Legendary Jamaican roots singer Prince Alla – sometimes Prince Allah or Ras Allah – cut a number of haunting and heavyweight roots numbers in the late 70s. And his rare debut album Heaven Is My Roof is a bona fide masterpiece.
His second album was oddly titled The Best of Prince Alla and collected singles for the Freedom Sounds label. This great set has now been reissued by France’s Iroko Records. It comes with only eight tracks, of which two are ferocious discomixes with lethal dub mixing courtesy of Scientist.
Best of bunch is album opener Youth Man with its bulldozing bass line and drums crashing down like lightning. The dub version confirms its feeling of brimstone and fire. Other highlights are stone-cold classics like the eerie Stone or the dark and dread Lot’s Wife.
Prince Alla has never been quite as prolific as many of his peers, but many of his recordings have proven to be landmarks in the history of reggae music.
Jamaican singer Lloyd Charmers is one of several artists that turned to production in the late 60s. He soon became highly influential and scored many hit songs with Ken Boothe. He also cut a number of lewd tracks as Lloydie & The Lowbites, but few of these crude songs are featured on the superb Lloyd Charmers compilation The Best of Lloyd Charmers.
This 50 track (!) set features two collections issued on Trojan in 1973 and 1974 along with loads of bonus material. Many reggae styles are represented – funky reggae, soulful reggae, pop reggae, skinhead reggae, psychedelic reggae, instrumentals, early roots and DJ pieces. And a slightly odd slice of reggaefied country.
The arrangements are often playful and fun. Check for example Dollars and Bonds where Lloyd Charmers acts as James Bond over a western-inspired rhythm. Or the criminally funky version of Shaft.
Best of the bunch is however BB Seaton’s beautiful I’ll Be Your Shelter, The Messengers’ raw Crowded City with its very relevant theme, Ken Boothe’s gorgeous Cherie Baby and Ken Parker’s Take A Message To Mary and its sparse dubstrumental counterpart Mother Mary.
This crucial anthology is painfully long overdue and showcases a ingenious producer as well as an array of Jamaica’s finest artists.
Ken Boothe is one of those singers whose material has been compiled over and over and it’s hard to know which compilations that are worthy additions to a record collection.
A strong contender worthy shelf-space is the relatively new Everything I Own: The Lloyd Charmers Sessions 1971-1976, not to be confused with Everything I Own from 2007 or Everything I Own from 2003. This new compilation is something else.
This album is a double disc set focused on Ken Boothe’s five albums with singer turned producer Lloyd Charmers along with eight rare gems recorded for the same producer. Included are of course monster cuts like Crying Over You and Everything I Own, but also classics like Ken Boothe’s cover of Bill Withers’ Ain No Sunshine, Marvin Gaye’s Let’s Get It On and Syl Johnson’s Is It Because I’m Black.
The period covered is Ken Boothe’s finest, even though he recorded superb rocksteady at Studio One in the 60s. He’s one of the best singers ever in Jamaica and his gritty tones are perfect for both militant social commentaries and smooth romance. And this excellent effort showcases both sides.
U.S. reggae veterans John Brown’s Body is back with a new album following Kings & Queens and its dub counterpart Kings & Queens in Dub put out in 2013 and 2015 respectively.
This reggae outfit has worked hard criss-crossing across the U.S. ever since their debut album in 1996. Fireflies is their eleventh full-length and the band continues to create dense audio landscapes with gorgeous melodies. And one of the key components in their sound has always been the brass section and on Fireflies the horn trio blazes brilliantly adding plenty of nuances and sonic depth to each track.
The U.S. reggae scene has grown over the past years with successful artists and bands like Hirie, The Green, SOJA, Tribal Seeds and a host of others. And John Brown’s Body is an integral part of the U.S. reggae movement, but they are also responsible for having laid the foundation for other acts to grow from.
In January this year Soul Jazz reissued Count Ossie & The Mystic Revelation of Rastafari’s second album Tales of Mozambique and a few months later the same label reissued Count Ossie’s Man From Higher Heights.
Since then I’ve been eagerly waiting for the reissue of Count Ossie & The Mystic Revelation of Rastafari’s ground-breaking debut album Grounation. And last week it was finally reissued. But not by SoulJazz, but by Japan’s Dubstore.
Grounation is now finally available again in its glorious entirety – a three set vinyl or a double disc CD collecting 15 tracks of ambitious and mystic nyabinghi. To describe this album – originally released in 1973 – as uncommercial would be a serious understatement. Grounation comes with a great deal of integrity and is a powerful philosophic experience. Almost transcendent to some degree.
The album was recorded through three different recording sessions where Cedric “Im” Brooks and his Mystic Revelation of Rastafari met with Count Ossie’s Rastafarian Drummers at a grounation, which is a sort of emotionally charged musical gathering as well as a spiritual experience. And to put this gathering on wax is a musical sensation.
But this set is not for the faint-hearted with its repetitive and meditative drumming complemented by a creative jazz-based horn section led by musical director and saxophonist Cedric “Im” Brooks along with Rasta chants and orations courtesy of Brother Samuel Clayton. Brother Samuel Clayton represents an early form of dub poetry or spoken work as showcased on cuts like Narration and Narration Continued.
With Grounation you never know what to expect. Every song is like a Kinder Egg. On one hand you have spoken tracks with no instrumentation, like Poem 1 and Poem 2. Then you have a relatively traditional song like Four Hundred Years with a melancholic melody reminiscent of Simon & Garfunkel’s Scarborough Fair. Or the title track which is spread across two cuts clocking in at a total of 30 (!) minutes.
Grounation is a psychedelic, colorful and ethereal joyride and a milestone in the development of reggae music.
Legendary Trinibagoan guitar ace Lynn Taitt is one of the key architects in rocksteady and reggae and played on countless of sessions in the 60s and 70s. And he also has a number of tunes and albums credited to himself.
One of those is the rare and recently reissued Greatest Hits, originally issued in 1968 on the Merritone label. On this beautiful set he has arranged instrumental versions of rocksteady classics, cuts which he graces with his tuneful guitar playing.
But this set offers more than just magnificent guitar licks. Several tunes also come with spectacular horn blasts and horn solos.
This is the swinging and hip-shaking sounds of the 60s.
Chinese/Jamaican roots singer I Kong aka Ricky Storm – cousin to the late producer extraordinaire Leslie Kong and formerly a member of vocal harmony group The Jamaicans – is back with a new album, only a year after its predecessor A Little Walk. And even though I Kong is in his 60s today, he’s at a productive peak with two albums released over a little more than a year.
Pass It On is just A Little Walk recorded together with Swiss roots band Najavibes between Switzerland and Jamaica and mixed by the immensely talented Roberto Sánchez at his studio in Spain.
This recipe has proven fruitful and it works yet again. Actually even better this time, because Pass It On is more straight-forward and is both superb and sublime with its powerful rhythms and infectious melodies mingling effortlessly with I Kong’s soothing singing.
His voice has retained its tone and character and on a cut like the slightly discofied Keep Grooving he dives into a deep and gritty soulful groove letting his voice loose over handclaps, bright horns, joyous backing vocals and a pulsating riddim section.
If A Little Walk was a triumphant return for I Kong, this album certainly cements his arrival after almost ten years out of the spotlight.
New York quartet The Frightnrs – nowadays a trio since singer Dan Klein tragically died on June 9, 2016, from A.L.S. – celebrates the soul of rocksteady on their debut album Nothing More To Say, a set following their dark EP Inna Lovers Quarrell, which was released via Diplo’s label Mad Decent last year.
Nothing More To Say was recorded last year, prior to Dan Klein’s A.L.S. diagnosis. Dan Klein sings about aching love and lost relationships, and these themes now gain second meanings, making reference to a lost life, a life that was too soon.
Dan Klein’s pleading, vulnerable voice – sometimes singing with a captivating falsetto – suits the melancholic melodies and raw and stripped down rhythms very well. He and his three bandmates treat rocksteady with respect, care and devotion and together with producer Victor “Ticklah” Axelrod they bring vintage sounds to a new generation.
This is the first reggae album released on Daptone Records, home to Sharon Jones and several soul bands and singers. And hopefully more releases like this will come.
But for now, I have nothing more to say than just get this charming and mesmerizing album. It’s painful and sweet at the same time. Just like rocksteady should be.
The Emeterians – a vocal trio from Spain – has put out a beautiful new album. Vocal trios are unusual these days, but were very popular in the 60s and 70s when The Uniques, The Techniques, The Heptones and The Wailers ruled the dances. However, even in those days you hardly came across a trio consisting of both male and female vocalists.
This is the case with The Emeterians. They have three lead singers – two male and one female. And it’s an excellent set-up adding plenty of depth to the songs.
The Emeterians started more than ten years ago and in 2012 they decided to relocate to London, the European reggae capital. There they formed collaborations with Peckings and Stingray. And the alliance with Peckings has proved fruitful, since Chris Peckings has together with Cosme Deyah produced The Journey, which offers a variety of styles, including rocksteady, roots and lovers rock.
The 13 songs are recorded over vintage riddims from Peckings’ deep vaults as well as newly recorded ones, including a solid cover of The Abyssinians Y Mas Gaan, a version that puts much attention to the original version.
It’s a marvelous set showcasing the versatility and breath of both The Emeterians and reggae.
Ten piece UK reggae band King Solomon recently dropped their new EP Ceasefire – the follow-up to In the Dragon’s Den – and it’s a bona fide scorcher with its raw and organic sonic landscape paying tribute to great acts like Aswad, Steel Pulse and Black Roots.
Ceasefire is heavyweight roots with striking horns, militant drums and muscular bass lines. Just like other notable UK roots acts they don’t hesitate to tackle difficult issues and subjects like unemployment on album opener Poor Man, conflicts on the title track and police harassment on Officer.
It’s a short set with only six cuts and all are bright shining highlights, but melancholic masterpieces like Kingdom and Carry Me are slightly above the rest. Both comes with clever arrangements and unexpected tempo changes. And the orchestral opening to Carry Me is beautiful like a bright autumn day.
This set comes with very little perfume or make-up. What was recorded in the studio is what you’ll get.