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Thursday, March 01, 2007

Dub Review March 2007

The appearance of Alton Ellis' boy comes as a welcome surprise in this Jamaica To Toronto series devoted to the output of Jamaicans exiled in Canada. Six mixes all extended into dubwise versions occupy this collection of tracks cut for Summer Records under the supervision of Jerry Brown, up from Bullwackies in the Bronx, keyboard maestro Jackie Mittoo during his northern sabbatical and also the legendary Willie 'Armagideon Time' Williams. In fact, one of the tracks turns out to be Rocking Universally a lighter take on Williams' classic, versioned for punk immortality by the Clash, and reissued a couple of years ago by Basic Replay under the names of Willi (sic) Williams and Cousin Marshall as a DJ version of the original. That's the highlight track, on the rest Ellis employs an over-plaintive colourless vocal style that's best used sparingly as it tends to exorcise meaning from the lyric. For Wackies fans though this is a must for the dubs.

FOX 7"
Although Justin Hinds and his harmony group the Dominoes, so named after Fats, became one of the most popular outfits during the ska and rocksteady era, their star mysteriously faded with the advent of reggae. Most likely reason was that Justin Hinds' deep devotional commitment to Rastafarianism made it an easy decision to return to the hills; his songs always reflected earlier indigenous musical forms, country syllogisms, biblical metaphor and he remains a largely unrecognised folk lyricist of the highest order. Luckily he was tempted back into the studio in 1975 by producer Jack Ruby aka L. Lindo, then riding high on the waves created by Burning Spear's Marcus Garvey. The resultant Jezebel album, cut at Federal and Channel One studios, is a lost classic with many of its sides released as singles with dub treatments from King Tubby. So here we have the gorgeous horn arrangements of Herman Marquis on alto sax, Bobby Ellis on trumpet and Vin Gordon on trombone on an updating of the old mento tune Dip and Fall Back dubbed into an irresistible mélange on the version. As Jezebel is no longer available it's as near as we get to the full feast.

Nuh Skin Up is the final instalment in the trilogy of Keith Hudson innovative dub excursions that began with Pick A Dub (reissued on Blood and Fire BAFCD3) continued with Brand the companion to the vocal set Rasta Communication and culminated in this long overlooked album, the deepest, darkest and rarest of the triumvirate. Although some may have 'issues' with Hudson's voice, sat amongst these viscous brooding rhythms it's the perfect tool. Built from the tracks on From One Extreme To Another the album arrived in a plain sleeve rubber stamped with its title in a bold typeface via the Joint International set up in NYC as a collaboration between Hudson and JA ex-pat Junior Walker. The Soul Syndicate and, allegedly, a 'white band from Baltimore' provided the rhythms that Hudson clinically manipulated into stuttering journeys of near existential distress and claustrophobia, to have visuals attached would be too painful.

Joe Mansano was a Trinidadian accountant who arrived in the UK in the early sixties and made his way into the back door of the late sixties burgeoning UK reggae via a cosmetics company sideline. His business acumen and promotional skills helped him identify a niche to fill by producing homegrown early reggae, primarily for the discriminating skinhead market, in direct lineage from JA's Prince Buster, the Upsetter instrumental albums and Lynford Anderson's countless Pop A Top variations via his Andy Capp incarnation amongst many others. Early singles – Your Boss D.J., The Bullet, Brixton Cat, Musical Feet - mimicked the DJ intros popular in Jamaica at the time, in fact Mansano started up by cutting dubplates using a local DJ's name in the intro segueing into a well known instrumental and then selling on for the DJ to use on his sound system as a 'special'. The fifty odd tracks here are largely instrumentals, some with DJ chat and a handful of vocals – most well known being Ray Martell's She Caught The Train as versioned by UB40 on their mega-platinum and unjustly much derided Labour Of Love album. Although there are few musician credits, Rico Rodriguez appears on many of the tracks so it's likely that the cream of London's reggae sessioneers were operating for the producer. Along with Graeme Goodall at Doctor Bird and Jack Price at Sioux Records, Mansano's Joe Records defined the sound of UK reggae in the late sixties.

Top UK dubmaster Dennis Bovell once proclaimed Jimi Hendrix as the true originator of dub techniques and experimentation. Perhaps on a less extravagant scale that mantle passed to John Martyn, the folkie who evolved into a radical sonic expeditionary with his slurred vocals melting into the rippling sheaves of guitar that emanating from the Echoplex reverb unit inherited from his studio dabblings with Lee Perry. That resulted in tracks like Small Hours sampling flocks of Canadian geese and the molten abstractions of Big Muff in tribute to a fuzz box. Later on 1981's body and soul damaging 'Grace and Danger' Martyn versioned the Slickers rudeboy anthem Johnny Too Bad, the one that graces the film The Harder They Come, and it's the unreleased 12 inch extended dub version that reappears here in all its unhinged glory. New pretenders in the world of dub and psych-folk should be strapped down to check Phil Collin's drums on this one!

The evolution of a DJ's style from UK Garage through to Dubstep is not all that surprising; maybe with grime and 2-step on the way with healthy underpinnings of dub and raggamatic stylings, it's the place to be. But Jason Mundo is based in Texas and this little plate, manufactured and distributed in the UK by those Manc tune dowsers Baked Goods, just happens to lay waste to all competition. 'Still Stand Rasta' seduces with a lightly skipping steppers intro before the obligatory sampled patois-bite and the sucker punch landing with the entry of a bass line like a roller coaster's first big drop. A lighter wobble then ensues and we have the most perfect example yet of a rootical dubstep style, capable of crossing dancefloors. The flip Hear Dis is more orthodox in its reggae leanings but just as potent.

Apparently this single is sourced from way old master tapes archived to a DAT mysteriously labelled 'Delta Force 9'. A few years ago it was handed by Niney the Observer to some 'European engineer' to clean up the mix for eventual release. As for the title, refreshingly that's a pure marketing device naked designed in an appeal to the ever hungry Japanese reggae market and absolutely nothing to do with the origin of the musicians! The tune itself is vintage Niney along the lines of the tracks worked with Scratch and Tubby, but of a later vintage, perhaps early eighties; the difference being the samples laid over are obviously derived from what might be called a more polluted source than downtown Kingston and sounding more like a mixtape from the mid eighties. It's certainly a curiosity but one which Niney and dub aficionados need in the bag. Another excellent 7' also out from the same date and on the same label but more conformant with Niney's roots output is Razor Blade Dub/Flint Stone Dub.

Combat Recordings is a label aimed at crushing up the tensions between electro, breakbeat and electronica genres in a series of twelves seemingly programmed for unmakeable movies, or maybe future remixed soundtracks. Dark Dub might easily replace anything that accompanies the dread cybernetica in the Terminator series. ScanOne, aka Jude Greenaway, is a producer and DJ with a background in visual editing as part of the Light Surgeons live visual crew who deploys his editing skills in subsuming those stomach-churning basslines loved in London within the slouching new breakbeat speeds employed on these tracks. Dubwise seems to picks up the pace but with equally draining bass drops and cinematic sweeps that halt the half-step and introduce anominous sense foreboding. Edinburgh's wee djs remix Kik It is the original's Autechre laced grime kicked upstairs with ASBO provoking truly vicious tribal drums only for Blackmass Plastics to take the wee djs version, slam on the brakes and literally steamroller the rhythm so it's a stretched, distorted and mangled remnant of the original thrown back at the feet of its creator.

On his last album, 2003's Unspecified, Paul St.Hilaire signed off with the floating drift of the seemingly incomplete Changerine, almost implying that his next work would be a dramatic shift away from his initial Tikiman incarnation when Rhythm & Sound provided the deep dubby techno washed beats for his mandrax'd vocal meanderings. The change has taken place but unexpectedly the move is more back to the reggae fount rather than a pursuit of some radical dread ambience. Not that the experimental edge is gone, certainly this is the warmest digital dubbing committed to plastic and the point is made as half of the twelve tunes here extend beyond the vocal into restrained dubs that layer the customary echo and reverb treatment with little sampled surprise loops spasmodically laid gently over the round-edge skank. As telegraphed by the titles Jah Won't Let Us Down, Jah Live Over The Hills, Jah Love and Black Moses, some of the material tends to more orthodox content – the latter could easily be a Mighty Diamonds tune - but its beautifully crafted modern roots with the vocals now much more of a balance than when R&S rules the rhythm. Office can only have been written as an oblique tribute to Ricky Gervais and on the juddering bass washes of Humble –previously visited techno depths are re-plumbed as St.Hilaire validates his techno roots.

CLASSIC CUTS 1978 - 1984
This is the first release in the 'Most Wanted' series, launched to celebrate 30 years of Greensleeves Records and collecting together selections of key tracks from a particular artist or group. In their second life after producing a series of classic roots singles for Clement Dodd at Studio One, in the late seventies the Wailing Souls released four albums and around a dozen 12"s on Greensleeves. All the tracks here are remastered from the original tapes and feature the full 12" extended cuts complete with dubs, many debuting on CD the exception is Fire House Rock as there was no room for the version! Also the good news for collectors is that this set only has two tracks in common with the excellent Pressure Sounds compilation from 2004. Catching the group at the height of the powers, these tunes are from the time when Sly, Robbie and the Revolutionaries were catching the swing with the Rockers sound that dominated Channel One and the rest of reggae in the late seventies. From the early eighties the Roots Radics provided the rockstone backing for the tracks eventually captured on the Fire House Rock album. Dub mixes come from Scientist and Barnabus.