Top 30 reggae albums 2014

Time to sum up this year’s best albums. Last year I made a list collecting 25 sets, but this year I aimed for 30, and succeeded. As usual no reissues or compilations were allowed.

This year’s list is however a little bit different compared to previous lists. Why? I have included two straight dub albums. And it could actually have been no less than four dub sets, but Natural Numbers’ Natural Numbers in Dub and The Lions’ This Generation in Dub, the roaring dub counterpart to their beautiful This Generation, didn’t make the final cut.

Best albums 2014

The list below collects 30 roots, ska, rocksteady, dub and dancehall albums in no particular order. If you’re curious about the albums – check out my Spotify playlist with all but two sets. Download the playlist here. Enjoy!

Jahmali – We I Open
We I Open equals sun-burnt skin, sand between your toes and salty hair. A cheerful contemporary rub-a-dub set with lots of light to wash your troubles away.

Black Roots – Ghetto Feel
Deep and profound vintage roots reggae. This album could easily have been released in the early 80s.

Sly & Robbie – Dubrising
Heavy as lead, yet melodic and refined, and with adventurous dub mixing by the legendary Paul “Groucho” Smykle.

Blue King Brown – Born Free
A powerful sonic experience with slower jams and militant anthems.

Etana – I Rise
Another excellent set from one of Jamaica’s leading voices. A set that effortlessly blends infectious love ballads and tough roots anthems.

Tuff Scout Allstars – Inna London Dub
Harder than most contemporary dub albums with ridiculously deep bass lines and hypnotic grooves.

Sara Lugo – Hit Me with Music
Bright and positive from start to finish. Sara Lugo explores the gentle side of reggae with influences from soul, jazz and light electronic pop.

Earl 16 & Manasseh – Gold Dust
Beautifully crafted with Earl 16’s delicate and dreamy vocals floating on top of the at times partly acoustic backing.

Lloyd Brown – LB 50
Yet another harmonious set from one of most reliable and hardest working artists in the reggae industry.

Roberto Sánchez & The Rockers Disciples – Blackboard Jungle Showcase Vol. II
Excellent vintage-sounding roots and dub from some of Europe’s finest musicians.

Popcaan – Where We Come From
A remarkable, exceptional and unique dancehall effort that hopefully can start a new trend in the otherwise very busy and non-consistent dancehall industry.

Raging Fyah – Destiny
The melodies and the arrangements are beautiful and it’s impossible not to get struck by a sweet piano ballad like Brave or pulsating non-stop rocking rockers like Barriers and Step Outta Babylon.

Hezron – The Life I Live(d)
Hezron’s debut album, but it sounds mature, partly because of the well-produced riddims by some of Jamaica’s finest, and partly because he sings like he has never done anything else in his life.

Lee Perry – Back on the Controls
A dark and dense album showcasing Lee Perry’s signature style.

Soul Majestic – Setting the Tone
With its angelic vocal harmonizing and alternating male and female lead vocals – this is a sublime, beautiful and uplifting album.

Hollie Cook – Twice
Nine tracks and over 40 minutes of discofied reggae in its greatest form. Free your mind, take off your shoes and hang on, this is a rollercoaster into dreamy territory.

Earl Sixteen – Natty Farming
Organic and analogue with Earl Sixteen’s pleading voice floating elegantly over the throbbing and syncopated riddims.

Bugle – Anointed
Probably best known for singles like Doh, What I’m I Gonna Do, Journey and Don’t Give Up, and if you dig those you’ll love this album.

Sizzla – Born a King
Wickedly well-produced, balanced and detailed. This scorching album is definitely one of the strongest sets from Sizzla’s more than extensive catalogue.

Alpheus – Good Prevails
Skip the poorly sounding rocksteady reissues and go for this meticulously constructed and well-produced set. This is the sound of real reggae music.

Chronixx – Dread & Terrible
Solid debut set from this youthful and passionate singer that has focused on quality rather than quantity.

Clinton Fearon – Goodness
Yet another fine example of how Clinton Fearon and his Boogie Brown Band takes the reggae legacy into contemporary territory.

Black Symbol – Journey
A spiritual and sometimes meditative journey with sublime harmonizing and beautiful back-up vocals courtesy of Empress Bev. Her touch gives the album a character of its own.

Addis Pablo – In My Father’s House
Its 17 tracks takes the listener on a meditative, haunting and melodic roots reggae journey.

Tarrus Riley – Love Situation
Slick, polished and timeless with lots of classic and vintage sounding riddims.

Gentleman – MTV Unplugged
The MTV Unplugged format was immensely popular in the 90s and I thought it was dead, but this album shows that it’s still very much alive and kicking.

I-Octane – My Journey
The culture and lovers themed My Journey is an entertaining and lively album filled with lots of energy, beautiful hooks and memorable melodies.

Ziggi Recado – Therapeutic
A little something for both body and mind.

Pressure – The Sound
Pressure’s fourth album and is his best to date. It includes the usual sweet arrangements and backing provided by Zion I Kings.

Nicodrum & Friends – Back to Fundechan
Music with a big heart, a solid pulse and lots of soul.

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Top five reggae EP’s 2014

During 2014 an unusually high number of EP’s were put out, and many of them were also very, very strong efforts.

Three of the EP’s below are by up and coming singers. And we’re far from there yet, but issuing an EP before a full album might be a trend for debuting singers.

Best EPs II

The list below is presented in no particular order and if you are curious about the EP’syou can download this Spotify playlist with all of them.

Papa Michigan – DJ Legend
Vintage dancehall in a contemporary style with loads of musical references to 80s Jamaica.

Clay – 1st Chapter
It’s easy to fall in love with this set, particularly the melancholy and darkness that is expressed in the more conscious cuts.

RC – Rough Survivor
Promising and smooth debut album from this passionate and uplifting vocalist. managed by the legendary Donovan Germain

Randy Valentine – Break the Chain
Energy and smoothness in a divine combination.

Kenyatta Hill – Riddim of Life
The son of legendary singer Joseph Hill – lead singer in Culture – carries his father’s legacy forward and waves the red, gold and green banner high and proud.

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16 reggae personalities select their top ten tunes of 2014

End of the year means making lists and the usual way to do is to have editors and writers selecting their favorites throughout the year. This year United Reggae decided to do it another way, so we asked artists and producers around the globe to provide us with their top ten tunes from 2014.

We received lists from 16 different producers and artists, including Frenchie, Jah9, Duane Stephenson, Etana, Unga Barunga and Taj Weekes.

The lists include mostly reggae, but also R&B, hip-hop, pop, soca and house. Judging by the lists there are two standout tracks – Rock Stone by Stephen Marley & Capleton & Sizzla and Protoje & Chronixx’ Who Knows.

The lists also include a few surprises. Check all lists over at United Reggae and download a Spotify playlist with most of the songs here.

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Top 50 reggae tunes 2014

When reviewing 2014 the second half offered stronger releases than the initial six months. I had more than 80 songs to choose from, only counting July to December. I had to merge these with my 25 favourites from January to June. The competition was fierce and I ended up re-doing the list altogether to get a top 50 tunes in 2014.

As usual, the list is an eclectic mix of reggae and dancehall productions from all over the globe, mostly from Jamaica, Europe and the U.S., but Australia is also represented by Mista Savona’s Champion Sound riddim and New Zealand by Fat Freddy’s Drop’s Slings & Arrow. There is also a mix of old and new talents, including both newcomers and veterans.

Best songs 2014

The list below is presented in no particular order and the songs included are only singles or tracks taken from compilations. If you are curious about the songs you can download this Spotify playlist with 48 of the 50 tracks.

Artist – song title (riddim/label)
Papa Michigan & Yami Bolo – People Rise (Flash Hit Records)
Toian – Rude Boys (Class One Music)
Micah Shemaiah & Infinite – Reggae Rockit
Lutan Fyah – Rasta Won’t Fail (Jump for Joy/Splatter House Records)
Mr. Benn & Nanci Correia & Buggsy – Stand Up (Nice Up! Records)
Yung Jr – General (Bassick Records)
Gentleman’s Dub Club & Solo Banton – Unbreakable (Ranking Records)
Burro Banton – Bad Like Mi (Champion Sound/Muti Music))
Brooklyn Jungle Soundsystem – Kulture (Dubmatix remix) (Destroy All Concepts)
Lutan Fyah – Real People (Crunch Time/Dynasty Records)
Zagga – Heal the Soul (Four Seasons/Union World Music)
Gentleman & Shaggy – Warn Dem (Universal Records)
Righteous Child – Good Morning World (Penthouse Records)
Fat Freddy’s Drop – Slings & Arrows (The Drop)
Bunny General – Mek Them Rock (Jstar remix) (Nice Up! Records)
No Maddz – Shotta (Taxi Records)
Notis & Iba Mahr & Tarrus Riley – Diamond Sox (remix) (Notis Records)
Queen Ifrica – Make You Rock (Clocktower/Silly Walks Discotheque)
Blue King Brown – All Nations (Blue King Brown)
Little Roy – Disaster & Signs (Tuff Scout)
Lutan Fyah & Turbulence – Criminal (The Empire/Riddim Wise)
Toian – Kingston Town
Dre Island – Way Up (UIM Records)
Spice – So Me Like It (Notnice Records)
Spring Wata – Holding Firm (Rokwon Drop/Rokwon Productions)
DJ Vadim & Matthew McAnuff – Be Careful (remix)
Protoje – Stylin’
Clay – Shadow After Dark (Countrybus Music)
Chronixx – Capture Land (Chronixx Music)
Don Camilo & Manudigital – Champion Juggler (Brigante Records)
Kelissa & Chronixx & Kazemde – Winna (Anbessa Productions & Zinc Fence Records)
Konshens – The Journey (Irievibrations Records)
Jah Sun – Never Give Up (House of Riddim)
Raging Fyah – Jah Glory (Frankie Music)
Stephen Marley & Sizzla & Capleton – Rock Stone (Ghetto Youths International)
Bugle – Anoited
Mr. Benn & Champian – Everytime (Stars/Nice Up! Records)
Stick Figure & Collie Buddz – Smokin’ Love (Roughwood Records)
Protoje & Chronixx – Who Knows (Overstand Entertainment)
Cornell Campbell & Burro Banton – Pressure (I’m Living/Muti Music)
Loyal Flames – Go Hard (Jah Blessings/Maximum Sound)
Sound Dynamiq & Skarra Mucci – Revolution
Lukie D – Calling (Way Back/Akom Records)
Zagga – Attitude of Gratitude (Zion Train/Liv Up Records)
Lutan Fyah – Roll it Up (Village/Irievibrations)
Burro Banton – Inna Mi Legue (Penthouse/Jugglerz Records)
Busy Signal & Christopher Martin – Lock Di Endz (Weedy G Soundforce)
Randy Valentine & LionHeart – Sound the Alarm (Hemp Higher Records)
Addis Pablo – Road to Addis (JahSolidRock)
Bushman & Skarra Mucci – Pretty Looks (Pretty Looks/Flash Hit Records)

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A warning from King Porter Stomp

a2680258742_2UK’s eight piece reggae band King Porter Stomp have teamed up with reggae legend Prince Fatty to create the brand new single Warning. This rolling reggae rocker comes with trademark horns, heavy bass, layered guitar work and lyrics that throw blows of realism and revolution.

King Porter Stomp have for this single also brought Prince Fatty and Nick Manasseh together on the same record for the very first time. Prince Fatty has mixed the two tracks and Nick Manasseh is responsible for the dub version on the flip.

King Porter Stomp embraces a musical diversity and have released a string of singles of which Warning is the third. Each track in the series differs in musical style and Warning is now available vinyl and digital download.

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New book focuses on women in reggae

small coverThere are hundreds of books written about Bob Marley, reggae and dancehall, but none have been all about the women. Now all that has changed thanks to Heather Augustyn, a correspondent for The Times of Northwest Indiana, U.S., and an adjunct professor at Purdue University’s North Central campus as well as the author of Don Drummond: The Genius and Tragedy of the World’s Greatest Trombonist, Ska: An Oral History and Ska: The Rhythm of Liberation.

Songbirds: Pioneering Women in Jamaican Music is the first the first book about women ni reggae, many of whom are critical to the ska explosion in the 60s or the global rise of roots reggae in the 70s.

The book is a detailed look at the daughters, wives and mothers in reggae; the vocalists, instrumentalists, producers, dancers and deejays who helped to shape the course of Jamaican music on the island and worldwide.

This is Heather Augustyn’s fourth book and she spent two years researching it. It features dozens of interviews with a number of key individuals, including Millie Small, Enid Cumberland of Keith & Enid, Janet Enright, Jamaica’s first female guitarist who performed jazz in the 1950s, Marcia Griffiths and members of the first all-girl ska band, the Carnations.

Songbirds: Pioneering Women in Jamaican Music is the story about women in reggae, women that has often been harassed and received little or no pay to perform as backup singers or alongside or in front of the male musicians. It’s also the story about women who found a way to share their talent in a culture and industry that is often marked by masculinity and along the way they changed the course of music all over the world.

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Carefully curated chaos on Sly & Robbie’s Dubrising

unnamedOn Sly & Robbie’s third dub album this year they have teamed up with veteran mixing engineer Paul “Groucho” Smykle, who mixed a few classics back in the 80s, including Ini Kamoze’s ground-breaking debut and Black Uhuru’s forward-thinking The Dub Factor.

Sly & Robbie are two of the main proponents of dub and have played on countless of dub albums and also produced and mixed more than a few. And Dubrising throws you right back when to a time when the duo started to make a name for themselves – the early 80s.

Dubrising is heavy as lead, yet melodic and refined. Paul Smykle uses quite a lot of vocals in the mix, so the original eight tracks from the likes of Bunny Rugs, Horace Andy and Chezidek can be recognized.

This album is not as sparse as two of Sly & Robbie’s more recent dub efforts – Blackwood Dub and Underwater Dub. It’s actually far from sparse. There are loads of instruments to play with for a mixing engineer. Apart from the usual bass, drums, guitar and keys, they have thrown in harmonica, strings and flute. Sounds like a real challenge for a mixing engineer.

The mixing is playful and Paul Smykle has created something of a meticulously coordinated chaos. Vocals coming in from the right, synths from the left, percussion from below and flute from above. It’s a joy to listen to and you are keen to know what will happen next.

Among the many highlights are the militant To the Rescue with its galloping drums, wobbling bass and odd sound effects and Freedom Ring with its haunting synths, hypnotic drums and ground-shaking bass.

Sly & Robbie have been in the music business for about 40 years, but they still manage to stay innovative and original.

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Middle-aged reggae from Stevie Face

10415724_10204797463717264_3220284939875357160_nJamaican singer Stevie Face – who has had several number one hits in his native Jamaica – has recently released his third album. My Time is, just like its predecessor Tell It Like It Is, mostly produced by award-winning producer Paul “Computer Paul” Henton.

The set is an 18 track combination of lovers rock, well-known covers and more rootsy efforts. It’s mostly slick and smooth and expect song titles like Never Give Up On You and Missing You So Much along with lines like “I’m not leaving, I need you in my life, baby, I may not have so much to give, no fancy cars, no privilege, but this is certain, my love is genuine” and “you got me weak in the knees, I can’t even sleep, believe me, baby”.

Da Lovin’ Yah Nice is lead single off the set. It’s an infectious effort voiced over a vintage Studio One riddim. Two collaborations are also included. Both with UK artists. One with Jack Radics and one with sophisticated lovers rock star Adele Harley.

Together with Adele Harley Stevie Face takes on Brotherhood of Man’s folk-pop classic United We Stand and it comes complete with orchestral strings and a grand chorus. Just as majestic is a bouncy version of U2’s Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For.

Stevie Face has a powerful tenor voice and My Time is a mature and catchy album with a rich sound, and it will probably go very well with more traditional reggae fans.

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Jah Bless’ militant swing

cover170x170Last year I interviewed Jah David, bass player and musical director in Zion High Productions as well as member of acclaimed production trio Zion I Kings. In the interview he mentioned he was working on an album from saxophone player Jah Bless. Now that set has arrived.

To state that the reggae market today is overflowed by instrumental sets would be a grand exaggeration. Vocal sets are the order of the day and dub albums are far more common than instrumental albums. It was however different in the 60s and 70s when instrumental reggae efforts were part of a label’s regular output.

I’m a huge fan of instrumental albums and was really looking forward to this new album from Jah Bless. He’s carrying the tradition forward and this is a set in the same tradition as the great instrumental sets from the likes of Tommy McCook and Roland Alphonso.

Redemption is Jah Bless’ second album and it collects 14 sax-driven tasty and organic instrumentals, sometimes with a hint of funky jazz and sometimes accompanied with a dub workout on the mixing board. The riddims are steller and Jah Bless blows his horn with an elegant smoothness.

Expectations are always high on Zion I Kings and they always manage to deliver accordingly. Essential for fans of bright and stylish reggae instrumentals.

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New compilation from the Marley’s

unnamedGhetto Youths International, the record label owned and operated by Bob Marley’s sons Damian, Julian and Stephen, will release the brand new compilation Set Up Shop Vol. 2 on December 23. The 15-track compilation follows volume 1, released exclusively on iTunes in February 2013.

The new album is primarily produced by the Grammy-winning brothers Stephen and Damian Marley. The set features new and already released material from the entire Ghetto Youths roster, including Jo Mersa, Black-Am-I, Christopher Ellis, Wayne Marshall and the label’s founders, along with dancehall artist Cham.

Damian Marley’s Is It Worth It? (Gunman World) is lead single off the compilation and will be accompanied by short film music video directed by Nabil Elderkin, who has previously worked with Kanye West, Nicki Minaj and Frank Ocean.

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