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Monday, January 01, 2007

Dub Review - January 2007

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 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.

Whether this is some blatant cash-in following the sad, early death of Joseph Hill, Culture’s founder, lead singer and shining light, who knows? It’s certainly an excellent overview of the career of this most popular of reggae vocal groups. Avoiding inevitable litigious action by swerving around the Studio One output, Joe Gibbs’ sides from the late seventies crank up the selection with Two Sevens Clash, Baldhead Bridge and See Them a Come followed by the pick of the Sonia Pottinger sides after the group had moved to the producer’s High Note label. This material was licensed to Virgin in the UK bringing the group under the patronage of John Peel, consequently becoming a favourite of the post punk generation. Joe Hill eventually broke up the group in the early eighties but continued to tour under the banner of Culture, his name being synonymous with the brand. Joseph Hill remained a devoted Rastafarian throughout his career, a dedication reflected in his regular joyous declarations of faith throughout his recorded output; his Love Shines Brighter, originally appearing out of NYC on the April bootleg ‘Africa Stands Alone’, remains one of the most uplifting songs of the genre.

I Kong aka Errol Kong, cousin of reggae producer Leslie Kong, aka Ricky Storm the singer of the roots classic ‘The Way It Is’, former member of The Jamaicans of Baba Boom fame, may be best know as the Ricky of Bunny & Ricky who cut the slower stoner classic ‘Bushweed Corntrash’ for Scratch, is at last recognised by the long overdue reissue of an roots reggae album of the highest order. Originally issued in 1979 via Top Ranking, mixed by Geoffrey Chung at Harry J’s and the Black Ark, the album sank soon after release but is distinguished by its fine arrangements and classy playing out of step with the more militant reggae sound in vogue at the time. The presence of a number of the Third World band may give a clue to the smoother sound and the sophistication of some of the input, the muted horn on ‘Sinner Man’ is the first I’ve heard on a reggae track! and the massed backing vocals, including Judy Mowatt and Beres Hammond, at times give a distinctively gospel feel. The addition of seven dubs makes this a remarkable set as the unusual instrumentation, there’ clarinets in there somewhere, make for a much richer and unusual feel compared to much of the other dubbing happening in the late seventies.

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.

Teleseen is Brooklyn based Gabriel Cyr, a DJ and multi-instrumentalist who often performs locally in tandem with video artist Art Jones, smart move as these extended dub soundscapes on CD just beg for that mixed media treatment. Brave enough to open the set with the twelve minute Malachi, a track of super heavy bass ballast topped with sporadic wood and metal analogue clunks and thuds like a Zen slap to the back of the head, demands a dedicated check of the remaining tunes. The well ingrained samples are sourced from shortwave radio transmissions, mixer feedback, static and defective studio equipment, field recordings from Crown Heights to Kampala and all sucked into a library of conflicting rhythms, from the stuttering skank of Native Yard #133345 to the giddy reggae chops of Burdens and the shimmeringly smooth Xion Gate. An initial impression of a curdled abstract reggae-lite house soon gives way to a submission to bass weight.

There’s a new clutch of releases from Ryan Moore’s increasingly prolific M Records, straight outta Nijmegen, the Netherlands, none of which betrays any deterioration in the standards set since the Canadian dub exile began working with vocalists and DJs after many years as a one man band. This showcase set is a limited edition vinyl only with six tracks extended dubwise, three from Ranking Joe and one each from Michael Rose – the ex-Black Uhuru man has a solo set ‘Warrior’ – Admiral Tibet and Mikey General. Rose’s Shilling evokes one of those early eighties Groucho Smykle mixes, dense and tough with restrained touches of syndrum but this time matched by the nostalgia of the lyric “ …bring me back the shilling with the lion pon it ……”! So it’s no surprise that Steven Stanley’s studio in Kingston is used for the recording. Roots reality crooner, the tragically under-rated Admiral Tibet comes with Have the Strength, a peculiar mixed message of love and vengeance. Ranking Joe’s tracks are all a pure delight for lovers of the old school toast complete with rolled ‘r’s’ on the rebel chant Shaka Zulu.

Deepest of the deep, from 1977 this is the Jesus Dread’s third album, after debuting with ‘Conquering Lion’ and follow up ‘Walls of Jerusalem’. Yabby You’s name became synonymous with his signature sound, especially after Big Youth’s chant on the ‘Conquering Lion’ 45 and the twin DJ attack of Trinity and Dillinger on the tune that actually celebrated the producer as the ‘General sound’ on the single ‘Yabby You Sound’. Lightening the densely spiritual atmosphere created by ‘Judgement Time’ and ‘Pick the Beam’ are two sweet lovers tunes ‘Lonely Me’, which could have been a Thurston Harris tune, and a faithful re-cut of John Holt’s doo-woppish ‘Stranger in Love’. In addition to this perfectly rounded original set are six bonus cuts, including two Jammy’s dubplate mixes of ‘Pick the Beam’, a vocal and a version both laden with max echo and delay; plus two twelves both out first on King Sounds UK Grove imprint, ‘Jah Vengeance’ is a steppers take on the earlier version with DJ Trinity joining Yabby You on vocals and, in a magic moment, the apocalyptic ‘Babylon A Fall’ from the Prophets is extended into an instrumental where Tommy McCook’s flute teases the pumping bone of Vin Gordon whilst Ernie Ranglin’s jazzed guitar licks run free over the insistent rhythm.