Stephen Marley’s electic The Fruit of Life

stephen-marley-the-fruit-of-lifeOne of recent years most anticipated reggae albums has finally arrived. Stephen Marley’s Revelation Part II: The Fruit of Life – the follow-up to Revelation Part I: The Root of Life – was announced already in 2011 when the first part was put out.

Stephen Marley is the second eldest son of Bob and Rita Marley. He has been immensely successful since he started singing professionally at the tender age of seven. His three previous solo albums all landed #1 on the U.S. Billboard Album Chart date and to date he has earned a total of eight Grammys for Best Reggae Album.

The first single off The Fruit of Life was released in 2014. Rock Stone was a murderous combination cut with conscious deejays Capleton and Sizzla and it boded very well for the full-length. The second single Ghetto Boy was another strong combination, but this time with Bounty Killer and Cobra, two dancehall deejays. This was another promising cut.
Since then another four singles have been lifted from the album, but none with same musical magic as Rock Stone or Ghetto Boy.

The digital version of The Fruit of Life comes with a hefty 24 tracks, including intro, prelude, outro and three remixes. It also boasts something of a record in guest appearances. I count to 26 if I include a sample of Nina Simone. Most performers are from hip-hop and R&B, including legends like Rakim and Busta Rhymes.

And compared to The Root of Life this album has a more diversified sonic palette with samples and drum machines. Stephen Marley has aimed at expressing the impact Jamaican music has had on various other genres, especially hip-hop, and with bold and clever production he has created striking album; a melting pot of influences that together make a cohesive whole.

The Fruit of Life is eclectic with room for both revolution and romance as well as boisterous party-starters like Tonight (It’s a Party) and ballads such as It’s Alright. This is not another anthemic roots album, but a sonic picture showing the fruits of reggae and the bond between reggae and dancehall and contemporary hip-hop and R&B.

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Heavyweight roots on Max Romeo’s Horror Zone

unnamedTo follow up best-selling and epochal albums is a difficult task for an artist. And to try it after more than 40 years is probably impossible. But this is what seasoned Jamaican reggae singer Max Romeo and British producer and mixing engineer Daniel Boyle aim at with Horror Zone, a 16 track showcase album described as the follow-up to Max Romeo’s ultra-classic album War ina Babylon from 1976.

Max Romeo has of course recorded several albums after War ina Babylon, but none with the same dark and ambient atmosphere that Lee Perry created for that set. And it’s that swirling and swampy sound that Daniel Boyle and Max Romeo have wanted to re-create on Horror Zone.

Daniel Boyle succeeded a similar mission impossible with Lee Perry’s acclaimed and Grammy nominated Back on the Controls. And I dare to say that Horror Zone is another stellar set with its heavy grooves and deep vibes.

Horror Zone is heavyweight and organic roots reggae with political and social commentaries. Max Romeo delivers relevant and insightful lyrics over raw and live-recorded rhythms played by a number of the musicians that were involved in recording War ina Babylon, including Vin Gordon on trombone, Robbie Lyn on keyboard and Glen DaCosta on saxophone. Lee Perry himself added percussion and backing vocals as well as effects for the dub versions.

To complete the concept Daniel Boyle even connected with designer Tony Wright to do the cover art. Tony Wright did the artwork on War ina Babylon along with several classic sleeves from the 70s, including Lee Perry’s Super Ape, Junior Murvin’s Police & Thieves and Ijahman Levi’s Haile I Hymn.

With Horror Zone Max Romeo and Daniel Boyle have managed to create a strong album that pays respect to the original War ina Babylon, but without being too nostalgic.

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Explosive remixes on Inna Nice Up! Fashion

0007481444_10UK’s Fashion Records started in 1980 and a studio was soon built to record Jamaican artists passing through London at the time. Several smash hits and lesser known gems were recorded at the A-Class studio and released via the label. Some of these 80s and 90s cuts from the Fashion vaults have now been given new sonic life thanks to a number of noted contemporary producers.

Inna Nice Up! Fashion serves up explosive and thrilling remixes by rave-revivalists, dancehall industrialists, digital dub machinists and modern reggae architects, including Dub Pistols, Jstar, Wrongtom, Mr. Benn and Jahtari.

The compilation has the DNA of reggae and dancehall and collects a little bit of everything for bass addicts around the world. Fashion Records has a long and rich history reaching far beyond reggae and this album will hopefully introduce the label to a new audience.

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Sevana’s promising debut

CmJs1mVVAAALci_A lot of talented female Jamaican singers have rose to prominence recently. Some have received more exposure than others, like Shanique Marie, who recently put out her debut album, or Jah9 who has signed with reggae powerhouse VP and is gearing up for her second album.

But there are others too. Singers that has yet to put out a full-length. Like Keida and Toian, two talented singers that dropped an EP each last year.

And now you can add Sevana to the ones who have an EP out on the streets. Her self-titled debut dropped about a week ago and it’s produced by Winta James – main producer on Protoje’s Ancient Future – and Protoje. Some might actually recognize Sevana from Ancient Future, since she appeared on two cuts – Love Gone Cold and Sudden Flight.

She made an impression on me with those songs and her debut single Bit Too Shy wasn’t bad either. And this six track EP is in the same soulful vein and includes four previously unreleased tracks, including the marvelous Rawle, the sensual Easy to Breathe and the slowly pulsating Love the Way.

Jamaican female singers are on the rise and now I just wait for EPs or albums from the likes of Kelissa and Shuga.

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Classic dub albums from Blood & Fire made available again

the-aggrovators-dubbing-at-king-tubby-s-vp-2xcd-34906-pWell-renowned reggae reissue label Blood & Fire closed its business in 2007 and a number of its best and most important sets are no longer available. Now, however, VP’s subsidiary 17 North Parade has started reissuing a number of classic items from the Blood & Fire catalogue. It started earlier this year with Horace Andy’s In the Light and its dub counterpart In the Light Dub.

Now it’s time for another three other crucial releases to see the light of day again and 17 North Parade has collected Dub Gone Crazy, Dub Gone 2 Crazy and Dub Like Dirt on a double disc CD or two double LPs titled Dubbing at King Tubby’s. These three albums were originally released in 1994, 1996 and 1999 respectively and all tracks were derived from rare 7” singles released in the 70s.

This is classic Bunny “Striker” Lee and King Tubby business with dubwise workouts of songs sung by the likes of Johnny Clarke, Horace Andy, Cornell Campbell and Leroy Smart. All cuts were dubbed at King Tubby’s small home studio by the King himself along with apprentices like Prince Jammy, Scientist and Phillip Smart.

This is as good as dub gets and the 44 tracks are the blueprint of dub with odd sound effects, echo, delay, reverb and vocal fragments dropping in and out of the mix. These skilled mixing wizards showcase Jamaican studio techniques and they were among the first to use the mixing board as their musical instrument. They strip the songs to their bare essentials – drum and bass – and then adding instrumentation and vocals along the way. The results were game changing. As shown on this excellent set.

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Positive reggae music on King Mas’ second album

unnamedAfter dropping his debut album One Wish in 2012, Jamaican singer King Mas has released several strong singles – check Zombie Apocalypse, Walk Like a Champion and Reflections – as well as appearing on solid one riddim compilations like Overstand’s Militancy riddim in 2013.

And a few months ago his second album Rasta Evolution was put out. It has been in the making for about three years, and with its 18 tracks it’s certainly a hefty set collecting mostly previously unreleased material in the conscious reggae vein.

Reggae heavyweights like veteran sax maestro Dean Fraser, seasoned master guitarist Earl “Chinna” Smith and newer talents like Unga Barunga from Notis and members of Raging Fyah have all offered their musical magic to the making of Rasta Evolution.

King Mas has an emotive and electrifying vocals which lifts several of the songs, but Rasta Evolution could have been better curated. A number of positive and uplifting nuggets are included and songs like the passionate album opener Our Story and the driving Peace & Love are superb, but with 18 tracks you are bound to find less thrilling fillers.

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Elegant and melancholic rocksteady from Derrick Harriott’s vaults

unnamedAfter reissuing the epic Derrick Harriott’s Rocksteady Party Japan’s Dub Store Records returns with a compilation collecting both stone-cold classics and rare collector’s items from Derrick Harriott’s vaults.

Derrick Harriott Rocksteady 1966-1969 showcases masterpieces such as Derrick Harriott’s own Do I Worry, Keith & Tex’ Stop That Train and Tonight alongside beautiful instrumentals like Ike Bennett & The Crystalites’ Illya Kuryankin and Bobby Ellis’ Step Softly. The selection also features three obscure cuts from Junior Soul, who would later score a hit with Police & Thieves as Junior Murvin.

Derrick Harriott is one of the forerunners in Jamaican music and started his career as a singer in the late 50s and would soon find fame as part of the Jiving Juniors. Later he turned to production and his recordings have always been crisp and elegant.

This stellar compilation collects timeless, melodious and stylish rocksteady produced by one of Jamaica’s many musical giants.

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Everlasting is Raging Fyah’s most sophisticated set yet

unnamedFollowing two excellent albums in 2011 and 2014 – Judgement Day and Destiny – Jamaican roots rockers Raging Fyah signed to reggae powerhouse VP’s subsidiary Dub Rockers and recently put out their third album Everlasting, a bombastic set with infectious melodies, lush harmonies and sing-a-long choruses.

Raging Fyah formed about ten years ago after several of the five members had met at Edna Manley College of Visual & Performing Arts in Kingston. Their elegant sound is inspired by reggae bands such as Third World, Steel Pulse and Aswad and they often tackle topics of socio-economics and politics together with uplifting messages about hope and inspiration.

Everlasting – produced by Llamar “Riff Raff” brown, whose credits include work for Stephen Marley, Damian Marley and Morgan Heritage – features J Boog, Busy Signal and the stylistically superior Jesse Royal on guest vocals. The latter kills it as usual on Humble and Busy Signal offers some well-needed edge to the pop-flavoured Would You Love Me.

Raging Fyah is at their best when staying on the grittier side of the reggae spectrum. The sparse and dark Raggamuffin is one such highlight, the roaring title track is another.

Everlasting has several irresistible moments – even though a few might be slightly too slick and polished – and passionate and expressive vocalist Kumar shines throughout this sonically sophisticated collection.

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Loving tribute to Dennis Brown

werememberdennisbrown_01Jamaican legendary vocalist Dennis Brown is my all-time favourite singer, so when I heard about a new tribute compilation dedicated to his works I was somewhat sceptic. Why mess with perfection so to say. But after listening to the 30 tracks I realized I couldn’t be more wrong. We Remember Dennis Brown is a superb and loving tribute to an icon that has been dubbed both Boy Wonder and The Crown Prince of Reggae.

Dennis Brown’s music and influence as a singer is unmeasurable. He voiced his first recording at the tender age of eleven and before turning 16 he had worked with some of Jamaica’s top singers and producers. In the 70s he was on a creative high and put out hit after hit, equally at ease with both romance and social commentary. For about three decades Dennis Brown was the most popular singer in Jamaica – yes, more popular than Bob Marley – and created a truckload of reggae classics.

During his much too short lifetime – he passed in 1999 only 42 years old – he recorded extensively and has a capacious catalogue. And from this treasure chest seasoned producer Clive Hunt has dug to create this emotional and passionate tribute, which collects timeless classics and lesser-known gems.

The two discs are largely divided into culture and romance and showcase a wide and impressive range of voices from both Jamaica and abroad. And some of the songs were premiered already in February – Dennis Brown’s birthday month – including Caress Me from Romain Virgo, Milk & Honey by roots reggae rockers Raging Fyah and Bloody City from soulful songstress Jah9.

The songs on We Remember Dennis Brown lie close to the originals and Clive Hunt hasn’t aimed at create a new sound for these masterpieces, something that appeals to huge Dennis Brown fans like myself. And some of the tracks actually sound like the originals, but with a more powerful soundscape, and no one can deny Dennis Brown’s influence on a singer like Bushman, who successfully covers the militant Don’t Want To Be No General.

There are many bright moments and highlights and best of the bunch is Yahsha’s version of the devout The Existence of Jah, which originally appeared on Dennis Brown’s major label debut Foul Play, a set co-produced by Clive Hunt back in 1981. I’ve actually had this song on repeat several times.

Hopefully this compilation will reach both previous fans and find a large number of new ones. Dennis Brown’s greatness and relevance can’t be overstated and even though 30 tracks make a hefty compilation there’s much more to discover.

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Epic Bunny Wailer compilations – collecting almost two decades of singles

The Wailers is mainly synonymous with Bob Marley since he used the name for his backing band, but initially it was a trio comprising founding members Peter Tosh and Bunny Wailer. Bob Marley and Peter Tosh are by far the most widely known and their musical legacy have been collected and reissued countless of times in an almost endless stream of different packaging. With Bunny Wailer however there’s a slightly different story.

He has always seemed if not shy, but reluctant to the spotlight. His music has done most of the talking so to say. But an important part of his musical legacy has been hard – and expensive – to find. His major label releases – including his classic and complex debut album Blackheart Man – have been rather easy to lay hands on, but his singles on his own imprint Solomonic didn’t have proper distribution and were mostly released only in Jamaica.

They are every bit as great as the Blackheart Man album and has now been collected on two soon to be classic compilations titled Tread Along 1969-1976 and Rise & Shine 1977-1986. Both are put out by Dub Store Records, a label that started working with Bunny Wailer – the last surviving member of The Wailers – in 2010. They have prior to these two beautiful sets reissued a selection of his earliest recordings for the Solomonic label. Now they have taken another step forward together putting out these timeless and often political, educational and spiritual recordings.

The albums together collect a hefty 29 cuts with a large number of masterpieces included, and when listening to both sets after one another one can follow how Bunny Wailer developed both his song writing and vocal style. It’s a fascinating, laidback journey where Bunny Wailer fights against Babylonian wrongdoings with music and lyrics as his weapons.

The Wailers importance in reggae and popular music can’t be overstated and if Bob Marley and Peter Tosh were roaring advocates for unity, equality and the legislation of marijuana – maybe Peter more than Bob though – Bunny Wailer has always been quietly ferocious with apocalyptic messages and a mystical and transcendental sonic landscape. And many of these marvellous songs – classics, long lost gems, dub versions and instrumentals – are now finally readily available.

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