King Jammy hasn’t really flooded the market with new productions in the past 15 years or so. It’s only until quite recently he has put out something of a steady stream of productions. Not that odd maybe since he turns 70 in October.
Two years ago he dropped a combination dub album with Alborosie, but previous to that effort he hasn’t released much under his own name. It was probably the Dry & Heavy combination In the Jaws of the Tiger from 2000.
Anyhow, he has picked up speed in the past year. Last year he released New Sounds of Freedom, a set where he reworked Black Uhuru’s Black Sounds of Freedom with a new generation of artists. And just a few weeks ago King Jammy put out Waterhouse Dub via Greensleeves.
On Waterhouse Dub this veteran dub champion tackles – together with his sons Jam Two, John John and Baby G – classics from his vaults of productions from the late 70s and early 80s. It’s a strong selection of rhythms delivered with boosted bass lines, vocal interjections and introductions, sonic effects and a heavy dose of delay and reverb.
From Waterhouse to the world – long live the King!
Soundclashes are a vital part of reggae culture and soundmen around the world always aim to stay ahead of competition by having the toughest dubplates where the artists spits insults and boasts the sound they are singing and chatting for.
On the by Japan’s Dub Store Records’ recently reissued Soundclash Dubplate Style Vol. 1 & 2 this culture and style is highlighted through ten cuts complemented by their dubstrumental version.
The set is produced by the late engineer-turned-producer King Tubby and was originally released in the late 80s. It’s a solid collection of digital soundboy tunes showcasing the essence of reggae and dancehall culture with each track being introduced by hypeman Fuzzy Jones.
Johnny Osbourne delivers the blazing and pulsating Line Up. It’s by far the strongest cut on the album where Johnny Osbourne fuses tough boastful lyrics with a catchy melody. The grim Die Yu Die from Michael Bitas is another gem which will make competition run.
Reggae history right here.
Greek-American producer-turned-singer Christos DC has recently put out his fourth album Tessera, meaning four in Greek. It’s a rootsy set full of catchy melodies, infectious hooks and brilliant arrangements.
Christos DC started his career back in the early 90s when he produced US hip-hop and R&B artists. But he increasingly turned to reggae and spent several years on the road with Don Carlos and The Itals singing backing vocals and playing guitar.
His debut solo album Time to Rise dropped in 2008 and he has come a long way since. On his new and skillfully produced album he creates long-lasting sounds with epic horns and smooth bass lines.
Standout cuts include album opener Speak the Fire, featuring Bulgarian chanter Zafayah, the emotional version of Neil Young’s Heart of Gold and the anthemic Communion, with Kenyatta Hill and Groundation’s Harrison Stafford on guest vocals.
French outfit Soul Sugar has on their latest album Chase the Light (Excursions in Soul, Reggae, Funk & Dub) created an irresistible set devoted to vintage sounds with nods to greats such as Augustus Pablo and Jackie Mittoo.
Lead by keys man and composer Guillaume “Gee” Méténier it’s easy to guess that organ is a key part of the album. And it certainly is. His funky and soulful fingers are all over the album and he has even invited jazz man and organ wizard Dr. Lonnie Smith to add his flavor to album opener Take a Chance.
Chase the Light comes with previously cuts along with new material and dub versions. It’s largely instrumental, but features the vocal talents of soulful singers Courtney John and Leonardo Carmichael.
This is superb neo-soul, vintage reggae, blazing funk and psychedelic dub. All on one album and in perfect harmony and balance. It carries some mind-blowing grooves, ultra-swinging keys and experimental arrangements. A delightful album from a band I hadn’t heard about previously.
About a year ago veteran roots legend Ronnie Davis – of The Westmorelites, The Tennors and The Itals – dropped his sixth solo album Iyacoustic, a 14 track set where he covered reggae classics and sings some of his own biggest hits set to unplugged and acoustic arrangements. Only five months later after its release he sadly passed at age 66 suffering a major stroke.
I missed the album at the time of its release, but caught it only a few days ago and have been spinning it on repeat ever since. It’s his first in over 20 years and it’s superb. Such a pity that he didn’t share his heartfelt and emotive singing more during these years. His voice is just as great on these new recordings as it was back in the days.
Ronnie Davis delivers ultra-solid performances throughout the album, but best of the bunch are his versions of Got to Go Home, also recorded by The Itals as Ina Dis Yah Time, the dread No Weak Heart, the blazing and burning False Leaders and particularly the version of John Holt’s Strange Things. The musical arrangements and Ronnie Davis’ singing are exceptional and goes straight to the heart.
A year after Alborosie’s latest album Freedom & Fyah comes its dub counterpart Freedom in Dub, a set where this multi-talented musician and singer dubs ten of the original album’s 13 cuts with excellent result.
Alborosie is far from a novice when it comes with dub wizardry. His first dub album Dub Clash was put out in 2010 and was then followed by Dub the System in 2013 and the King Jammy combination set Dub of Thrones.
On Freedom in Dub he once again proves that he’s a potent dub force taking the listener to the roots of reggae – the drums and the bass. And it’s all about the music on this effort. Almost all vocals have been removed and Alborosie showcases the sheer strength and power of his riddims.
Delroy Wilson and producer Bunny Lee. That’s always a welcome combination. On the by Pressure Sounds recently reissued album Go Away Dream these two musical giants team up with The Agrovators for a romantic reggae affair with rough and tough bass lines, much in the Roots Radics vein.
As usual when it comes to former child star Delroy Wilson it’s a mix of originals and covers. And he does a great job versioning No More Heartaches – originally voiced by The Beltones in the late 60s – and the extended version on the CD and digital version of the album also features an uncredited deejay.
Delroy Wilson has a golden voice and he shines throughout the album. He doesn’t rely much on backing vocals and his soulful and expressive voice is what you get on this excellent set from 1982.
UK’s Pama International finally returns after a seven year long hiatus – not counting work with Phoenix City All-stars. That’s much too long. And the return is graced by a new line-up and a new album.
Pama International has always been something of a collective – centred around founder/songwriter/keyboardist Sean Flowerdew – so a new line-up comes a no big surprise. The outfit has previously worked with members from The Specials and Madness as well as Jamaican legends such as Derrick Morgan, Dennis Alcapone and Rico Rodriguez.
The new line-up comes with two new lead singers – Jewels Vass and Anna Uhuru. And these songbirds sings seductive and passionate and give new life to all-time classics like the soul stomper Heatwave and The Paragons’ dramatic Man Next Door aka Got to Get Away.
Love & Austerity comes with 12 tracks, including three brutal discomixes and one dub version. The sound is raw, organic and aggressive. Almost garage-like at times. Even the two southern-styled ballads – Skies Are Blue and I Cried Til I Stopped – are rough around the edges.
Pama International’s unpolished, straight-forward and full soul-fuelled reggae sound is a nice break from much of the watered-down music that can often be heard – primarily on commercial radio – today.
French quartet Stand High Patrol – led and fronted by vocalist Pupajim – has released their third album The Shift. And on this album they have refined their jazz-oriented sound.
Unique is a well-worn word, but is probably most accurate when describing Stand High Patrol’s sonic identity. It’s a new type of urban groove where they break musical boundaries and create a highly individual sound where reggae singjaying meets 60s jazz and 90s hip-hop. Boom bap reggae rap so to say.
It’s an intelligent and infectious fusion. Highly organic and very dynamic with big beats. And key to Stand Patrol’s sound is trumpet maestro Merry. He graces the cuts with lonesome and distant horn lines.
Stand High Patrol’s sound and Pupajim’s broken English might not be for everyone and The Shift is far from the reggae mainstream. But if you’re in the mood for jazz with a hip-hop and reggae twist, well, then this is the album for you.
There are plenty of talents in Jamaican reggae that have never really been recognized beyond reggae collectors and aficionados. One of the great singers that is too underappreciated is the soulful and plaintive Freddie McKay, who started his recording career for Prince Buster in the 60s.
He later moved on to work with a plethora of Jamaican producers, including Clement Dodd, who recorded his debut album Picture on the Wall, which has now been reissued by Studio One Records and Yep Roc Records.
Clement Dodd caught interest in Freddie McKay during a recording session with the Soul Defenders, an outfit that had Freddie McKay as one of their lead vocalists (Culture’s Joseph Hill was another of their lead singers). And many of the songs featured on the majestic Picture on the Wall were part of Soul Defenders’ stage show. The versions on the album have, however, new arrangements with horns and different backing vocals.
The original album is a sheer masterpiece. And this new version is even better since it adds another 12 (!) tracks, including rarities, instrumentals and extended versions. The real beauties – apart from original album cuts like So Long Forever and Can’t Go On – are the ridiculously rare single Drunken Sailor and the extended version of Love is a Treasure. This album is worth getting just because of those two cuts.
Freddie McKay has never got the recognition he deserves. He is for sure one of Jamaica’s finest singers of all time. Listen to this set and you’ll understand why.