Land of the Blind is classic Zion Train

artworks-000105494252-z8gnhj-t500x500UK dub pioneers Zion Train’s brand new album Land of the Blind is classic Zion Train with its tasty mix of live instrumentation, organic arrangements and digital programming. And as usual the horns are superb being both melancholic and uplifting.

Zion Train celebrated 25 years in the business last year and this studio album features six vocalists, both fresh talents, like Jazzmin Tatum, along with Zion Train regulars, such as Fitta Warri and Dubdadda. It collects both new material and previously released tracks, cuts that have been released to wide critical acclaim.

Among the many highlights is the devastating seven minute long Dirty Dunza/Go For It with vocals from the fierce Fitta Warri and the more ethereal Jazzmin Tatum. The bass line on this track is just ridiculous and custom-made for breaking down the walls of Babylon.

Tranquillity Through Humility and The Great Flood/Gaia’s Tears come with a beautiful flute, while More and More and We Are Water are dreamy with smashing drums and dubby effects on the latter.

Fans of UK dub in general and Zion Train in particular will not be disappointed.

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Solid debut album from Exco Levi

disc-3295-exco-levi-country-manOn Jamaican singjay Exco Levi’s debut album Country Man he fulfils his dream of working with one the giants in the reggae industry – Donovan Germain and his Penthouse imprint.

Donovan Germain has previously worked with successful artists like Buju Banton and the late Garnett Silk, but he’s also responsible for discovering Romain Virgo, who also teams up with Exco Levi on the excellent Get It In Your Head.

Country Man collects previously released songs along with new material and is largely an autobiographical album where Exco Levi over a hefty 19 tracks tells stories about growing up in the Jamaican countryside, going to church and walking around with no shoes. It’s his life experiences and his journey so far.

On City Life Exco Levi paints a harsh picture of Kingston living – “It’s not a nice life, make sure you know the streets… and people get missing, without nobody know, city life, where people don’t trust the cops, cus the only time they see them is when another youth drops, city life, where people break the stop light, bullet echoes in the distance anytime it touch night”. And on a beautiful version of Twinkle Brother’s mighty Since I Throw the Comb Away he sings about the realities you face being a Rasta.

As usual when Donovan Germain is involved this album is jam-packed with sweet melodies, infectious hooks and grand arrangements. Country Man is solid and well-crafted contemporary Jamaican roots music.

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The sweet sound of Toian

10172807_423018041192207_7072304977976513394_nJamaican songstress Toian – not to be confused with late 80s deejay Toyan – has just released her debut EP Retrospect, a summery set collecting five tracks with a contemporary sound.

Toian was previously only Toi and has for the past two years worked with artists such as Protoje and Vybz Kartel and she also sung on Alexander Star’s infectious reggae crossover Sippin’ On Rum.

My first encounter with her music was the dubby Rude Boy released last year. That track is also featured on Retrospect along with her latest single Love It, a catchy cut that borrows from two classics – The Uniques’s My Conversation and Sister Nancy’s Bam Bam.

Style & Fashion is bouncy, while the emotional Next To Me lies close to a classic power ballad. Album closing track Come Away is airy with Toian’s sweet and delicate singing echoing back and forth in the mix.

An excellent and youthful debut from a fresh new voice.

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Biga Ranx offers a set aimed for late night enjoyment

Biga-Ranx-Night-Bird-Cover-BDFrench deejay Biga Ranx rose to prominence back in 2008 when he recorded a combination with gruff Jamaican deejay Joseph Cotton. He released his debut set in 2011, its follow-up two years later and now he has dropped his third album Nightbird.

The title is a telling one since this album is dark and melancholic. It’s a subway journey through a desolate city on a late Sunday night. A time when it’s just you, your headphones and Biga Ranx’ tongue twisting vocal delivery.

Nightbird is electronic and electrified. It’s digital reggae with a twist. Not aimed at the party, rather for the ride home or for a dozed off after-party.

Biga Ranx and producer Manudigital have also accomplished something unique. They have managed to have no less than four legendary Jamaican deejays on the same track. On Hate Biga Ranx teams up with Big Youth, U Roy, U Brown and Joseph Cotton and the result is a great one. It’s not often you hear those deejays on an electronic and futuristic beat with a slow bass line and dreamy synths.

Nightbird might be digital reggae, but it’s nothing like digital reggae. It has its own very contemporary sound complete with influences from the 80s reggae scene.

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Fierce and smooth when Sly & Robbie team with Spicy Chocolate

MI0003837889Sly & Robbie’s joint album with Japanese producer Spicy Chocolate was released in the U.S. last year and was nominated for a Grammy. The Reggae Power is an eclectic and contemporary album that is finally available throughout the world.

The Reggae Power is a various artist compilation brought together by Spicy Chocolate with support from legendary bass and drum duo Sly & Robbie. And they have invited a broad range of artists for this set – ranging from dancehall kings and queens like Ce’cile, Beenie Man and Mr. Vegas to the righteous ravings from Sizzla. On board the project is also a number of Japanese artists, including Crystal Kay, Thelma Aoyama, Miss Monday and Ryo the Skywalker.

It’s more dancehall than roots, and sometimes it’s more R&B-influenced pop than dancehall. Just listen to sweet songstress Alaine’s Wasn’t So Bad or Bitty McLean’s slick Anything and Everything. Two tracks directly aimed at the charts.

But then you also have rampant soca-fused cuts like Mr. Vegas & Chehon’s Dancing Time and Jason Sweetness & Future Fambo’s Party Time, a track where the title says it all.

You have to be seriously impressed by Sly & Robbie. Last year they dropped no less than three rough and tough dub albums and then they direct a set like this, which is nothing like dub. The Reggae Power is joyous, party-fuelled and should appeal to anyone fond of contemporary urban R&B and pop.

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Fine-tuned frequencies on The Skints’ new album

the-skints-fm-digi-cover-shot-1400x1400px-final-as-per-pressLondon-based reggae four piece outfit The Skints have recently revealed their third and latest album FM, a 15 track set inspired by a time when the band used to drive around in guitarist Josh Waters Rudge’s car, tuning in to the radio and trying to find new music.

FM follows their eclectic Short Change EP from last year and on the album they have pulled influences ranging from grime, garage and punk to summertime sound system reggae, dancehall, rocksteady and soul. It’s a tour of urban culture in its latest guise.

The album kicks off with the distinctively British This Town, featuring deejays Tippa Irie and Horseman, a celebratory ode to London with its sparse arrangement and tongue twisting vocal delivery. It’s followed by catchy hooks, infectious melodies and unexpected arrangements, as the up-tempo Friends & Business, whichmetamorphoses and suddenly borrows from The Specials’ legendary Ghost Town.

The Skints’ debut album Live, Breathe, Build, Believe was highly influenced by Californian ska punk and since that set they have definitely matured and ventured into a more reggae-oriented direction led by the mighty Prince Fatty, who has helmed production on their two latest albums.

FM is The Skints’ tribute to traditional radio culture, a culture when the DJ was king and you weren’t able make your own playlists listening to Spotify or Deezer.

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Protoje balances reggae and hip-hop on Ancient Future

unnamedOn successful Jamaican reggae revivalist Protoje’s third album Ancient Future he sounds more inspired than ever before when he tackles Winta James’ uncompromising hip-hop-flavoured reggae riddims. It’s clear that duo has worked tight together on this excellent release.

I have followed Protoje since his debut single J.A. released in 2010. That track was producer by his cousin Don Corleone, who Protoje worked with on his first two albums Seven Year Itch and The 8 Year Affair. And with each album Protoje has matured and his sound has evolved from easy-going reggae to spiritual roots.

Ancient Future is a cohesive set that balances rootsy reggae with hip-hop beats. But it also offers a few tasty slices of lovers rock and joyous ska. It’s definitely rooted in the 70s and 80s, but embodies the energy of the present.

Protoje is a frontrunner of the reggae, or Rastafari as Jah9 describes it, revival scene, and Ancient Future enlists several contemporaries, including Chronixx, Jesse Royal and Kabaka Pyramid. Onboard is also rising stars Sevana and Mortimer.

Chronixx showcases his talents on Who Knowns, one of the best cuts from last year according to several reggae heavyweights, and Kabaka Pyramid blazes a verse on The Flame, a track the metamorphoses unexpectedly.

Ancient Future is jam-packed with both talent and highlights and it will be hard for Protoje to outshine a masterpiece like this in the future.

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Soul Jazz portrays the birth of a sound on Studio One Jump-Up

unnamedThe latest Studio One compilation from UK reissue giant Soul Jazz adds something new to their huge catalogue. It’s the first time they issue a compilation focusing on the bona-fide roots of reggae and the earliest sounds coming from Studio One and Clement “Coxsone” Dodd.

Studio One Jump-Up – The Birth of a Sound: Jump-Up Jamaican R&B, Jazz and Early Ska serves up a total of 20 tunes in many styles; from shuffle and R&B to ska and jazz.

This compilation starts from the beginning in the formative era. In the mid to late 50s Jamaicans were exposed to lots of U.S. R&B and producers like Clement Dodd merged these shuffling sounds with his own musical strains; calypso from Trinidad & Tobago and mento, a form of Jamaican folk music.

On this album you’ll find the roots of Studio One and a early R&B aficionado will probably recognize influences from aces like Louis Jordan and Fats Domino. But included is also cuts that adds something new, that adds something fresh to the rocking sounds. Count Ossie’s Another Moses is such a track, Don Drummond & Roland Alphonso’s Heaven and Earth is another. These two cuts are haunting and conscious and provided the foundation for what was about to come many years later – roots reggae.

This compilation is however mostly about party-starters and frenetic tempos. If you have a bad heart you might want to skip the joyous ska excitement of Bob Marley & The Wailers’ Go Jimmy Go or the volcanic horns on Roland Alphonso’s Bongo Tango.

Studio One Jump-Up portrays a side of reggae that is sometimes overlooked – even though labels like Fantastic Voyage and Sunrise Records have done their fair share of reissues in this genre. “You have to know the past to understand the present” is an expression coined by U.S. astronomer Carl Sagan and it’s something Jamaican musicians might want to focus on now that they aim to reclaim global dominance in reggae.

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Ghanaian styled reggae on Selasee & The Fafa Family’s Time For Peace

selasee-time-for-peace-thumbGhana has a rich musical heritage and the highlife genre originates from there. And Ghana native Selasee – who today resides in the U.S. – has incorporated elements of this often up-tempo and funky genre on his and his band Fafa Family’s third album Time For Peace, a set that follows their African Gate, released in 2009.

Time For Peace is Ghanaian styled roots reggae with elements of soul and gospel. The set is produced by no other than the legendary Aston “Family Man” Barrett, longtime bass man who worked close to Bob Marley for almost a decade. Together, Aston Barrett and Selasee & Fafa Family have created a catchy reggae album connecting the musical dots between the Caribbean, West Africa and the U.S.

This organic set is a conscious one and the songs have a story resonating from Selasee’s own experiences in life. But Selasee also tackles global issues, as on album opener Time For Peace where Jamaican deejay Anthony B joins in chanting about the trials and tribulations going on in the world.

The roots vibe is strong on several tracks, especially on deep and slow cuts like Baby Sister and The Love, whereas highlife influences are a large part of tracks such as Mama Africa and Which One.

Several of the songs have long instrumental parts where the multiple guitars or the breezy horns do most of the talking. And the horns on Time For Peace are, well, marvelous. Listen to Fly Away, especially the smooth saxophone solo, or the funky saxophone on sensual reggae funkster Stop the Rain.

All songs are powered by Selasee’s rich, soulful and slighly raspy voice. Just as several other reggae greats he started singing in church, but he has also been in an afro-pop band, and all these elements blend together nicely on this twelve track set.

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Stellar compilation presents Jimmy Riley at his best

366If you are in a hurry and need to know about Jimmy Riley’s Live It To Know It, five words – get it, it is essential. I you want the story you can continue.

Jimmy Riley – father of acclaimed contemporary reggae singer Tarrus Riley – started his career in the mid-60 as part of rocksteady vocal harmony group The Sensations, an outfit that also included sublime falsetto singer Cornel Campbell. After a while he left that group and formed The Uniques with another renowned falsetto singer – Slim Smith.

After several hit singles with The Uniques, including My Conversation, one of the best rocksteady cuts ever recorded, he went solo and started recording with the likes of Lee Perry, Bunny Lee and Sly & Robbie, with whom he recorded easy-skanking solo hits like Love and Devotion and Marvin Gaye’s Sexual Healing, a song that topped reggae charts in 1983.

On UK reissue label Pressure Sounds’ 87th release they have focused on Jimmy Riley, but not his most well-known cuts. No, Live It To Know It collects self-produced material recorded approximately between 1975 and 1984. And this is message music. It’s roots music with sparse arrangements and minor chords, and Jimmy Riley sings about immigration, poverty, struggles, equality and justice.

Live It To Know It contains 17 songs and is long overdue. Jimmy Riley is one of many often overlooked Jamaican singers. He has a stellar tenor voice with a bit of grittiness to it. It’s emotive, pleading and heartfelt. He’s a bona-fide soul singer.

This album has everything a great reissue should have – excellent music, discomixes, devastating dub versions, good audio quality, scarce material and vivid liner notes. It collects nothing but the best and it captures Jimmy Riley at his finest.

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