German reggae singer Jahcoustix spent his childhood in several different countries in many parts of the world – Mexico, Liberia, the U.S., Kenya, Germany and Egypt. And just like when he was growing up his previous albums have wandered in several different directions, while his latest effort Frequency is a cohesive set following Bob Marley’s roots reggae recipe.
Frequency is Jahcoustix sixth studio album and recorded with a different approach since it’s his first without his band. Instead he worked with Austrian label and producers Irievibrations Records along with a few other producers.
The idea was to get a more diverse sound, but I’d say it’s the opposite. Frequency is straight forward roots reggae with clean grooves, deep bass lines, pumping organ, kicking drums, sweet vocal harmonizing, conscious lyrics, breezy horns and memorable hooks and melodies.
Over the 17 tracks, of which one is a dub version of the excellent Apple Gabriel combination Controller and two are bonus cuts, he doesn’t stray into straight pop, balladeering, dancehall, dance music or hip-hop. Frequency is uplifting and uncompromising roots reggae. Just like it should be.
Available now on CD and digital platforms.
The latest vintage compilation from reggae powerhouse VP’s reissue subsidiary 17 North Parade focuses on female talents from Joe Gibbs’ label Joe Gibbs Record Globe.
The Ladies at Joe Gibbs collects 15 tracks sourced from vinyl. A number of the tunes are reggae standards and signature songs, including Althea & Donna’s smash hit Uptown Top Ranking, June Lodge’s Someone Loves You Honey, one of the best-selling Jamaican lovers rock tunes of the early 80’s, and Marcia Aitken’s chart topper I’m Still in Love With You.
The compilation is however not entirely revolving around women since a few male deejays join the party, including Trinity on Marcia Aitken’s version of The Techniques’ rocksteady gem My Girl, here titled My Boy, and Ranking Joe on another cover version courtesy of Aitken, this time The Uniques’ Let Me Go Girl, here titled Let Me Go Boy.
Compiler Donald Davidson has also thrown in a few rarities – Jem & Dean’s deejay version of The Sensation’s Everyday is Like a Holiday and Althea’s solo effort Downtown Thing, voiced over a relick of the wicked Please Be True riddim, originally a hit for Alexander Henry in the late 60’s, but today probably best know because of Johnny Osbourne’s cut Sing Jah Style.
The Ladies at Joe Gibbs is a smooth and sophisticated compilation, and it’s great that female reggae singers and deejays get a piece of the limelight. More of that please.
Now available on digital platforms and CD. The latter contains informative liner notes from Daddy Lion Chandell.
In 2000 music producer and reggae aficionado Tom Chasteen started LA’s Dub Club, where he every week invites Jamaican veteran singers and deejays to perform alongside the club’s DJ’s. The essence of the club can be seen and heard in the excellent documentary and album Rub A Dub Style released a few years ago.
Tom Chasteen has now a new project. This time he has teamed up with Tippa Lee for an album titled Foundation Come Again, set for release in mid July. Prior to that tasty album are two limited edition LP’s with dub versions – Signs and Wonders in Dub and Bubble Dub.
The recordings were done in Jamaica and LA with several foundation deejays, including Big Youth, Lone Ranger, Prince Jazzbo, Dillinger, Josey Wales and Trinity. They ride a number of classic and relicked riddims, such as Death in the Arena, Zion Gate and many more.
All dub versions are made old-school style – mixed live on tape in one take by Tom Chasteen. He improvised and tried and tested the sounds by twisting knobs, pushing faders, reshaping song structures and adding echo and reverb going head to head with space and time.
Signs and Wonders in Dub and Bubble Dub are two deadly dub albums. They’re pulsating and smooth, yet heavy and dread in a rub a dub style and fashion.
The queen and the four kings in Morgan Heritage are back with their first album since Mission in Progress, released in 2008. Over these five years the five siblings in the group have focused on their solo careers with a varying degree of success.
Morgan Heritage started as an octet more than 20 years ago, but re-formed a few years later to a five-piece group. Here Come the Kings is their tenth album, an album where they continue waving the red, gold and green banner high and proud. Their version of pop-fueled and melodic socially conscious roots reggae is easy to fall in love with, and this album is no exception.
Here Come the Kings was preceded by the excellent four track EP The Return – which included the anthemic and rock-solid title track – last year and the heavyweight pop gem Perfect Love Song, released just in time for Valentine’s Day.
The vocal interplay between lead singers Peetah and Gramps is beautiful – Peetah with his sincere gospel-tinged style and Gramps with his deep and authoritative baritone. Here Come the Kings shows them in perfect harmony and most of the tracks are better than any of their solo projects.
Tunes like The Return, Ends Nah Meet, Man Has Forgotten and Holla are heavily addictive and after listening to the full album you just might have to check yourself into rehab.
Here Come the Kings drops on June 11 on CD and digital platforms.
Bunny Lee compilations are a dime a dozen these days and you have to be kind of careful since a lot of them just recycle a lot of already reissued material.
Good News is the third and latest release from UK label King Spinna and is compared to several other recently released Bunny Lee compilations full of nuggets and is solid as a rock with its 17 tracks from nine beloved Jamaican singers – Cornell Campbell, Derrick Morgan, Joy White, Ronnie Davis, John Holt, Jackie Edwards, Johnny Clarke, Owen Gray and Leroy Smart.
This all-singing affair is the vocal counterpart to King Spinna’s debut release Dub Will Change Your Mind, which collected all the B-side versions from this set, and the tracks included were originally released between 1975 and 1978. Lyrically and thematically they range from love songs to socially aware roots with all the singers proving themselves equally at ease with different styles.
Many of the tracks included are hard to come by and haven’t been included on any compilations or albums. For example Cornell Campbell’s excellent Gorgon A the Ginegog, Derrick Morgan’s Rasta No Fear, the next cut to his popular Tougher Than Tough, or Owen Gray’s I Man Naah Run. Included is also John Holt’s popular Up Park Camp, a tuned reissued and versioned to death.
Bunny Lee has during his many years in the production business worked with virtually every Jamaican artist of note and this compilation showcases some of the best talents Jamaica has to offer, but it also gives a nice taste of the flying cymbals and rockers sound.
Good News is now available on CD and digital platforms.
Don’t you just love the moments when you listen to a new artist or an album and don’t know what to expect and the sound is so powerful you just say “get out of here!”?
Well, I do and I had one of those moments a while ago when I put French youthful deejay Naâman’s debut album Deep Rockers – Back A Yard in the CD player. I had received a promo copy and hadn’t heard about him before and actually thought about shelving it without giving it a listen, but for some reason I changed my mind, and I’m glad I did. Because this album is hip-hop-fueled reggae at its best.
Naâman evolved on the French reggae scene three years ago and was this year voted as Revelation of the Year by French website Reggae Victories. He has previously only released a mixtape and a successful single on Youtube.
Deep Rockers – Back A Yard was mainly produced and recorded in Jamaica by Fatbabs at the legendary Harry J studio together with musicians such as Sam Clayton, Stephen Stewart, Dalton Browne and Sly Dunbar.
The sound is a bit reminiscent of mid 80’s Sly & Robbie or George Phang, especially the severely hard skanking Cutty Ranks combination Rebel For Life.
Naâman has a great sense for strong melodies and he also has a natural, rhythmic and vigorous flow when he rides the pulsating and thumping riddims effortlessly. He should however focus on his deejay skills, since his singing is not as strong.
This potent and explosive album offers a fresh take on hip-hop-influenced reggae delivered with a high dose of passion and youthful playfulness.
Deep Rockers – Back A Yard is now available on CD and digital platforms.
I get the feeling that every new album from Sizzla in recent years has been labeled as a return to his sound from the mid and late 90’s. But everytime I’m disappointed. Because none of his more recent albums is nearly as great as the fierce and spiritual music he did for, say, Phillip “Fattis” Burrell or Bobby “Digital” Dixon.
The Messiah – Sizzla’s 70th and latest album – has also been described as something of an album where Sizzla goes back to the roots. Well, lyrically it may be true, but then again his three latest albums have all been jammed with spiritual and righteous ravings and chants.
Musically The Messiah is better than both his albums released in 2011, but not as good as The Scriptures released in 2011 and produced by King Jammy’s son John John, even though they are similar.
On The Messiah Sizzla sings – as usually an acquired taste – and spits his social commentaries over mostly relicked popular reggae and dancehall riddims, including the mighty Tempo riddim and Harry J’s buoyant skinhead rocker The Liquidator, a rather odd choice, but one that actually works really well. The festive sound clashes nicely with Sizzla’s falsetto singing about politicians killing and stealing from the poor.
No Wicked Man, voiced over Barrington Levy’s Tell Them Already, is one of Sizzla’s finest album tracks in a long while, and the high-powered Suffer So Much, on the aforementioned Tempo riddim, will definitely set any dancehall or living room ablaze.
Sizzla is one the greatest and most prolific reggae artists, but his intricate vocal style is hard to cope with on a full album. He has clear pitch problems and it can be charming and add character, but only to a certain point. Sizzla’s musical mission and struggle to make a positive change in the world is overshadowed by his eagerness to extend over his vocal limitations.
Available now on CD and digital platforms.
Looking for the perfect reggae/pop crossover album? Then I’ve a suggestion for you – Cas Haley’s recently released third album La Si Dah. This 13 track album is a bona fide scorcher in terms of soulful, bluesy pop with clear reggae influences.
Cas Haley is a U.S. singer/songwriter based in Texas and has one of the most powerful voices on the U.S. reggae scene. His style is honest, poignant and unpretentious and his music is diverse and easy-going with lots of memorable melodies and hooks. When I played this album for my wife a while ago she immediately started singing along without having heard a single note from the album or Cas Haley before.
La Si Dah was produced by the singer himself with a little help from Grammy-Award winning producer and engineer Rob Fraboni, who has worked with Bob Dylan, The Eagles, Keith Richards and The Rolling Stones. All the instruments and most of the vocals were recorded in the same room at the same time with no isolation and no headphones, which has given the album an intimate and organic atmosphere.
Even though this is far from a conventional reggae album there are at least four songs that can labeled as reggae – the sing-a-long friendly Mama, the breezy Crazy Good Woman, the dubby Slow Down and the nyabinghi-drum inflected Tally Tally.
Included are also a cover of 80’s British pop band The Smiths’ popular How Soon Is Now and three instrumentals leaning heavily towards blues.
The album was financed through crowd-sourcing site PledgeMusic and without Cas Haley’s fans this album might not have seen the day of light, which had would been a real pity. Because as for catchy crossover reggae – this album is as good as it gets.
Jamaican veteran deejay Trinity, aka Junior Brammer, rose to prominence in the mid 70’s with his Big Youth-infuenced style. With his Joe Gibbs produced smash Three Piece Suit, on the same riddim as Althea & Donna’s monster hit Uptown Top Ranking, he pioneered dancehall slackness. And from then on he released several albums, singles and combination albums.
And his brand new 14 track album Eye To Eye is yet another combination set. This time French production crew Irie Ites have – together with excellent riddim sections such as Mafia & Fluxy and Sly & Robbie – re-recorded and re-licked a number of well-known riddims and then having Trinity and the original vocalist riding the riddim in fine style.
The vocalists are some of the best ever and include Barrington Levy, Dennis Brown, Gregory Isaacs, Cornell Campbell, John Holt, Beres Hammond and the list goes on in the same fine style.
Trinity is inspired and delivers his lyrics, interjections and catch phrases singing and deejaying. The interplay between Trinity and the singers is impressive and it sounds like these may well have been the original versions.
Eye To Eye includes a few already released singles and is now available on CD and digital platforms.
It’s almost impossible today to write a story about a Jamaican band without referring to the ongoing band and live music resurgence in Jamaica with outfits like Raging Fyah, Uprising Roots Band and Mystikal Revolution, one of the latest additions.
Five piece Dubtonic Kru is however far from newcomers. They’re more like pioneers on the contemporary Jamaican live band circuit. They won Global Battle of the Bands in 2011 and have toured U.S. and Europe many times. Their third and latest album Evolution is due tomorrow and showcases an inspired, talented and skanking band that is not afraid of mixing their favorite genres into a steaming melting pot of roots reggae, soul, funk, dub, pop, dancehall and rock.
Evolution collects 13 tracks and ranges from rock-tinged dancehall in the Kool Johnny Kool combination Rub a Dub Style to psychedelic, twisted dub on the appropriately titled Cloud 9 and hardcore nyabinghi on the magnificent Jah Works, a track that could easily be mistaken for something from the Ras Michael camp.
In between these are a number of jovial one drops, a great version of The Ethiopians’ rocksteady classic Train to Skaville and the honest and heartfelt reggae love story Reggae Vibez, a track featuring Shabba Ranks sing-a-like Jamar “Ratigan” Kelly, who puts it very eloquently “Well, I’ve been around the world, listened to a lot of hits, ain’t no music like this, some say reggae was a accident, but I say it was a gift…”.
Dubtonic Kru is a Third World for the 21th century and Evolution is a great leap forward for the Kru who has presented their best set yet.