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Sunday, April 01, 2007

Dub Column - April 2007

Dennis Brown started his career as a child prodigy at Studio One and by the mid seventies he was a veteran. His classic Wolf & Leopards album was actually a collection of singles after which he moved on to record fir Joe Gibbs and cut the worldwide hit Money In My Pocket, to be followed by Visions Of Dennis Brown certainly his most accessible roots album and probably the finest of his sadly too short career. His cover versions of The Heptones Love Me Always, Earl Sixteen's Malcolm X and Clive Hunt's Milk & Honey were immaculate brand new material like Concrete Castle King and Jah Can Do It proved to be their equal. There are some nice bonus cuts included but the original stands alone as this was Dennis at his peak; he had a triumphal tour of the UK in the late seventies with Joe Gibbs' engineer Errol Thompson at the desk and bassie Lloyd Parkes running the back line. Unfortunately his later crossover efforts for A&M were patchy affairs but at least he went on to recover in the more roots oriented market. Visions is the starting point for one of reggae's greatest vocalists.

The album that defined and became the template for the UK Steppers style, not exactly the same version first appearing on the UK Form imprint back in 1980 with French label Soul Village have replaced two of the weaker tracks four tougher contemporary roots tunes. Pablo Gad was an artist who segued his singing into the popular singjay style of the era with effect of creating his own discomix versions; the tough title track is a good example and is versioned as Lighter Shade of Black. Crisis starts of like a continuation of an Israel Vibration tune but ends up with a mashing dub as wild as any that appeared on On U Sound around its inception; the presence of Hughie Isachaar on guitar and bass and Mark Lusardi on keys establishes the set's UK roots pedigree. In 1993 Reggae On Top released The Best of Pablo Gad, a compilation of material recorded between 1977 and 1980 but the artist was missing in action until a few years ago when he appeared guesting on the nu roots scene. There's not much let up on the militant vibe here but the variation in vocal styles and ruffed-up dubs make the set a compelling listen with righteous climax in Iration, not so much chanted as intoned, on the Satta rhythm with a sweet female harmony wailing in the background.

Unusually this is a dub album that preceded its vocal companion Rasta Communication, for many Keith Hudson's masterpiece as an artist, although its arrival in 1976 could hardly have been more inconspicuous wrapped as it was in a plain paper cover with a rubber stamped title. Basically the Soul Syndicate recorded at Channel One and Randys and mixed by Prince Jammy at King Tubby's with some overdubs performed at Chalk Farm with Sid Bucknor, where the improbable Wild Willy Barrett added slide overdubs!, its still the majestic presence of Hudson that dominates the mix with an imagination probably unequalled in reggae. Pressure Sounds originally reissued this in 1995 early in the label's history and now re-licenses the set from its original source, Junior Walker's Joint imprint in NYC. Extra tracks included are the vocals My Eyes Are Red and Rasta Took The Blame for the CD only and a 7 inch single has been pressed up of the ultra rare and deliriously joyous Barbican Heights by President Shorty with a dub on the flip.

This is Kode9 and Hyperdub's first outing of the year, although last I heard this previewed live. The venue was YuGong YiShan in Beijing where the promoters had shipped in extra sub-bass in preparation for the threatened assault on their sound system. The sub-bass stood up to the tune but the pure vibration ensuing on its drop wiped out the electricity supply. So the Hyperdub claim on the press release that 'this arcade skank has caused power cuts from Beijing to Brixton' is no hyperbole. Having said that this may be the least distressing release so far from Kode9 vamping for over a minute before the first bass drop, but that's only a sucker punch before the second wave arrives hitting well below the belt; but the rhythm is a sweetly skipping skank with a melodica line drawn tautly on top. The flip is an edit from a tune that closed the Memories of the Future album.

ANTHOLOGY 1982 – 2005
Echo Minott aka Noel Phillips first appeared on the reggae scene in 1980 when at age 17 he cut the album Youthman Vibration for legendary producer Prince Jammy, released on Popsy's Starlight in London. U.K. He became in demand artists recording tunes for Dillinger, George Phang's Powerhouse label, Joe Gibbs and Henry "Junjo" Lawes. But it was in 1985 that he hit internationally with Lazy Body for the Black Scorpio label, one of those tunes that led to a version explosion. As a member of King Jammys sound system crew he cut two takes on the revolutionary Sleng Teng riddim, Original Fat Thing and Put One Hand On The Key are both here. But his most remarkable tune, the controversial and strictly non-PC What The Hell (The Police Can Do), also cut for the Jammys label, stayed at the top of the Jamaican charts for three months, heralding the ragga(muffin) beat that persists through to todays domination of dancehall, and generating a bunch of answer records inlcuding how on apologetic Make Up Back. In 1992, Echo left Jamaica for New York and scored a number one reggae hit with Murder Weapon riding the rhythm of Shaggy's even bigger monster Oh Carolina; a jungle version cut for the UK market in 1994 is also here. An overdue and excellent retrospective of this largely ignored but important artist in the history of Jamican music.

Ranking Dread aka Winston Brown, DJ's for the Ray Symbolic sound in the '70s, working locally through the decade his name became widely known in 1981 with his biggest hit Fattie Boom Boom released in UK on the Greensleeves imprint, that essential portal into reggae for many who became diehard fans. Lesser known is Massive Dread aka Dennis James who worked on the Metromedia sound in the early '80s. The six tunes from each artist are all produced by Tappa Zukie and recorded at Channel One in Kingston, and likely dating from the late 70s or early 80s. Many of the rhythms here are well established, Ranking Dread weighs in with a Satta, Woman Lover is on a studio mix of Horace Andy's Love Of A Woman, Dread in Loving uses the Studio One staple Pressure and Slide whilst Cat Steven's First Cut Is The Deepest is reworked on a fierce rocker's version with Hortense Ellis on vocals for First Love. But the standout is Dread Inna Captivity featuring the unmistakeable voice of Cornell Campbell on a tune, as yet untagged, with this Dread in declamatory Big Youth style and Campbell with the backing of vintage Burning Spear harmonies. The Massive Dread sides are almost as impressive, with the full vocal/DJ/dub take to Horace Andy's discomix Brutality, and a welcome addition to this DJ's sparsely documented output.

Mixed by Scientist at King Tubbys in 1981 and hyped by Bunny 'Striker' Lee as a 'dub war' or sound clash between the two premier UK sound systems of the era, Sir Coxsone (no relation to Studio One) from London and Birmingham's Quaker City. As was the requirement of the day intro come in, via an uncredited DJ, the kind which are like gold dust these days to dance mixers everywhere: " … dis wan straight inna bwoy chest!". The original crap sleeve design is reproduced, a definite plus, and the tunes range between Aggrovators style punchy horns dubs to deep drum and bass workouts. Primary in there is a dub on Johnny Clarke's reggae discomix of Peace & Love In The Ghetto, itself a murderous filleting of a Philly classic, but here retitled The Man Never Immetiate (sic) Always Originate) and Horace Andy's already cavernous Money Is The Root Of All Evil receiving drastic surgery at the hands Scientist mix to create Scientist Say Papa Coxsone. The reissues on Bunny Lee's revived Attack imprint have been largely uninspiring up until now but this one raises the bar.

Those super-hipster musos at netshop Boomkat have got together with Blood and Fire, neighbours in their building located in downtown Manchester, to put together this exclusive mixtape on mp3. This is how it used to be done back in the day and it great to find B&F's resident raggamuffin Dom Sotgiu and the man known as Pendle Coven, drawn in from the lost valleys of East Lancashire, having the joint imagination to do the deed for less than a cassette used to cost. All the tracks are dubs drawn from B&F's extensive catalogue, large enough now to source this venture; a vocal and DJ mix will shortly be appearing titled Roots In Session and both are available via the Boomkat website. Favourites amongst the fifteen tracks mixed here are Extraordinary Version from Impact All Stars, a foundation dub of live tape machine rewinds and scratching when mixing in the studio, not on decks, was the real art; Dub MPLA from Tappa Zukie, original raggamuffin gangsta in tribute to Movimento Popular de Libertação de Angola and King Tubby's Honey Dub (Jah Love) the version to Yabby
You's Warn The Nation.

Although the vaults of Studio One have been constantly plundered over the years in search of rhythms for revival, no-one has made greater use of those remarkable sonic archives than Clement Dodd himself. Here we have a thematic collection that's not really evident from the album's title and more properly could have been dubbed 'version to version and occasionally to version' as, in the main, the selections here are takes of tunes originally appearing on the label or sometimes even cover versions of the covers! So maybe not an album for those approaching the Studio One catalogue for the first time, although Johnny Osbourne's sublime Forgive Them on the Heptones' Ting A Ling is just as wonderful as anything on his Truth and Rights album and Rapper Robert & Jim Brown's Minister For Ganja DJ'd on the Full Up rhythm – better known to one and all as Pass the Kouchie/Dutchie – is just plain fun. Other highlights are Freddie McGregor's How Could You Leave on the Heptones' Guiding Star, and the Heptones themselves with a rousing re-versioning of their own Equal Rights. Sleeve notes from Chris Salewicz.

To all intents and purposes a kosher Wackies release but classed as a CDR – probably as there are no distribution arrangements. Musicians are only credited as the Wackies Rhythm Force and Lloyd "Bullwackie" Barnes claims engineering and production credit – it's almost as if he snuck into his own studio to mix these twelve tracks of what sounds like prime 1979/1980 dubs. Toughest track is the opener Production Rock where the dubbing is at the max on this set and at the extreme of Wackie's normally restrained personal style; a snappy guitar riff along the lines of an early Meters' Josie single but punched out with a vicious snare and rescued by the occasional intervention of a chirpy horn section. Later is a disturbing version of John Holt's Love I Can Feel where the rhythm section lays out the expectation of a funky dub with the whole thing is thrown in to Lynchian disjuncture with introduction of a far away off-key synth melody line. Top tracks are Tight Knit a shuffling percussion based dub stripped down with wistful melodica lines left to wander forlornly in the mix followed by Love Feel Rock with stretched and bent guitar chops opening into a lead organ, probably Jackie Mittoo's, stroking an unbearably melancholic air across the rhythm