On February 25 last year I wrote that Etana’s at the time recently released album Better Tomorrow included her finest work yet. And I’m happy to say that she keeps rising for every album and that she has yet again exceeded expectations and that she continues to raise bar.
Etana has come a long way since her acclaimed debut album The Strong One, released in 2008. She has always had a stellar voice and has often been compared to U.S. neo soul singers like Alicia Keys and India.Arie. And Etana certainly has a truly soulful voice custom-made for slick ballads, but she’s equally at ease with harder and more roots-oriented material. That’s a vein that she has started to explore more and more in recent years. She has gone from being a neo-soul diva to a strong force in the ongoing roots reggae revival in Jamaica.
On her brand new fourth album I Rise she continues to work with one dedicated producer. On Better Tomorrow it was Shane C. Brown, and on I Rise it’s no other than Clive Hunt. A real veteran and by Etana described as ”the great, great, the god father of reggae, super talented, creative, rough, bad, but also very kind at the same time, Clive Hunt”.
He has made remarkable music for four decades working with the likes of Stevie Wonder, The Abyssinians, Peter Tosh, Jimmy Cliff, Grace Jones and a truckload of others. Onboard is also a host of Jamaica’s finest musicians, including himself along with Sly Dunbar, Robbie Shakespeare and Dean Fraser.
Etana has a vocal strength and melodic power that is almost unique in contemporary reggae, and she’s today Jamaica’s leading female vocalist with her blend of infectious love ballads and harsh roots anthems.
Clive Hunt has created a versatile, yet consistent, set with rich arrangements and multi-layered grooves. The discofied reggae beat on the spiritual Emmancipation (Spoken Soul 11) is one of the most memorable moments. Another is On My Way, with its militant intro that makes me want to salute the talented forces behind this excellent album.
The first album on the acclaimed Tuff Scout label – not counting the Sword of Jah Mouth reissue – is a serious and tougher than tough dub album mixed by label boss Gil Cang along with Deemus.
Inna London Dub comes with ten cuts paying tribute to London; each song have a London reference in its title, for example Seven Sisters Curfew and Southall Stepper.
The set is vintage, yet with a strong contemporary vibe with influences from past time maestros and forward-thinking and more current aces. It also collects vocal snippets from reggae luminaries like Al Campbell, Big Youth and Michael Prophet.
This is probably one of the best contemporary dub albums I’ve heard in a long while. It’s harder than most, and the mixing is truly inspired. Listen to a cut like Dub it Inna Long Acre. The bass line is just ridiculous and Gil Cang and Deemus give it a hypnotic and dance floor oriented groove.
Or Slingshot in Shepherds Bush with its grand bass and tasty horns dropping in and out of the mix. Tribute to the Grove sounds like it has a bulldozer driving the bass line forward, or The Marshall of Inverness St, which is haunting like a horror movie on Halloween.
Inna London Dub is made for being played loud. And whether you like it or not you will find yourself tweaking that bass knob towards zenith and turning up the volume on notch after another. And suddenly your neighbors will have you out on the street. Just be sure to grab the record with you as you leave.
Dub Store Records out Japan is one of the world’s premier reissue labels. They have focused largely on ska, rocksteady, reggae and dancehall and have over the years put out loads of non-commercial and long forgotten gems.
Labels they have worked with include Studio One, Jammy’s, Bunny Wailer’s Solomonic, Derrick Harriott’s Crystal, King Tubby’s Firehouse and many more.
Some of their gems are now available for free download over at Bandcamp. Dub Store has recently put out a brightly shining mini-compilation showcasing their activities. It’s a brief, yet very tasty, overview that leaves you thirsty for more.
Check it below and while you listen you can read this excellent interview with Naoki Lenaga, founder of Dub Store Records.
Harrison Stafford’s second big project in 2014 is a brand new full-length album from his band Groundation. A Miracle is their eight album and follows Building an Ark, released in 2012.
Groundation has always made music rooted in Jamaican reggae, but with clear influences from jazz. And this new album is cooked according to the same successful recipe. The set sounds like it’s partly recorded via all-night jamming sessions where each player gets to shine. It’s harmonic, yet improvisational and shines light on both genres.
A Miracle also owes quite a lot to Bob Marley & The Wailers and albums like Rastaman Vibration and Exodus. Apart from several musical references it features the vocal talents of Marcia Griffiths and Judy Mowatt – two of the founding members of Bob Marley’s backing trio the I-Threes. Neville Garrick, Bob Marley’s longtime friend and art director, has also made the cover sleeve.
Harrison Stafford’s singing style is as usual an acquired taste. It’s theatrical, nasal and dramatic. But he has proper backing from Jamaican singers Kim Pommell and Sherida Sharpe, two songstresses that add several well-needed harmonious dimensions.
Onboard is also three U.S. jazz musicians. And their talents can be recognized on tracks like Gone a Cemetary and Cupid’s Arrow.
This album is no miracle, but it’s definitely no disappointment for Groundation’s fans and followers.
It seems that crowd-funding in the reggae industry actually works. There has been a few gems in recent years coming from that particular way of financing parts of a recording.
Sara Lugo and her label Oneness Records used Startnext to raise 4,000 euros to finish Hit Me with Music. I didn’t take part of the financing, but all of you who did – give yourselves an applause. Because Hit Me with Music is an excellent album, probably even better than her debut released more than three years ago.
Sara Lugo has an addictive and seductive voice, and she has been in the music business for more than ten years. Her biggest hit yet is probably the Kabaka Pyramid combination High & Windy, on the moody Reggaeville riddim, which is a relick of The Paragons’ Riding on a High and Windy Day. This combination was released in 2012 and is of course included on the new album.
Hit Me with Music is produced by a variety of different talents, for example Anthony “Altafaan” Senior, Umberto Echo, Giuseppe Coppola, Lionel Wharton and Moritz von Korff, and includes guest performances from Protoje, Ras Muhamad and the aforementioned Kabaka Pyramid.
It’s bright and positive from start to finish. Sara Lugo explores the gentle side of reggae with influences from soul, jazz and light electronic pop. Soldiers of Love could have been included on one of Hotel Costes lounge compilations and a singer like Lily Allen could probably have murdered for the breezy I Wish.
The harmonies are beautiful throughout the set and Sara Lugo has made yet another album custom-made for sitting on a Caribbean beach watching the waves gently break.
On Pressure’s second album of 2014 – already announced in 2012 – he has teamed up with King Jammy’s son Baby G for its production. Onboard as producer is also another heavyweight – Damian Marley.
Africa Redemption is something else than The Sound, released in April this year. Where that set was mainly bright and smooth, Africa Redemption is in most cases darker, harder and more uncompromising. But on a Pressure album there’s also room for romance and some sweet balladeering.
The set comes with 17 tracks, of which two are interludes. The best tracks offer a tasty mix of introspective hip-hop, fierce dancehall and grim roots reggae. Lead I Home is a fine example, the Tarrus Riley and Damian Marley combination Mental Disturbance is another.
Other memorable moments include Freedom Fighters, with its delicious horns, and the intense Jah Mason combination My Herbs.
Africa Redemption is Pressure’s fifth album and it’s together with The Sound his finest work yet.
Birmingham-based singer Jean McLean was in the 80s part of Sceptre, an overlooked reggae act that dropped their poorly distributed debut album Essence of Redemption Ina A Dif’rent Styley in 1984.
She dropped her debut album Everlasting two years ago, but apparently it didn’t sell too well and it’s now reissued by Sugar Shack Records. It’s more or less the same album, but with one huge difference – the track Ancestors, a cut originally recorded by Sceptre and included on the rare compilation Handsworth Revolution Vol. 1. The original is a strong roots piece and this new version is even better and a standout track on Everlasting. The deejay parts are espacially tasty and I hope she explores that talent on future releases.
Everlasting is produced and engineered by Paul Horton, who has been Grammy nominated for his work with Steel Pulse and Pato Banton. One of his most recent reggae efforts is however Black Symbol’s excellent Journey, released earlier this year.
This catchy set collects nine vocals, of which seven are originals and two are covers – Bob Marley’s Waiting in Vain and Dennis Brown’s Things in Life. It also collects seven dubby instrumentals mixed by Paul Horton.
It’s an album leaning much towards romance and classic love songs, for example album opener Meant 4 U and swinging, yet a bit too synthetic, Love Me Baby.
Another highlight is the anthemic Reggaebaby, an infectious tune reminiscent of Brina’s recent Real Reggae Music or John Holt’s Reggae From the Ghetto.
A set well-worth seeking out for fans of mature and timeless reggae music.
Kenyatta “Jr Culture” Hill rose to prominence in 2006 when his legendary father Joseph Hill – formerly lead singer in vocal trio Culture – died while on tour in Europe. Kenyatta Hill was travelling along and stepped up from behind the mixing desk and completed the tour. About a year later he dropped his emotional debut single Daddy, recorded together with a rooster of top Jamaican musicians, including Sly Dunbar and Dean Fraser.
The single was also featured on his debut album Pass the Torch, released the same year. It was in 2011 followed by the live tribute set Live On: A Tribute to Culture.
Three years have passed and Kenyatta Hill has recently put out his third album, a set on which he has certainly refined his song writing and singing skills. It’s a mature set where Kenyatta Hill almost sounds like a reincarnated version of his father with a dash of Burning Spear. His raspy tone is rural, passionate and intense.
Riddim of Life collects ten tracks, of which six are vocals and six are dub versions. It’s mainly produced by Greek-American singer and song writer Christos DC and recorded together with members from the legendary Roots Radics and U.S. reggae band The Archives.
It’s a strong set and offers some brimstone and fire riddims and emotive pleas to Jah. Listen to the peaceful Jah is My Friend or the darker and more intense Afrikan and Pressue Drop.
Kenyatta Hill keeps his father’s legacy alive and waves the red, gold and green banner high and proud.
Legendary Jamaican singer John Holt died yesterday evening in a hospital in London. He was 69 years old and had been ill for some time according to Jamaica-Gleaner.
John Holt was the essence of smoothness and made lovers rock before the genre was invented. He started his career – just as many of his peers – at Studio One and Treasure Isle in the mid-60s. He was one of the founding members of the highly successful vocal trio The Paragons, a trio that made immortal gems like On the Beach, Happy Go Lucky Girl and The Tide if High, later covered by U.S. pop rockers Blondie.
He soon left The Paragons to pursue a solo career and he put out several classics, including A Love I Can Feel and Strange Things. He also dabbled with disco and strings, but later moved on to dancehall. And it was with Henry “Junjo” Lawes he scored one of his biggest hits – Police in Helicopter, taken from the album with the same name.
John Holt continued to tour and perform almost up until the time of his death and he will be greatly missed.
Sounds of the Universe in Soho, London
New York and London are the musical capitals of the world, but London has the upper hand since it’s also the reggae capital of the world, second to Kingston of course.
Two weeks ago I was in London and had the opportunity to visit no less than 15 record shops all over town, well almost anyway. I was in Notting Hill, Soho, Camden and Islington. I didn’t have the time to head down to Brixton, so that’s on the list for my next visit.
Before coming to London I had realized that a lot of the shops have closed, just as all over the world. But I still had a list with almost 30 shops. And the list was pretty reliable. Only one shop was closed – Intoxica in Notting Hill. All others were there and usually offered a good selection of reggae. Almost always at very high prices though.
That was however not the case with Haggle Vinyl in Islington. The shop probably shuts its doors at the end of the year and its infamous and outspoken owner sold all records for £5 each. Fortunately he still carried lots of reggae albums and yes, I bought way too much. I left the shop with 22 albums and a laughing wife.
Honest Jon’s in Notting Hill.
If you’d like to know which record shops I visited head over to Instagram and take a look.