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Friday, August 01, 2003

Dub Review - August 2003




A selection from recordings that span over twenty three years, and probably the most loved of all the On U Sound catalogue, is augmented by two newly recorded tracks as a preview for a new album scheduled for next year marking Head Charge's return to collaboration with Adrian Sherwood. At first a studio concept picking up from the leads offered by Laswell's vision of electric Africa and Eno's 'My Life in the Bush of Ghosts', AHC soon developed their own unique brand of sonic shapes with a synthesis of dub, nyabinghi drum and chant, the addition of Lomax's cantometrics and other more untraceable sound sources all eventually becoming animated in a live context. Albert Einstein's only appearance in popular music comes is the compelling 'Language and Mentality', whilst On U film buffs will recognize 'Far Away Chant' as the accompaniment to the torture scent in David Lynch's 'Wild at Heart' - even though Prince Far I's vocals are slowed to half speed. Newly remastered for this release, and remarkably providing the only currently available AHC material, these fifteen tracks also prove the most timeless of On U Sound productions. Since the late 90s Bonjo Iyabinghi Noah has been preoccupied in relocating himself and his family from North London to Ghana where is an adopted master drummer.




As a sweet but rebel roots vocalist Barry Brown was championed by kingpin producer Bunny Lee scoring his first JA hit in 1979 with 'Step It Up Youthman' from which this album derives its title; 'Step Inna Dub' a version to that tune is included here along with 'Dub Confusion' a dub to the singer's best-loved song 'Politician', itself a re-versioning of Horace Andy's ever-popular 'Money Money'. The problem with this release, as with many of the other offerings from this label, is that, although competent, many of the takes were probably left on the quarter inch masters for good reason as they seldom offer anything exceptional or new in the case of 'alternate cuts' or so called 'lost dubs'. It may be that in this case the desk was in the process of being warmed up by a student ready for the appearance of the master, King Tubby. Best here is 'Control the Dub' a fierce rimshot driven cut to Johnny Clarke's 'Jah Jah We Are Waiting' - but still inferior to the storming original.




For those who have not had the pleasure of becoming acquainted with reggae's most righteous and charismatic voice, the Island recordings are the best place to start. Many veteran reggae fans believe the triumphantly militant clarion horns that flow through the 'Marcus Garvey' album capture all that was exciting about seventies roots music. The thirteen selections here also take in tracks from the other Jack Ruby productions 'Dry & Heavy', 'Man in the Hills' and the Spear's final self-produced bone fide masterwork 'Social Living', originally known as 'Marcus' Children' on its Jamaican release, and now returned to Island after its licensing for the excellent Blood & Fire outing from a few years back. All of these are magnificent of course and come exceptionally book ended by a 12" cut of the title track and a stunning acapella version of 'Jah No Dead' lifted from the soundtrack of the generally unsung but best-ever reggae film 'Rockers' in which, over the sounds of the sea washing in at Key Largo, Jah Spear reasons with the unfortunate Leroy 'Horsemouth' Wallace who has just lost his livelihood - a brand new motorbike purchased to make him the 'hardest record distributor in the island'!




I am of the opinion that deep house and dub have very few, if any, cultural or musical connections. Although many house acts include dub in their name or quote dub freely in their list of influences rarely has any causal links to the work Tony Humphries, Larry Levan or Francis Kervorkian, let alone King Tubby, Errol Thompson or Syd Bucknor, but rather related to some notional hip quotient achieved by its semiotic inclusion. A great title and simultaneously as anodyne and offensive as the most popular of the industrial product called pop.




Some days you can wake up, go about your business and ostensibly everything is normal. Then something happens that gives you a sense of vague unease, a feeling that you could have crossed over to a slightly off-kilter but parallel dimension. This album is a dub reggae remake to mark the 30th anniversary of Pink Floyd's 'Dark Side of the Moon'. It can be played in synchronicity with film of 'The Wizard of Oz' if started at the MGM lion's third roar. Not having ever heard the original album in its entirety I felt somewhat privileged in approaching this work carrying none of the usual baggage that goes with the appreciation and potential desecration of such cultural icons. At the risk of offence, this could only have happened in America. Amazingly, some of the tunes work, especially the Corey Harris and Ranking Joe cover of 'Time', and they are amongst an all star cast including Frankie Paul, Dr.Israel, the Meditations and Sluggy Ranks who must all be either now outted closet Floyd fans, doting new converts or a few dollars richer for the session.




One of the many claimants to the throne of space dub vacated by the wandering Orb some time ago, OTT is reputedly a West Country reclusive restricting his activities to the studios that dot the area. Expansive to the point of sprawling the nine tunes on this album all extend over seven minutes, titles such as 'Spannered in Pilton' and 'Escape Tulse Hell' give hints of undelivered humour. In music where the genre 'modern dub' may be applied there is a point when the sheen applied through over-production can cover the spaces that should be there, its busy, dense and demanding, there's just too much happening here and it can only be rescued by a real dub strip down. Nevertheless there will be folks dancing like mad to these sounds on grass and under the large canvas this summer long.




Joseph Jackson aka Ranking Joe grew up in a sound system culture as his father ran a set playing at domino tournaments and other local functions. Joe when on to bigger things initially with the wonderfully monikered Smith the Weapon, then he was promoted to El Paso before eventually working with U Roy's King Sturgav and touring the UK in the early 80's with Ray Symbolic Hi Fi. His many influences come to the fore on the basis for this set cut as the 'Round The World' album with Dennis Brown as producer. Dennis Alcapone whoops, Big Youth style chants and exclamations and the appearance of his soon to be trademark multiple 'bong'diddleys' are all melded together in the opener and title cut. At the edge of the label's 70's roots focus this album steps into the heavier earlier eighties and early dancehall styles, now becoming more and more popular and accessible to the new enthusiast. Although most of the Dennis Brown ('Cup of Tea' and 'Slave Driver') and Black Uhuru ('Wood For My Fire' and 'Rent Man') source tunes are relatively well known and loved it is absolutely correct for them to be included here, making for a flow that was absent from the original set - for no matter how great the DJ its always great to hear the vocal and dub alongside the DJ version.




When Ian McCann comes out to play in selector mode then it's usually a treat. No exception here as he fills out two discs in the budget-priced Sessions series with dubs spread between the early seventies to the present day. No rarities, just a cultured 35 track selection mainly culled from high-end re-issue labels, an informative précis of the crucial fit of dub in the development of music over the past twenty five years and a laconically witty notation for each track. No tune listings required either, but any reader who wonders what all this dub business is all about should safely start here.




From the estimable Dave Hendley, a longtime documenter of reggae in word and image, comes this collection of heavy-duty tunes that spans the short time gap between the golden age of roots and the onset of the dancehall era. All in the form of the 12" disco or song paired with dub, highlights include two versions of the Morwells' 'Kingston 12 Tuffy' and the classic 'Rocking of the 5000' from Badoo and Toyan, and plenty more from the Viceroys, Barrington Levy, Barry Brown and Tristan Palma over the two CDs. Although this period seems to be growing more fashionable in the reissue market I have always found the style less varied than 70s roots, more insular in its concerns and occasionally dense to the point of virtual impenetrability. However the best stands up well and a few of them are here amongst a pack dominated by the looming production presence of Linval Thompson, the machine-like Radics, and Scientist and Jammy on the mix.




The grand claim lodged by the sub-title, 'a selection of excellent music compiled by Boozoo Bajou', turns out to be well founded - with one unmentionable exception it would be churlish to identify upfront or anywhere in the next few lines. Via their releases on Stereo Deluxe, regular appearances on compilations and gigging around Europe Boozoo Bajou are setting up a fine reputation as a dub dance outfit. This set opens up with the beautiful 'Star' an instrudub from Primal Scream with a lyrical Pablo in tow, criminally underrated and unjustly ignored on its release hopefully the tune will now be reassessed. A painful five years in the compiling but there's no strain in the mix and its dub reggae that's at the heart of this mix with BB paying tribute to their influences that logically connect John Lee Hooker to Rhythm & Sound and Greg Isaacs to Terry Callier. In an over-abundance of increasingly quirkily segues within a market glutted by mix albums this one leads the way.




Kelvin Richard aka the one-man Dub Funk Association could spend more time on the development and promotion of his own increasingly interesting work, but to his credit he also maintains his usual elliptical orbit by pulling a diverse set of contributors to volume three of this occasional series. Featuring his friends and neighbours in dub world - all united in their mission to protect the natural world from the plague of software inspired techno. It works as another object lesson in nu-dub with key tracks from Jah Warrior with Prince Alla ('Our Father Dub', pervaded by a swooningly lazy horns riff, impassioned echoed vocal intro, occasional wah-wah and insistently infectious drum thump) and DFA himself ('Babylon Kingdom' - a sinuous keyboard, abstract treated vocals and irregular jittery percussion). The pace is maintained by UK nu-roots stalwarts Alpha and Omega and Vibronics and promising input from the from USA newcomers (to me) Ras Shaggai, Burning Babylon and Version City Rockers with King Django.