Category Archives: Record reviews

Top 20 reggae albums in 2017

It’s December and that means holiday and lists. Reggaemani will present top lists featuring albums, songs and reissues. And I kick things off with 20 albums that rocked my world in the past year.

The list below is diverse with several different countries, styles and genres represented. Included are artists from Jamaica, the U.S., France, Spain, Switzerland and the UK covering roots, dancehall, dub, ska, jazz and hip-hop.

The list below is presented in no particular order and if you’re curious about the albums make sure to check my Spotify playlist with 18 sets. Download the playlist here. Enjoy!

Artist – title
Mista Savona – Havana Meets Kingston
A historical musical meeting and the warm compositions bubble with energy and sincerity.

Ken Boothe – Inna de Yard
A heartfelt and genuine album produced with love and care for reggae music.

Randy Valentine – New Narrative
A personal album where Randy Valentine guides the listener through his life journey so far. It’s personal and intimate and throughout the set he conveys the power to manifest one’s own destiny and take responsibility for one’s own actions.

Red Foot & The Shades – Children’s Prayer
A dreamy, emotional and soothing masterpiece recorded and mixed with analogue equipment and powered by devout musical and spiritual perspectives.

Lee Perry & Subatomic Sound System – Super Ape Returns to Conquer
Classic album for a new generation of dub fans.

Jesse Royal – Lily of da Valley
Showcases Jesse Royal’s sparkling and versatile vocal delivery and sense for infectious melodies and hooks. It’s certainly a well-rounded debut offering a little something for everyone.

The Expanders – Old Time Something Come Back Again
A cover album that’s far from nostalgic. The Expanders put their signature mark on every track with vintage vibes and a vocal style reminiscent of reggae from the late 60s.

Mr. Williamz & Green Lion Crew – The General Comes to Town
Mr. Williamz’ flow is as usual flawless and the beats and riddims he rides are ultra-solid and rock-hard.

L’Entourloop – Le savoir faire
With Le savoir faire L’Entourloop has created a playful and clever album taking the very best from reggae, dancehall and hip-hop. A bona-fide head-nodder with less than zero dull moments.

Ras Zacharri & MNIB – Love Over Hate
Ras Zacharri’s warm and raspy voice suits these elegant, and sometimes militant, riddims and arrangements very well.

Lutan Fyah – Music Will Never Die
Comes with clever and detailed arrangements, infectious melodies and passionate and earnest performances from Lutan Fyah.

Stand High Patrol – The Shift
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.

Damian Marley – Stony Hill
A solid album, which would have been even better with 12 rather than 18 tracks.

Samory I – Black Gold
The riddims are majestic and the cuts often come with long instrumental parts. It’s a solid musical journey with Samory I’s heartfelt vocals and conscious lyrics on top of it all

Vin Morgan Meets Lone Ark – Give Thanks
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.

Chronixx – Chronology
With Chronology Chronixx expands the roots reggae horizon and in a few years this album will rank as one of reggae’s landmark albums.

Mark Wonder – Dragon Slayer
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.

Courtney John – Ecosystem
His velvety and heartfelt voice flows like a river over the well-crafted rhythms. Highly recommended.

Keith & Tex – Same Old Story
The harmonies are tight and many of the cuts have a melancholic feel to them. And the duo covers themes from broken hearts to the refugee crisis in Syria.

Kristine Alicia – Songs From Zion
Kristine Alicia, who is a trained pianist and has released a gospel- inspired reggae album, is a remarkable singer and together with producer Rorystonelove she has created a musical masterpiece.

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Mista Savona creates musical history with Havana Meets Kingston

unnamedAustralia’s leading reggae producer Mista Savona has spearheaded the Havana Meets Kingston album, a musical project where the distinct sounds of two islands meet.

On the album veteran and emerging Cuban and Jamaican musicians and singers join each-other to version classics and create new songs fusing reggae and dancehall with Cuban and Afro-Cuban rhythms.

The set features a stellar cast of performers, including Sly & Robbie, Leroy Sibbles, Lutan Fyah, Cornell Campbell and Randy Valentine along with original Buena Vista Social Club instrumentalists Ronaldo Luna and Barbarito Torres.

Havana Meets Kingston is a historical musical meeting and the warm songs bubble with energy and sincerity. Best of the bunch is a version of Bob Marley’s Positive Vibration, where Randy Valentine’s emotive singing certainly makes a mark, the pulsating In the Ghetto – Where We’re From, the fierce Heart of a Lion and, of course, the first single off the album – Carnival, a song which effortlessly blends Cuban and Jamaican musical elements.

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Stellar acoustic album from Ken Boothe

ken-boothe-inna-di-yard-lpMore than ten years ago veteran Jamaican guitar maestro Earl “Chinna” Smith started the Inna de Yard project where seasoned and upcoming singers recorded acoustic versions of their songs.

The project was a hit and groups and singers like The Viceroys, The Mighty Diamonds, The Congos and Kiddus I were on board. Several albums and singles were released via French label Makasound. Unfortunately the label folded and the project was put on ice.

Until earlier this year when Chapter Two Records, something of a reincarnation of Makasound, dropped the compilation The Soul of Jamaica, which was credited to Inna de Yard. The project was suddenly alive again and now another album has been put out. And the singer is no other than Ken Boothe, one of Jamaica’s greatest vocalists with a string of hits in the 60s and 70s.

Ken Boothe was featured on The Soul of Jamaica. His versions of Let the Water Run Dry and Artibella were two of the strongest cuts on the compilation.

His Inna de Yard set features another nine versions of some of his previous recordings; all recorded with acoustic instrumentation with nyabinghi drumming, horns and the occasional accordion. The versions are intimate and warm and the arrangements allow Ken Boothe’s gritty singing to shine throughout this stunning set.

A heartfelt and genuine album produced with love and care for reggae music.

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Randy Valentine’s sublime and inspirational new narrative

unnamedUK singer Randy Valentine has joined forces with US production teams Royal Order Music and Loud City Music for the sublime and beautiful New Narrative, a nine track set collecting seven vocal cuts, one dub version and a lovely a cappella intro.

New Narrative is a personal album and Randy Valentine guides the listener through his life journey so far. It’s personal and intimate and throughout the set he conveys the power to manifest one’s own destiny and take responsibility for one’s own actions.

The set starts off strong with Randy Valentine being confident in himself singing “spent my whole life searching for myself in a di books, but the greatness of I story has somehow been overlooked” and then one of the greatest songs of 2017 kicks off.

Happiness Station is an ode to life and puts words to the pleasure and joy only music can give. In Trenchtown Rock Bob Marley sang “one good thing about music, when it hits you feel no pain”. Very eloquently put. Randy Valentine’s words isn’t a one-liner, but he movingly describes the power of music:

“Happiness station, that’s my destination, happiness station, that’s my destination, cause I feel like celebrating, just put the record on and keep it on rotation, yeah, I just wanna feel the sweetness, coming through the speakers, music a transportation, next stop, is happiness station, and nothing bothers me, that’s the way that it ought to be, don’t you agree”.

And the badabapbadabap in the chorus is just insanely catchy.

New Narrative is Randy Valentine’s third short-playing album and every set has been a minor masterpiece. And this latest one might just be his best one yet.

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Devon Clarke follows in Tenor Saw’s footsteps

a2208899880_2Devon Clarke has been recording since the mid-80s and now – about 30 years after his first singles – his debut album has been released via US label Bent Back Records. Devon Clarke has mostly worked with Massive B and Digital English, but he hasn’t really recorded much over the years.

His style is reminiscent of mid-80s giants Tenor Saw, Nitty Gritty, King Kong and Anthony red Rose. A simple, smooth, hypnotic and flat style with catchy melodies delivered over old school synthesized riddims.

The set comes with ten tracks – vocals on one side and versions on the other. The standout cut is Beat the Banker, on which he rides a moody version of King Tubby’s fierce Tempo riddim. Other highlights include the JohnnyGo Figure combination Soldier and a remix of Hangin’ in Deh, originally released in 2014 on Bent Back.

Call Me Bobo Saw is mid-80s digital reggae at its very best.

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The U.S. reggae scene is thriving

SOJA_PoetryInMotionThe U.S. reggae scene seems to the thriving and no less than four bands have put out albums during the past months. I’m talking about The Simpkin Project’s Beam of Light, The Green’s Marching Orders, Iya Terra’s Sacred Sound and Soja’s Poetry In Motion.

All these bands have a roughly similar sound with a hybrid of pop/rock and reggae. These bands are not as much rock as Rebelution and not as rootsy as Midnite. They are somewhere in between and offer a lightweight sound rooted reggae, but with influences from pop, rock, blues, dancehall and Americana.simpkin-project-beam-of-light

csm_IyaTerra_SacredSound_7850c230d5Many songs sound like vacation tunes and offer a mouthful of sunshine and beautiful harmonizing. The production is glossy, polished and overwhelmingly radio-friendly. Check for example The Green’s All I Need, The Simpkin Project’s Some Thing’s Don’t Change and Soja’s Sing To Me.

csm_thegreen-marchingorders_9a0c23f2a7The U.S. reggae scene has been growing for several years with many new groups and artists. These four bands – at least Soja, The Simpkin Project and The Green – are some of the more well-known and they have managed to attract an audience that is not necessarily hardcore reggae fans. Happy to see that they are spreading the reggae gospel.

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Breezy disco reggae on new compilation

cs661982-01a-bigStix Records is back with yet another compilation focusing on making reggae versions of soul and disco scorchers. This third edition comes with a variety of producers, including Taggy Matcher, who is onboard as usual and graces the album with three productions.

The nine track set includes both newly recorded material and classics. And among the standout tracks are Mato’s reggae refix of Lucas Arruda & Leon Ware’s funky Melt the Night with its slick guitar work and Taggy Matcher’s version of Inner City’s Big Fun complete with great horns and a memorable synth line. Also included is The Dynamics’ version of Rolling Stones’ disco joint I Miss You with its infectious “oooh oooh oooh oooh and aaah aaah aaah aaah aaah aaah aaah” chorus.

Cool, breezy and funky. Music for laid-back cats.

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Rare Studio One B-sides on Version Dread

unnamedAbout ten years ago Heartbeat issued a compilation with B-sides taken from Studio One singles. That compilation has been deleted for many years, but has now been reissued by Studio One and Yep Roc Records.

Version Dread comes with a hefty 18 B-sides of rare Studio One singles, and includes versions of classic cuts by the likes of Wailing Souls, Abyssinians and Burning Spear. Also included are two extended mixes – Never Give Version by Carlton and the Shoes and a rare mix of Ernest Ranglin’s Surfing. Neither of these songs were featured on the original LP.

These tracks are in some cases little more than glorious instrumentals of reggae staples and the music is presented with vocals dropping in and out of the mix. But the mixing engineers – label head Clement “Coxsone” Dodd and Sylvan Morris – have added none or very little effects. The music is what you get. Check excellent cuts like Please Be True Version, a cut of Alexander Henry’s original, or The Brentford Rockers’ version of Cornell Campbell’s Natty Don’t Go.

To call these cuts just versions doesn’t really give them credit for their greatness. These tracks are sublime and timeless instrumentals.

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Red Foot & The Shades stunning debut album

lp-red-foot-and-the-shades-children-s-prayerAfter eight years only releasing 7 inches Swiss roots label Darker Shades of Roots finally put out an album – Red Foot & The Shades’ Children’s Prayer. It was released during the first quarter this year and comes with 12 tracks with a highly individual and unique roots sound, a sound somewhat influenced by Augustus Pablo’s ethereal and mystic sonic landscapes.

Children’s Prayer includes dub poetry spoken by Red Foot, a vocal track featuring Ras Ico on lead and several melodica and organ led instrumentals.

And the standout cuts are the instrumentals, especially Ladder Builder, the hymn-like Cold Rain And Snow and Samson Ki Malaa Pe, an organ adaption of Pakistani singer and musician Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan’s song of the same name.

Children’s Prayer is a dreamy, emotional and soothing masterpiece recorded and mixed with analogue equipment and powered by devout musical and spiritual perspectives.

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Trojan collects four Lee Perry sets on one album

TJDCD565_-_hires_copyTrojan Records has collected four Lee Perry produced albums – Africa’s Blood, Battle Axe, Rhythm Shower and Double Seven – on one album called The Trojan Albums Collection.

This new compilation highlights a part in Lee Perry’s career when he was just starting to make a name for himself as a producer. It was at a time when he was working with Bob Marley, Peter Tosh and Bunny Wailer and before his dense, trippy and swirling productions at his own studio Black Ark.

The cuts showcased here – a swinging 53 originally released between 1971 and 1973 – are mostly instrumentals played by The Upsetters. Some are little more than versions or backing tracks, while others show a producer that has just started to experiment with sonic effects that would soon be an integral part of dub. But even though these recordings were pre-Black Ark Lee Perry still had his very own, and unique, sound with rock-solid rhythms.

Some of the tracks feature well-known vocalists like Delroy Wilson, I Roy and Junior Byles, while other performers are virtually unknown, for example The Hurricane’s, an outfit that make a memorable performance on Isn’t It Wrong.

Standout cuts include Junior Byles’ heartfelt A Place Called Africa, and its dub version by Winston Prince aka Dillinger, Dave Barker’s exuberant Do Your Thing and The Upsetters funky Jungle Lion. The compilation also showcases a few of Lee Perry’s wackier efforts – Kentucky Skank with its flowing water and idiosyncratic vocals as well as the psychedelic Waap You Waa.

This is timeless and classic Lee Perry.

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