Successful producer, engineer and label owner Prince Jammy, later King Jammy, has recently earned himself two collector’s box sets on reggae powerhouse VP Records. One of them – Rootsman Vibrations at King Jammy’s – was reviewed by Reggaemani only a week ago.
The second set is titled Vocal Superstars at King Jammy’s. And the title doesn’t lie. The four album box set collects one album each from Dennis Brown, Gregory Isaacs, Horace Andy and Sugar Minott. These are some of Jamaica’s most gifted and celebrated singers, and unfortunately Horace Andy is the only one still alive.
This set isn’t as cohesive as Rootsman Vibrations. Or it has one main oddity – Sugar Minott’s Bitter Sweet. A great album in every aspect, but it’s an organic roots album with live instrumentation put out in 1979. The other three albums – Dennis Brown’s History aka The Exit, Gregory Isaacs’ Come Along and Horace Andy’s Haul and Jack-Up – were originally released in the mid to late 80s and have a completely different sound – sparse, computerized and digital with drum machines and synths.
All albums bear King Jammy’s signature sweet reggae sound and even though none of them are regarded as a classic these days, they still sound strong and the box set showcases the shift from analogue reggae to digital dancehall.
On UK veteran soul and reggae singer Lloyd Brown’s 16th studio album he presents a smorgasbord of vintage and modern urban reggae styles fused with vintage and contemporary soul and R&B.
Lloyd Brown is a traditional, confident and reliable singer, much like some of his contemporaries, including Glen Washington, Richie Stephens and Nerious Joseph. His featherlike, seductive and smooth singing is particularly well-suited for romancing ballads, but he is equally at home with both heavier and more up-tempo styles.
New Veteran is – just like some of his most recent output – released on his own imprint Riddimworks and based on the work from a number of different producers, including himself. And this makes New Veteran a bit non-cohesive, but that is not necessarily a bad thing since there isn’t a weak moment. The other day I actually listened to the album for three hours straight.
Lloyd Brown has always been fond of both covers and combinations and this 15 track set is no exception. He has invited veterans and newcomers alike coming from the reggae, dancehall, soul and hip-hop arenas, including soul diva Kele Le Roc, teenage dancehall sensation Shanti Force, Jamaican singjay Tanya Stephens, guitar virtuoso Junior Marvin, UK hip-hop artist Mystro, an excellent unknown soul singer called Mikie Blak and the the late Dennis Brown on a cover version of the Eagles’ mid 70s smash hit Lyin’ Eyes.
The album is currently only available on iTunes, a distribution tactic I’m not particularly fond of. The sound is a bit thin due to the hard compression and it’s better for the consumer to be able to choose their favorite platform instead of being obliged to use this poor outlet.
Lloyd Brown is one of the most reliable and consistent artists from the UK, and this year he celebrates 30 years in the music business with the aptly titled 20 track album 30, his 15th full-length album.
During his long career he has been singing in the band Sweet Distortion, been a pivotal figure on the British lovers rock scene and for the past 15 years or so he has released several eclectic, but mostly reggae-based, albums.
30 is more or less a reggae album, even though there are other influences, mostly from soul and R&B, and Lloyd Brown has for example invited Julie Payne for a cover version of Philly vocal group The Three Degrees’ international smash hit When Will I See You Again.
On several albums Lloyd Brown has paid respect to Bob Marley by doing both covers as well as versions, and 30 is no exception since he utilizes the classic Could You Be Loved riddim for his marvelous Catch the Feeling. He also pays tribute to the late Dennis Brown, a little less unsung hero compared to Bob Marley.
Lloyd Brown’s tender and delicate voice is always a pleasure and 30 also boasts a number of tasty relicks of reggae and rocksteady riddims complete with exquisite musicianship, particularly the horns arrangements and the airy guitar solo in Right There.
United Reggae’s Angus Taylor once wrote that Lloyd Brown is a cert for every best album of the year list, and I have a feeling 30 is a strong contender for this year’s list.
There have been several well-compiled compilations dedicated to Jamaican producer Winston ”Niney” Holness aka The Observer. Niney The Observer – Roots with Quality, Blood & Fire – Hit Sounds From The Observer Station 1970-1978 and Observation Station should belong in any record collection.
17 North Parade – a subsidiary of reggae giant VP Records – has now issued a new box set dedicated to this hard-edged and uncompromising producer.
Deep Roots Observer Style includes three previously released albums – Dennis Brown’s Deep Down, The Heptones’ Better Days and its dub companion Observation of Life Dub – along with a compilation of I Roy singles titled The Observer Book of I Roy.
Niney got his big break in the early 70’s with roots masterpieces such as Max Romeo’s Rasta Bandwagon and The Coming of Jah as well as his own haunting Blood & Fire.
His production style is the essence of rebel music and is often sparse with a brimstone and fire kind of feeling.
This style suited the late Dennis Brown very well and some of his best material was recorded for Niney. So Long Rastafari and Open the Gate are two sublime vocals included on the Deep Down set, actually one of Dennis Brown’s earliest roots albums.
The Heptones’ Better Days has Naggo Morris instead of Leroy Sibbles on lead vocals and was originally put out in 1978. It contained ten tracks – among them the sublime God Bless the Children – but this version is strengthened by five roots anthems. Through the Fire I Come and Temptation, Botheration and Tribulation are two of the best conscious tunes ever voiced by the trio.
The dub counterpart to Better Days is a lethal drum and bass deconstruction and even though Niney is most well-known for producing singers rather than deejays he managed to capture I Roy in his essence with tunes such as Jah Come Here and slack Sister Maggie Breast.
Deep Roots Observer Style drops on February 13th and the CD version includes an eight page fully illustrated booklet with liner notes courtesy of Harry Wise.
VP Records’ subsidiary 17 North Parade has just re-issued Live at the Turntable Club. It’s the first ever live album recorded in Jamaica, and was originally issued on Trojan in 1975.
Dennis Brown, Delroy Wilson and Big Youth were all in their prime when this was recorded. The backing is provided by the always reliable Soul Syndicate. And the riddims are raw, sparse and with a no-nonsense approach. Just guitar, bass and drums engineered by King Tubby, Dennis Thompson and Errol Thompson.
Delroy Wilson and Big Youth rock their hit songs, while Dennis Brown performs the well-known Cassandra along with the lesser-known Rock With Me Baby and Give a Helping Hand.
The Turntable Club was the place to be in Kingston in the 70’s, and Winston “Merritone” Blake was the man in charge. The CD booklet includes a thorough interview with him, where he tells his story and gives a glance of a music industry full of hope and enthusiasm.
Live at the Turntable Club is a piece of music history made available for the first time in almost 40 years.
The late Dennis Brown is one of the most loved and consistent Jamaican singers and was in the 70’s probably more popular than Bob Marley. Several contemporary Jamaican artists are heavily influenced by him – Luciano, Frankie Paul and Bushman for example. But outside Jamaica he hasn’t been properly recognized.
He was signed to major label A&M in the early 80’s and dropped three albums with crossover potential, but didn’t make into the international charts.
He was in his prime in the mid and late 70’s and recorded some wicked tunes and albums with a number of Jamaica’s top producers at the time.
Joe Gibbs produced Dennis Brown with great success and this work is now collected by VP Records in the box set Dennis Brown at Joe Gibbs. Here you’ll find the albums Visions of Dennis Brown and Words of Wisdom as well as two CD’s that collects singles and album material from the 70’s and 80’s. All in all 60 songs with Dennis Brown’s powerful tenor voice.
Dennis Brown was a master of combining conscious tunes with more lovers oriented material. Just listen to the deep So Jah Say and the uplifting cover of Johnnie Taylor’s Ain’t That Loving You. It’s Pure gold.
There’s no denying of the greatness of the two full lengths that are included. The third disc – Love’s Gotta Hold On Me – is also sublime with material that ranges from the haunting Created by The Father to the soulful Historical Places, included on The Prophet Rides Again, his last album for A&M.
The last disc – Reflections – hasn’t the same caliber as the other three, mainly due to poor sound quality. It’s nice though to hear the original version of Money in My Pocket, probably the closest Dennis Brown has come to a hit song.
Dennis Brown at Joe Gibbs is sold at a bargain price and is a perfect introduction to one of the many greats of reggae music.
UK-based producer Curtis Lynch has managed to release a bunch of releases already in the new year. Started on January 11 with Chantelle Ernandez and her nice lovers rock EP My Forever and continuing with a relick of one of the most versioned riddims ever – Pass the Kutchie, originally titled Full Up and recorded at Studio One. It features vocals from the Mighty Diamonds, Yellowman, Mr. Williamz, Tippa Irie, Kasi and Franz Job.
But that’s not all. The Necessary Mayhem camp has also managed to put out the first release in their “Company Policy” series. It’s a 12” release (also available as legal download) with one side from the late Dennis Brown and the other from ex-Aswad singer Brinsley Forde.
The tunes are not on the same riddim though. The Dennis Brown cut is a version of his Deceiving Girl produced by Augustus “Gussie” Clarke in the early 80’s, and included on the Judge Not album with the late Gregory Isaacs. Brinsley Forde rides a relick of another Gussie Clarke production – the mighty Rumours riddim. Both tunes are served with its dub version.
Curtis Lynch is a reliable source for great reggae music and with these new releases you can expect the usual – ear blowing heavy bass lines, electronica influences and added sound effects.
The record market is flooded with compilations and it’s sometimes hard to distinct the good ones from the poorer.
One artist that has been subject for a number of compilations is the late and great Dennis Brown. During his prolific career he recorded several wicked albums and singles.
Last year saw the release of Dennis Brown & The DJs – Joe Gibbs 12” Selection. This was a nice eleven track compilation of hard to find duets where Dennis Brown had teamed up with deejays such as Big Youth, U Brown and Welton Irie.
Now it’s time for another supposedly good compilation of Dennis Brown material. This time it’s put out by 17 North Parade – a subsidiary of VP Records.
The Crown Prince of Reggae – Singles (1972 – 1985) is a three-disc compilation of many of his hit singles. Two of the discs collect 40 tunes, both anthems such as Revolution and Created by the Father and lesser known works like Praise Without Raise.
The third disc is what makes this release stand out. It’s a DVD from a Dennis Brown concert in Montreux in 1979. This concert has been available on vinyl, CD and DVD before, but is now part of a great package. The live version of The Drifter is one of the best performances I’ve ever seen and is highly recommended.
In 2003 Trojan Records released an album titled The Crown Prince of Reggae collecting 20 tracks. Even though a number of tunes are represented on both albums, this new one seems to be a good investment.
The Crown Prince of Reggae – Singles (1972 – 1985) is due on November 16.
Very sad news hit the world this Monday morning. According to BBC Gregory Isaacs – one of Jamaica’s sweetest vocalists ever – died on Monday in lung cancer, which he was diagnosed with a year ago. He was hospitalized in London some weeks ago and rumours said then that he had died. And now it’s a sad reality.
Gregory Isaacs started his career in the late 60’s and spent a short time in The Concords. And it was solo he became famous with both reality and lovers tunes.
His career is spanning over 40 years and he recorded with almost everybody in the Jamaican recording industry – Augustus “Gussie” Clarke, Lee Perry and Winston “Niney” Holness to name a few producers and Roots Radics and Sly & Robbie are examples of riddims sections he did masterpieces with.
He also produced himself and had his own label and record store African Museum. I think some of his best work is actually self-produced, for example the Cool Ruler set.
I’ve had many, many great moments with my Gregory Isaacs collection and he will be sadly missed. He managed to survive jail and overcome crack cocaine addiction. But cancer was one fight he couldn’t win.
Ten Gregory Isaacs tunes you need to hear:
Artist – song title (producer)
Gregory Isaacs – Rumours (Augustus Clarke)
Gregory Isaacs – Night Nurse (Gregory Isaacs & Errol “Flabba” Holt)
Gregory Isaacs & Carlene Davis – Feeling Irie (Augustus Clarke)
Gregory Isaacs – Soon Forward (Gregory Isaacs & Sly & Robbie)
Gregory Isaacs – Uncle Joe (Gregory Isaacs)
Gregory Isaacs – Mr. Cop (Lee Perry)
Gregory Isaacs – Slave Master (Winston Holness)
Gregory Isaacs – Universal Tribulation (Gregory Isaacs & Sly & Robbie)
Gregory Isaacs & Dennis Brown – Let Off the Supm (Augustus Clarke)
Gregory Isaacs & Mighty Diamonds – Rough Neck (Augustus Clarke)
Soul music has had a tremendous influence on reggae, especially on the melodic rocksteady. Several reggae singers have been inspired by American soul singers. Alton Ellis, Slim Smith and Bob Marley were mainly influenced by names such as Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder and Curtis Mayfield.
Less common are soul artists influenced by reggae. Texas-born Johnny Nash is one such artist who recorded both soul and reggae. A newer star on the soul and reggae sky is U.S. born Toussaint Yeshua, with a background as lead singer of the Stax Records and Blue Note recording group Soulive.
Nowadays he stands on his own feet and has together with the star-studded Zion I Kings production team created an album with a powerful blend of yearning soul and heavy roots reggae.
All 15 tracks on Black Gold are recorded with live instruments along with an all-star cast of musicians including Dean Pond, Tuff Lion and Carlton “Santa” Davis. This makes the sound rich and strong, but also smooth and soft, particularly on the title track Black Gold, which features live strings.
Toussaint’s voice is reminiscent of soul singers Stevie Wonder and John Legend, as well as reggae vocalists Dennis Brown and the new Dutch sensation Maikal X. The overall sound on Black Gold reminds me sometimes of British group Matumbi and their early material.
Black Gold offers pure soul (the sweet Hello My Beautiful), straight reggae (the mighty Roots In A Modern Time), and songs that are something of a mix of both genres (the single Be You). And the mixture works extremely well. In addition, Toussaint appears to be an excellent storyteller. The lyrics are personal and deals with topics such as struggles in life and overcoming addictions.
Laurent “Tippy I” Alfred is the mastermind behind this release and it certainly shows his great versatility as a producer. He has previously introduced and recorded great artists such as Dezarie and NiyoRah. However, I dare to say that this is his and his label I Grade’s best release so far.
Black Gold is released digitally on August 10 and physically on August 24.