Contemporary rub-a-dub on Kojo Neatness’ debut album

20769-800Can’t say I know much about the almost forgotten Jamaican singer Kojo Neatness, but he has recently recorded a gem with Polish production crew Dreadsquad titled Boom Sound.

He also has a fresh full-length album out called Reggae Street Showcase. The set was recorded in France, voiced in Jamaica, and collects six vocal cuts followed by their dub counterpart. The production was crafted by Webcam Hi-Fi’s Fredread, who was responsible for the excellent compilation Feeding My Faith released two years ago.

Kojo Neatness has a haunting and intense vocal style similar to Linval Thompson, Barry Brown and Tristan Palma. And his voice flows over contemporary rub-a-dub riddims, sometimes with tsunami-like bass lines, particularly the dub versions and cuts like Deep Dub and Rudeboy & Dub.

Reggae Street Showcase is Kojo Neatness’ first album ever and it took a few decades and a producer and a label from France to get it out there.

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War is in the dance!

One of last year’s best tunes was Keida’s excellent Stand For Something. Now – finally – comes a one riddim compilation with nine cuts of the heavyweight riddim. And it’s voiced by a great bunch of vocalists from Jamaica, Europe and the U.S.. How about Pressure, Bobby Hustle, Exco Levi, Khari Kill, Gappy Ranks, Rob Symeonn, Rocker-T, Addis Pablo & The Suns of Dub and of course Keida.

War is in the Dance riddim is produced by U.S.based Royal Order Music and drops on October 21. Until then you can check the megamix by Selecta Daniel below.

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Mr. Vegas shows his full range on Reggae Euphoria

unnamedDancehall superstar Mr. Vegas’ new album Reggae Euphoria is an eclectic and unusual – or dare I say odd – story. This 15 track set showcases all sides of the dynamic Mr. Vegas across a variety of genres, including rootsy reggae, energetic dancehall, smooth R&B and uplifting gospel.

It bounces off with the acoustic and nyabinghi-flavoured Mr. Shotta, followed by God Good, on a clever remake of the mighty Answer riddim. It has a bright and catchy church chorus where Mr. Vegas asks “If you know the lord is keeping you, what are you worrying about, if you know the lord is keeping, you why don’t you sing and shout.”

Fast forward to The Climb, a version of Miley Cyrus’ hit on which Mr. Vegas sings over a thumping riddim that sounds like it was recorded by New Jack Swingster Teddy Riley in Jamaica in the early 90s.

Mr. Vegas also covers Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah and Alton Ellis’ I’ve Got a Date. In between he has time for the ska-tinged My Jam and the romantic Thank You Girl. The set closes with Mr. Vegas’ take on the Nah Fraid riddim, a sparse riddim rooted in the mid-80s digital dancehall craze.

Reggae Euphoria blends romance and culture and at times finds the singer in a silky and sultry mood.

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Another deep and profound set from Black Roots

unnamedUK reggae band Black Roots is a favorite of mine and their self-titled debut album is one of the strongest sets coming from Britain. I was of course thrilled when I heard they had reunited a few years back and I was thrilled again when I realized they were also about to drop their first full-length set in more than 20 years.

On the Ground dropped in 2012. It completed their comeback and was a success.  It was followed by a stripped down and downright excellent dub counterpart in 2013.

Now I’m thrilled yet again. The reason? Black Roots is back with yet another scorcher. This time they’ve teamed up with French independent label SoulBeats.

Ghetto Feel is another deep and profound album from this Bristol-based band. It revolves around social challenges and Black Roots express their political standpoints on various issues. In the 80s they were at war with Margaret Thatcher, now their critique is directed at David Cameron, another Prime Minister and leader of the Conservative Party.

Even though Black Roots are outspoken with defiant lyrical themes, the melodies are often bright and they offer a good dose of slowly skanking vibes and uplifting grooves. Just listen to Albert Villa with its calypso-tinged melody or the gospel-fused Lonely Journey.

Ghetto Feel is the heart of vintage roots reggae and it could easily have been released in the early 80s.

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Warm and easy on Duane Stephenson’s Dangerously Roots

unnamedPassionate Jamaican singer Duane Stephenson has spent the past three years touring as lead vocalist with the Original Wailers, but has now returned as a solo artist.

Dangerously Roots – Journey From August Town is his third album following his departure from 7-piece band To Isis, a band where he started his professional career. His debut set was the acclaimed From August Town, which included the magnificent title track. It was followed by the syrupy Black Gold, a set that lacked a bit of edge.

For his new album Duane Stephenson and his label have – just like on his previous albums – enlisted an all-star production team, including Jamaican heavyweights Clive Hunt, Dean Fraser, Christopher Birch, Phillip James and Donovan Germain with guest appearances from Tarrus Riley, I-Octane, Lutan Fyah and Mutabaruka.

The first single off the album was a warm and contemporary remake of Bunny Wailer’s Cool Runnings. And the whole album is just as strong as that particular single.

Dangerously Roots is roots reggae, but not dangerous at all. Rather the opposite. It’s slick, stylish and sophisticated with memorable pop hooks and infectious melodies.

Duane Stephenson singing is heartfelt and he has a sadness in his voice that gives the set a melancholic feel throughout. It certainly adds a sincere flavour to his fight for unity and social change.

So, welcome back Duane. I hope you’ll continue to record as a solo artist.

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Vybz Kartel should be proud of his protégées

disc-3231-jah-vinci-ghetto-bornThe dancehall genre is heavy on singles and one riddim compilations and single artist full-length albums are few and often far between. But this year two of dancehall’s up and coming superstars have dropped their debut sets.

Popcaan and Jah Vinci have both been members of Vybz Kartel’s Portmore Empire. In June Popcaan dropped his electro-fused Where We Come From and a month later Jah Vinci dropped his dancehall-oriented Ghetto Born.

Jah Vinci has since he emerged on the scene in 2008 delivered several hits, for example Wipe Those Tears, Remedy, Gawn Home and Mama Love. All fuelled with his electric and intense vocal style.

Ghetto Born collects only fresh material and is mainly produced by Khabir Bonner of Grillaras Productions, probably best known for Lutan Fyah’s excellent Life of a King released last year. Also involved in the project are Tariq “Nashi” Smith and Xavier “Bless X” Prendergast from Kamau Music.

Jah Vinci focuses on the tough side of life – crime, violence and poverty. He tells stories about living in the ghetto and how to break barriers rising to success. And it’s his story – growing up with violence on the streets and how he managed to overcome hardships becoming a global dancehall artist.

The set includes 13 tracks, of which two are combinations with Junior Reid and Beenie Man respectively. Best of the bunch are however hip-hop excursions like We Taking Over – with a Barrington Levy sample floating in and out of the mix – and Rude Boys and Police. But also the melancholic and acoustic title track.

Popcaan and Jah Vinci chose different paths for their debut albums. Popcaan’s set might appeal more to U.S. and European hipsters looking for the next dancehall sound. Jah Vinci’s album, on the other hand, is more Jamaica and leans towards traditional contemporary dancehall with clear hip-hop influences. Two sets with different approaches. And their mentor Vybz Kartel should be proud of both his protégées.

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Digital scorchers on new King Jammy compilation

CS2567462-02A-BIGReggae powerhouse VP Records follows up on their Jammys From the Roots compilation released four years ago.

More Jammys From the Roots is a confusing title, since it hints that it’s a roots reggae compilation. But it’s not. This new edition takes on where the firstleft off – in the mid 80s when computerized reggae was the order of the day and when Wayne Smith’s game changing Under Me Sleng Teng was on everyone’s lips.

This 32 track set spotlights King Jammy’s mid to late 80s productions and includes lots of fine riddims, both vintage and fresh ones, for example Stalag, Real Rock, Run Down the World and Satta Massagana.

Featured vocalists include both legends and forgotten ones ranging from Junior Murvin, Dennis Brown, Johnny Osbourne and Sugar Minott to King Everald, Super Black and Prince Junior.

Several tracks on these two discs are made available for the first time on CD and digital download. A delight since many of the tunes are heavily sough-after today, and digital reggae on vinyl from this period also fetch ridiculously high prices on eBay and other outlets.

King Jammy managed to revolutionize the sound of reggae in the 80s and if you already have compilations like King at the Controls or the eight disc set Selector’s Choice Vol. 1-4 you’ll know this. But if not, More Jammys From the Roots is a proper introduction to early digital reggae King Jammy style.

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Taj Weekes spreads love on new single off forthcoming album

16406-LHR_20Cover_20ArtSt. Lucian reggae singer and songwriter Taj Weekes has once again teamed up with his band Adowa for another album.

Love, Herb & Reggae drops early next year and the first single off the set – Here I Stand – will be released on October 28.

“Love is a human rights issue. That’s the important thing. We shouldn’t be defining people by their sexuality. Who’s the one to decide what’s ‘normal,’ anyway? What we need is more love in this world, more diversity. The single is me: I’m stating my position and taking my stand,” states Taj Weekes in a press release.

Taj Weekes has always experimented with arrangements and is no stranger to rock and pop. And this is showcased on Here I Stand. The reggae influence is subtle on this one, and the rhythm leans heavily towards tango (!) and blues.

“The reggae is still there, it’s just in a different place. The drums and bass add the flavor. We kept it simple to focus attention on the lyrics. We wanted it to be a track everyone would notice,” explains Taj Weekes, and adds:

“When I started out I just wanted to put a poem over a riddim. Now I’ve found my voice. I want to be true to the art form I’ve chosen, whatever comes from it.”

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New single from Damian Marley

Successful producer and deejay Damian Marley drops new single. Hard Work is taken from the forthcoming compilation Set Up Shop Vol.2, set to be released later this year on the Marley-owned Ghetto Youths International label.

Listen to Hard Work below.

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Shake it with The Upsessions and Lee Perry

upsessions-shake-it-8714374963824Eccentric Jamaican music legend Lee “Scratch” Perry is a little bit of everywhere these days and works in several genres. In May he was part of the vintage sounding Back on the Controls album and he has also worked with more future-sounding acts like The Orb, Dubblestandart and EasyRiddimMaker.

Now he is involved in another project with a vintage sound. But it’s not swirling roots like Back on the Controls, almost the opposite actually. Shake It! is Dutch band The Upsessions’ fourth album, and it features 14 tracks in the ska, rocksteady and early reggae vein, largely inspired by Desmond Dekker, The Maytals and The Skatalites.

They teamed up with Lee Perry while on tour in Germany and he has injected his distinctive half-sung/half-spoken style to several of the songs. It certainly adds a rough flavour to the otherwise smooth, yet often up-tempo, material.

Just as many albums in this vein Shake It! blends vocal cuts with instrumentals. And the set ranges from the calypso-tinged and risqué The Big Bamboo Treat and Punani Strike via the funky 100.000.000 Tons of Reggae and Funky Lumpini to skanking dance floor crashers like the title track and Hold Your Wining.

Sharp and infectious for your dancing feet.

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