The latest Studio One compilation on one of the world’s premier reissue labels – Soul Jazz Records – is all about pure quality and as usual with these compilations an an all-star selection of artists is featured – Ken Boothe, Marcia Griffiths, John Holt, Dennis Brown and more. Sure, a number of these lovely tunes have been reissued plenty of times before, for example The Eternals’ Stars, The Heptones’ Party Time and The Gaylads’ Joy in the Morning.
The title – Studio One Rocksteady – doesn’t tell the whole truth though. It surely includes lots of rocksteady, but also early reggae, like Alton Ellis’ Hurting Me, Jackie Mittoo’s Our Thing and Duke Morgan’s Lick it Back.
The sounds are gorgeous, bouncy and optimistic, but also moody and melancholic as in Cecile Campbell’s Whisper to Me and Ken Boothe’s When I Fall in Love.
Studio One may not have been a rival to Duke Reid’s Tresure Isle when it comes to putting out beautiful rocksteady, but Coxsone Dodd had two aces up his sleeve – master organist Jackie Mittoo and bass virtuoso Leroy Sibbles. Together this trio created countless of classics, and several of these are collected on this essential album, an album with excellent sleevenotes by Lloyd Bradley, author of the classic book Bass Culture – When Reggae Was King.
On his fifth album Love Situation Tarrus Riley and his fellow producers Dean Fraser, Shane C. Brown, Mitchum Khan Chin and Jordan McClure take a stroll down memory lane to Duke Reid’s Treasure Isle studio.
Love Situation is a throwback to Jamaica in the 60s, a time when rocksteady and early reggae ruled the airwaves and U Roy, The Uniques and Ken Boothe dominated the charts.
The set mixes samples from the past with new instrumentation. Melodically and rhythmically it’s contemporary vintage, modern old-school or current classic. Just listen to Tarrus Riley’s version of The Gaylads’ excellent ABC Rocksteady titled 1, 2, 3 I Love You. This track also sets the theme for the full album. It’s mostly about relations and affairs of the heart.
It has the same timeless quality and feel as some of the best cuts coming from Duke Reid, Bunny Lee or Coxsone Dodd in their heydays.
Great riddims and strong vocals courtesy of Tarrus Riley’s warm tenor voice along with his invited fellow singers U Roy, Konshens, Big Youth, Mr Cheeks and Wippa Demus make Love Situation a tasty effort.
And with its 17 tracks Love Situation is certainly a long-player. But it still leaves me wanting more of the slick and polished intergenerational vibes that that this project has to offer.
After the excellent and beautiful Ken Boothe combination A Change Must Come, about how immigrants are treated, Spain’s six piece band Tasty Grooves have returned with another vintage reggae scorcher, this time their debut album Soul Street.
Soul Street features eleven brand new tracks influenced by vintage reggae, rocksteady and soul. It’s a mix of instrumentals and vocal cuts and includes collaborations with Jamaican deejay veteran Big Youth and Spanish soul songstress Astrid Jones.
The arrangements are sparse and the songs have a distinct sound echoing from a time when Duke Reid and his Treasure Isle studio ruled the Jamaican airwaves. Some of Ken Parker’s best work comes to mind, as does the early work from producers like Joe Gibbs and Niney. Highlights include the uplifting single Rise From the Ashes and the driving organ instrumental Panda Man.
Soul Street is an excellent album, even though vocalist Marc Ibarz could work on his English a bit more. It’s available on LP and CD, and the LP includes a CD, so buying the LP you’ll get both formats.
French nine piece band Jim Murple Memorial has been together in various constellations for 17 years and has recently released their ninth official studio album Take Your Flight, Jim!, collecting 16 tracks aimed a starting any party around the globe.
Their sound is a melting pot of ska, rocksteady, calypso, boogaloo and Jamaican and American R&B. They’ve might have listened to an equal amount of Bo Diddley, Fats Domino, Willie Colón, The Skatalites, Slim Smith and Laurel Aitken.
It’s fun, passionate and soulful and unless Tony Soprano has put your feet in wet concrete, you’re guaranteed to at least tap your toes to this full and swinging sound with upright bass, shuffling piano, funky organ, rampant horns and cheerful, but also mild at times, vocals courtesy of no less than five lead singers, who mostly sing in English.
Included are also a number of explosive and catchy instrumentals, where the musicians present their respective skills in a party-styled fashion.
Take Your Flight, Jim! is currently only available via the band’s website and over there you decide the price yourself.
Falsetto vocalists have always been popular in Jamaica, and some of the earliest and most acclaimed ones include the late Slim Smith, Cedric Myton, Pat Kelly, Cornell Campbell and Junior Murvin.
A newcomer in this great genre of singers is Courtney John, who just dropped his fourth album From Letters to Words. It’s a ten track ode to 60’s rocksteady spiced with tender 70’s soul and a hint of singer/songwriter.
Courtney John weighs every word, every syllable, carefully, and his smooth falsetto is light as a feather. His hearty lyrics deal mostly with romance and his longing for intimacy.
Included are fresh originals and relicks, and also a cover of Chi-Lites 1971 Billboard chart topper Have You Seen Her.
This is a contemporary reggae and rocksteady album with a lazy Sunday morning feeling.
UK reissue label Pressure Sounds has started the year in an old school vintage reggae style. First it was a compilation with early reggae scorchers produced by Lee Perry. Now the label has reissued a second collection of tunes from Blondel Keith Calneck, aka Ken Lack, and his group of labels, including Shock, Jontom and Caltone.
Listen to the Music: Caltone’s Jamaican 45’s 1966-69 collects 21 tunes covering frantic ska, up-tempo early reggae and elegant, classy rocksteady. A few straight forward R&B and Sam Cooke influenced tunes from The Uniques are also included.
Ken Lack was a business man with a keen interest in music and is not one of the more well-known producers in the history of reggae music, but thanks to the Pressure Sounds compilation Safe Travel – released in 2005 – he has received some very well-deserved attention.
Bunny Lee and Phil Pratt handled most of the hands-on production on his recordings with input from Trinibagoan guitarist Lynn Taitt, saxophonist Tommy McCook and trumpeter Johnny Moore.
One of the better known singles from the Ken Lack camp is The Heptones’ Gunmen Coming to Town, a tune that borrows its melody from the William Tell Overture.
Ken Lack worked extensively with Tommy McCook, and his saxophone is present on many of the tunes. And the horn arrangements are classy and tasteful throughout the compilation.
Standouts among the vocals cuts are The Claredonians’ – with the extraordinary talent of Peter Austin taking lead – I’m Sorry, Devon & The Tartans’ Making Love and Alva Lewis & Lynn Taitt’s Return Home. The harmonies are excellent and so are the musicianship with outstanding lead guitar and shuffling organ work.
Listen to the Music is currently available on CD, double LP and digital download and includes excellent liner notes courtesy of Pressure Sounds’ founder and director Pete Holdsworth.
Rocksteady veteran and gritty vocalist Ken Boothe is one of the many reasons why I got into reggae music. Songs such as Freedom Street, Artibella and When I Fall in Love are pure gold.
Ken Boothe has a long career behind him, but just recently started to tour Europe. I had the opportunity to meet him backstage after his performance at Uppsala Reggae Festival in Sweden. Check the full interview over at United Reggae.
In the early 60’s George “Peckings” Price relocated from Jamaica to the UK. He is said to have been a close friend of producer and label owner Clement “Coxsone” Dodd, a very valuable connection when George Price set up his own record shop in London in 1974.
George Price passed away 20 years later and his sons Chris, Duke and Trevor took over the operations, and also started to make their own productions built on riddims from mainly Clement Dodd and the late Duke Reid.
Their debut album was Bitty McLean’s On Bond Street, which was released in 2005. It was followed by the compilations Old Skool Young Blood in 2006 and 2009 as well as Gappy Ranks’ debut album Put the Stereo On in 2010.
Now another slice of old meets new has arrived, and Old Skool Young Blood vol. 3 picks up where its predecessors left off. The 14 tunes include a number of Duke Reid’s finest cuts of rocksteady riddims. The vocals are provided by singers such as Gappy Ranks and Courtney John as well as lovers rock crooners Peter Hunnigale, Peter Spence, Sadiki and Bitty McLean.
The riddims are played by The Supersonics – an outfit led by master saxophonist Tommy McCook – and are beautifully crafted. You simply can’t go wrong with music like this. It’s smooth, melodic and infectious. Just like Gappy Ranks’ “ah ah ah ah aaaah” chorus in his Kooyah Kooyah.
George Price should be proud. His sons are doing a great job in keeping the reggae legacy alive.
One of this year’s best releases is Alpheus ska and rocksteady set From Creation. Now there’s a new album in a similar style – Music is Medicine from London’s The Sidewalk Doctors.
Music is Medicine is their debut album and includes nine authentic rocksteady and ska-styles tunes fused with lead singer Nathan Thomas’ soft, almost whispering, voice.
This production is straightforward and non-polished. The organ is – as it should be – in the front seat on several songs, and the piano hook on With You is nicely borrowed from The Uniques’ My Conversation.
Music is Medicine might not be as great as From Creation, but it’s certainly a nice change to hear reggae that is not roots or dancehall these days.
Veteran singer Prince Blanco has just put out the ska-tinged EP Unify On The Hi-Fi. The EP is produced by Canadian dub master Dubmatix, with whom Prince Blanco won a Juno Award in 2010.
Prince Blanco has previously put out albums with various groups, such as The Skanksters and The Liquidaires. He has also performed alongside acclaimed singers Michael Rose and Freddie McGregor and contributed to the Joe Strummer tribute compilation Shatter the Hotel.
The new EP does not really sound as a Dubmatix production, even if the heavy bass lines are present. Unify On The Hi-Fi is a ska, rocksteady and early reggae love affair.
However, it is not mainly in the Jamaican tradition. It leans more towards the UK sound and artists and bands such as Dandy, The Specials and Pama International. It is reggae with lots of 60’s soul.
Three of the five tunes are in the ska vein and the pounding Ska Tissue, with some moaning horns, certainly makes your heart beat. The other two tunes include some nice and groovy organ work.
Highly recommended for everyone who is interested in expanding their one drop or dancehall horizon.