Veteran Jamaican singer I Kong aka Ricky Storm started his career in the 60s as part of vocal harmony group The Jamaicans. He left and started recording with Yabby You’s harmony group The Prophets, followed by sessions with Lee Perry and future Third World singer Bunny Rugs under the name Ricky & Bunny.
His first album The Way It Is dropped in 1979, a set that included the title track, which was an underground hit at the time. Since the release of his debut album I Kong has only recorded sporadically and his new showcase album A Little Walk is his sixth set and his first in eight years.
The effort collects ten tracks, of which four are dub versions and two are extended mixes. It was recorded in Kingston with Swiss band Najavibes accompanied by percussionist Scully Simms and guitarist Dalton Browne. The riddims are powerful and the backing has a sweet and melodic richness. This is effective roots mixed by Spanish maestro Roberto Sanchéz.
I Kong’s voice may be a little thin, but it’s emotional and original, yet sounding a lot like one of his contemporaries – the late Prince Lincoln Thompson of The Royal Rasses.
A Little Walk collects highlights like the up-tempo Groovy Feeling, with a dub version including razor-sharp guitar, album opener Guiding Light with a fanfare-like horns and the uplifting Live as One.
I haven’t heard much that I Kong has recorded previously, but it’s nonetheless great to have him back on the scene. There is certainly something special with vintage Jamaican singers.
On his brand new album The Kingston Session German singer Sebastian Sturm, together with his band Exile Airline, headed to the Jamaican capital and the legendary Harry J studio for its recording sessions.
They locked themselves in the studio for two days and came out with an inspired nine track album recorded live in the studio using only the bare essentials – guitar, bass, drums and keys. The set collects easy-going, organic and stripped-down versions of mostly previously released material, and the only new cut is a version of Freddie McKay’s Free Man.
Sebastian Sturm has a raspy voice and a dramatic, almost theatrical, style with a bit of vibrato. The raspiness is a bit similar to Bob Marley and the drama is reminiscent to how Groundation’s lead vocalist Professor sounds. It works well with the jazzy arrangements and the jam-oriented grooves that the band present on several tracks, especially on the almost nine minute long Free Man.
This is Sebastian Sturm’s fifth album and it was successfully financed via crowdfunding, and I have a feeling his fans and investors will love what they hear.
Two pivotal producers and mixing engineers on the UK reggae scene have teamed up for a brand new dub album titled The Clone Theory.
Mad Professor and Prince Fatty met on the UK sound system circuit and discovered that they shared a mutual love of analogue sound and tape machines. But they also have a common friend – deejay and drummer Horseman. Today a Prince Fatty regular and formerly a drummer for Mad Professor while still at school.
On Mad Professor Meets Prince Fatty in the Clone Theory two musical heavyweights mix five tracks each and the result is a soulful and warm dub album complete with blazing horns, rolling drums and pulsating bass lines.
Mad Professor has selected five explosive cuts from his generous vaults and they are backed by a stellar team of musical legends, including Sly & Robbie, Leroy Mafia, Sky Juice, Dean Fraser, Earl 16 and Michael Prophet.
Prince Fatty draws tracks from up and coming albums along personal recordings. The dubs of Winston Francis’ dread I Kill the Devil Last Night, militant Johnny Osbourne’s Back Off and Prince Buster’s dark Idi Amin are among the many highlights on this warm and organic dub album.
Tonight the first episode of the the fifth season the popular HBO drama Game of Thrones will be aired in the U.S. And two days ago Alborosie and King Jammy’s new dub album Dub of Thrones was put out on CD and vinyl.
On this 13 track set – eleven on the LP – dreadlocked reggae rebel Alborosie clashes legendary game-changing producer King Jammy for an analogue dubwise extravaganza around the theme of Game of Thrones.
The duo takes turn on the mixing desk – Alborosie at his Shengen studio and King Jammy at his studio in the Waterhouse district in Kingston, Jamaica. Dub of Thrones is a classic clash album, where the fully armoured combatants clashes head to head on six tracks each.
The set collects head-nodding and speaker-shaking dubs of several familiar riddims, including Tongue Shall Tell and Hypocrites. It’s a mostly instrumental set and the only vocals to be heard is on the more contemporary-sounding Dub Cinderella – a version of Errol Dunkley’s Black Cinderella – on which Errol Dunkley himself along with Alborosie take turns on the microphone.
This monumental dubsummit comes complete withGame of Thrones-inspired iconic cartoon artwork courtesy of original Greensleeves Records‘ artist Tony McDermott, who has for close to four decades been depicting Jamaican music for Greensleeves Records.
Dub of Thrones is a historic pairing of two pivotal dub masters – one with more than 40 years of experience and one that has quickly made a name for himself as one of the key proponents of classic Jamaican roots reggae.
U.S. pioneering reggae band John Brown’s Body have had their latest album Kings and Queens, released in 2013, turned into an anthemic dub set titled Kings and Queens in Dub.
All of the original album’s twelve tracks have been reworked, mainly by North American producers and engineers, including Dubfader, Jay “Double Tiger” Spaker, Michael Goldwasser, Dubmatix, Ticklah and Nate Silas Richardson. But on board is also Yesking from Wales, Lord Echo from New Zealand and UK reggae legend Dennis Bovell.
The result is a mesmerising and swirling set with echo-laid grooves and a dense sound complete with infectious vocal hooks, courtesy of new lead singer Elliot Martin, floating in and out of the mix.
The original King and Queens is a progressive and innovative reggae effort and the dub version expands the sound with new audio effects and heavier bass lines. Highlights include album opener People in the Light Dub with its slow groove and hypnotic bass lines, the thumping Sound and Fury Dub and the dark Fracture Dub with its fanfare-like horns and aggressive drums.
Kings and Queens in Dub is an another vital addition to John Brown Body’s expanding catalogue of dynamic reggae.
On Nigerian-born and Germany-based singer, rapper and political activist Nneka’s fifth full-length album My Fairy Tales she explores the reggae genre more than ever before. Often described as a neo-soul singer in the same vein as Erykah Badu and Lauryn Hill, Nneka takes a new direction, and a great leap forward, on this brand new album.
My Fairy Tales is a genre-spanning set with nine tracks rooted in reggae, funk and R&B flavoured with electronica, UK dub and afro-beat.
Nneka has a slightly thin voice, but it has a beautiful, delicate and slightly raspy tone. And even though several of the songs come with deep and loud bass lines as well as dense arrangements, Nneka manages to come across with her singing.
My Love, My Love and Book of Job are two deep and straight-up reggae gems with thunderous bass lines, while Local Champion is urban and electronic with dubby audio effects. Pray for You is jaunty ska, yet with a radical edge, and In Me nods towards stepping UK dub.
Most of the cuts on My Fairy Tales will probably work very well on several dance floors over the world, but the upbeat Babylon, with its manic drums, is a journey into funkified territory with its militant groove.
Haven’t heard much from Nneka prior to this album, but I certainly hope she’ll continue to explore the reggae genre since this album whets the appetite.
The African reggae scene is more or less synonymous with three artists – Alpha Blondy and Tiken Jah Fakoly from Côte d’Ivoire and the late Lucky Dube from South Africa. But the African continent is huge and there are of course other well-known singers like Majek Fashek from Nigeria and newcomers like Takana Zion from Guinea and Selasee from Ghana.
Another reggae artist hailing from Ghana is Rocky Dawuni and just like Selasee he today lives in the U.S. On his sixth and latest album Branches of the Same Tree this humanitarian activist straddles the musical dots connecting Africa, the Caribbean and the U.S. to create a tasty set filled with positive vibes, infectious melodies and catchy grooves.
Included are mainly elements of afrobeat, roots and global pop with sing-along choruses along with influences from funk and samba. The eleven track set features a line-up collecting acclaimed musicians like Michael Franti & Spearhead, Steel Pulse, Ben Harper & The Innocent Criminals and Ziggy Marley.
The album title reflects global unity and Rocky Dawuni recognizes mankind’s common roots and that we are all branches of the same tree. His inspirational messages of harmony and solidarity are set to solid rhythm tracks and several of the cuts are dance-inducing anthems, for example the irresistible first single African Thriller, the radio-friendly album opener Shine a Light with its syncopated rhythm and a devastatingly funky cover of Bob Marley and Peter Tosh’s iconic Get Up, Stand Up.
But Branches of the Same Tree is not all about fun and dance. It also collects a few more melancholic moments like the acoustic Butterfly and Island Girl, which is a tropical version of song written by Bob Marley, but never formally recorded by the legend.
With Branches of the Same Tree Rocky Dawuni showcases a fresh and varied sound that is easy to fall in love with.
UK’s Reggae Archive Records has done it once again – released a previously unissued album of a band among the many unsung heroes of reggae music. Last year they dropped Capital Letters‘ Reality and now they have released a “new” album from Black Symbol, a set that collects singles, compilation cuts from the two volumes of Handsworth Explosion and unreleased material from the early 80s. This is an album that does their music justice and place them among other reggae greats from the UK.
The first thing that comes to mind when listening to this self-titled set is whether this is Burning Spear or not. Vocalist and founding member Fatman, who is just like Burning Spear from St Ann’s in Jamaica, has a similar vocal style and the music itself is just as haunting, political and spiritual as the material The Spear turned out in the 70s.
This is roots reggae at its best and Black Symbol doesn’t sound like any other reggae band from the UK. They were darker, slower and more uncompromising always being conscious and cultural often with religious and radical themes.
The CD version comes with 16 tracks, of which four are versions, while the double vinyl collects twelve tracks. Both do however contain sleeve notes based on interviews with original band members Fatman, Blobbo and Rhino plus archive photos provided by bandleader Fatman.
Black Symbol didn’t put out much under their own name back in the days, but they did much for the local reggae scene in Birmingham because of the two self-financed volumes of Handsworth Explosion. Hopefully this solid collection of confident and faithful roots will provide them with new fans and followers from the UK and beyond.
In 2008 U.S. label Shanachie released a four disc Augustus Pablo box set titled Mystic World of Augustus Pablo: The Rockers Story Box Set. It was a stunning set including both classics and insanely rare material.
About a month ago the same label released a similar box set, but this one focused on another cornerstone of roots reggae music – Yabby You, a producer and singer that is the sheer essence of spiritual and devoted roots reggae from the 70s.
Dread Prophecy: The Strange and Wonderful Story of Yabby You collects a hefty 56 cuts spread across three discs and comes with a booklet that’s almost equal to an ordinary book. It tells the fascinating and touching story that is Yabby You, but it also give details on almost each track.
This collection is spectacular as it collects classics like Conquering Lion, Jah Vengeance, Run Come Rally and Deliver Me From My Enemies along with ridiculously rare singles, dubplates and previously unreleased material from both Yabby You and protégés like Michael Prophet and Wayne Wade. Apparently 30 tracks are new to CD and ten are previously unreleased.
This collection has been hugely anticipated for a long time. And even though there have been a number of extremely strong Yabby You compilations in recent years – two on Pressure Sounds and one on Blood & Fire – this one might just outshine all three.
So don’t even think for a second that you can sleep on this epic collection of mystic, powerful and anti-establishment music where Yabby You and his friends chant down Babylon again and again and again.
UK reggae legends Capital Letters reformed in 2013 and it hasn’t taken them much long to get back in the business and they have already announced a number of live dates in 2015.
Last year Reggae Archive Records released a set titled Reality, an effort collecting 15 tracks originally recorded in 1985, but not out until last year. And now they have a brand new set on Reggae Archive Records’ sister label Sugar Shack Records to share with their audiences around the world.
Wolverhampton is the first all new Capital Letters album in 30 years. It has been preceded by the rootsy single Wolf, which was – just like all other cuts – recorded together with former Taxi Gang and Maytals keyboard player Noel Browne. He has previously worked with artists like Luciano, Freddie McGregor, The Wailing Souls and Papa San.
This set is mainly roots themed and it kicks off in fine style with no less than three hard hitting roots gems in a row. But even though Wolverhampton revolves around politics and conscious messages the music is often upbeat with memorable melodies. Capital Letters also manage to throw in a number of more heartfelt tunes. The title track is one such and Jamaica and Movie Star are two others.
A number of UK reggae bands from the 70s and 80s have recently reformed and most of them have presented solid sets after leaving the music industry for many, many years. Wolverhampton is one such effort and it doesn’t sound like Capital Letters have been away for 30 years.