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Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Dub Review - July 2008

Blaze Dem / Disrupt / John Frum / Rootah
Jahtarian Dubbers Vol 1
The first release for Jahtari on the vinyl that it so richly deserves, three heavy heavy tunes are lifted from a forthcoming label compilation plus there's an exclusive new cut of Rootah's "Holy Mount part 2" – as in Zion we must presume! The opener "Roots Defender" by Blaze Dem is built for maxim mayhem, primed to cut through any mix and ripe for radio show intro use, blessed with a hysterically righteous vocal sample in Swedish culled from who knows where. Disrupt follows with his by now expected percussion like a box of knives on "Kozure Okami" a tribute to be shared between 70s samurai movies and comix (Lone Wolf & Cub) and the Black Ark alike. The b-side has John Frum, aka Type's Julien Neto, with his foot hard down on the echo pedals for "January Dub" starting in a chasmic emptiness that's soon occupied by floating accordion sounds navigating between the rimshots firing at
all angles. Rootah revisits Studio One rhythm "Drum Song" for his approximation of bliss ignited by sound vibration. All this is about as vital and fresh as new reggae gets these days, and that's without borrowing any devices from dubstep. Mastered and cut to an impossibly pleasurable depth by Dubplates & Mastering in Berlin.

Brain Damage
Short Cuts
Brain Damage was formed in 1999 by Raphaël Talis and Martin Nathan, two founder-members of the Bangarang dub collective based in St Etienne, France, since when they have become a permanent feature on the Eurodub soundscape. Their last outing, coralling eleven 'vocalists' to explore a spoken word concept (Spoken Dub Manifesto), clearly stretched their ambitions as on this new set they use and
credit vocal sources on every track. Though their dubwise origins would be difficult to spot initially for any listener coming to their music for the first time, the sub-bass gives the major clue to their lineage. The didacticism that occasionally blunted the edge of Spoken Dub Manifesto is mostly missing as the samples and vocals are largely from Arabic or East European languages that remain impenetrable for
the majority, with the exception of the post-Burroughsian drawl perfected by Black Sifichi on "Sterile 2", "Ulla" and "Tight Ass Dati", the peculiarly out of place rap "Tic Tac Tic" by The Real Fake MC and some tortured Goethë on Angeline Bouille's "Armer Kopf" and "Meine Ruhe".

The Bug w/Tippa Irie & Flowdan
Angry / Ganja
Prefacing the Bug's next album London Zoo this single features UK fast chat legend Tippa Irie on a tune that folds all of its bottom end into one truly tribal thud, like a ten foot wide oil drum, over which Tippa furiously waxes on the things that just piss him off – something everyone can relate to – well, at least the pace seems to be fast until the MC ratchets up his delivery to an undecipherable speed. It's
a wonderful moment. On the flip, Roll Deep's Flowdan returns to the scene of his "Skeng" crime with a paean to the soon to be reclassified weed, intro'd with a revved up go go style percussion break before the most physical of all UK's current crop of MCs makes clear his sacramental relationship with weed against a juddering backdrop of what occasionally sounds like shreds of a George Romero soundtrack.
Unforgettable - as Nat King Cole so rightly once sang.

Most Wanted
Time has tendency to reduce our musical memories to distillations of reality, so we may recall Eek-A-Mouse's idiosyncratic 'sing-jay' vocal style but more likely to forget its impact when he first hit and the remarkable set of tunes that housed the talents of this giant rodent. Produced by Henry Junjo' Lawes and Linval Thompson between 1980 and 1984 and with Roots Radics cruising at dubwise altitude, nine of the
twelve tracks are 12" cuts and all appear on CD for the first time. The opener "Anarexol" is a take on "Real Rock", the Studio One rhythm chestnut that played host most famously to Willie Williams "Armageddon Time", but here stretched dubwise to include some alto sax improv on "Darker Shade of Black". The smash hit "Wa-Do-Dem" is here as is "Wild Like a Tiger" with the High Times Band competing with the Radics on the heavyweight dub scale and the affecting "Operation Eradication" a tribute to his street slain friend Errol Scorcher. 'The Mouse' had a revival a couple of years ago with early roots tunes cut under his given name, Ripton Hylton, but this set re-centres the artist in the incarnation by which he will best be remembered.

Been Through
Lars Fenin follow-up to 2005's Grounded is more of a venture into dub breaks territory with the addition of a few actual tunes where he is joined by singer Gorbi who, unfortunately, turns out as an undistinguished vocalist not really up to the demands of Fenin's by now richly worked rhythms. So by halfway through this set it's the hazy bass drift of the opener "Dub Eraldo" that's still resonating as
the all too brief serialist instrumental "So Weit So Gut" merges into a drift outro. DeeJay Scorcha comes into the mix with "Complain" with a delivery akin to the disappeared Simon Bogle of 3Head. "Elephants" is genuinely like some lost peoples had a battery powered synth dropped in by aliens a thousand years ago but Gorbi breaks the spell by totally ignoring the melody of Neil Diamond's "Red Red Wine" which was the quality that attracted Tony Tribe and UB40 in the first place. I had already mentally programmed out all the vocals for future replay when the last track "Years Ago", an outer space Doppler dub stab, convinced me Fenin should have learned a lot from this exercise.

Joe Gibbs and Errol T aka the Mighty Two
African Dub All-Mighty - Chapters 1, 2, 3 & 4
Now all four albums in this series are repackaged as a box set and on sale for the price of a single album. The partnership of producer Joe Gibbs and soundman Errol Thompson, who previously engineered as Randy's Studio 17, was responsible for hundreds of hit tunes in Jamaica, and a few in the UK, but also for creating some of the best loved dub sides of the roots era and this series of albums that was
largely responsible for popularising the sub- genre of dub. Mostly updated versions of classic Treasure Isle and Studio One but with copious efx such as ringing bells, buzzers, phones, whistling birds and shooting sounds inserted in the mix. The musicians were members of the Soul Syndicate and Lloyd Parks' We The People Band sessioning for Gibbs as the Professionals and occasionally touring to support the
emergent success of artists like Dennis Brown and Althea and Donna. It used to be the case that recommendation was made only for "Chapter 3" as best of the bunch, containing as it does a much-sampled stone killer version of the rhythm best known as Augustus Pablo's "King Tubby Meets Rockers Uptown", but now there's no excuse not to invest in the whole set.

Straight Outta Trenchtown 1975 - 1980
The French label Makasound was difficult to source until recently, but now taken care of by Harmonia Mundi distribution all their catalogue is now re-promoted. Knowledge were a Trenchtown group championed by DJ/producer Tapper Zukie and the selections here are lifted from their first two albums 1978's Hail Dread, released only in the USA on A&M and Judgement appearing two years later on Roach, an obscure Swiss label. Recorded at Channel One, Black Ark, Harry J's and King Tubby's
studio the compilation comprised of a fierce and ferocious set of uncompromising steppers, there's no light and shade here it's non-stop roots ruffage. With five of the twelve tracks extended versions there's plenty of dubwise action, with "Hail Dread" and the masterly "Give I & I Some Work" standing out, but their peak was the
magnificent ultra-dread "Sentry" which could take a place amongst the best of roots reggae from the era.

L.V. feat Dandelion
CCTV/Dream Cargo
Dandelion (Dan de Lion aka Daniel Collier) from Free King Sound and more recently the Dubateers returns to Hyperdub with the L.V. boys to muse on a theme provoked by those agents of intrusion that once so obscenely pervasive in U.K. cities have now become just another part of the urban street scene, but only scary when they move. An ersatz brass sound, could be sampled John Hassell, grazes against the rhythm's incessant progress seemingly squeezing some squelchy synth sounds to bubble up to the surface, whilst Dandelion's straight vocal makes the whole thing slightly even more unnerving. It's heartening to have an important labels representing the new UK dance wave regularly returning to support tunes that more closely relate to roots reggae than some of the current, fairly bleak, techno-based abstractions. The
flip has the river sounds to match it's title, but underneath the slow of the rhythm is a soca-paced jump-up only interupted by drifting breaks out of what we can now call the Burial textbook.

No More Friend
The Roots Radics ease up the pressure for the Meditations first and only entry into a dancehall style with the result that the sound is more like Sly and Robbie's Taxi Gang on this 1983 set, sadly the fourth and last for this most under-rated of vocal groups. The uplifting harmonies of the Meditations are largely wasted though as they attempt to elevate a formulaic set of tunes. The major exceptions are the lovely "Carpenter Rebuild" – reminiscent of Burning Spear's "Tradition" with its chirruping vocal refrain – a relaxed one-drop rhythm with vocal to match and the re-mastered 12" cut of the title tune that smashes into the set right at the close in total disregard of Kevin Metcalfe's original mastering levels, but its classic stuff
as the vocal, horns and piano are dropped and the rhythm is rebuilt by engineer Soldgie around a chugging keyboard vamp.

Jah Way / Speeka Box
RSD is the latest incarnation of Bristolian bassmaster Rob Smith, more familiar as one half of Smith & Mighty and to this column as one half of More Rockers and Blue & Red. Linked up now to Peverlist's Punch Drunk imprint to keep the rockers alive in the increasingly crowded dubstep arena, this is the follow-up to last year's "Corner Dub" and treks further back into a heritage that some involved in the genre
have been suspiciously quick to distance themselves from – roots reggae. "Jah Way" is a slow stepper with a stretched then squeezed bass synth substituting for the string variety before the break when the classic Keith Hudson sample "studio kinda cloudy like I say …." plays out over the real thing. "Speeka Box" is the more friendly to contemporary ears with an almost cheery little keyboard riff bouncing
on top of the rhythm before an extended bass break mirrors its melody ending in the 'killah' sample from African Dub Chaper 3 (see Joe Gibbs review above!) and a lovely vintage piano sample is introduced towards the close to sweeten off the package.

Richie Phoe w/Tippa Irie & Mango Seed
Eye on the Prize E.P.
A follow-up to last year's promising debut for the young Brighton dubster Richie Phoe who has enough confidence in himself to co-opt Saxon Sound International superstar Tippa Irie and the sweet vocals of Nations Vibrations singer Mango Seed. Its only partially successful as the mixes still sound a little crowded especially with the preferred slap and shuffle drum patterns dominating the rhythms and at times its seems like Tippa's vocals on the title track seem to serve as more of
a prelude to the dub rather than in their own right. More space called for in the mix, a caution proved when Mango Seed is lost a little on "Step at a Time". But Richie really seems to cut loose and have fun on the dubs, even more so on the closing dubstrumental "Way Back When" with a raspily breathed flute recalling the imprint of a newly discovered rare groove.