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Friday, April 01, 2005

Dub Review - April 2005




Steve Barrow digs deeper with this second release on Hot Pot featuring the relatively unknown, at least outside the Masonic lodges of reggae, arranger and keyboardist Ossie Hibbert who perhaps should be given more props for his behind the scenes work at Channel One and Joe Gibbs. This is Hibbert’s debut dub album; he later went on to produce Greg Isaacs’ ‘Mr. Isaacs’ set, together with its dub companion ‘Leggo Dub’. The title track is take on Dennis Brown’s ‘Whip them Jah’ using the Royals’ ‘Pick up the Pieces’ rhythm, other recognisable staple sources include ‘Black Diamond’ from Keith & Tex’s ‘Stop That Train’, ‘Collie in Dub’, ‘Death Sentence’ and ‘Kissinger’ all derived from the Abyssinians’ ‘Declaration of Rights’ and ‘Pain Land Dub’ from ‘Rainy Night in Georgia’. There’s a clutch of one away rhythms here but the majority of the set relies on versions of old rock steady classics. A cleanly built drum and bass centred affair the likes of which we don’t hear much these days.




France’s claim to the centre of European reggae excellence is furthered by this excellent Dennis Bovell produced effort from Macka Fat, a band taking their name from Jackie Mittoo’s vintage Studio One album. The only gripe is the obviously lightweight fragile vocals, improved when delivered in harmony, but this weakness is more than balanced out by the strength of the tunes and Bovell’s arrangements and mixes that place the sound squarely back in that rich early eighties vein somewhere between Sly and Robbie and the Ladbroke Grove sound of Aswad.




Whether Tommy McCook was actually the leader of the legendary Skatalites who knows, but what’s certain is that the tenor saxophonist McCook was among the most innovative and influential Jamaican musicians amongst a generation of giants, and was present at recording of many of the foundation tunes of both ska and reggae. Another graduate of the Kingston's Alpha Cottage School he began by touring with dance bands but would often abscond into the hills to participate in the freeform musical groundations of Count Ossie and the informal collective of the Rasta drummers and chanters who gathered to reason - musically. After the Skatalites burned out he formed the Supersonics, house band at Duke Reid's Treasure Isle studio, and proceeded to create a series of rhythms that endure to this day on classic hits from artists including Alton Ellis, Justin Hinds, the Techniques and the Paragons. In the seventies he became an essential component of the interchangeable brass section that drove the militant, jazzy or funky sounds colouring roots reggae, notably in many classic Bunny Lee, Observer, Upsetter and Yabby You productions dubbed by King Tubby. This excellent collection concentrates on his rock steady and reggae sides and together with the Heartbeat set issued a few years ago is about as definitive a view of this great talent as we could hope for.




Amongst those singers, DJs, vocal groups, musicians and producers of the golden age of roots reggae perhaps the best-loved by the UK audience was the man known as Prince Far I - not so much a DJ in the classic style, but more a chanter of words. Far I came a long way from Studio 1 and Joe Gibbs to working with Adrian Sherwood & Co. and on ‘Cry Tuff Dub Encounter Chapter III’ sharing the credits with the likes of David Toop, Steve Beresford and Ari Up from the Slits. The tunes on this CDR though were recorded live from the soundboard at the Logo club in Munich in 1983, the year of his death. This illicit piece of reggae history is worth seeking out from within the circle of dedicated Far I devotees as the only extant live recording of the DJ is with Suns of Arqa and not really representative of his performances. Backing band Creation Rebel open up with some required pleasantries before Far I enters with ‘Big Fight’ a.k.a. Dreadlocks versus Babylon a fight commentary delivered on Spear’s ‘Joe Frasier’ rhythm and recorded for Joe Gibbs, followed by two On U Sound staples ‘Prodigal Son’ and ‘Virgin’, the latter straight to the head of Richard Branson! The sound is clean and crisp with a heavy bass return throughout the Prince’s set which closes with his nearly singjay style on ‘What You Gonna Do on Judgement Day’ before Creation Rebel return with a more serious ‘African Space’.



'Tribesman Assault' made a brief appearance a couple of years ago and is back again, a genuine seventies reissue from around 1977 collecting Lloyd "Bullwackie" Barnes' early tunes recorded in Jamaica at a series of studios - Randys, Black Ark and Treasure Isle - that sparked the building of the House of Wackies back in the Bronx. Included are the rhythm tracks of the African Jamaicans' "Girl Of My Dreams" and Tyrone Evans' "Dread Like Me"; also versions of "Ballistic Affair" and The Righteous Flames' "I Wasn't Born To Be Lonely. Roots Underground are basically the early Wackies house band based back in Jamaica, Reckless Breed, featuring the guitar of none other than Jerry Hitler! The there are nine dubs, mostly versioning old but lesser-known favourites, distinguished by some occasionally outrageous funktastic drumming from Jah Scotty and Johnny Diaz. The set closes with the sole vocal, a reading of 'Open the Gates' from K.C.White and the Lovejoys.




This seems a strange release from Dave Katz and the Auralux people as it only seems like yesterday that Pressure Sounds put out their ‘Unmetered Taxi’ selection. Whereas that set started with the Rhythm Twins’ most sublime moment this one ends with it, far be it from me to do anything other than heartily recommend any album that features the Tamlin’s version of ‘Baltimore’, the Randy Newman song perhaps best known in its Nina Simone incarnation but taken to another level here. The 12" cut has an extended verse before we are hit with that sweetly aching harmony chorus that repeats into the dub together with a brass swell imported direct from heaven and in stark contrast to the song’s bleak message. The rest of the album collects other key outputs from the late 70's and early 80's, with General Echo is at his rampant best with ‘Drunken Master’, a salute to the early Jackie Chan kung-fu epic; Junior Delgado’s stark depiction of prison life on ‘Fort Augustus’ spurred on by an equally urgent rhythm and although ‘Revolution’ is one of Dennis Brown’s most favoured sides I always preferred the more triumphant ‘Part 2’.




To cut to the chase this is a dub primer sourced from the Blood and Fire catalogue, makes sense as together with Peter Dalton the label’s Steve Barrow is co-author of the Rough Guide to Reggae still the best place to start an understanding of this most torturous of musical genres. Dominating proceedings is King Tubby of course, again no surprise as this is as it should be, plus students Princes Jammy and Phillip, Scratch the Upsetter, the late Errol ‘ET’ Thompson and Crucial Bunny from Channel One. The only fresh track on the set is alone worth the price of entry, ‘Behold A Dub’ by Amanda All Stars and King Tubby is from a Larry ‘Black & White’ Marshall production and has Tubbs in one of his more vicious moods where he obviously kicked the dog on the way out that morning. ‘Noah Sugar Pan’ is probably the most luscious dub squeezed out by the Upsetter from the magnificent Congos – soon to return to Blood & Fire with a brand new album, ‘General Version’ is Jammy’s brutal strip of Dennis Brown’s ‘Want To Be No General’ and there’s top contributions from Yabby You, Glen Brown and Keith Hudson. Basically amounts to a great tool for the conversion of dub heathens.





Hopefully the release of this soundtrack CD heralds the soon come appearance of Franco Rosso’s film where the music played such a key role. It’s only been available over the past few years in fleeting quasi-bootleg versions and another viewing would help to re-evaluate its contribution to the sadly inadequate history of the sound system in UK. The revived album is somewhat of a disappointment; especially the Dennis Bovell produced fillers which range from funky little Julio Finn harp-driven jazzers to pleasant instrumental diversions best described as incidental. Of course the Yabby You and Aswad tunes are classics and have been revived over and over since the advent of digital times, even so ‘Warrior Charge’ always manages to stir the blood. But it’s I Roy’s ‘Whap’n Bap’n’, a crossover stab at the then fresh street styles of NYC, that emerges with an enhanced reputation – on its first appearance the album from which it came was dismissed by both hip hop and roots fans.




A belated follow-up to Pressure Sounds’ earliest release ‘An Even Harder Shade of Black’ featuring the roots rebel productions of Leonard ‘Santic’ Chin. The album opens with two takes on Pablo’s ‘Pablo in Dub’, unusual in that the tune originated as an instrumental in the typical doom-lite style created by the foundation melodica player only to versioned by Horace Andy who added the lyrics to the now classic ‘Problems’. And its version to version through the set as we find Freddie McKay’s vocal version and a Santic All Stars dub to Pablo’s kung fu movie reaction ‘Hap Ki Do’, Jah Lloyd’s great ‘Tom Shooter’ containing the unforgettable line "Not even the dog that piss against the wall of Babylon shall escape his (Jah’s) wrath" followed Tubby’s cannon shots from mashing the echo spring on ‘Shooter Dub’ and perhaps the jewel of the set for collectors – the appearance of Gregg Isaacs as William Shakepare (sic) on ‘Late at Night’ proving, in a disarmingly slightly off-key delivery, why he was so irresistible. But the best is reserved for last as the under-recorded Paul Whiteman a.k.a. Paul Blackman manager of Augustus Pablo croons the simple plaint ‘I Don’t Want To Lose You’ over an achingly delicate Pablo melodica line. This will be difficult set to overtake in the revive compilation of the year stakes.




Mr. Ian McCann comes out to play again and selects a set of juicy dancehall sounds from the mid-eighties through the following ten years sourced mainly from UK’s now defunct Fashion imprint and the good offices of Tubby’s Firehouse spar Fatman. McCann rarely appears for such duties these days, a shame as he always has a wry angle and here in the shape of a few good words for dancehall in a short essay examining the lately reviled phenomena via a class analysis that should be expanded a little more seriously. But back to the tunes, a mix of the ruff and righteous, pop and prurience in equal measure, a reminder of the great lost soul voice of Frankie Paul on his take of Toni Tony Tone’s genuine modern r’n’b classic ‘Little Walter’ and how easy it was for the sucker music media to dismiss a true original in Shabba Ranks as he delivers a lesson to the youth in ‘Must A Fi Learn’. Standing above all is dance floor crasher ‘Zig it Up’ from Flourgon & Ninjaman, clashing in 1989 on this totally mindless dance exhortation that mutates Aaron Neville’s once sedate ‘Hercules’ breakbeat.