After 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.
Trojan 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.
French singer and singjay Naâman recently dropped his third full-length album Beyond, a set released via his own label Big Scoop. The set follows Rays of Resistance, put out in 2015, and offers a more diverse musical landscape where Naâman leans more towards pop music and also borrows from Latin and gospel rather than hip-hop, which he did on his two previous efforts.
He has come a long way since he put out his debut Deep Rockers – Back a Yard in 2013. He has something like 300 concerts behind him and has toured the world. So, it’s no big surprise that his sound has changed and matured with new inspiration.
The two first singles off the album – I’m Alright and Simplicity – are representative of the full album. Sunny, sandy and breezy with influences from both gospel and dancehall. The kind of causal and easy-going pop music that make anyone forget troubles and tribulations and just indulge.
Another infectious gem is the lightweight dancehall and disco joint I Feel Your Soul with its soulful chorus and airy horns. Best of the bunch is however the acoustic Love Is Allowed with its heartfelt strings and driving beat. It’s also impressive that Naâman has Toots Hibbert joining him on the pulsating ska cut Got To Try.
Beyond is about good hearty fun and nice vibes.
Up until the mid-70s supreme producer Clement ”Coxsone” Dodd had been ruling the Jamaican music scene for almost two decades and had only been challenged by Duke Reid. But the musical landscape was changing and he was increasingly challenged by producers like Bunny Lee, Joe Gibbs, Niney and a host of others.
And in the late 70s dancehall emerged and producers along with singers and deejays were increasingly starting to utilize and re-lick foundation riddims, especially from Studio One. Coxsone wanted, and needed, to be part of this new music and started to update his old riddims as well as creating new ones.
He continued to work with several veteran and returning artists like Alton Ellis, Horace Andy and Johnny Osbourne as well as turning to new and upcoming talents such as Lone Ranger, Sugar Minott and deejay duo Michigan & Smiley.
He updated his signature sound and managed to adapt new musical fashions and continued to stay relevant in the ever-changing Jamaican music industry. This is showcased on Soul Jazz Records’ latest Studio One compilation Studio One Supreme – Maximum 70s And 80s Early Dancehall Sounds, which comes with classics and lesser-known gems from some of Jamaica’s finest artists.
Standout cuts include Johnny Osbourne’s soulful album opener Keep That Light, Michigan & Smiley’s Compliment To Studio One, The Gladiators’ Happy Man and Lone Ranger’s Quarter Pound of Ishen, all presented in glorious discomix versions.
With the help of creative musical and technological developments of the 70s – syndrums, synthesizers, discomixes and more – Coxsone Dodd re-invented his organic sound for a new generation of reggae fans.
UK’s smooth chatting lyricist Macka B is back with a new album following the excellent Never Played A 45, which was produced by vintage revivalist Chris Peckings. This new album – Health Is Wealth – has a more contemporary sonic landscape and was recorded in Jamaica, Japan, Germany and the UK.
The album is heavily influenced by Macka B’s ital lifestyle and on several cuts he offers food for thought celebrating his vegan diet. Check for example the anthemic Wha Me Eat (remix), the title track and the viral video hit Cucumba, which has over 43 million views on Facebook.
But Macka B is as usual brimful of lyrics and offers thoughts on ganja on Natural Herb, voiced over a version of the classic Sleng Teng riddim, and refuses the gang lifestyle on the heartfelt Gangster. He also celebrates reggae veterans on not one, but two, cuts – Legendary Reggae Icons and 70’s Legendary Reggae Icons – and together with hitmaker Maxi Priest he revitalizes Ras Michael’s None A Jah Jah Children.
With his persuasive and thoughtful lyrics Macka B could probably turn any hardcore carnivore into a vegan or vegetarian.
In 1976 Lee Perry dropped one of the best dub albums ever recorded – Super Ape. Now 41 years after its original release, and when Lee Perry is 81 years old, he has joined forces with New York City’s Subatomic Sound System to re-record the album using today’s technology.
It’s a bold move to try and improve a masterpiece, but the result is stunning. Super Ape Returns To Conquer is true to the original sound with its dense and steamy tropical sonic landscape. But at the same time it has more punch thanks to influences from electronic music, dubstep and hip-hop. It has superb horns and pounding percussion along with booming bass, blasting beats and blazing energy.
Lee Perry’s idiosyncratic vocals is present throughout the album, but a number of guest vocalists also turn up – Jahdan Blakkamoore, Screechy Dan and the late Ari-Up from punk rock band The Slits. Dub music has however never been about vocals. It’s about atmosphere and mixing and the ability to create something new by using something already recorded.
Or as Emch from Subatomic Sound System describes the recording process – “We didn’t create the album like it was being re-recorded today with current technology. We imagined we went back in a time machine to 1976 and brought Lee Perry the tools he needed to create an album he envisioned that would sound like it was 40 years in the future, so that today’s listeners can recognize that in 1976 it was in fact 40 years ahead of its time.”
A classic album for a new generation of dub fans.
French versatile singer and singjay LMK drops her second album Highlights, the follow-up to her debut full-length Musical Garden released in 2015. On this new set she has sharpened her musical edge and crafted many memorable hooks and catchy choruses.
Highlights is a dancehall album particularly influenced by R&B, hip-hop and pop. It’s delightful and the chorus on See the Light is simply irresistible with its strings and LMK’s sprightly and youthful singing.
But she also has another side. Check the fierce See Dem Out and the brilliant Skarra Mucci combination Crazy And Alive where she showcases her rapping and fast chatting style. She also has a distinct hip-hop connection and is joined by four U.S. rappers – Reverie and Gavlyn along with veterans Mann and Billy Danze from Brooklyn’s MOP.
LMK is along with Soom T and Marina P the most promising and interesting talent on the European reggae and dancehall scene.
Cherry Red’s newly established imprint Doctor Bird has recently put two scorching boss reggae compilations on one CD. No More Heartaches and What Am I To Do were originally released by Trojan in 1969 and 1970 respectively.
Both included singles produced by Jamaican producer Harry J, who is probably best known for Bob & Marcia’s version of Young, Gifted & Black and the killer organ instrumental Liquidator, which contains a bass line borrowed by The Staple Singers for their 1972 hit song I’ll Take You There.
The album comes with a hefty 24 tracks – twelve from each compilation – and No More Heartaches is the stronger compilation showcased by the first half of the album. It represents classics like The Beltones’ aching title track, Glen Brown & Dave Barker’s stomping Lucky Boy, Lloyd Robinson’s lethal Cuss Cuss and Richard Ace’s brutal organ instrumental Hang ‘Em High.
What Am I To Do is much weaker and is probably best known for its title track sung by Tony Scott. The standout cut on that one is however Harry J Allstars’ horn instrumental Wha’pen.
Harry J continued to record throughout the 70s and 80s, but was less prolific. He died in 2013 after a long battle against diabetes.
One of my most anticipated releases this year dropped last week. I’m talking about Jamaican superior chanter and singer Jesse Royal and his debut album Lily of Da Valley,a 14 track set including already familiar cuts like Finally and Modern Day Judas along with recent singles like the Jo Mersa Marley combination Generation and Always Be Around.
Jesse Royal has been in the music business since his early 20s and dropped some of his earliest material for the Xterminator label, nowadays XTM Nation, led by Philip “Fattis” Burrell’s son Kareem Burrell. Early singles like Hatred is the Obsolete Route and One Eye Open boded well for the future and in 2013 he broke big with the massive Modern Day Judes on Winta James’ Rootsman riddim, probably best known for Chronixx’ Here Comes Trouble.
Further strong singles soon followed, including Preying On the Weak, Raging Storm, Cool And Deadly and Blowing In the Wind. And now his debut album has finally arrived. It comes with ten previously unreleased cuts and carries both conscious messages pushing for positive changes along with party starters and love songs.
The powerful album opener 400 Years is a battle against oppression while both Roll Me Something and Finally praises the herb. The Natty Rico combination Full Moon is something of an oddity with its electro beat and Major Lazer-influenced synthesizer hook. It’s insanely catchy, but takes a few listens to get acquainted with.
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.
So let’s follow Jesse Royal’s instructions on the breezy and 80s sounding Rock It Tonight – “hey there DJ, won’t you put this one upon reply, I don’t want this party to decay, gonna be a soul shakedown tonight”.
Popular U.S. reggae band The Expanders has released the second installment in their cover series Old Time Something Come Back Again. The first version was put out in 2013 as a vinyl only release.
On this second volume they shine on 15 cuts originally released by singers and groups such as Burning Spear, The Ethiopians, The Itals, Yabby You and Little Roy. Included are also tunes from little known artists such as Ghetto Connection and Kenty Spence & His Stars. The set offers by no means versions of reggae hits. Many songs are unknown gems performed by singers and players far away from the reggae mainstream.
The Expanders shines throughout the set with their pristine three-part harmonies, organic sonic landscape and no-frills arrangements with musicians providing the bare essentials – bass, organ, drums and guitar.
And this album is not about nostalgia. The Expanders put their signature mark on every track with vintage vibes and a vocal style reminiscent of reggae from the late 60s. This is an album curated with love and affection and it showcases timeless music through spirituality, social commentary and affairs of the heart.