Hit after hit after hit on the diverse Maximum Sound 2014

MAX SOUND 2K14 COVERA new flagship compilation from UK-based producer Frenchie and his Maximum Sound label collects a whopping 18 tracks across six different riddims released over the past 18 months or so along with two exclusive bonus cuts – one from rising star Masicka and one from incarcerated dancehall don Vybz Kartel.

And a bunch of veteran and rising vocalists take turns on the microphone. Included are Maximum Sound regulars like Luciano, Tarrus Riley, Anthony B and Mr. Vegas, but also several up and coming talents, for example Loyal Flames, Jesse Royal, Randy Valentine, Dre Island and Exco Levi. As usual when dealing with tunes coming from the mighty Maximum Sound all singers are on top of their game.

Konshens and Romain Virgo are inspired on the up-tempo We No Worry Bout’ Them, and so is Randy Valentine on his smooth Victory and Loyal Flames on his dread Go Hard.

But you really can’t go wrong with any of the tracks on this compilation. It captures the essence of the contemporary reggae and dancehall scene with a little something for everyone, whether you are a roots aficionado, a dancehall connoisseur, a rocksteady enthusiast or just want to have a little bit of fun on the dance floor.

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Only right tracks on new Gussie Clarke compilation

Gussie_Clark_-Gussie_Presenting_the_Right_TracksA few years ago I cried on Twitter about the need for a thorough Augustus “Gussie” Clarke anthology, and maybe someone heard my plea, because reggae powerhouse VP’s vintage imprint 17 North Parade can proudly present Gussie Presenting The Right Tracks.

This double disc features the original eleven track album of the same name complemented by no less than 29 more songs, including unreleased material from the same period, i.e. mid 70s. The set collects instrumentals, dub versions and vocal cuts from a plethora of talented singers and deejays, for example Leroy Sibbles, Gregory Isaacs, Horace Andy, Jacob Miller, Delroy Wilson, Dennis Brown, I Roy and Mikey Dread.

Augustus Clarke was born in 1954 and was only in his late teens when he started in the music industry. He was only 19 years old when he cut the original and exceptional debut albums Screaming Target (Big Youth) and Presenting I Roy (I Roy). He was one of the first so called rebel producers and has always managed to break new ground – check the use of violin on I Roy’s classical Black Man Time or Simplicity People’s K.G.’s Halfway Tree – and stay one step ahead of the current scene.

The sounds collected on these two discs are at times uplifting and joyous, but also haunting, ethereal and eerie. Augustus Clarke certainly had a great ear for arrangements and moods.

He has had an extremely successful career and today he’s one of the biggest music publishers in Jamaica, working largely behind the scenes. And Gussie Presenting The Right Tracks only tells one side of his career. In the 80s he scored a massive hit with Mighty DiamondsPass the Kouchie and re-invented reggae with Gregory Isaacs’ monster smash Rumours. But that’s two other stories, and hopefully two more anthologies.

Gussie Presenting The Right Tracks is available as double disc CD (with excellent liner notes by Harry Wise), single LP and digital download.

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Earl 16 and Manasseh shine on Gold Dust

Gold dust LP coverIn the first months of 2013 Jamaican roots veteran Earl 16 and UK producer and mixing engineer Nick Manasseh dropped the excellent showcase album Walls of the City. And the album came with a promise – more is soon to come from the duo.

That soon is now. Gold Dust is a fresh new album from this singer/producer collaboration that has been on and off for more than 20 years, ever since when Nick Manasseh was part of Riz Records.

Gold Dust takes on where Walls of the City left off. It’s a smooth, warm and organic set far from the hard UK steppers that Nick Manasseh produced in the late 80s. It collects several re-cuts and versions along with new material. All beautifully crafted with Earl 16’s delicate and dreamy vocals floating on top of the sometimes partly acoustic backing.

Gold Dust is the first single artist full-length album on Brighton’s Roots Garden Records, a label known for its quality rather than quality. It’s however Earl 16’s second album this year, and it follows the more vintage-sounding Natty Farming. Two outstanding reggae albums, but with completely different styles. Earl 16 has been in the business for 40 years, but still shines.

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New albums from Etana and Protoje

New albums from two of the biggest names on the contemporary reggae scene have just been announced.

In October Jamaican songstress Etana follows up her acclaimed album Better Tomorrow with I Rise. It will be her fourth studio album and the first single Richest Girl is featured on Reggae Gold 2014, set for release in mid-August. Richest Girl is smooth with an edge and is produced by the legendary Clive Hunt.

Protoje has announced that he has finished recording his third album Ancient Future, a set that will drop in September. And on his Facebook page he writes that “the sound changes once more…”.

Until his album is released – don’t hesitate to check out the first single off the album. It’s a combination with Chronixx voiced over a hip-hop influenced beat produced by Overstand Entertainment. A solid single that managed to be included on Reggaemani’s list over the best reggae songs of 2014 so far.

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Hezron makes music for the people

Jamaican singer Hezron dropped his soulful and intimate debut album The Life I Live(d) in late May. As the title suggests it’s an album based on experiences; both his own and from people around him. Reggaemani had a chat with Hezron about his music, his experiences and why he relocated from the U.S. to Jamaica.

Hezron 1Hezron Clarke was born in St. James, Jamaica, and developed his singing and talent being a member of the local church choir. He later moved to the U.S. and transitioned into R&B as a young adult.

“I did R&B in the U.S., but Jamaica took over,” he explains when I talk to him over Skype from Jamaica where he is doing interviews from Tad’s Record’s office.

The Life I Lived(d) is Hezron’s debut album, but it sounds remarkably mature thanks to his powerful voice and the skilfully produced riddims . Over the years he has steadily been building a name for himself in Jamaica and abroad through a number of hit songs, including So in Love, Forever and Always and Can’t Come Between. He has also been compared to Jamaican crooner Beres Hammond as well as a highly acclaimed soul singer.

“Hezron is one of the most soulful reggae singers in Jamaican history and to me, he is the Teddy Pendergrass of our beloved genre,” says Tad Dawkins, President of Tad’s Record, in a press release.

Being compared to these two individuals might come with great obligations, but Hezron is cool and calm.

“I’m more than happy to hear such comparisons, and those two are some of my influences, and they represent different styles. But I’m also influenced by Luther Vandross, Dennis Brown, Bounty Killer and Buju Banton,” explains Hezron, and continues:

“When I grew up most things were about those singers; their melodies and style and their style and passion. They represent different flavours with multiple melodies.”

From Jamaica to the U.S. and back again
But singing reggae wasn’t always the case for Hezron. He started in the R&B vein after he had migrated to the U.S. to get a better life.

“Jamaica is a tough country, and it’s a better living overseas. The U.S. is a first world country, but music called; it was a true calling from Jamaica. It was natural for me to go back, since I grew up in a reggae environment,” says Hezron.

He was involved in the local reggae scene when he lived in the U.S – did a few gigs and things. But the scene wasn’t as authentic as the one in Jamaica, so he felt compelled to return to Jamaica to fulfil his destiny as a reggae singer.

“I wanted the true vibes and then you need to be in Jamaica,” says Hezron, and continues:

“It feels good to be back. There are good vibes here. And what has happened to me is great. It has brought out the best in me. It’s a hard place though, and you need to struggle a lot. But poverty builds character. Great words have come from this.”

Everyday life channelled through music
The Life I Live(d) comes as a double disc with a whopping 26 tracks anchored in reggae’s scorching drum and bass backbeat with an organic and richly textured sound. The lyrics are personal and intimate and deal with love, violence, relationships and poverty.

“I write about life and everyday situations. My life and other people’s life,” he explains, and continues:

“I’ve been a musician for most of my life. It has been serious for many years and I put my stories to melodies. It’s about my own experiences and other peoples stories that I have seen. It’s like everyday things channelled into melody, lyrics and music. That’s the life I’ve lived, what I’ve seen.”

Hezron 3

Singing for the people
Hezron is dedicated to what he does and is serious about his music, and that is shown on the album, which is carefully produced and well-crafted from start to finish. Music is his life.

“It may sound boring, but my life is about music. I go to work and start working. That repeats every day. I practice with my band and it’s all about music. I love it madly. It’s my life,” he says.

Hezron describes The Life I Live(d) as his most important experience as a musician yet. It’s his life’s work and a testament that reggae music lives and breathes.

“When I came back from Jamaica people said that reggae music was lost, that talents have been lost. But I still went back and wanted to be taken seriously. I wanted people to see the depth of my talent; I wanted a career in this great music,” he says, and continues:

“It’s the vibes of Jamaica, the vibes of my country. You need to understand that people cry, you have to understand the people. And I believe I understand all that. I have taken time to write songs and wanted to put out something that the world would respect. That’s why the album has taken some time to finish. That was important to me.”Hezron - The Life I Live(d) (cover)

Reggae music has over the years often been described as the people’s music. And this is something that Hezron comes back to when discussing his album and his music.

“This is the only music that accommodates the stories of people, common man stories. It’s a fight against oppression, but it’s also about love and relationships. And with our music we praise the Almighty. Reggae accommodates everything and it make you dance. That’s why I love it,” concludes Hezron.

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Smashing mixtape from Jesse Royal and Walshy Fire

artworks-000085148363-e0weqh-t500x500While we wait for his debut full-length album Jamaican singer Jesse Royal has joined forces with Major Lazer’s Walshy Fire for a fierce mixtape titled Royally Speaking.

This is Jesse Royal’s third official mixtape and his first with Walshy Fire, a DJ and producer that has previously dropped storming sets with Addis Pablo and Chronixx.

Jesse Royal is part of Jamaica’s recent roots revival scene, a scene that features artists like the above-mentioned Addis Pablo and Chronixx, but also Protoje, Kelissa, Iba Mahr, Dre Island, Loyal Flames, Jah9 and Micah Shemaiah.

Royally Speaking comes with 25 tracks excellently mixed together by Walshy Fire. It comes with original cuts, interludes, dubplates and hip-hop-flavoured remixes.

Listen, download and check the full track list over at Soundcloud.

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Heart and pulse on Nicodrum’s Back to Fundechan

Nicodrum-BackToFundehchan-VisuelHDFeeling a bit stressed and exhausted? Well, what you might need is some meditative and uplifting sounds. And those are provided by French musician Nicodrum and some of his friends on the album Back to Fundechan, a twelve track album offering a fusion of reggae, nyabinghi, jazz and bossa nova.

Nicodrum is a noted percussionist as well as a session and live musician who has worked with Capleton, Richie Spice, Queen Omega, Jah Mason, Pressure and Willie Williams. His mentor is legendary Jamaican percussionist Noel “Skully” Simms, who has played with almost everyone in the reggae business since the 60s up until today.

Back to Fundechan is the result of a clever blend of rhythms from Africa, Jamaica and Africa, and it sounds rural and organic, yet urban, slick and contemporary. And loads of instruments were used when this album was recorded. You’ll hear flute, soprano saxophone, tenor saxophone, melodica, guitar, bass and of course several different drums. This album is mostly about percussion and drumming, hence the title, which is a reference to the fundeh, one of three different drums essential when recording nyabinghi.

The set is instrumental all the way and recorded together with renowned French producer and mixing engineer Fabwize. Each track has its unique identity and is led by two main instruments accompanied by a large brass section and chest-pounding drumming.

This is music with a big heart, a solid pulse and lots of soul. Love it.

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A playful and genre-bending set from DJ Vadim

Vadim-DubcatcherRussian born producer and musician DJ Vadim follows no musical rules, and on his latest album Dubcatcher he has crafted a clever mix of reggae, hip-hop, bashment, soul, funk, dubstep and probably a few other genres too. He’s a genre-bending artist to say the least and has worked with luminaries such as Stevie Wonder, The Roots, Public Enemy, Kraftwerk, Sly & The Family Stone and Paul Weller. In 2002 he was also nominated for a Latin Grammy for his work with Spanish hip-hop group 7 Notas 7 Colores.

Dubcatcher is DJ Vadim’s eleventh studio album and neighbour with recent sets from artists and groups like Mr. Benn, Major Lazer and The Courtney John Project. It’s rich, varied and based around samples and live playing courtesy of Fat Freddy’s Drop and King Porter Stomp.

Even though DJ Vadim has glanced at the history of reggae and hip-hop, he has not tried to recreate roots reggae, dancehall from the 80s and 90s or boom rap. Dubcatcher is not the sound of yesterday, rather the sound of today and tomorrow.

On the set DJ Vadim has invited a notable and interesting list of guest artists, including Jamalski, Demolition Man, Governor Tiggy, Serocee, Katrina Blackstone, YT, Jimmy Screech and Gappy Ranks, on a remix of his single Carpenter. They sometimes fight the propulsive and fat beats, other times they float effortlessly over them delivering pop hooks and catchy melodies.

With Dubcatcher DJ Vadim has delivered a set with unprecedented energy, playful production and impressive vocal efforts, especially Demolition Man’s and Jamalski’s fiery tongue twisting on Badman and Raggamuffin Life respectively.

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Jah Vinci drops debut album in July

disc-3231-jah-vinci-ghetto-bornReggae and dancehall singer and former Portmore Empire associate Jah Vinci drops his debut album Ghetto Born on July 22nd, a collaboration with Khabir Bonner of Grillaras Productions known for his recent album with Lutan Fyah, Life of a King, and the Beenie Man & Ce’Cile single Thug Love.

“Working with Grillaras Productions was almost instinctual, and we have worked on many projects before and they all went well, so naturally I thought to work with him again,” says Jah Vinci in a press release.

The 13-track album features collaborations with legends such as Beenie Man and Junior Reid and is based on reggae, dancehall and crossover sounds, with Jah Vinci taking on societal issues as well as crime, violence and poverty, matters often surrounding Jamaican inner-city life.

“I know this one is going to be a hit! I will continue to raise the bar in music by putting out only quality work. Not only that but these songs are going to be a favourite with my fans,” concludes Jah Vinci.

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The fascinating story of Stones Throw Records

Our-Vinyl-Weighs-A-Ton-1For a few years I have been a regular reader of U.S. music magazine Wax Poetics. But when I started to read this excellent publication I didn’t know half of the hip artists they wrote about. After watching the fascinating documentary Our Vinyl Weighs a Ton, about California-based underground label Stones Throw, I realized that several of the artists that I have been reading about – like Madlib, Dam-Funk, Mayer Hawthorne and the late J Dilla – were all based around the same label. You guessed it – Stones Throw Records.

The story about this independent label is an inspiring one and starts in 1996 when it’s founded by Chris Manak aka Peanut Butter Wolf. For about ten years it was largely a hip-hop label, but from around 2006 they went into a new direction and started to put out a plethora of genres, including rock, punk, soul and funk. Soul singer Aloe Blacc’s acclaimed Good Things, with its infectious single I Need a Dollar, is the best-selling album yet.

But selling records is not Peanut Butter Wolf’s primary focus. He goes beyond music and releases what he likes rather than what actually sells. Being commercial and successful comes second. Music and creativity come first. And that’s an honourable and admirable approach.

With lots of highly successful albums – of which several are hip-hop – Stones Throw has grown into an independent empire, much like punk label Epitaph. Today Peanut Butter Wolf does almost the same thing he did in 1996, but in a wider scale and in an industry that is completely transformed thanks to Internet and file sharing.

Our Vinyl Weighs a Ton is a moving and impressive story about a pioneer that has overcome several challenges – both personal and commercial. He has been fighting the unpredictable music industry and has also managed to make change over these 18 years.

Being anti-establishment and against the grain spark change and originality. That’s a fact after being overwhelmed by his story and energy. Unfortunately – for us reggae-heads – there is nothing on Stones Throw’s recent venture into reggae territory via excellent releases from Tom Chasteen’s Dub Club.

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