Singing with a band or singing a cappella or just backed by a guitar might be something like holding a presentation with or without a PowerPoint. It can be a demanding setup where you are naked, vulnerable and exposed.
The latest addition to the increasing number of acoustic or unplugged reggae albums is Jahcoustix’ Acoustic Frequency, an uncut reworking of his excellent and very rootsy Frequency album, which was originally released last year.
This brand new acoustic version comes with the same amount of cuts, but three of these are dub versions and included are also a few exclusives. So, it’s not a full album that has been recut. No worries though.
Acoustic Frequency is just as great as its uplifting predecessor. It offers a new and different perspective to his music. It’s intimate, personal and raw with an organic feel throughout the set.
According to an interview with Jahcoustix it only took five days to record the album and he and his producers – Irievibrations – didn’t put too much thought into the production. They just let the vibes flow. And simplicity is often a tasty recipe for success. Acoustic Frequency is a telling example of that.
Natural Numbers is the latest project from Los Angeles-based producer and mixing engineer Tom Chasteen, who is primarily best known for being co-founder of Dub Club, an acclaimed reggae club in Los Angeles as well as one of his musical projects.
Natural Numbers is rooted in the dubbier side of reggae, but also loans elements from the Middle East, country and surf rock. The riddims on Natural Numbers in Dub are original recordings of an all-star band led by heavyweight bass man George “Fully” Fullwood along with members from rock band Wilco and psychedelic pop rockers Mazzy Star.
Cornell Campbell is also on board the project and lends his falsetto to Unconditional Dub, Dub in the City and the superb Dub and Blind. The latter is a cut where Tom Chasteen shows his dance music roots and this five minute masterpiece just keeps building up layer after layer.
The set has a full sound and is not a dub album per se, since a number of the songs are rather instrumentals with added effects. Others, however, are more deconstructed and pulled back together with echo and reverb.
Highlights include the militant Pressurizer along with Theme for King Richard and Ride the High Dub with their haunting organ and lingering surf guitar respectively. Best of the ten tracks is however Dubble Trouble with its rocking percussion, driving bass line and swinging guitar picking.
Natural Numbers in Dub is yet another solid effort from Tom Chasteen and shows that California has more reggae to offer than ska-punk and surf rock reggae.
A collective of West African artists have united to raise awareness about Ebola and help to raise funds to support Doctors without Borders in West Africa.
The song Africa Stop Ebola by Collectif Africa Stop Ebola is a heartfelt cry to stop the disease and it has clear and upfront messages about what one can do to help.
Africa Stop Ebola is sung in French and local languages. It’s honest and warm and includes performances from no less than 14 singers, rappers and musicians, including Tiken Jah Fakoly, Amadou & Mariam, Salif Keita, Oumou Sangare, Kandia Kora, Mory Kante, Sia Tolno, Barbara Kanam, Didier Awadi, Marcus, Mokobé, Sekou Kouyaté and Ludovic N’Holle.
The song is now available as digital download on all major retailers and streaming services. All profits will be donated to Doctors without Borders, an international humanitarian organisation that provides independent medical aid and emergency relief.
VI reggae trailblazers Midnite is back with yet another album with acclaimed U.S. production trio Zion I Kings – Zion High Productions, I Grade Records and Lustre Kings.
Midnite is known for being prolific and I believe the upcoming Ride Tru album will be their third in 2014 and the second with Zion I Kings. They worked together on Beauty for the Ashes, which was released about ten months ago.
Ride Tru drops in December and you can check its initial single Credited below.
UK label Shemesh Records – run by brothers Daniel and David Norland together with Aron Shamash – has recently dropped a strong compilation showcasing some of their best releases over the past 15 years along with brand new tunes and never before released cuts. Included is also music which has never been put on CD or digital download.
The riddims are often bright and uplifting, yet with firm conscious vibes, and built by Oxford’s own Makating using full horn section and analogue instruments. Mixes are provided by UK reggae heavyweights Russ Disciples and Dougie Conscious and it’s mastered by legendary producer and mixing engineer Nick Manasseh.
Shemesh Artist Showcase Part 1 features a mixture of Jamaican and UK-based talents. Sugar Minott, Michael Rose, Sandeeno, Afrikan Simba and Teddy Dan have all voiced cuts on this compilation. The late Slimma Levi, previous lead vocalist in Makating, is also included with the heartfelt Gift of Jah. The Makating collective is also represented vocally by Lorraine and Fireocious.
This set definitely includes the crème de la crème of the UK roots reggae scene and the quality of the material that has been put together is solid to say the least.
Stay tuned for part 2, which includes dub versions and will be given away for free.
Three years ago the vicious and confident Ce’Cile – one of too few successful female reggae singers – dropped her fourth album Jamaicanization, a set where she aimed for a more reggae-oriented sound.
A few weeks ago her fifth album was released and now she has taken a new direction. Still Running (From Love) is probably her most eclectic full-length effort yet and she effortlessly blends ska, reggae and dancehall with soca, dubstep, Eurodance, pop and house.
One of the main themes is energy. Another is fun. Many of the songs are bona fide party-starters directly aimed at shaking up dance floors worldwide. You have Turn It Up, which loans heavily from Alexandra Stan’s monster hit Mr. Saxobeat. They share a similar looped and infectious saxophone, made for popping up in your head when you don’t need it.
There’s also the bright and very repetitive Irie: We Don’t Care and Me Have It and Eye Pon Me, both sexy and sweaty with bouncy bass lines. On the Richie Loop combination Contagious soca meets house, in a way similar to what Bunji Garlin does on his recently released Differentology album. Then there’s One More, a combination with fierce chanter Anthony B over a lazy dubstep beat.
I rarely listen to top 40 radio or Billboard best-sellers. But I think some of those songs and albums sound a little like Still Running with its sing-a-long and anthemic choruses and infectious hooks and memorable melodies. It’s a contemporary and lively Caribbean pop album that could do well on hit lists across Europe and the U.S.
German reggae superstar Gentleman has recently put out an unplugged set, like so many other reggae artists have done recently. Tarrus Riley, Clinton Fearon and Richie Spice are three examples. Gentleman’s album is however a bit different since it was recorded with a live audience and with a full orchestra – including both horns and strings – backing him.
But just like several other unplugged sets it’s not really unplugged or acoustic, as it’s supposed to be. That doesn’t matter, since this is truly a great album.
I’ve never been a huge fan of live albums though. Don’t know why. Maybe it has something to do with it being very hard to create that live feeling on record. But on Gentleman’s MTV Unplugged it works really, really well. It sounds like it was a huge concert.
The deluxe edition of this album collects no less than 28 tracks taken from all but one of Gentleman’s albums. No cuts from his Trodin On set, but several from his most recent efforts – Diversity and New Day Dawn. Included are also non-album cuts like Tranquillity, To the Top and Runaway along with a cover of the Bob Marley’s classic Redemption Song.
There are also two new songs –the heartfelt No Solidarity, sung together with Ky-Mani Marley, and Warn Dem, a scorching call and response combination with Shaggy aimed directly at all best of the year lists. Those tracks are together with a furious version of Leave Us Alone, originally on his Journey to Jah album, some of the brightest highlights.
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.
Five years ago Austria’s leading reggae and dancehall label Irievibrations Records dropped their first compilation – Still One Drop. It collected some of their finest work between 2003 and 2009, including Burro Banton’s superb up-tempo ska scorcher Run the Streets Red and Delus & Konshens’, aka Sojah, ganja anthem So High.
Since that album the label has put out a number of highly acclaimed albums and singles. Both Luciano’s Rub a Dub Market and Anthony B’s Freedom Fighter have been hailed as some of their best work in recent years. And one of Konshens’ latest singles – My Journey – certainly promises well for his announced upcoming second album.
Solid Foundation is the second compilation from Irievibrations and it showcases some of their best tunes over the past five years. The musical spectrum is broad and its title is a telling one. You have the usual well-produced European one drop, like Luciano’s Rub a Dub Market or Denham Smith’s Ordinary Man, but also bouncy and grim dancehall, as on Anthony B & Konshens’ Beat Dem Bad.
It also collects one or two surprises. Particularly Junior Kelly’s Mile in My Shoes, which is a certified northern soul stomper. Had no idea Junior Kelly would fit on a furious 60s soul beat. But he definitely does.
Irievibrations has been dropping solid music for about ten years and put out over 80 releases from local and international artists. This compilation shows their trademark and genuine sound and I’m looking forward to at least ten more years.
Jamaican band Mystic Revealers went on hiatus a few years back to develop the Caribbean surfing community, and now they’re back with something of a best of compilation titled Crucial Cuts. The set features 13 of some of their most popular tracks, including Space & Time and Young Revolutionaries.
Can’t say I’ve heard much about Mystic Revealers before I ran into this album, which is a bit strange since they were formed as far back as in the late 70s. Jimmy Cliff produced their debut single Mash Down Apartheid, which was released in 1985. But it took another seven years for the debut album to hit the streets. During those years they played Reggae Sunsplash in Jamaica and toured Japan, the UK, the U.S. and Europe.
Including Crucial Cuts they have put out eight albums, most of them produced and released in the 90s. And that’s why some of the songs on this compilation sound a bit dated. An overuse of synths and too hard guitar solos are partly to be blamed.
There’s however nothing wrong with the melodies and Billy Mystic is a mellow and accomplished singer with a soothing vibe. There are a number of crucial cuts included, for example the Anthony B combination I’m Gonna Tell You, on which gruff deejaying meets soulful singing, and Young Revolutionaries, with its catchy guitar lick.
All tracks are far from crucial, but it’s always nice to discover a band that’s been around for quite a while without making any significant impact on the course of history.
This year has so far been graced by remarkably strong dancehall albums, and Popcaan and Jah Vinci’s debut albums are two prime examples. Horseman’s recently released debut is another. These three albums are something completely different compared to all the generic and poorly mastered dancehall sets that are regularly put out.
Horseman is a veteran on the UK reggae scene and has spent about three decades working largely behind the scenes, often as a very capable and well-respected drummer. He has over the past few years made solid guest appearances on several productions coming from Prince Fatty.
And Prince Fatty is also responsible for production and mixing on Horseman’s debut album Dawn of the Dread. This album sees Prince Fatty taking a new direction. It’s still vintage sounding though, but not vintage as in 60s and 70s. No, Dawn of the Dread is primarily rooted in the mid to late 80s dancehall scene. Bouncing bass lines, playful drums and lively synths make this twelve track set a joyous and fun excursion, an excursion on which Horseman and Prince Fatty have invited Tippa Irie, Winston Reedy and Earl Sixteen.
I’ve actually been longing for a full album from Horseman ever since I heard Prince Fatty’s excellent album Supersize four years ago. And this album was well worth the wait.