ‘lose’ all these old and new pals on his next sonic expedition.
LIFE GOES IN CIRCLES – SOUNDS FROM THE TALENT CORPORATION 1974 TO 1979
Tommy Cowan is forever immortalised in reggae history as producer of Israel Vibration’s 1979 debut ‘The Same Song’, he later went on to initiate Reggae Sunsplash. As usual that’s only half the story, back in 1974 he formed the Talent Corporation to nurture local talent in Jamaica with the intention of obtaining as much exposure for its artists that was normally afforded international artists. Certainly the range and quality of the tunes gathered here argue that Cowan certainly had impeccable taste, and although it’s sad to say most of the material only became local hits their re-presentation here is a revelation. Devon Iron’s ‘Jerusalem’ is as strong as anything he cut for the Upsetter (there’s an alternate 7” available too), the Abyssinians ‘Love Comes and Goes’ is just stone beautiful and with its version attached the blissful horn section can stand alone sans efx. Dennis Brown has the title track with the stereo mix only separating the voice and backing track on headphones, ostensibly a mess but here an emphasis on what a really great vocalist he was. The album closes out with Roman Stewart reggae-lite ‘Hit Song’ but with the bonus of Dillinger’s earnestly amusing ‘Natty Sing A Hit Song” moving into an inventive dub with vamped horns, organ and vocal returns. The artwork is a little cheeky though – a straight lift of Freddie Hubbard’s ‘Hub Cap’ on Blue Note.
JAMAICA TO TORONTO – SOUL, FUNK & REGGAE 1967 – 1974
LIGHT IN THE ATTIC RECORDS CD
The Kingston/Toronto connection has been referenced previously in this column, especially from the work of keyboard king Jackie Mittoo who relocated to North America for a spell. This new label however is solely dedicated to the retrieval of music produced from those connects. Their first issue concentrated on the reggae and funk output of Wayne McGhie whereas this new one focuses on a disparate series of artists operating in largely in the post r’n’b soul era, so although we have Sam Cooke and Otis Redding wannabes the whole thing turns out to be fresh, raw and fun. Amongst the reggae highlights are Noel Ellis, Alton’s boy, a little lightweight compared to his pa but the discomix of Memories is a desolate rumination on separation on a Wackies’ style rhythm bed with a deep bass drop; also the Johnny Osbourne produced instrumental African Wake from 1974 later to be voiced in New York as Jah Jah Children. On the soul side there’s the dead centre Northern Soul attack of Eddie Spencer's 'If This Is Love (I'd Rather Be Lonely)' and the hilarious Jo-Jo And The Fugitives' unknown break-beat monster, 'Chips-Chicken-Banana Split'.