In the course of reggae history many great singers managed to release only a handful of singles or so. One of those is former Soul Defenders lead vocalist Vin Morgan, who also played keys and drums with the band. However, Soul Defenders is probably not known for their own material, but for being one of the backing bands at Studio One. And they played on several immortal cuts, including Freddie McKay’s Picture On the Wall and The Abyssinians’ Declaration of Rights.
Vin Morgan resurfaced in 2014 when he cut the single Resilience with bass man Boris Gardiner. And now about 50 years after he started his music career his debut album has landed. It’s not a collaboration with Boris Gardiner though, but with producer and engineer extraordinaire Roberto Sánchez and his Lone Ark Riddim Force.
Give Thanks is another showcase album from the Sánchez and Iroko Records camp. Six vocal cuts are followed by their dub counterpart. Most riddims are known from before if you have the two previous showcase sets – Noel Ellis’ Zion and The Viceroys’ Memories – and they suit Vin Morgan’s falsetto singing perfectly.
His voice sounds remarkably fresh. Expressive and emotive. Just as the dub versions and the horn arrangements. Check the militancy of a cut like Can’t Complain Dub with its smattering percussion, haunting keys and fanfare like horns. Best of the bunch is however the bright and uplifting Gimme the Vibes.
It’s a mystery why Vin Morgan didn’t cut more tunes in the 70s, but luckily Roberto Sánchez and Iroko Records’ Herve Brizec gave him a fresh chance.
The first time I heard about Chronixx was in January 2012. He had just dropped Beat & A Mic and was at the time regarded as a very promising talent, but I don’t think anyone at that time had a clue of what was about to come.
A few years later – maybe after he dropped his Mazor Lazer endorsed mixtape – he became the talk of the town and his name was everywhere and suddenly he was to perform live at The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon. Talent is of course key to success, but clever marketing is also highly important. Just look at what Chris Blackwell did for Bob Marley back in the 70s.
Chronixx debut album Chronology landed last Friday. It’s the follow-up to his long-playing EP Dread & Terrible, a set put out in 2014 and featured a killer cut like Here Comes Trouble. So, it has taken Chronixx about five years to record his debut album. In the meantime he has – with Jamaican standards – recorded scarcely with only a handful of singles each year. And that has proven to be successful. Everything he has recorded has been well-produced and not routine. Quality rather than quantity so to speak.
Chronology is less rootsy than expected and most of the tough reggae material is on the first part of the album with stunning tracks like the autobiographical Spanish Town Rocking, the pulsating Skankin’ Sweet where Chronixx sings his heart out, the father and son combination Big Bad Sound and the Latin-tinged Ghetto Paradise, which borrows from Stevie Wonder’s Pastime Paradise, a track maybe best-known through Coolio’s sample on his monster smash Gangsta’s Paradise.
This is a dynamic and multi-layered effort with plenty of soulful depth where Chronixx is not afraid of trying new paths, for example utilizing a string orchestra on several cuts, including the soothing Tell Me Now. There are plenty of sonic surprises, infectious melodies and sing-a-long choruses. Just listen to I Can, a song with an arena chorus that will probably make Coldplay envy, or the scenic Loneliness.
With Chronology Chronixx expands the roots reggae horizon and in a few years this album will rank as one of reggae’s landmark albums.
The midpoint of 2017 is behind us, and that’s why it’s necessary to sum up the first six months. Below is a list of 20 reggae and dancehall cuts released this year that I have been spinning quite frequently. Some have even been on repeat, like Samory I’s militant Rasta Nuh Gangsta, Mista Savona’s sweaty Carnival, Lukie D’s sondbwoy slayer Lock Dem Down and Monkey Marc’s No Surrender, a cut also featuring Sizzla, Capleton and Fantan Mojah. Yes, you read it right. Those three on the same track. It’s ridiculous. I know.
The first six months have been rather strong with a many strong contenders, but you need to draw the line somewhere. And 20 seemed about right.
The list is as usual presented in no particular order and the songs included are only singles or tracks taken from compilations. If you are curious about the songs you can download a Spotify playlist with all cuts. Download the Spotify playlist here and I hope you enjoy the music as much as I do.
Artist – song title (riddim)
Treesha & Skarra Mucci – Love You Like 123 (Better Days riddim)
Samory I – Rasta Nuh Gangsta
Tippa Lee – Salute the Veteran
Mista Savona & Solis & Randy Valentine – Carnival
Courtney John – Yes We Are
Macka B – The Rastaman
Jesse Royal – Hold the Faith (Reggae Fest riddim)
RSNY – Wildfire (What to Do riddim)
Lukie D – Lock Dem Down (Replay riddim)
Charly Black – You’re Perfect (World Fete riddim)
Lutan Fyah – Things Are Not the Same
Ward 21 & Sean Paul – Bend Yuh Back (Binnie Smalls remix)
Burro Banton – Nah Sell Out (Kunta Kinte riddim)
Monkey Marc & Fantan Mojah & Capleton & Sizzla – No Surrender (No Surrender riddim)
Damian Marley – Medication
Jesse Royal – Fyah Fyah (Real Life Story riddim)
Michie One – Priceless (Skank & Rave riddim)
Shumba Youth & Leo Samson – Check it Out
Kabaka Pyramid – Can’t Breathe
Jahdan Blakkamoore – Mash Down Georgetown
German reggae superstar Gentleman has put out eight albums and after 20 years it’s time for a best of set titled The Selection. The deluxe CD version comes with a whopping 43 cuts, while the digital “only” includes 38.
Gentleman’s status in the reggae community has over the years been cemented through a broad variety of collaborations, and the album showcases combinations with artists such as Ky-Mani Marley, Christopher Martin, Shaggy, Tanya Stephens, Terry Linen, Barrington Levy, Alborosie and Marcia Griffiths.
But the most interesting collaborations are two new ones. And these two are only available on this album. I’m talking about Ovaload with dancehall giant Sean Paul and Imperfection with soul singer Aloe Blacc.
Gentleman’s sound has in recent years started to lean more towards harmless pop and several of the tracks on The Selection are very radio friendly and might best be described as arena reggae. It’s upbeat, yet soft, smooth, yet dramatic. This is not necessarily a bad thing and a song like the Shaggy combination Warn Dem is pure brilliance with its call and response chorus and urgent rhythm.
Dubbing in the Backyard is the latest release from UK’s reggae reissue giant Pressure Sounds. It’s a slice of early 80s dub with riddims mostly laid by members of the High Times Band and mixed expertly by Prince Jammy at King Tubby’s studio in Kingston.
The dubs are crisp, tight and sometimes viciously heavy and are versions of vocal cuts originally voiced by some of Jamaica’s finest singers – Delroy Wilson, Cornell Campbell, Jackie Edwards and Johnny Clarke. However, traces of the vocals cannot be found.
The sleevenotes is partly a journey of the making of the reggae documentary Deep Roots and Bunny Lee reveals anecdotes from recording sessions as well as the making of this album. It’s a detailed and fascinating story.
The King, the Prince and the Gorgon have always been a great combination. And this set is no exception.
Special request to all rub a dub heads. There’s a group from Haifa City in Israel that has made a raw and eclectic album titled Ain’t No Future with No Past. It’s by the group themselves described as something of a musical Caesar Salad.
Trilion is not a band in the ordinary sense. It’s more of a collective of individuals aiming to merge and clash bass heavy beats without any musical boundaries. And when doing so it sounds like they have had a lot of fun. Just listen to the first single Stop Igle or the vintage-sounding Ole Sound Tradition and you’ll find out what I mean.
But there’s also a harder and more serious side. Check the musically intimidating Tolerance with its smattering drums and wobbling and booming bass or the melancholic Broke Family.
With one foot in the 80s and 90s and one foot in the future Trilion presents a fresh take on rub-a-dub.
Former Black Uhuru front man and lead singer Michael “Mykal” Rose has been productive in recent years. Last year he dropped two studio albums – Rasta State and Sidewalk Steppa. And now it’s time for yet another one – Strategy of Rome. This set has primarily been recorded in Denmark during a week-long break from touring.
And this is not the first time Mykal Rose collaborates with Ice Drop Records and producers Adil “Jahdil” Nadri and Søeren “Pharfar” Schou. In 2008 they did the excellent herb anthem Mr. Collie. That track is also featured on Strategy of Rome, but with a different version.
Mykal Rose is the originator of the slightly nasal Waterhouse vocal style and it’s by him also powered by several vocal scats – tu tu tweng and ding ding woy are probably recognized by more than a few. His voice is today just as powerful as it was back in the 70s when he created classics together with Black Uhuru and Sly & Robbie.
On Strategy of Rome the producers have created a crisp soundscape with heavy drum and bass supplemented by smooth harmonies and catchy melodies. It’s a journey where Mykal Rose showcases his vocal prowess over a varied set of riddims ranging from slick one drop and lightweight dancehall to early 80s roots. Best of the bunch is probably the insanely infectious, and slightly melancholic, On the Move Again.
Mykal Rose is after more than 40 years in the music industry still a force to be reckoned with.
The late and great Dennis Brown’s daughter Marla Brown comes forward with another solid EP. Survivor includes six cuts, of which two are combinations – one with Indonesia’s Ras Muhamad and one with Jamaica’s Hempress Sativa.
Survivor is all about self-motivation, faith and especially family and unity, which is celebrated through a heartfelt and triumphant homage to her own mother Yvonne Brown. Mumma Knows Best is up-tempo and melodic with catchy hooks and powerful backing vocals.
Marla Brown continues to impress with youthful energy, thoughtful messages and confident singing.
Jamaican singer Mark Wonder dropped his debut album Jeremiah almost 20 years ago and he has since put out another five studio sets, including his latest effort Dragon Slayer produced by the mighty Irie Ites from France.
Dragon Slayer – which is Mark Wonder’s moniker – follows Scrolls of the Levite, which was produced by U.S.-based Nowtime Sound. That set was heavily influenced by hip-hop whereas Dragon Slayer leans more towards uncompromising roots, even though hip-hop elements turn up in a track like People Need Security, voiced over a version of the Billie Jean riddim.
Mark Wonder is a voiced to be reckoned within the contemporary roots community and he has over the years recorded together with a broad variety of producers and artists, including AL.TA.FA.AN Records, Oneness, Bobby Digital, Sizzla, Capleton and Luciano.
His voice has improved over the years, but he still sounds a lot like the late and great Garnett Silk. His singing is emotional and powerful and he delivers these cultural and militant numbers with melody and soul.
When I reviewed Scrolls of the Levite in 2015 I stated that that was his best album to date. Well, that was then. Dragon Slayer – powered by riddims laid by Roots Radics and Mafia & Fluxy – is now his best. Let’s see what happens when another album drops.
Glad that Jamaican falsetto singer Courtney John is back on the reggae track after venturing into a more electronic and eclectic sonic territory with The Courtney John Project.
His new album Ecosystem finds him in well-known territories singing over soulful and vintage sounding riddims produced by Brimstone and Inity from France, a duo that created the beautiful cover album Reggae Loves Soul.
The first single taken from Ecosystem – Yes We Are – sums up the set very well with its catchy melody and warm audio landscape. And this album might just be Courtney John’s best album to date. His velvety and heartfelt voice flows like a river over the well-crafted rhythms. Highly recommended.