Tag Archives: Dennis Brown

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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New reggae compilation celebrates Africa

untitledA new compilation from reggae powerhouse VP Records celebrates the kinship and inspiration that Africa has given reggae music.

Some of the industry’s greatest voices and biggest artists pay tribute on Reggae Loves Africa, a twelve track collection including classic cuts with themes of liberation and repatriation sung by the likes of Buju Banton, Warrior King, Queen Ifrica, Luciano, Freddie McGregor, Beres Hammond, Dennis Brown and Tarrus Riley.

Reggae Loves Africa presents Africa’s history and its modern day struggles. It’s conscious reggae with messages of upliftment and hope. It drops in the UK on July 14 and the rest of Europe on July 20, not including France though, where fans have to wait until August 25.

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Five reggae superstars in a box

Dennis Brown  & Superstar Friends - Reggae Legends - artworkDennis Brown was on top of his game in the mid to late 70s and he put out more than a handful of excellent albums, including Joseph’s Coat of Many Colours, Words of Wisdom and Visions of Dennis Brown.

But this esteemed singer also dropped great material in the 80s and 90s, as shown on the brand new four disc box set Dennis Brown & Superstar Friends. It collects four original combination albums released between 1984 and 1993 – Judge Not and No Contest with Gregory Isaacs, Legit with Freddie McGregor and Cocoa Tea and Hotter Flames with Frankie Paul.

Augustus “Gussie” Clarke was responsible for production on Judge Not, No Contest and Legit. These collect solo and duo tracks as well as several discomixes, discomixes that showcase the crisp and sharp hi-tech riddims that became Gussie Clarke’s trademark.

Hotter Flames – produced by Patrick Roberts and Andre Tyrell aka Shocking Vibes – is rawer and more rugged compared to Gussie Clarke’s slick, yet with an edge, style.

Included is no less than 38 tracks, and highlights include the massive Gregory Isaacs combination Let off the Supm, To the Foundation, No Camouflage, Big All Around, Bone Lies and a nice take of Bob Marley’s Natural Mystic.

This set is a proper showdown where the Crown Prince of Reggae teams up with four of his superstar friends to make music for your ears and listening pleasure.

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Four superstars showcased on new King Jammy box set

Vocal Superstars At King Jammys - ArtworkSuccessful 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.

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Another rock-solid set of soulful reggae from Lloyd Brown

lloydbrown-newveteranOn 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.

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Lloyd Brown shows why he’s one of the most reliable forces in reggae

30albumLloyd 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.

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Four crucial Niney productions reissued

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.

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A reggae legacy made available

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.

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A great introduction to Dennis Brown

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.

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Several new releases from Curtis Lynch

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.

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