Bunji Garlin’s new album unveiled

unnamedSoca superstar Bunji Garlin has put out hard-hitting hits for the past 15 years, but it wasn’t until last year he had a smashing one.

Differentology was produced by Sheriff Mumbles and originally released in 2012, and one year later it transcended the Caribbean carnival circuit. The track also received critical praise across the board – from 2013 Soul Train Award to MTV Iggy Song of the Year. It was also featured in ABC’s Grey’s Anatomy show and received airplay at NBA arenas and NYC’s Golden Gloves Boxing tournament. Major Lazer’s electronic remix also fused Differentology in front of a new audience, an audience that had probably never heard of soca music.

Now comes an album of the same name, and it may have the same universal appeal as the title track. According to a press release the 13 track album is a fusion of soca, dancehall and hip-hop.

“I think a lot of great opportunities for soca to conquer new territories are going to come from this album,” says Bunji Garlin in a press release, and adds:

“So I couldn’t ask for a better situation to be in.”

The album drops on August 12, but already today it’s available for exclusive streaming via NPR First Listen. Check the album in its glorious entirety here.

Bunji Garlin, aka the Viking of Soca, is known for his energetic  stage shows and vocal acrobatics. Born in Trinidad & Tobago he is international soca royalty and has won the Ragga Soca Monarch in 2000 and 2001. Throughout his long career he has released ten albums.

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First single off Duane Stephenson’s upcoming album

coverImageJamaican singer Duane Stephenson is set to drop his third album, and the follow-up to his Black Gold set, released in 2010. This slick and passionate singer is probably best known for his excellent single August Town, which was taken from his debut solo album From August Town, put out in 2007.

Dangerously Roots – Journey from August Town will be available in stores in late September. The first single off the album is a cover of Bunny Wailer’s Cool Runnings. In the retro-flavored video Duane Stephenson pays tribute to the original artist. Check the smooth grooves below.

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Relaxed and playful from Ernest Ranglin and Avila

Cover1The latest effort from Jamaican guitar maestro Ernest Ranglin – one of the masterminds behind My Boy Lollipop, the first ever ska-hit – is a collaboration with Avila, a group of top session musicians from South Africa, Israel and the U.S.

Ernest Ranglin is 82 years old, but is still going strong showcasing his smooth and warm guitar playing on this 16 track set titled Bless Up. The album was for the most part cut live with analogue sound and is reggae jazz at its best and includes Arabic excursions, jazz workouts, skanking ska, upbeat latin and bouncy African touches.

It offers loads of different rhythm structures, textures and flavors. But keywords are probably relaxing and playful. You have no idea what comes next and there are a constant flow of surprises throughout the set.

Bless Up follows several strong instrumental sets in the past six months or so – just check Nicodrum’s Back to Fundechan, Jaime Hinckson’s Take Flight, Jamaican Jazz Orchestra’s self-titled debut and Addis Pablo’s In My Father’s House, which is not completely instrumental though. Hats off to labels and musicians for gambling and releasing albums like these.

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Dennis Brown’s best according to Blood and Fire board

The late Jamaican singer Dennis Brown has been one of my favorite singers ever since I started listening to reggae. He’s one of Jamaica’s most beloved and prolific artists, and has often been referred to as The Crown Prince of Reggae, following the lineage of Bob Marley, who is by far the most successful reggae artist to date.

During Dennis Brown’s far too short lifetime – he died only 42 years old following hard use of cocaine – he cut a myriad of romantic hits and rootsy masterpieces.

Like many other Jamaican singers and musicians he started his career at Studio One with producer Coxsone Dodd, with whom he cut his first hit song No Man is an Island in the late 60s, only eleven years old.

He later moved on and started a fruitful musical relationship with Winston “Niney” Holness, but during his 30 years in the business he also worked with a plethora of different producers, including Phil Pratt, Bunny Lee, Joe Gibbs, Sly & Robbie and Augustus “Gussie” Clarke. He also ventured into self-production and started his own label in the late 70s.

In his early 20s Dennis Brown was a legend with major tunes like Africa, Here I Come, Westbound Train and Money in My Pocket. He had a strong reputation in Jamaica and abroad and only lacked an international smash hit, and the deal with major label A&M in the early 80s might have been his ticket to Bob Marley-like stardom. Unfortunately his albums for the label didn’t match his earlier output. They were too slick and polished.

Dennis Brown was an extremely consistent singer equally at ease with both romantic and conscious material, and the list of powerful roots classics and silky ballads could go on and on and on.

He left behind a rich musical legacy, and at the Blood and Fire board there’s a discussion about the difficulties selecting only ten Dennis Brown favorites. Some have presented their ten, 12 or 20 favorites.

Reggaemani has taken the liberty to compile the selection into a Spotify playlist, including my own top ten, presented below. Not all of the tracks selected on the forum are available on Spotify, but the great majority is actually included, with respect to the fact that it could be the wrong version, since Dennis Brown – just as many other reggae artists – recorded a string of versions of one particular tune.

You can check the lists on the Blood and Fire board here and Reggaemani’s Spotify playlist can be downloaded and listened to here.

Reggaemani’s top ten Dennis Brown (in no particular order)

The Creator
Drifter (Live at Montreux Jazz Festival)
No More Will I Roam
Created by the Father
Milk and Honey
Ghetto Girl
Musical Heatwave
Deliverance Will Come
Words of Wisdom
Rasta Children

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Rod Anton calls for individual actions on Wevolution

Digisleeve-3V-wevolutionRod Anton & The Ligerians are back with a new album, following their debut set Reasonin’ and its dub counterpart put out in 2012 and 2013 respectively.

Wevolution is a visionary album with a critical approach set to militant riddims and beautiful harmonies. It’s largely focused on the importance and significance of individual actions in the struggle for changing the way people live in the industrialized world. Rod Anton cries for an ecological and environmental revolution and reminds us that we have a common responsibility to preserve and save the planet.

According to Rod Anton every step is important and every opinion expressed matters, and he criticizes the use of plastics, the oil industry and capitalism as well as pointing finger to news media for being one-sided and focusing on scandals.

Wevolution is a political statement and Rod Anton is a political activist, but he also shows other sides, for example the passionate Smooth but Revolutionary, about his love for reggae music.

Their debut album featured prestigious guests such as Max Romeo, Vaughn Benjamin of Midnite and The Congos. The latter two are also featured on Wevolution – Vaughn Benjamin makes an environmental statement on Agricultural Irony and Cedric Myton from The Congos, who is something of an artistic godfather of Rod Anton’s singing style, calls for unity on Come Together.

Rod Anton high and nasal singing style might be something of an acquired taste, but the skillful arrangements and the stripped down riddims and dubby mixing should appeal to a broader base.

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Top 50 reggae albums according to Mojo

mojo-logoMusic magazine Mojo has recently dived deep into reggae territory and selected their top 50 reggae albums.

The list collects contemporary CD compilations in favour of original, vintage vinyl releases and Mojo’s staff has tried to steer clear of multiple entries by reggae’s biggest names such as Bob Marley, Lee Perry and King Tubby. They almost nailed it.

The list contains a few surprises and also a number of odd albums, even though the magazine’s number one is something of a regular in lists like these. Most unexpected is a set released only a few months ago. An exceptional album, but kind of unorthodox to add such a recent release.

You can check the full list here, and Reggaemani has taken the liberty to make a Spotify playlist with a majority of the albums. Listen and download the playlist here.

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Well-deserved reissue of rare Alborosie album

unnamedIt’s not often contemporary reggae albums gets reissued, but reggae powerhouse VP/Greensleeves have recently re-released Alborosie & Specialist’s duets album, a 24 track set originally issued in 2010 in a limited edition.

The album is produced by Alborosie and his collaborator Clifton “Specialist” Dillion, the renowned producer and manager behind 90s dancehall stars like Patra, Shabba Ranks and Mad Cobra.

Alborosie rose to prominence in 2007 with his Kingston Town, later followed by a string of hits, including Herbalist and Rastafari Anthem. He’s probably the most successful European reggae artist ever, and for a number of years he has been a Jamaican citizen living in Kingston, Jamaica.

This singer, songwriter, mixing engineer, producer and multi-instrumentalist is well-respected within the reggae community, as shown on this duets album. Plenty of reggae stars take turns on the microphone with Alborosie – Mykal Rose, Sizzla, David Hinds from Steel Pulse, Luciano, Ranking Joe, Jah Cure, Etana, Lady Ann and Busy Signal can be heard on this excellent album.

The material on this double disc was recorded between 2008 and 2010, and several of the cuts have been hard to find. But luckily this sizzling and highlight-packed album has now been made available again with more aggressive distribution.

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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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