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Friday, September 01, 2000

Dub Review - September 2000

Dillinger Cocaine in my Brain


A peculiar release given that eleven of the twenty tracks are all early prime Dillinger produced by Scratch pre-Black Ark, utilising top Upsetter rhythms of the era such as "Tighten Up", "You Can Run", "A Place in the Sun", "French Connection" etc. But the other nine tracks are a mixed bag from a series of different producers despite what the sleeve credits may claim, these run from the stone classic Observer-produced "Flat Foot Hustling" - a version of Dennis Brown's "Here I Come" - to the plainly ludicrous "Crab in my Pants". Source material for future recycling, probably issued by the label as a result of their recent "refreshed deal" with Mr Perry.

Freedom Masses Life A Ruff


The debut set from Prof P. and Jahmi-x, who make up the core of Manchester's Freedom Masses, is a refreshing change from the usual easy shot UK new roots offerings we have become all too used to over the past decade. Here is an album which stands up well in comparison with the work of some of the best UK outfits such as Misty in Roots and Steel Pulse. The argument is that Freedom Masses come up with a showcase, where the dub follows the tune, and go beyond the usual vacuous quasi-biblical proselytising and instead offer up a strong set of songs, across a range of subject areas, all delivered in a variation of committed roots fashions. "I am who I am" was previewed on 7" vinyl a few months ago and is a modern roots classic, "Uprising (Tribute to Joy Gardener)" is comes in a grainy, documentary style. A totally off centre take on Jah Bob's "Redemption Song" is thankfully placed at the album's conclusion - easier to programme out.

The Hurricanes/The Upsetters You Can Run/You Can Dub


Another set of five Upsetter revives are unleashed on the punch drunk fans of the phantom Scratch, but these can be bought with confidence in quality if not provenance. Killer in the batch is The Hurricanes tune with dub on the flip, a raging funk shuffle guaranteed to mash up any contemporary dancefloor (also to be found on the almighty "Blackboard Jungle" as "Dub from Africa"). "Philistines on the Land" is Junior Murvin back with a version to "Police and Thieves", turned over guitarist Earl "Chinna" Smith is found co-opted into the Upsetters to weave a restrained wah-wah solo throughout the version. Other titles include an early Junior Delagado outing as Juks delivering an impassioned "23rd Psalm", Pablo teamed with Lloyd Young on "Our Man Flint" and "Time" - another monstrously chugging rhythm where the metaphysical lyric ("time . will set me free") comes courtesy of the Gladiators.

Llwybr Llaethog Hip-Dub Reggae-Hop


Raw musics such as dub and hip hop have to pass through an extensive period of cultural osmosis before penetration in the public's consciousness, as Llwbyr Llaethog John Griffiths and Kevs Ford went for it from day one. Interpretation, beyond the use of the Welsh tongue, is helped if you have ever passed through their home town Blaenau Ffestiniog ("a rehearsal for Armageddon") to understand where they were coming from. Where they went to was a Peckham squat. The closest musical analogy was On U and the Tack>>Head axis, so any crossover potential was limited. About half the material on this retrospective now best takes the form of quaint agitprop social documentaries rather than dance or head music. Surprisingly that leaves a good deal which still works. "Everything on this Record has been Nicked" a sampled mix of Welsh pop from the twenty odd years before (1970 - 1990) could not now be attempted without litigation, which is fortunate because its not something we need anymore.

Jackie Mittoo Macka Fat


The keyboard sound of the late Jackie Mittoo probably has a greater presence on the dancefloor today than at any time since the seventies. His best work was for Studio One, not only as an artist but also as a talent scout, writer, arranger, producer - the whole musical food chain. Notwithstanding the recent excellent retrospective from Soul Jazz, the one to get must be "Macka Fat" here available on CD for the first time with some of the tracks extended, but no extras. Jackie Mittoo was the prime instigator of many of the rhythms which provided reggae's lifeblood throughout the seventies, many of which have been revived countless times since. Amongst the album's twelve tracks are "Good Feeling" (The Heptones' "I Got the Handle"), "Something Else" (Carlton and the Shoes' "Love Me Always"), "Happy People" (Burning Spear's "This Population") and "Whoa Whoa" (The Heptones' - along with thousands of others - "My Guiding Star) and best of all "Ghetto Organ" (Dawn Penn's "No No No"). A true rhythmfest from beginning to end. No dubs here of course, but its immaculate and unmissable.

Prophets Beware


The original vinyl album appeared in the UK in the late seventies on King Sounds' Grove Music label. The cover art had Superdread in a loin cloth atop a collapsing Statue of Liberty, about to smite the Babylonian harlot with a tablet of stone upon which the commandments were etched in words of fire - those were the days! Back in present and more tedious times the set is reissued on CD and this time Yabby You aka Vivian Jackson aka the Jesus Dread features on the cover, but now the only activity appears to be some minor adjustments to the mixing desk. Nine dubs here correspond largely to the vocals of "Conquering Lion" album with the exception of a monstrously insistent version to Dicky Burton's piece of religious paranoia "God is Watching You" that is mixed here by Bro' Tubbs in a bongo dub style. The rest has Jammy in control, monumentally. A word of warning, this sounds like it is dubbed from disc without the usual cleaning process being invoked, but what can you expect when you are getting Isaiah Chapter 13 set to music?

Roots Radics Hot We Hot Dub


Various Style Scott Presents Ras Showcase


Just as the Aggrovators/Revolutionaries ruled the seventies so the Roots Radics dominated the following period. The majority of Scientist's mixes featured the band, who initially had been brought together as touring back-up for Greg Isaacs and Prince Far I, for whom they metamorphosed into the Arabs. Brass was virtually eliminated, and the sound became sparser, by turns either jaunty or doom-laden, a stepping stone to the abstractions brought by digitalism. The ROIR set provides an instructive precursor to the work of drummer Style Scott in Dub Syndicate and perhaps this is its main attraction, for most of the rhythms are only distinguished by the quality of the playing. The Lion & Roots set, Style Scott's own label, has the clear edge of these two releases. The vocal tracks are retrieved from the vaults of Ras Records and include material from Israel Vibration, Charlie Chaplin, Brigadier Jerry, Yellowman, Barrington Levy and Peter Broggs, with the dubs mixed once more by Scientist, together with Professor and Jim Fox. The eighties mood is well captured with the exception of zero slackness, for Yellowman's track "Wild Wild West" avoids his speciality and turns out to be a squeaky-clean dancehall monster.

Sub Oslo Dubs in the Key of Life


From Denton, Texas, and playing for the last four years, these guys may not know it but this is "big sky dub". Enough to make the reggae purists choke on their chalice, but those coming in from the coast from the direction of God Speed You Black Emperor and Stars of the Lid will make a smoother transition into this richly textured landscape. Sub Oslo are a nine piece outfit who originally set out on a mission to dub it live - complete with pulsing visuals - so this venture into the studio must have signalled a level of satisfaction at the progress so far. Good judgement, for this is an absorbing set, especially when there is a dog barking in the mix with the remarkable effect of re-focussing attention just at the right time. I'd like to start thinking of this as Edward Hopper meets Jasper Johns in dub.....

Thievery Corporation The Mirror Conspiracy


And so we say goodbye to our friends Garza and Hilton, for those expecting further dubwize excursions from this duo may be disappointed as here they venture more into the lounge than the yard. Unfair really, as Thievery Corporation have embodied eclecticism from their beginnings and the bass booms as sweetly as on any of their previous efforts. But "The Mirror Conspiracy" is on the other side of the Guidance-style dub axis and as such programmable in only the most broadminded of dub sets - of which there is an thankfully an increasing number.

Per Tjernberg Universal Riddim


Around the ethnobeat san frontieres scene for over twenty years, here Swedish master percussionist Per Tjernberg is reunited for this dub venture with fellow ex-members of Sweden's first reggae band Peps Blodsband. Also appearing are Roots Radics' drummer Style Scott and, posthumously, the voice of ex-Wailer Peter Tosh. Although a whole stack of pedigrees makes this the equivalent of a musical Crufts it turns out that the whole is considerably less than the undoubtedly talented parts. Some of the cuts are just too clever or cluttered, whereas others, such as the title track prove the old adage that less can often turn out to be more.

Vital Dub Well Charged


This classic dub set from 1976 is amongst the first batch of reissues in Virgin's Front Line series. The rhythms, with one exception, match the Mighty Diamonds' masterpiece "The Right Time", and it is this connection alone which has established the reputation of "Vital Dub". The musicians are actually the Revolutionaries, Sly & Robbie et al, and the tunes were recorded and mixed down at Channel One by the Hookim Brothers. The mix is a largely a straightforward run through on the rhythms - which are peerless. But why the opportunity was not taken to run the songs and versions together is inexplicable, or even better to introduce some segues of the fine DJ versions to which the label must still have access. At least the original cover art is reproduced - an unconscious (sic) advertisement for over-indulging in top quality weed.