Protoje has come a long way since his debut album The Seven Year Itch in 2010. On his fourth set A Matter of Time he continues his creative collaborations with producer Winta James and fellow singer Chronixx, who turns up on two cuts – the western-tinged album opener Flames and the moody single No Guarantee.
This is a superb and cohesive album nodding quite a lot towards booming 90s hip-hop, but also incorporating rock and R&B. It has the essence of reggae, but it’s forward-thinking and Protoje manages to elevate to genre to a higher region with innovative production, clever instrumentation and attention to details. Check the dramatic orchestration on the title track and the sublime cowbell on No Guarantee.
The cover sleeve with a lonesome Protoje facing the endless ocean explains A Matter of Time very well – introspective, thoughtful and timeless.
For Studio One/Yep Roc’s second compilation of rare Studio One singles they look to Clement “Coxsone” Dodd’s Bongo Man imprint. More than half of the cuts on Natural High – The Bongo Man Collection have never been released on an album before and it also adds a previously unreleased discomix version of Horace Andy’s epic Skylarking complete with a toast by Prince Jazzbo.
Coxsone Dodd ran several sublabels to Studio One and Bongo Man was dedicated to the rootiser side of his productions and includes astonishing cuts from The Classics aka The Wailing Souls, The Beltones, Prince Lincoln of The Royal Rasses and Kingstonians’ lead singer Jackie Bernard along with many more.
The set was originally released for Record Store Day only, but is now available on a wider scale. The vinyl is and eye-catching red, gold and green and collections like these are essential and manage to uncover long-lost gems.
Alpheus released his fifth album Light of Day in late March and it’s his third set with talented Spanish producer and musician Roberto Sanchez. And together they have once again recreated a late 60s Jamaican sound nodding towards ska, rocksteady and early reggae.
Unlike its predecessors, Light of Day comes with no relicks or versions of 60s rhythms nor does it include dubs or instrumentals. But it still sounds both rough and raw and like it was recorded at a Kingston studio in 1968 or 1969.
Light of Day is another timeless musical masterpiece from this duo. It’s uplifting, positive and it will certainly make feet moving and heads nodding to the stomping reggae beat.
While waiting for the next Major Lazor album please check Jamaican producer Richie Loop’s debut album Manimal, which was released earlier this year. It collects ten cuts that could easily have fallen off Free the Universe or Peace is the Mission.
Manimal is a furious dancehall meltdown nodding towards tropical house, trap and soca with vocal contributions from a broad variety of lesser known performers, including Johnny Roxx, Kalibandulu and Tribal Kush.
This is modern Caribbean dance music with bombastic breaks, unpredictable hooks, distorted voices and frenzied percussion. Check album opener Way Up, a collaboration with Dutch duo Tribal Kush. It’s the blueprint of a modern tropical party anthem.
A while ago French producer and digi maestro Manudigital went to the Caribbean where he recorded yard sessions with both the older and younger generation of reggae artists. These sessions were published on Youtube and most have now been collected on the album Digital Kingston Sessions, a set collecting seven cuts recorded in Jamaica, Mexico and Trinidad & Tobago.
This type of reggae – which originated in Jamaica in the mid-80s and went global with King Jammy’s game-changing Sleng Teng riddim – is raw and brash and the rhythms are fun and simple, yet often effective.
And for these digital sessions Manudigital has attracted originators like King Kong, Pad Anthony, King Everald and Derrick Parker, singers who recorded many tracks in the mid-80s when the digi craze swept Jamaica. He has also hired Trinidadian performer Queen Omega and she really kills it. She is a truly unique talent with one hell of a voice.
Manudigital also recorded Junior Cat, but for some reason that cut didn’t make it onto the album. Make sure to check the single and you’ll be swept away by his fast-chatting style and fashion.
The same day as Etana released her new album Reggae Forever another superb Jamaican songstress dropped a new album. I’m talking about Diana Rutherford – daughter of singer Michael Rutherford – who is not as well-known as Etana, but both have truly powerful voices.
Better Days is her second album and the follow-up to Ghetto Princess released in 2011. The sets don’t have much in common musically, other than Diana Rutherford’s voice. Where Ghetto Princess was urban and R&B-oriented, Better Days is traditional reggae with grand arrangements and an organic feel thanks to the recording process and live instrumentation.
Diana Rutherford sings with the attitude and confidence of diva. Listen to a cut like Strong Black Woman, especially the two last minutes, or the version of Jackie Wilson’s soul standard (Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher & Higher. The standout track is however the uplifting and gospel-infused Smile On My Face.
Better Days might have an audio quality slightly below par, which is unfortunate since it’s a very mature and sophisticated set. And if your curious about the recording process – check this documentary on Youtube.
Jamaican singer and deejay Skarra Mucci – who moved to Europe in the 90s – released his seventh album Skarra Mucci & The One Love Family in April. It’s a 15 track set with an equal amount of combinations with both veterans and newcomers.
Skarra Mucci is a versatile performer with a inexhaustible flow showcased on almost every cut on this new album, which was recorded around the world with producers such as Oneness Records, Dreadsquad, Weedy G, House of Riddim, Irie Ites and Undisputed Records.
The set collects a mix of released and previously unreleased material and the standout track is a superb combination with Moana & The Tribe from New Zealand. Other highlights include the pulsating Follow Me on which both Skarra Mucci and his partner Little Pepe showcase a fast-chatting style.
Skarra Mucci’s albums are always consistent with few dull moments, but one of his finest tracks to date is the L’entourloop-produced Dreader Than Dread, which was released as a 10” two years ago. It’s also available on a compilation titled Foundations, which is available on several streaming services. Check it!
Eight-piece British ska band New Town Kings released their third album Reach Out a few months ago. It offers a more progressive take on ska and reggae compared to their previous sets M.O.J.O and Sound of the New Town.
With Reach Out the band serves up a fresh take on high-powered ska and rootsy reggae, including an inspired reworking of Sylford Walker’s dread roots anthem Burn Babylon, complete with vocals by the man himself.
New Town Kings has also recorded their own anthem – the smoothly enraged Borderline where they tackle migration and attack current political policy. And even though New Town Kings doesn’t shy away from politics and attacking the social elite, they can also handle lighter moods, for example the breezy Fine Fine Fine or the soulful British Summer, a track that can handle any weather. It will lift you up during rain and keep the party going on a sunny day.
With fierce lyrics, buoyant vocal energy, progressive rhythms and captivating horns it’s no surprise New Town Kings has been endorsed by both David Rodigan and Steve Lamacq.
With Etana’s fifth studio album Reggae Forever she conqured the top place on the Billboard Reggae Album Chart for the second time. Her previous album I Rise – released in 2014 – also climbed to the top spot.
And just as with I Rise it’s certainly well-deserved. Reggae Forever is a certified scorcher with its uplifting melodies and pulsating dancehall and roots riddims. A slice of good old R&B is also thrown in for good measure.
Reggae Forever is Etana’s first album released on her own, but with a little help from Tad’s and VP with distribution. And she runs things. The 14-track set is solid with both excellent self-productions and superb tracks produced by the likes of Kirkledove and Rymshot Productions.
The standout cut is the up-tempo My Man on Reggae Fest riddim and other worthwhile moments include the dubby Sprung, the beautiful Carry You and the intimate Burned.
Etana is a truly gifted vocalist and her singing is remarkable throughout the album.
French producer Blundetto’s fourth studio album Slow Dance follows the same recipe as his previous sets – blunted beats, scenic compositions and a wide array of guest artists, including Cornell Campbell, Jahdan Blakkamoore, Ken Boothe, Biga Ranx and Little Harry, who debuted in the early 80s and is probably nothing close to little anymore.
Slow Dance comes with a unique and an original soundscape. Blundetto can surely paint vivid sonic pictures and creates his very own musical world with the help of deep bass lines, quirky sounds and strong melodies.
Slow Dance is just as the title indicates a swaying slow burner. The beats are sleepy and hypnotic and the album might take a few spins to fully appreciate, but when it hits you, it touches both heart and soul. A magnificent album.