On the Wire - Radio Lancashire - Home

Monday, May 01, 2006

Dub Review - May 2006

Dennis Bovell has been on the verge of reissuing all his early UK dub classics, only tantalisingly heard of late via the excellent Pressure Sounds retrospective “Decibel” from 2003. Signing to EMI has allowed Dennis to plan to dub us all over again but in the meantime here comes the obligatory solo album. Unsurprisingly his voice has matured, sounding confident and soulful as a solo performer. Past production highlights were the Slits, Fela, Marvin Gaye and latterly LKJ; on the debit side were Bananarama, Wet Wet Wet and Boomtown Rats. So Dennis has done his time as journeyman and is now entitled to stretch out strictly on his own terms. Also part of Dennis’ CV was playing one of the main roles in the creation of UK Lovers Rock, not surprising then that much of the material here is of the lighter or plainly good natured variety that tends not to hit the button with unreconstructed roots fans. Reworks of ‘Bettah’ and ‘Raindrops’ are followed by an adaptation of his “Man In Me” guitar line, the Bob Dylan tune, reapplied to the album’s strongest tune “Picking Up The Pieces” (not the same song as the Royal’s classic of almost the same title!). The tune reappears as a hidden dub “Dub Piece’ after the final track. Might be fun but best wait for the promised dubs.

Dub poetry, once flourishing with the work of Mutabaruka, Jean Binta Breeze, Oku Onuara, Michael Smith and in the UK Linton Kwesi Johnson, was swept away overnight by an army of hip hop zombies cruising into corporate positions. Brain Damage, out of France, reinvents the genre on eleven collaborations with vocalists, poets and writers of different tastes and origins to create this first Spoken Dub Manifesto. They are Martin Nathan and Raphael Talis whose previous releases have been on that post-Illbient industrial dubbing tip, literally, but on this new one the unlikely works with the loose frameworks of scripted and improvised spoken word bringing a discipline absent from their earlier work. As a big believer in the weakness of lyric in modern music and an immediate convert to the potential of spoken message/ramble over backing tracks, after first hearing the Velvet’s “The Gift’’ (from 1968’s “White Light White Heat”) to find an album full of pretensions equally as engaging is rare. Remarkably Mark Stewart’s contribution, “Mad Truth’, is the most accessible and its good to hear that carefully cultivated but comfortable paranoia once more, as it is to come across ‘Pure Scenario’ with the voice of Ted Milton (from the revivified Blurt) possessing an edge of appealing inbuilt irascibility. Black Sifichi attempts an amusing pass at Burroughsian delivery whereas the eminent scholar of yodels, Bart Plantenga goes the whole hog with a story to match Bad Shot Bill. Mentor to all of these, Hakim Bey, is fittingly sampled for the last track “Final Enclosure”.

The cover image on this debut album from label Hyperdub and artist Burial is an aerial shot of a night bound city scape, almost as if captured from a descending alien craft. Not so strange as the music down on the ground scraping a jagged line from the darker second generation of Detroit tekno, through electro swoop and surge to the glitch and newer penetrations into lower depths of sub-bass vibration from Berlin and the inescapable decay of the new in the d&b of Sao Paulo. Or maybe this is what Laibach would have had to sound like devoid of natural brass, drum, voice – and movement; and perhaps this is the alter ego of label boss Kode9 attempting to stretch the newly birthed dubstep genre back away from any tunnelled dance inclinations into more consciously open soundscapes. Burial’s assumed parallel dimension is ‘set in a near future underwater South London’, clearly depopulated and legitimately more dangerous than now. Building on the earlier “South London Boroughs EP” that contributes three of its tracks to form the foundation of this set Burial sets every element so far back into the mix that volume serves to increase the intensity of the drone, evident from early in on the second track, “Distant Lights”, convincing me that something else is happening here and driven home by “Night Bus” music through the deserted streets of the Bladerunner set and “You Hurt Me” a tortured Prince forced to cry and perform by David Lynch. It’s all fizzing, unsettling, deranged in some non-specific, unfathomable fashion.

Out of Jamaica an essential street tune from DJ Capleton, who now must considered in the old school category as per the dominant hip hop taxonomy of these things. On the original Niney the Observer’s famous bespectacled label this is a conscious chant on top of a loop of Dennis Brown’s classic “Wolf & Leopards” rhythm – specifically the horn refrain. As if that was not enough also around on the same label at the moment is an I Roy seven inch on the same rhythm previously used by the DJ for the raw "Sister Maggie Breast", this later more righteous effort is unknown to me - maybe it's of posthumous manufacture - entitled 'Step on the Dragon', and a must for the many fans of this most intelligent and witty practitioner of the art of the DJ.

One riddim albums may have established themselves in reggae’s own peculiar demimonde but to the world at large they may as well not exist. This latest from Blood and Fire - their 50th release - collects 24 versions of Lee Perry's "Bring The Mackaback", as used by The Congos for the "Fisherman" track from the peerless Heart Of The Congos. All takes were voiced in Jamaica with the edit and mixdown by Rhythm & Sound and mastered at Dubplates & Mastering in Berlin. The methodology employed by Mark and Moritz was construction of a different edit of the dub for each individual track including the original vocal version coming in for spring clean – and sounding crisper than ever. But it’s the choice of artist here that convinces, with old school (Big Youth, U Roy and Jazzbo) versus nu roots DJs (Country Culture, Ricky Chaplin and Early One), legendary vocalists (Horace Andy, Max Romeo and Freddie McGregor) versus today’s younger guns (Lutan Fyah, Lucan I and Paul St.Hilaire) plus a lovely harmonica version from Mr.Raggamonica, though its got to be said that emotion does not really make up for Greg Isaacs voice sounding finally shot on “Spot and Beat the Bank”.

Ken “Fatman” Gordon’s Fatman Hi-Fi ruled across North London in the late seventies thanks to a supply of exclusives and dubplates direct from Kingston, Jamaica. Fatman hailed from Waterhouse area of Kingston, home to King Tubby’s legendary studio and it was this connection that forged the link for Tubby and his disciples direct into the London reggae market. This excellent re-release of an album not seen around since its limited appearance in 1979 is one in a series from the era that featured dubmaster clashes between Tubby’s studio and Channel One. “Crucial Bunny” Graham, aka “Bunny Tom Tom”, was one of the in-house engineers at Channel One studio; the same who inspired Talking Heads’ Chris Frantz and Tina Weymouth to christen their offshoot band Tom Tom Club. As per convention for a clash each mixer takes a side with Jammy on first with four relatively well-known rhythms, including “Jammy's A No Fool” an aggressively propelled drum and bass take Johnny Clarke's “Play Fool Fe Catch Wise”, “Jammy's A Shine” takes Black Uhuru's cut of the Wailers' “Sun Is Shining” into ultra-reverb before taking the bass line on a slow walk home, whilst “Jammy's A Satta” is as expected a dubbing of Johnny Clarke's version of “Satta Massa Ganna”. On the flip Bunny may sound more interesting as the rhythms are less familiar, but the Channel One boy remains unphased in the presence of royalty with honours turning out even. Included are four previously unreleased bonus tracks for the CD version of this release, separately available on a 12 inch EP, with a Jammy’s controlled dubwise trombone mix of Delroy Wilson's cover of the Wailers' “Put It On”, again expertly mixed by Jammy and featuring loads of emotive trombone.

RARE DUBS 1970 – 1971
Another one out of the blue from this conduit label for the stranger and more dubious offerings out of Bunny Lee’s office, but this has a headline that any other imprint would claim as the Holy Grail. All the rhythms are genuinely from the era when the Wailers were working with Perry to produce the likes of “Soul Rebel”, “Put It On”, “Keep On Moving’ et al, when the producer used Randy’s Studio 17 but the only track here to exhibit any previous appearance is the dub of “Rainbow Country”. As it is these tracks are certainly more quasi dubstrumental, with no contemporary dubbing effects, scarce melodica and usually at the opening of the tune and a strangely lethargic feeling almost as if the beats have been slowed, and the totally out of tune version of “Put It On” has a bizarrely strangled “Guantanamero” melody – surely this one was never meant to escape.

Linval Thompson recorded the first Jamaican sides Lee Perry and Phill Pratt, but 1976 was his big year with “Don’t Cut Off Your Dreadlocks” cut for Bunny Lee. He then turned to production recording the likes of Freddie McGregor, Johnny Osbourne, Big Joe, The Viceroys, Eek-A-Mouse, Barrington Levy who all gave him international chart success and a main source for many ensuing dub sets. He’s recorded almost nothing in two decades apart from occasional sessions recently with neighbour Fattis Burrell (aka Exterminator). This set comes from the “Inna De Yard” acoustic series session masterminded by Earl ‘Chinna’ Smith, in addition to takes on classics such as “Jah Jah Dreader Than Dread”, “Train To Zion” and the rarely aired “Inna De Hills” Linval also comes up with some new pieces, the best is “Hit Them With The One Drop” accompanied by an astonishingly droopy trombone.

French revival label Makasound is rapidly emerging as a new force in the retrieval of both classic and obscure Jamaican music. This album has been unavailable since its original release around 1982 despite its reputation as one of Augustus Pablo’s strongest outputs as a producer. Williams had spent his early years as an artist at Studio One where Clement Dodd had included him in the group called the Madlads – after the US Stax outfit, their cover version of Curtis Mayfield’s “Ten To One” remains a favourite from the label. Impressed by “Ten To One” Pablo invited the young singer to meet and together they came up with “I Stand Black”, originally released as a single but eventually becoming the centrepiece of Delroy Williams’ debut album of the same name. The songs on the album are driven by a Rastafarian, community-based perspective, “Mountain Top” after a hilltop meditation, “All The Time” evoking a close friend who drank too much (an extended vocal version of Pablo’s “555 Crown Street”, and “Think Twice” warning of the dangers of impulsive reactions. But the standout track here is the truly outstanding “Babylon Boy”, clocking in at over seven and a half minutes replete with a glorious dub version with a beautiful descending slurred brass riff over a desolate piano tinkle.

Only previously available on a ten inch single this much sought after tune, aka “Repatriation Song”’ has become available once more but only as a Jamaican import, the vinyl might look shiny but it carries the usual pits and bumps that denotes it origin as downtown Kingston. Willy Williams is best known for his utilisation of the stalwart “Real Rock” rhythm on “Armagideon Time” single and album cut for Clement Dodd at Studio One back in 1982, although the earlier “Messenger Man” from two years earlier and revived last year by Blood and Fire proved he was a lot more versatile. The vocal side is punctuated by heavy organ stabs from Mittoo under Williams’ seductively lugubrious delivery, but the dub on the flip is one of those unbelievably abstract affairs. Mittoo’s keyboard opens the track acapella, stark and church-like before the echoed vocal enters and a snatch of the rhythm drifting in and out leaving the main feature being the consistent vocal and dubbed organ rendering the version totally non-danceable except for those who can keep the sway in their head.