Solid second album from Raphael

unnamedItalian singer Raphael returns with a new album following his 2013 solo debut Mind Vs Heart. He has been active on the reggae scene for about 15 years and has with his former band Eazy Skankers dropped two sets.

Reggae Survival is a strong follow up and much more cohesive than its predecessor which was somewhat more eclectic. This is straight up contemporary and uplifting roots reggae with live instrumentation – including a brass section supervised by legendary Jamaican sax maestro Dean Fraser – and infectious melodies.

The album and its 14 tracks, including four skits and one dub version, was recorded between Jamaica, the U.S. and Italy and produced by Don Sugar and Raphael supported by Italy’s own Bizzarri Records and France’s Irie Ites.

Raphael turns his eyes on social rights, human values and universal love. On Who Dem a Pree he and Lion D criticizes an emerging Big Brother society and on Joka Soundbwoy Raphael teams up with Triston Palma for a rendition of the latter’s Joker Smoker. Best of the bunch is however Sweet Motherland, with its strong appeal to Raphael’s African origin, along with Rise Up and A Place For Me.

Italy’s reggae scene has obviously lots of talent. Alborosie is the most well-known example, but others, like Raphael and Lion D, are gearing up to face a global audience too.

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Soom T is free as a bird

artworks-000157871530-se1luh-t500x500Immensely talented Scottish singer, rapper, singjay and activist Soom T has once again put out a stunning album showcasing that she can never be labeled a particular genre.

She’s a collaborator with Mungo’s Hi Fi and Prince Fatty, but last year she dropped the grim hip-hop album Bullets Over Babylon, a set produced by Monkey Marc.

Her latest album is yet another set where reggae takes the backseat. But Free As A Bird is not a hip-hop album either. No, this is something else. It’s primarily based in the fields of electronica, hip-hop and disco, but with a reggae twist. And it’s superb.

Free As A Bird was originally released in selected European countries in late 2015 and now an expanded version is widely available. It comes with the original twelve tracks along with another eight tracks, of which four are remixes courtesy of Manudigital, Tygerz, Ibibio Sound Machine and Africaine 808.

This album carries sweaty bass lines that would make a disco mastermind like Nile Rodgers proud. Just listen to the funky Gimme Gimme or the glorious End of the Road. Pure dance floor wizardry where Soom T blends her bubble gum singing with fierce singjaying.

Other highlights include the dreamy Black Butterfly, the dramatic Politic Man and the powerful Broken Robots as well as the title track, which has a melody reminiscent of the jazz standard Dream a Little Dream of Me, and Upside Down, which sounds like it’s aimed a speak-easy crowd from the 20s.

Power, rhythm and melody all come together beautifully on this album. It’s a grower so you need to give it some time. But it’s well worth the time. A spot on album.

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In the mood for Vernon Maytone

VERNON MAYTONE - IN THE MOOD (FRONT COVER)Vernon Buckley, aka Vernon Maytone, returns with another solid set for France’s Uniteam Music. In the Mood is the follow up to the excellent On the Right Track, which was released about three years ago.

Both sets have been mixed and mastered by Manu Genius – previously one half of acclaimed Dutch production duo Not Easy At All – and have largely the same smooth sound.

Vernon Maytone was lead singer in 70s roots duo The Maytones and his rural voice remains intact some 40 years after his debut recordings with fellow Maytone-singer Gladstone Grant.

In the Mood is slick with an edge and it comes with relicks of a number of classic riddims, including a scorching cut of the mighty Cuss Cuss riddim. Vernon Maytone sings passionately and emotionally about life and losses.

Another warm and charming album from one of Jamaica’s many unsung musical heroes.

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Swirling Black Ark classics

leescratchperry-blackarkclassicsongsJust when legendary producer, innovator and mixing engineer Lee Perry turned 80 he dropped a new album titled Black Ark Classic Songs. This twelve track set is the vocal version to the excellent, and also recently released, Black Ark Classics in Dub.

Both sets are produced by Mad Professor – who has worked with Lee Perry since the early 80s – and backed by The Robotiks.

Together with Lee Perry they have re-recorded and re-shaped a number of classic cuts, most of them originally recorded at Lee Perry’s (in)famous Black Ark studio in the 70s. As expected the riddims are insanely strong and dynamic with an ethereal and swirling audio landscape, but Lee Perry’s mumbling vocal style is as usual an acquired taste. It’s mystical and spiritual rather than graceful and melodious.

Lee Perry’s music career spans almost 60 years and he still manages to stay relevant. Impressive.

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Killer new remix album from I-Plant

unnamedI-Plant aka producer and multi-instrumentalist Tooney Roots – responsible for the much overlooked General Jah Mikey album Jah Mission is Timeless – is back with a killer new project. Blacksoulremix Vol. 3 is a remix set in a showcase style and follows volume one and two which were released already in 2007.

The album – which is available for free download over at Bandcamp – features six stone-cold soul and disco classics re-recorded with a heavy 80s sounding reggae backing featuring live horns. Each cut is also followed by a huge dub version.

I-Plant has chosen to take on massive classics, including Edwin Starr’s War and Carl Douglas’ bouncy Kung Fu Fighting.

Crucial doesn’t half describe this release. I’ve actually had it on repeat for four consecutive hours.

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Heart and soul on Clay’s debut album

clay-art_soulAfter two super-solid EP’s – one self-production and one produced in conjunction with Germany’s Silly Walks Discotheque – UK singer and songwriter Clay finally reaches a second chapter in his career with a debut album.

With Art & Soul Clay is back on his own again. Instead of working with multiple producers he worked alone in his home studio, where he wrote all 14 tracks and composed and produced 12 of these.

This is a heartfelt album from start to finish and the album title is something of an enigma. It should of course have been labeled Heart & Soul. Maybe a stereotypical title, but it fits this effort very well.

This is slick and polished contemporary reggae with grand harmonies and beautiful backing vocals. Clay is at his best when performing with a slightly more aggressive approach, as showcased on album opener Chat and Gwaan Bad or the sharp Espionage.

Criminal and Cyah Get Enough, which features Beenie Man, are other fine examples of fiercer style, whereas an acoustic ballad like I’ll Miss You is an example of a gentler touch.

An honest and heartfelt debut.

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Rare Studio One albums scheduled for reissue

utre_WailingWailersCOVER_1Reissues of albums and singles from legendary Jamaican studio and label Studio One have surfaced over the years on labels such as Soul Jazz and Heartbeat. And now another label joins the reissue game.

Many of the label’s essential albums have been out of print for decades and now Studio One, in conjunction with the Yep Roc Music Group, will re-release titles from its catalog in their original formats, with track listings and album artwork intact, as well as new additions to the catalogue.

“We are excited for the opportunity to re-launch the Studio One brand and thankful for the trust that Carol Dodd and her team has afforded us. Through reissues of classic titles as well as new collections, we want our releases to reflect the history and legacy of Jamaica’s most iconic label. Here’s to the next 60 years!,” says Billy Maupin, GM of Yep Roc Music Group, in a press release.

The release schedule kicks off on May 27 with The Wailers’ debut album The Wailing Wailers. The reissue includes the original 1965 Jamaican masters and cover. The original LP version of the album has been out of print for decades, fetching huge sums from collectors, and the album has never before been released on CD with the original track listing and artwork.

The next release is a reissue of a compilation titled Money Maker, which has also been remastered from the original session tapes. It features a selection of cuts from acts like The Heptones, Burning Spear, The Wailing Souls and John Holt. The album is set for release on August 5.

Future 2016 releases from Studio One include the Studio One Radio Show taken from two 1970’s shows featuring the legendary host Winston “The Whip” Williams and a Don Drummond collection compiled by Clement Dodd himself before his passing in 2004 along with a box set to celebrate the label’s over 60 years of existence.

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Atmospheric and low-key on Bridge Over Troubled dreams

500x500After about six albums and 30 mixtapes French producer and beatmaker Atili Bandalero returns with another elegant album cleverly merging reggae and dub with electro, pop and jazz.

Bridge Over Troubled Dreams is a joint recoding with singer Prendy and collects nine cuts with a digital and incisive sound complete with dreamy melodica on several cuts. Prendy’s laid-back singing suits the stylish and sensual beats perfect.

Atili Bandalero and Prendy seduce the listener with catchy melodies and potent bass lines. The first two singles off the album – Got to Go and Tomorrow – are prime examples of this album’s greatness.

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Militant second album from France’s Ackboo

ackboo-invincibleFrench producer Ackboo – who is heavily inspired UK roots acts like Zion Train and Jah Shaka along with France’s own electro-dub maestro Kanka – is back with a new album, three years after his heavy-hitting debut Turn Up the Amplifier.

Invincible is in the same vein as its predecessor with a mix of mostly dub, reggae and electro. The amplifiers are turned up to unhealthy levels, the bass lines are muscular and the sonic landscape is frighteningly dark.

Brother Culture lends his tongue twisting skills to the grim title track, a cut that is said to be inspired by the progressive Mike Oldfield and comes with vicious keys, and the instrumental Caledon is pure evil with what sounds like Frankenstein’s carillon.

Ackboo has for this militant album assembled a number of well-known vocalists – Linval Thompson, Solo Banton, Horace Andy – but also lesser known talents like Maïcee and S’Kaya. This is warrior-style roots with conscious messages and calls for action. Acboo aims to unite and engage.

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Akae Beka’s Portals is memorable and mesmerizing

22187-Portals_20FINAL_20iTunes_20CoverAbout a year ago VI reggae trailblazers Midnite suddenly cancelled a U.S. tour and stated the reason being “a life changing medical emergency, convictions and revelations”.

Somewhat cryptic, but then again Midnite and their front man and vocalist Vaughn Benjamin have never been interested in the spotlight unless being on stage. He rarely gives interviews and rather study or writes and records music.

Later a new outfit surfaced, a band led by Vaughn Benjamin. Akae Beka is their name and it’s taken from the Book of Enoch. Akae Beka first stage performance took place in October last year and their debut album Homage to the Land was soon put out.

Now their second set has dropped. This one on I Grade Records, a Virgin Islands’ based label that has been an important partner to Midnite in their career. The label is spearheaded by Tippy I and the new Akae Beka album is produced by Zion I Kings, a production trio where Tippy I plays a key part.

In the press release accompanying Portals it’s stated that Akae Beka isn’t Midnite reborn, but a continuation of Vaughn Benjamin’s journey. Fans can however stay calm since this album both musically and lyrically lie very close to what Midnite did.

This is spiritual and Rastafarian roots reggae with conscious and introspective lyrics emphasizing commitment to Jah, justice, equality and universal love.

Vaughn Benjamin’s vocal approach is an acquired taste. It’s raw, monotonous and non-melodic. His vocal style is in need of an otherwise melodic sonic landscape. Otherwise it’s too raw. Luckily Zion I Kings have provided Akae Beka with heavily-textured arrangements and melodies from the players of instruments, but without failing to include dense grooves and hypnotic bass lines. The horns on Orderly are for example sublime and the guitar work is superb throughout the set.

Portals is powerful and spellbinding. It might not be commercially viable, but it’s memorable and mesmerizing.

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