A seductive and addictive second album from Sara Lugo

Cover1024It 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.

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A darker side of Pressure

pressure-africaredemptionOn 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.

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Timeless reggae from Jean McLean

Jean Everlasting VIEWBirmingham-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.

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Kenyatta Hill carries his father’s legacy on Riddim of Life

Riddim of Life IV CYMK high qualityKenyatta “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.

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John Holt has died

1970 - On The BeachLegendary 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.

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Crate digging in London

Sounds of the Universe in Soho, London

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.

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.

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A global reggae album from Dub Colossus

unnamedDub Colossus is a collective of pan-global musicians led by UK multi-instrumentalist and composer Nick Page aka Dubulah.

On their fourth and latest album Addis to Omega they take a leap in a partly new direction – from working primarily with Ethiopian artists and musicians to collaborating with singers and players mainly from Jamaica and the UK. It’s a funky reggae fusion nicely wrapped in a dubby package.

Nick Page has flavoured the album with a myriad of different genres – skanking reggae, ethereal dub, booming funk, silky soul, bouncy afrobeat, fresh Latin and hypnotic jazz are all intertwined on this experimental and roaring 15 track album with vocals provided by a diverse set of artists ranging from veteran Jamaican gruff deejay Joseph Cotton to the smoother styles of PJ Higgins and Steel Pulse’s Mykaell S. Riley.

But some of the greatest moments on this excellent album are provided by the beefy Horns of Negus, a horn section that impresses throughout the set. Just listen to tracks like Orpheus Underground, Soft Power or the title track, where PJ Higgins shows her deejaying skills.

If King Tubby would have mixed an album where The JB’s had teamed up with Fela Kuti and The Abyssinians in a studio in Ethiopia it might have sounded something similar to what Nick Page has done on Addis to Omega.

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Hypnotic and graceful from General Jah Mikey

COVERJamaican singer General Jah Mikey follows up on his Original Yard Food album, and together with French multi-instrumentalist, producer and sound engineer Tooney Roots he serves up yet another delicious treat.

General Jah Mikey has been in and out of the music business for almost three decades. He has tried and tested several different styles over the years, including jungle and dubstep. Tooney Roots’ productions lean towards the heavier side of roots with influences from the UK dub scene.

And together they have made an album that is hard and uncompromising, yet melodic and harmonious, partly thanks to General Jah Mikey’s smooth style. He has a deep and soothing voice that flows gracefully over Tooney Roots’ massive bass lines and pounding drums complemented by a vicious synthesizer or a bright piano here and there.

Jah Music is Timeless is a showcase album where each of the six vocals and followed by their dub counterpart. Tooney Roots works with analogue equipment and vintage sound effects built by himself, and the soundscape on the dub versions is hypnotizing and deliciously monotonous.

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A forgotten gem by Willie Williams and Yabby You

5433897Another long lost gem has been made available. Unification: From Channel One to King Tubby’s is the title of a set by Willie Williams produced together with legendary producer Yabby You, who is responsible of some of the most haunting roots reggae ever released.

Willie Williams is probably best known for his Armigideon Time, produced by Clement “Coxsone” Dodd in the early 80s. Apart from that tune Willie Williams is usually under the radar for most listeners, even though he has put several strong albums, including his debut set Messenger Man.

Unification is a hard and relentless set and contains several songs that has already been available but spread out on several different compilations over the years. And according to a recent interview with Willie Williams several of these releases are pirated, so it’s nice to have a proper album with timeless roots reggae.

The set was recorded in 1979; a chaotic time in Jamaica, when a general election was just around the corner. And this is reflected in the music – provided by an all-star cast led by Sly & Robbie of The Revolutionaries – and the thoughtful lyrics. It’s consciousness from start to finish with songs like Free Dem, Righteousness, Unification and Rally.

Willie Williams has a laid-back singing style similar to Don Carlos, and sometimes it’s hard to separate them. It’s almost half-spoken at times and very meditative, which clashes with the rock-hard bass lines.

The sound quality is well-above par compared to other releases of long forgotten albums, and it’s not every year you get to hear a previously unreleased Yabby You production, so head over to your nearest retailer and give it a listen. Satisfaction (most likely) guaranteed.

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Onlyjoe drops fourth single for free download and prepares for debut album

Energetic and multi-faceted ten piece reggae band onlyjoe from the UK has just released their fourth single Hold Me for free download. It’s a summery and infectious cut with a catchy sing-a-long chorus and comes with a swinging dub version mixed by acclaimed producer and mixing engineer Nick Manasseh.

“We actually recorded the rhythm section and the horns a little while ago, and were looking for an opportunity to work with Manasseh on something, and this track seemed like the obvious choice to take to him, and as we had it finished and there was demand for it we really wanted to give it to people,” explains Harry Bradford, saxophonist in onlyjoe.

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The reason for giving the song and its two versions is simple – they wanted to give something to the people who have been supporting them over the last few years. And at the moment they are in the process of recording their debut album, a set with production helmed by forward-thinking bass producer Hylu, who travels with onlyjoe as engineer. He has also produced all their previous singles.

“We’re getting funding from wherever we can at the moment, and while we’re slowing down on gigs getting money through t-shirt sales, and donations on releases is really helping pay for future sessions,” says Harry Bradford.

Onlyjoe aims at releasing the so far untitled album next year, and it will hold a mixture of tracks and sounds.

“People will know the music from our sets as well as some other bits which we have developed behind closed doors, those tracks are a progression of the same sound, while some are more dubwise and some have higher energy. The main focus of onlyjoe has always been making conscious music to move a dance,” says Harry Bradford, and concludes:

“It all fits under the umbrella of reggae music in its many different forms. We definitely want some surprises on the album, and if the studio session a few weeks back is anything to go by it’s looking like there will be some!”

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