Protoje balances reggae and hip-hop on Ancient Future

unnamedOn successful Jamaican reggae revivalist Protoje’s third album Ancient Future he sounds more inspired than ever before when he tackles Winta James’ uncompromising hip-hop-flavoured reggae riddims. It’s clear that duo has worked tight together on this excellent release.

I have followed Protoje since his debut single J.A. released in 2010. That track was producer by his cousin Don Corleone, who Protoje worked with on his first two albums Seven Year Itch and The 8 Year Affair. And with each album Protoje has matured and his sound has evolved from easy-going reggae to spiritual roots.

Ancient Future is a cohesive set that balances rootsy reggae with hip-hop beats. But it also offers a few tasty slices of lovers rock and joyous ska. It’s definitely rooted in the 70s and 80s, but embodies the energy of the present.

Protoje is a frontrunner of the reggae, or Rastafari as Jah9 describes it, revival scene, and Ancient Future enlists several contemporaries, including Chronixx, Jesse Royal and Kabaka Pyramid. Onboard is also rising stars Sevana and Mortimer.

Chronixx showcases his talents on Who Knowns, one of the best cuts from last year according to several reggae heavyweights, and Kabaka Pyramid blazes a verse on The Flame, a track the metamorphoses unexpectedly.

Ancient Future is jam-packed with both talent and highlights and it will be hard for Protoje to outshine a masterpiece like this in the future.

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Soul Jazz portrays the birth of a sound on Studio One Jump-Up

unnamedThe latest Studio One compilation from UK reissue giant Soul Jazz adds something new to their huge catalogue. It’s the first time they issue a compilation focusing on the bona-fide roots of reggae and the earliest sounds coming from Studio One and Clement “Coxsone” Dodd.

Studio One Jump-Up – The Birth of a Sound: Jump-Up Jamaican R&B, Jazz and Early Ska serves up a total of 20 tunes in many styles; from shuffle and R&B to ska and jazz.

This compilation starts from the beginning in the formative era. In the mid to late 50s Jamaicans were exposed to lots of U.S. R&B and producers like Clement Dodd merged these shuffling sounds with his own musical strains; calypso from Trinidad & Tobago and mento, a form of Jamaican folk music.

On this album you’ll find the roots of Studio One and a early R&B aficionado will probably recognize influences from aces like Louis Jordan and Fats Domino. But included is also cuts that adds something new, that adds something fresh to the rocking sounds. Count Ossie’s Another Moses is such a track, Don Drummond & Roland Alphonso’s Heaven and Earth is another. These two cuts are haunting and conscious and provided the foundation for what was about to come many years later – roots reggae.

This compilation is however mostly about party-starters and frenetic tempos. If you have a bad heart you might want to skip the joyous ska excitement of Bob Marley & The Wailers’ Go Jimmy Go or the volcanic horns on Roland Alphonso’s Bongo Tango.

Studio One Jump-Up portrays a side of reggae that is sometimes overlooked – even though labels like Fantastic Voyage and Sunrise Records have done their fair share of reissues in this genre. “You have to know the past to understand the present” is an expression coined by U.S. astronomer Carl Sagan and it’s something Jamaican musicians might want to focus on now that they aim to reclaim global dominance in reggae.

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Ghanaian styled reggae on Selasee & The Fafa Family’s Time For Peace

selasee-time-for-peace-thumbGhana has a rich musical heritage and the highlife genre originates from there. And Ghana native Selasee – who today resides in the U.S. – has incorporated elements of this often up-tempo and funky genre on his and his band Fafa Family’s third album Time For Peace, a set that follows their African Gate, released in 2009.

Time For Peace is Ghanaian styled roots reggae with elements of soul and gospel. The set is produced by no other than the legendary Aston “Family Man” Barrett, longtime bass man who worked close to Bob Marley for almost a decade. Together, Aston Barrett and Selasee & Fafa Family have created a catchy reggae album connecting the musical dots between the Caribbean, West Africa and the U.S.

This organic set is a conscious one and the songs have a story resonating from Selasee’s own experiences in life. But Selasee also tackles global issues, as on album opener Time For Peace where Jamaican deejay Anthony B joins in chanting about the trials and tribulations going on in the world.

The roots vibe is strong on several tracks, especially on deep and slow cuts like Baby Sister and The Love, whereas highlife influences are a large part of tracks such as Mama Africa and Which One.

Several of the songs have long instrumental parts where the multiple guitars or the breezy horns do most of the talking. And the horns on Time For Peace are, well, marvelous. Listen to Fly Away, especially the smooth saxophone solo, or the funky saxophone on sensual reggae funkster Stop the Rain.

All songs are powered by Selasee’s rich, soulful and slighly raspy voice. Just as several other reggae greats he started singing in church, but he has also been in an afro-pop band, and all these elements blend together nicely on this twelve track set.

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Stellar compilation presents Jimmy Riley at his best

366If you are in a hurry and need to know about Jimmy Riley’s Live It To Know It, five words – get it, it is essential. I you want the story you can continue.

Jimmy Riley – father of acclaimed contemporary reggae singer Tarrus Riley – started his career in the mid-60 as part of rocksteady vocal harmony group The Sensations, an outfit that also included sublime falsetto singer Cornel Campbell. After a while he left that group and formed The Uniques with another renowned falsetto singer – Slim Smith.

After several hit singles with The Uniques, including My Conversation, one of the best rocksteady cuts ever recorded, he went solo and started recording with the likes of Lee Perry, Bunny Lee and Sly & Robbie, with whom he recorded easy-skanking solo hits like Love and Devotion and Marvin Gaye’s Sexual Healing, a song that topped reggae charts in 1983.

On UK reissue label Pressure Sounds’ 87th release they have focused on Jimmy Riley, but not his most well-known cuts. No, Live It To Know It collects self-produced material recorded approximately between 1975 and 1984. And this is message music. It’s roots music with sparse arrangements and minor chords, and Jimmy Riley sings about immigration, poverty, struggles, equality and justice.

Live It To Know It contains 17 songs and is long overdue. Jimmy Riley is one of many often overlooked Jamaican singers. He has a stellar tenor voice with a bit of grittiness to it. It’s emotive, pleading and heartfelt. He’s a bona-fide soul singer.

This album has everything a great reissue should have – excellent music, discomixes, devastating dub versions, good audio quality, scarce material and vivid liner notes. It collects nothing but the best and it captures Jimmy Riley at his finest.

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Good vibes with Joseph Cotton and Atili Bandalero

1298279-nightlife-500After the release of their joint EP Back To the Roots Jamaican gruff chanter Joseph Cotton and French DJ and producer Atili Bandalero dropped a fresh digital scorcher last year.

On Nightlife, which includes four new versions of material recorded for Back To the Roots, Joseph Cotton showcases his vintage flow over ten 80s styled digital riddims with different tempos and moods. It ranges from frenetic ska on Another Man, Back To the Roots and Nightlife to dreader and deeper cuts like album opener Chant Down Babylon.

Forward is almost festive with its anthemic chorus and on Money Code the duo borrows from Yellowman’s Body Move and Barrington Levy’s Money Move.

Digital albums like Nightlife may sound simple in its arrangements, but if you listen closely it offers a lot of details. And this set is offers both good vibes and clever production.

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Captivated by Vivian Jones’ new album

blackstarpresentsVivian_Jones250Successful veteran reggae singer Vivian Jones has released a new album, a follow up to his Lovers Rocking, which dropped in 2013. Black Star Presents Vivian Jones is recorded together with Asher-E from Amsterdam-based Black Star Foundation and is an equally dread and equally smooth affair.

Vivian Jones has been in the business for nearly 40 years. He was born in Jamaica, but moved to the UK in the late 60s. And in the 70s he joined a band called The Spartans. He soon went solo and has since put out several hit songs, including Good Morning, Strong Love and Sugar Love. He has recorded together with Jah Shaka, Bobby Digital, Roots Radics and Junior Reid in both the UK and Jamaica. He has also been awarded best male artist in the UK.

His new album collects ten tracks, of which two are dub versions and two are discomixes, and even though Vivian Jones is probably best known for his lovers rock material, this new set is both sweet and haunting. Check up-tempo and joyous cuts like One Love and That Love and then jump to more militant tracks like Bhingy Dready and Now They Are After Me. But best of the bunch is probably the ethereal and pulsating If the Tree Could Talk.

Vivian Jones’ charismatic and hypnotic voice will captivate you for hours.

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The Banyans return with another solid roots reggae set

The-Banyans---For-better-days-0038French reggae band The Banyans started in 2010 and dropped their strong debut album Steppin’ Forward in 2013. Now they return with another solid roots effort, and this one is even better than its predecessor. It might have to do with their intense touring schedule – more than 400 shows under their belt – or maybe the new members have improved songwriting and harmonies.

For Better Days… collects 13 tracks and includes collaborations with reggae luminaries Johnny Osbourne and Big Youth along with rising star Maranto. The set carries the spirit of vintage Jamaican roots reggae from the mid-70s with bright horns and a few dubby effects. The bass and the drums are tight. The sound is militant, yet harmonious, and the lyrics are positive with a conscious approach.

It’s easy to get caught in the beat and the infectious melodies stick like glue, and this make The Banyans one of the best European roots reggae bands of today.

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Alborosie’s classic debut album reissued with four bonus cuts

alborosie-soulpirate_deluxe_editionItalian, nowadays Jamaican, reggae star, multi-instrumentalist, producer, mixing engineer and songwriter Alborosie has recently had his debut album Soul Pirate reissued.

The original set contained 18 tracks and the new and re-mastered version contains four bonus cuts, all of which has been previously released as singles or as part of a compilation.

Soul Pirate was originally released in 2008 with poor distribution and it was partly sold via concerts. And today it fetches high prices – on Discogs it starts at $25.00 for the CD version.

It’s an excellent album and might just still be his best yet. It collects several stunning and well-known singles, including the ground-shaking Rastafari Anthem, recorded over Zap Pow’s Last War, the powerful Kingston Town, on a version of the mighty When I Fall in Love riddim, and the pulsating Herbalist, on a remake of Black Uhuru’s Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner.

Alborosie started to rock the scene at a time when dancehall ruled and roots reggae was something odd in Jamaica. Alborosie was one of tipping points that ignited the recent interest in Jamaican roots reggae and Soul Pirate can today be regarded as a modern classic.

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Explosive Diskodub from Taiwan MC

TaiwanMC-Diskodub-cover(CMR030)Almost two years after the release of his Heavy This Year set French deejay and singer Taiwan MC returns with a second EP. Diskodub is an eight track effort and a hybrid of funky digital reggae and futuristic contemporary dancehall complete with psychedelic dub effects and a haunting melodica.

The set is produced by Soap, Chinese Man, Dreadsquad and Manudigital with lyrics written by Taiwan MC when on the road. Each of this producers have their own distinct style, but it all blends together nicely.

Taiwan MC showcases his tongue twisting skills on What a Joy and Tell Dem, the latter a version of Augustus “Gussie” Clarke’s successful Telephone Love. Album opener Diskodub closes with a high-pitched G-funk synth and Pon di Road borrows its guitar melody from Johnny Cash’s classic Ring of Fire.

Taiwan MC also chats over a bouncy version of King Tubby’s brutal Tempo riddim and Manudigital’s remix of Blaze It Up pays tribute to the classic Sleng Teng riddim.

The up-tempo and explosive Diskodub is an invitation to a digital reggae dancehall party.

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A fine set of funky covers from Taggy Matcher and friends

stix040lp-front-300x300Following several strong singles and cuts on compilations French producer Bruno “Patchworks” Hovart, today probably best known as Taggy Matcher, has finally dropped his debut album Singasong.

Taggy Matcher is a bass player and a guitarist and is an ace when it comes to contemporary groove-oriented music and has successfully merged raw disco and soul with jazz, hip-hop and reggae. He has for example produced a number of fine slices of innovative hip-hop/reggae mash-ups.

The organic Singasong collects eleven tracks and Taggy Matcher continues his long-standing love of recording covers and this set contains versions of tracks by the likes of The Black Keys, Neil Young, Leonard Cohen, Black Sabbath and Rihanna.

The songs are funky with a discofied twist and the sound is somewhat familiar what Prince Fatty created on Hollie Cook’s excellent second album Twice.

Singer Birdy Nixon takes on Black Sabbath’s crowd-pleaser Paranoid, and does it very well, and LMK does wonders to Rihanna’s No Love Allowed, probably the best cut on the album, complete with emotive horns and pulsating organ.

Definitely a scorcher to be filed next to your worn out copy of Twice.

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