An introduction to Mystic Revealers

MysticRevealersCrucialCuts_zpsca2a4c31Jamaican band Mystic Revealers went on hiatus a few years back to develop the Caribbean surfing community, and now they’re back with something of a best of compilation titled Crucial Cuts. The set features 13 of some of their most popular tracks, including Space & Time and Young Revolutionaries.

Can’t say I’ve heard much about Mystic Revealers before I ran into this album, which is a bit strange since they were formed as far back as in the late 70s. Jimmy Cliff produced their debut single Mash Down Apartheid, which was released in 1985. But it took another seven years for the debut album to hit the streets. During those years they played Reggae Sunsplash in Jamaica and toured Japan, the UK, the U.S. and Europe.

Including Crucial Cuts they have put out eight albums, most of them produced and released in the 90s. And that’s why some of the songs on this compilation sound a bit dated. An overuse of synths and too hard guitar solos are partly to be blamed.

There’s however nothing wrong with the melodies and Billy Mystic is a mellow and accomplished singer with a soothing vibe. There are a number of crucial cuts included, for example the Anthony B combination I’m Gonna Tell You, on which gruff deejaying meets soulful singing, and Young Revolutionaries, with its catchy guitar lick.

All tracks are far from crucial, but it’s always nice to discover a band that’s been around for quite a while without making any significant impact on the course of history.

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Scary good from Horseman

Horseman - Dawn of the Dread - ArtworkThis year has so far been graced by remarkably strong dancehall albums, and Popcaan and Jah Vinci’s debut albums are two prime examples. Horseman’s recently released debut is another. These three albums are something completely different compared to all the generic and poorly mastered dancehall sets that are regularly put out.

Horseman is a veteran on the UK reggae scene and has spent about three decades working largely behind the scenes, often as a very capable and well-respected drummer. He has over the past few years made solid guest appearances on several productions coming from Prince Fatty.

And Prince Fatty is also responsible for production and mixing on Horseman’s debut album Dawn of the Dread. This album sees Prince Fatty taking a new direction. It’s still vintage sounding though, but not vintage as in 60s and 70s. No, Dawn of the Dread is primarily rooted in the mid to late 80s dancehall scene. Bouncing bass lines, playful drums and lively synths make this twelve track set a joyous and fun excursion, an excursion on which Horseman and Prince Fatty have invited Tippa Irie, Winston Reedy and Earl Sixteen.

I’ve actually been longing for a full album from Horseman ever since I heard Prince Fatty’s excellent album Supersize four years ago. And this album was well worth the wait.

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Ten albums that rocked my world

A few weeks ago I was challenged by a friend on Facebook. He challenged me to list ten albums that have had an impact on me. And the challenge was not about best sellers or classics – just ten sets that have rocked my world. Well, since I’m a huge fan of making lists the challenge was naturally accepted.

But this particular challenge was tricky. I’ve been a serious music addict for about 25 years and have collected music since the early 90s. Where to start was one of the first questions I raised. The second was how many genres would I include?

For the past 25 years or so I have been actively listening to hip-hop, metal, punk, ska-punk, swing, boogaloo, soul, funk, pop and, of course, reggae, a genre that has been the love of my life for roughly 17 years (yes, Anna Magni, I love you too). And it’s still going strong, growing a little each day that goes day.

Ten albums

Anyhow, I decided to start from the beginning and going forward to the early 2000s. Because that was the last time an album really rocked my world. And for this challenge rocked my world means taking me partly in a new and different musical direction. A set that changed the way I perceived a particular genre or sub-genre.

Below is a list of ten albums that have taken me in a different musical direction. I heard at least one of them at time when I didn’t want to listen to that particular style. My mind wasn’t ready, but my heart was.

NWA – Straight Outta Compton (1989)
In the late 80s MTV broke in Sweden. At the time I was about ten years old and I was blown away. I spent all the time at home in front of the TV. I hadn’t listened much to the radio and watching all these cool videos on MTV was something new and fresh. And you have to bear in mind that Sweden at the time only sported two state-owned channels, so MTV was wickedly exciting.

I loved every minute of MTV, but hip-hop grabbed me more than anything else. I taped Yo! MTV Raps and I particularly liked West Coast hip-hop with loads of curse words. I had never heard anything like it before and I loved it. And I still do.

The OffspringIgnite (1992)
In the spring of 1994 I had started to grow tired of hip-hop and needed something new. Me and some of my friends were skateboarders and snowboarders at the time and we watched a snowboarding video in which The Offspring’s We Are One was featured. I loved it, but soon learned that it was punk rock, and I didn’t like punk rock. Or at least I thought I didn’t. My mind needed to get convinced. It took a few months and then I was hooked. I bought every album from Bad Religion, Pennywise, NOFX and any other band coming from sunny California.

Rancid…And Out Come the Wolves (1995)
After listening to so-called skate punk for about a year I heard “real” punk rock. Rancid’s …And Out Come the Wolves was raw, gritty and had something new – ska. I had heard ska-punk before, but not the way Rancid played it. They were influenced by bands from the UK, particularly The Clash, and their sound forced me to look towards the UK for my next musical thrill.

The SpecialsThe Specials (1979)
When ska-revialists The Specials entered the UK music scene in the late 70s they did it with a bang and created musical history with their fusion of reggae, ska, pop, punk and soul. Critics and music fans loved them and their original self-titled debut album. And I did too but almost 20 years after they scored hit songs with covers like A Message to You, Rudy and Monkey Man, tunes that I would soon discover in their glorious original versions.

Various – The Harder They Come (1972)
I was given this album by one of my parents’ friends around 1997. I can’t recall why it was given to me, but this was the album that introduced me to “real” reggae music and the true sound of Jamaica. I played it over and over, especially the gritty Sweet and Dandy and the dread Draw Your Breaks.

Desmond Dekker – This Is (1969)
This was one of the first vintage reggae albums I bought and it came out when rocksteady started to fade out and when reggae took over – one of the best periods if you ask me. The sound was raw, but with beautiful melodies and infectious hooks.

Culture – Two Sevens Clash (1977)
A landmark roots album and one of my first encounters with the spiritual, haunting and apocalyptic side of reggae music. It’s certainly dark, but with bright melodies and excellent vocal harmonizing. An album that grabs your attention and a set that also went big among punk rockers in the UK.

Lone Ranger – Hi-Yo, Silver Away! (1982)
I didn’t like dancehall until I heard this album. I thought dancehall was equal to 90s ragga. But it certainly wasn’t. Lone Ranger is a top deejay and an intriguing lyricist. Always riding the riddim flawlessly and always amusing to listen to. One of my former bosses once said to me that great things look great. And that’s certainly true for this album. Check Tony McDermott’s sleeve. History right there.

Garnett Silk – It’s Growing (1992)
Just as with punk rock and early dancehall I was sure that I didn’t like ragga of the early to mid-90s. And I didn’t until I heard the angelic voice of the late and great Garnett Silk.

LucianoSerious Times (2004)
Roots reggae is for many people equal to the 70s and Bob Marley. For me it was too. Up until I came across Luciano’s Serious Times. One of my all-time favourite singers is Dennis Brown and Luciano sometime sounds like a reincarnation of the Crown Prince of Reggae, so naturally I loved what I heard.

This was also the set that opened the gates to new reggae reality for me. Suddenly I found myself listening to albums not only from the 60s, 70s and 80s, but also from the 90s and 2000s.

My reggae circle closes with this great album and over the years I have fought, and overcome, my many preconceptions about music. I still keep my eyes and ears open for new and exciting sounds, but neither my mind nor my heart is ready yet. Reggae is the love of my life.

Honourable mentions go out to Pantera’s Vulgar Display of Power, Mongo Santamaria’s Soul Bag, Ramones’ Rocket to Russia, The Smiths’ The Queen is Dead and Funkadelic’s One Nation Under a Groove. Five excellent albums that also have had an impact on me, but not nearly as much as the ten mentioned above.

Here you can download a Spotify playlist with eight of the ten albums presented above.

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Sceptre’s long lost debut has stood the test of time

SCEPTRE PackshotIn retrospect it’s interesting to note which albums that broke big and which didn’t. It often has to do with financing; distribution and marketing. Or maybe the circumstances surrounding the release weren’t right. Or the market wasn’t ready for the sound. Or the sound was regarded as outdated at the time.

The latter may have been at least one of the problems why Sceptre’s debut Essence of Redemption Ina Dif’rent Styley didn’t break at the time of its release. The interest for deep roots reggae in the mid-80s wasn’t huge. Dancehall and slick lovers rock ruled the scene at the time.

Fortunately the reggae champions over at Reggae Archive Records have a mission to reissue long lost UK roots dating from the late 70s to the mid-80s. And they have now dusted off this gem.

Sceptre was founded in 1981 in Birmingham and dropped Essence of Redemption Ina Dif’rent Styley in 1984. It’s a strong set with six out of ten tracks being essential early UK roots. Get up And Go is more on a funky tip, while the three remaining cuts lean more toward lovers rock with Jean McLean singing lead vocals.

It’s certainly a versatile set that has stood the test of time.

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New single and video from Jah9

Today marks the 84th anniversary of the Coronation of Haile Selassie. And in celebration of his crowning Jah9 offers a free download of her brand new single Revolution Lullaby. This track shows a brighter side of Jah9 and will be available for free for 24 hours over at Souncloud.

Revolution Lullaby is by its producer Bregt Puraman – of Lost Ark Music and Pura Vida – described as nyabinghi meets jazz on dub. For the track Jah9 has also invited her musical director Sheldon “Atiiba” Bernard to play flute.

“It has now been fully established that I am a militant artist through the subject matter and reverence of my live presentation, so it is now an appropriate time to balance with a nurturing, more playful side,” says Jah9.

“I was immediately touched by her voice and the music. Jah9 is a star on the rise in reggae and I knew it right away. Give thanks to Jah9 for this amazing project,” says Bregt Puraman, and continues:

“The inspiration for this riddim at night when I got a message from Jah9. She was traveling from gig to gig late at night and I called it On Jah Road riddim, and it was the first riddim I sent to her. I immediately knew I wanted to make a nyabinghi riddim because of the strong spiritual vibes in her music and I knew it was going to work,” he says, and concludes:

“I really like this tune because it’s a woman with an angelic voice on nyabinghi, and most of the times nyabinghi is sung by men. Omega power makes it very unique.”

Earlier this year Jah9 dropped her militant and acclaimed debut album New Name and she has been busy touring and Revolution Lullaby is her first single since mid-2013.

Avocado is that spoon full of sugar to make the medicine go down. Revolution Lullaby is some of that bitter medicine but it is laced with its own comfort in the reassuring optimism that despite the state of the world, Jah is in control,” states Jah9.avocado cover

Jah9 will also soon release the official visuals for Avocado, taken from New Name. In-tune with the theme of the playful, 80’s styled and dancehall inspired song, the video will be just as light, bright and lively showing a more feminine side to the usually militant songstress. The release for the Avocado visuals is slated for November 9.

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Bunny Lee’s early reggae period showcased on new compilation

Layout 1 (Page 8)What if I’d tell you there’s a new Bunny Lee compilation out. You would probably say something like “Whaaat, hasn’t his stuff been recycled enough already!?”. That’s a fair point.

But, what if I’d tell you that this new compilation titled Full Up is actually different than most recently released albums bearing Bunny Lee’s name and credentials.

Bunny Lee has been in the music business since the 60s and his productions has been compiled many, many times before. Sometimes the same tunes as always but with a new packaging. And that’s no surprise since he has for many years now been one of the cornerstones of Jamaican reggae business.

On the Pressure Sounds’ 85th release they have collected a set of tunes that reflect Bunny Lee’s post rocksteady productions and pre roots era. The four years from 1968 to 1972 were productive and fruitful and consolidated his reputation as one of Jamaica’s premier producers.

Full Up offers a fine selection of  swinging instrumentals mixed with some early vocal productions and a few overlooked vocal gems from singers, deejays soloists and bands like Bunny Lee All Stars, Dave Barker, Delroy Wilson, Tommy McCook, Joe White, Stranger Cole, U Roy, Pat Kelly and The Hippy Boys. And several of the cuts come in different shapes and colours, something that give the album a nice bit of variety.

Bunny Lee is a musical hitmaker from Jamaica and on this album he showcases 21 tracks, of which many are taken from the original master tapes, so the audio quality is solid throughout. Included is also excellent liner notes from Diggory Kendrick describing Bunny Lee and his modus operandi.

Today when the reissue market is flooded with mysterious reissues, often of material from Lee Perry and Bunny Lee, it’s easy to dismiss them. But don’t make that mistake with Full Up. This album is excellent all the way. As always with Pressure Sounds one might add.

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Finally Handsworth Explosion Vol. 1 gets reissued

RARC015V Packshot NEW Hnadsworth OneFor this year’s Record Store Day, Reggae Archive Records released a limited edition vinyl version of Black Symbol Present Handsworth Explosion Vol. 2. Now, ahead of the release of a CD combining both volumes, they have put out Black Symbol Present Handsworth Explosion Vol. 1, and once again it’s available in its original format – vinyl.

And just as with the second volume, the original of this release suffered from limited distribution and the original release sold in scarce numbers. Today it’s heavily sought after and fetches around £100 on the collectors market.

For this ten track compilation Black Symbol provided four other Handsworth (an area in Birminghm) based bands the opportunity to record their songs in a proper and well-equipped studio and then gave them a platform with this album, and each band get two cuts to showcase their talents.

The sound is rough and sparse and most tracks are underpinned by heavyweight backing tracks. Sceptre’s Ancestors Calling is one of the brightest moments with its refreshing female lead – alternating singing and deejaying – and deep bass line.

Then you have Truth & Rights, a crew that doesn’t sound British at all. Their New Language is a fine slice of early Jamaican dancehall in classic Henry “Junjo” Lawes style, and Saddest Moment, is a bit similar to Wayne Smith’s Prince Jammy-produced Time is a Moment in Space.

Also included is Burning Spear-influenced reggae, as on Black Symbol’s Spiritual Reggae, and the smoother sound of Gerald Love, who offers a slightly more polished approach and a more commercial feel.

This is classic roots demonstrating the quality of what Birmingham had to offer the reggae scene in the early 80s. Unfortunately it was overlooked at the time, and this is a well-deserved and long overdue reissue.

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Etana keeps rising

disc-3241-etana-i-riseOn 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.

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The dub album your neighbors don’t want you to play

10624833_697104837046698_4831675318630175652_nThe 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.

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A free introduction to Dub Store Records

a2196568803_2Dub 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.

 

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