Jamaican singjay Ras Zacharri, who is the nephew of Buju Banton, returns with a brand new album five years after its predecessor Rootstep.
On Love Over Hate Ras Zacharri join forces with French band My Name Is Band, aka MNIB, and together they have crafted an excellent modern roots album with live instrumentation and versions of classic riddims.
The set was recorded between Jamaica and France and has taken about four years to complete. But it was well worth the wait.
Ras Zacharri dropped his first single in 2000 as DJ Bogle in reference to his given name Bogle Broadie. The single didn’t make much impact and some years after he was picked up by Nick Manasseh and his Roots Garden Records. He had changed his name to Ras Zacharri and together they recorded four lethal cuts and Ras Zacharri was featured on Roots Garden Showcase Part 2.
Around the same time he also recorded for Shem Ha Boreh Records, and that label is also responsible for this new album, which is his best to date. Standout cuts include album opener Look What A Gwann, recorded over a version of the mighty Cuss Cuss riddim, the urgent Protect the Children, recorded over a version of the classic Swing Easy riddim, and the Horace Andy combination One by One.
Best of the bunch is however the bright and uplifting Life together with its breezy dub counterpart. It’s a repeat button moment. Ras Zacharri’s warm and raspy voice suits these elegant, and sometimes militant, riddims and arrangements very well.
Veteran UK producer and dub mixologist Mad Professor has teamed up with Jah9 to add a dubby to her latest album 9. In The Midst Of The Storm was originally released for Record Store Day in April, but is now widely available, which is very welcome, since this album is exceptional.
9 was one of the best sets released last year and its dub counterpart is just as great. Mad Professor has deconstructed the songs and puts focus on various musical elements, drums and bass of course, but also percussion, horns and guitar.
It’s a free-spirited album where Mad Professor has been let loose on his mixing desk. The result is hypnotic and dreamy and challenges the listener. Check for example the sparse I Aware Dub with its ferocious, yet bright, flute dropping in and out of the mix or the psychedelic Dub Prevail with is militant percussion.
Mad Professor manages to put another dimension to the original album and together with Jah9 he pushes musical boundaries for a spiritual sonic journey.
Sax veteran Dean Fraser has released his first solo album in twelve years. On Melodies of D.E.B. he pays tribute to the late and great Dennis Brown, aka the Crown Prince of Reggae.
Together with producer Tad Dawkins Jr this 60-year-old saxophonist – who also serves as musical director for Tarrus Riley’s band Black Soil Band – have recorded instrumental versions of some of Dennis Brown’s greatest musical treasures, including Cassandra, Ghetto Girl, Sitting and Watching and the stunning West Bound Train.
Dean Fraser played with Dennis Brown back in the days and supported him both in studio and on tour with Lloyd Parks and We the People Band. And his interpretations of these Dennis Brown classics are well-rounded and balanced, i.e. not too slick, which can sometimes be the case with instrumental albums.
Nine man strong reggae outfit Gentleman’s Dub Club released their third album – and second on Easy Star Records – Dubtopia in April. It’s a 13 track set where sweet romance rubs shoulders with scorching dancehall bangers.
They are famous for their vital live performances and this energy has successfully been channeled onto disc. And guest performers like Lady Chann, Taiwan MC, Parly B and Eva Lazarus make sure that Dubtopia is sound system friendly with fierce vocals on a cut like Fire In The Hole.
With its upbeat sound, multi-part horns, sonic wizardry and sweet vocal harmonies Dubtopia is a bona-fide attention-grabber – from the dreamy Your Light via the smooth Dancing In The Breeze to the stomping Taiwan MC combination Take Control.
The Skatalites brought the sound of Jamaica to the world. From the early 60s up until the mid-60s this outfit – with legendary instrumentalists such as Don Drummond, Tommy McCook, Roland Alphonso, Jackie Mittoo and Ernest Ranglin – defined ska and the new and exciting sound of young Jamaica.
The Skatalites played on thousands of recordings during their relatively short-lived period. They recorded as a group, as individual musicians and as backing band for a variety of singers, including The Wailers, Delroy Wilson, Ken Boothe, Alton Ellis and a truckload of others.
Many of their own recordings have been well-compiled over the years, but they have recently been highlighted once again with three new compilations – one coming from UK’s Soul Jazz and two coming from Studio One Records and Yep Roc Records in the U.S.
These albums – Foundation Ska, Don Cosmic and Independence Ska and The Far East Sound – Original Ska Sounds From The Skatalites 1963-65 – collect mostly instrumentals released as a collective or as individual performers.
These three albums bring together aspects of jazz, latin, R&B and to some extent nyabinghi. It’s intense with a heavy dose of energy and complexity. Check classic such as Guns of Navarone, El Pussy Cat Ska and Simmer Down with The Wailers.
This is a history lesson and showcases The Skatalites unrivaled position in the history of reggae music.
Renowned DJ and producer Wrongtom is back with another Wrongtom Meets album following sets recorded with Roots Manuva and Deemas J.
On In Time, and its counterpart In Dub, he joins forces with jungle and drum & bass stalwarts The Ragga Twins for a time travel back to the early days of dancehall. Because these two sets are nothing like jungle or drum and bass. This is vintage, playful and sound system friendly reggae and dancehall firmly rooted in the early 80s.
The dynamic sonic landscape and vibrant lyrics are cleverly depicted in Tony McDermott’s rich and vivid album artwork where Wrongtom travels back in time to visit the Twins in various parts of their career. Their tongue twisting technique and vocal interplay, together with Wrongtom’s bouncy rhythms, are a celebration of reggae and sound system culture.
Following last year’s double sided single Nothing Can Stop Us/Take Me High Soothsayers is back with a brand new four track EP where the band has reworked previously released cuts. This is their first release on their new label Wah Wah 45s and it bodes very well for future releases.
As usual the songs are influenced by a broad variety of musical styles. Always with a reggae backbone though. The grooves are deep. The three part vocal harmonies are tight. And the horn arrangements are sublime with excellent interplay between each part.
Soothsayers has created their own take on funky and soulful reggae where they let the rhythms speak and not being controlled by music boundaries.
On Jamaican chanter Lutan Fyah’s first album in three years he’s right back where he started some 13 years ago. He has again teamed up with Lustre Kings, or at least parts of Lustre Kings, since producer, songwriter and musician Andrew “Moon” Bain is not only part of Lustre Kings, but is also one third of Zion I Kings, the production trio responsible for Music Never Dies.
This album is however his first for Tippy I’s – also one third of Zion I Kings – I Grade Records. And Music Never Dies is excellent from start to finish. Lutan Fyah is at his fiercest and sweetest spitting lyrics and singing sweet on cuts like Beat Dem, So Di World Ah Run and the uplifting title track.
The album is said to have taken four years to complete. And when listening to the album it makes sense. Because Music Never Dies comes with clever and detailed arrangements, infectious melodies and passionate and earnest performances from Lutan Fyah.
Music Never Dies is unfortunately currently only available via iTunes.
Finally Trojan Records returns with another hefty and well-compiled compilation. The Treasure Isle Story comes with four discs and a whopping 115 tracks, of which 29 (!) are new to CD, including unreleased versions and alternate cuts.
Duke Reid and his label Treasure Isle have been compiled many, many times over the years, but this compilation is the first comprehensive anthology and includes a deep look at reggae – from mento and ska to reggae and of course rocksteady; this is what made Treasure Isle famous. Duke Reid certainly had a keen ear for melody.
The hits here are way too many to mention, but standout cuts include Justin Hinds & The Dominoes’ raw Carry Go Bring Home, The Techniques’ beautiful You Don’t Care and Jaya Landis’ pulsating Moonlight Lover.
Gems from the deeper side of the vaults include The Silvertones’ lively Don’t Run For A Hiding Place and Pat Kelly’s a cappella version of the gorgeous I Wish It Would Rain.
This album is well-balanced and comes at a bargain price. Essential to any music collection.
If Zion I Kings’ debut dub album Dub in Style was a melodious and graceful affair the second one Dub in Zion is something different. It’s more of everything. And heavier, darker and more experimental than its predecessor.
Zion I Kings’ bass player and producer Jah David is responsible for most of the mixing, even though fellow musicians Tippy I and Moon Bain lend their talents to the project as well. Together they have utilized plenty of effects and cutting-edge dub wizardry.
Dub in Zion collects ten tracks, of which the majority are unreleased rhythm tracks. And one would really like to have vocals put on several of them in the future. Many are eerie and grim – almost nightmarish – with a heavy dose of anxiety and wicked energy.
Standout cuts include the dreamy Humble Thyself Dub with its characteristic bass line, Incient Knowledge Dub with its lingering melody and Iritikal Repatriation Dub with its smattering percussion.
Dub in Zion is far from as immediate as Dub in Style. It’s a certified grower and needs a couple of spins until it can be fully appreciated. But don’t worry – it’s totally worth the effort.