Mykal Rose joins forces with King Jammy on Rasta State

unnamedOn Mykal Rose’s second album this year – the first was the eclectic Sidewalk Steppa – he has again teamed up with engineer turned producer King Jammy. The duo worked together already in the 70s when King Jammy was one of King Tubby’s apprentices.

At the time he was still Prince Jammy and produced Black Uhuru’s, where Mykal Rose was lead singer, acclaimed debut album Love Crisis, later reissued as Black Sounds of Freedom with great effect.

In the mid-80s Mykal Rose left Black Uhuru to pursue a solo career and he has rather successful and prolific with several strong albums and hit songs. In recent years he has however recorded sparsely. Until 2016 when he suddenly dropped two albums.

And the best of those is Rasta State which is a throwback to the 90s with a number of well-known riddims utilized with great result. Highlights include the bouncy and electric Unity and the militant Reply From the Queen.

Mykal Rose is a crusader of Jah music and his haunting and passionate singing style has been widely copied over the years and he has influenced a great many singers. Expect quite a few stanahois and ding, ding, dongs.

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First class rocksteady on new compilation

unnamedOn Record Store Day 2016 reggae powerhouse VP’s reissue imprint 17 North Parade dropped a limited edition 7” box set collecting 14 rock steady gems. This release has now been expanded with another 26 cuts and released as a double CD celebrating the 50th anniversary of rock steady.

This comprehensive collection comes with timeless hits and ultra-rare gems showcasing the impact rock steady has had on Jamaican and popular music.

Rock steady only lasted for about two years – 1966-1968 – but is an undeniably influential genre with riddims that have been versioned and covered countless of times. The slow and melodious rock steady paved the way for the evolution of reggae and how it sounds today.

First Class Rock Steady shows many aspects of the genre and includes love songs, dance celebrations, conscious cuts and beautiful instrumentals played by some of Jamaica’s finest musicians, such as Tommy McCook, Lynn Taitt and Bobby Ellis.

Sensational songs like Hopeton Lewis’ Take It Easy, The Techniques’ You Don’t Care and Alton Ellis Rock Steady helped to put Jamaica on the musical map and the music still sounds fresh today.

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Lightweight reggae on Rebelution’s Falling Into Place

rebelution-sgt-2016Popular lightweight reggae pop and rock band Rebelution dropped their sixth album Falling Into Place in early June and it’s just as expected summery with catchy melodies and infectious hooks.

Rebelution is based in California, U.S., and is part of the burgeoning U.S. reggae scene, a scene that includes a broad variety of acts ranging from dancehall star Kranium via a jazzy outfit like Groundation or the more psychedelic John Brown’s Body to deep roots singers like Akae Beka aka Vaughn Benjamin from Midnite.

Rebelution and some of their peers – look for bands such as The Green, Giant Panda Guerilla Dub Squad and SOJA – is somewhere in between with their rock-infused pop reggae. They are regulars on the festival circuit and their sound is made for live arenas.

Polished and slick with melodies annoyingly hard to resist and escape.

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Powerful drumming on Kirkledove’s Rumble in the Jungle

unnamedAce Jamaican drummer and producer Kirk “Kirkledove” Bennett recently stepped in the spotlight when dropping his debut album Rumble in the Jungle. Kirkledove is a killer drummer and riddim-maker that has created hits for the likes of Queen Ifrica and Busy Signal.

His debut album features an all-star cast of some of reggae’s most in-demand vocalists, including Jah Cure, Beres Hammond, Tarrus Riley, Etana, Busy Signal and Cocoa Tea. The singers aren’t however necessarily in the spotlight here. The album is largely instrumental and comes with dubwise excursions where Kirkledove showcasing his expert drumming skills complemented with intriguing arrangements.

Old meets new on Rumble in the Jungle. Kirkledove borrows from the past and vintage vibes rub shoulders with contemporary techniques and cutting-edge beats.

Kirkledove’s drumming is militant, powerful and precise. Listen to the hard-hitting Cold Johnny, the mean Highway Patrol or the stone-cold title track, a cut that could easily fit on a Quentin Tarantino soundtrack with its western-tinged melody and dramatic strings.

An exceptional, bold and distinct album presenting the power of drumming.

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Stephen Marley’s electic The Fruit of Life

stephen-marley-the-fruit-of-lifeOne of recent years most anticipated reggae albums has finally arrived. Stephen Marley’s Revelation Part II: The Fruit of Life – the follow-up to Revelation Part I: The Root of Life – was announced already in 2011 when the first part was put out.

Stephen Marley is the second eldest son of Bob and Rita Marley. He has been immensely successful since he started singing professionally at the tender age of seven. His three previous solo albums all landed #1 on the U.S. Billboard Album Chart date and to date he has earned a total of eight Grammys for Best Reggae Album.

The first single off The Fruit of Life was released in 2014. Rock Stone was a murderous combination cut with conscious deejays Capleton and Sizzla and it boded very well for the full-length. The second single Ghetto Boy was another strong combination, but this time with Bounty Killer and Cobra, two dancehall deejays. This was another promising cut.
Since then another four singles have been lifted from the album, but none with same musical magic as Rock Stone or Ghetto Boy.

The digital version of The Fruit of Life comes with a hefty 24 tracks, including intro, prelude, outro and three remixes. It also boasts something of a record in guest appearances. I count to 26 if I include a sample of Nina Simone. Most performers are from hip-hop and R&B, including legends like Rakim and Busta Rhymes.

And compared to The Root of Life this album has a more diversified sonic palette with samples and drum machines. Stephen Marley has aimed at expressing the impact Jamaican music has had on various other genres, especially hip-hop, and with bold and clever production he has created striking album; a melting pot of influences that together make a cohesive whole.

The Fruit of Life is eclectic with room for both revolution and romance as well as boisterous party-starters like Tonight (It’s a Party) and ballads such as It’s Alright. This is not another anthemic roots album, but a sonic picture showing the fruits of reggae and the bond between reggae and dancehall and contemporary hip-hop and R&B.


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Heavyweight roots on Max Romeo’s Horror Zone

unnamedTo follow up best-selling and epochal albums is a difficult task for an artist. And to try it after more than 40 years is probably impossible. But this is what seasoned Jamaican reggae singer Max Romeo and British producer and mixing engineer Daniel Boyle aim at with Horror Zone, a 16 track showcase album described as the follow-up to Max Romeo’s ultra-classic album War ina Babylon from 1976.

Max Romeo has of course recorded several albums after War ina Babylon, but none with the same dark and ambient atmosphere that Lee Perry created for that set. And it’s that swirling and swampy sound that Daniel Boyle and Max Romeo have wanted to re-create on Horror Zone.

Daniel Boyle succeeded a similar mission impossible with Lee Perry’s acclaimed and Grammy nominated Back on the Controls. And I dare to say that Horror Zone is another stellar set with its heavy grooves and deep vibes.

Horror Zone is heavyweight and organic roots reggae with political and social commentaries. Max Romeo delivers relevant and insightful lyrics over raw and live-recorded rhythms played by a number of the musicians that were involved in recording War ina Babylon, including Vin Gordon on trombone, Robbie Lyn on keyboard and Glen DaCosta on saxophone. Lee Perry himself added percussion and backing vocals as well as effects for the dub versions.

To complete the concept Daniel Boyle even connected with designer Tony Wright to do the cover art. Tony Wright did the artwork on War ina Babylon along with several classic sleeves from the 70s, including Lee Perry’s Super Ape, Junior Murvin’s Police & Thieves and Ijahman Levi’s Haile I Hymn.

With Horror Zone Max Romeo and Daniel Boyle have managed to create a strong album that pays respect to the original War ina Babylon, but without being too nostalgic.

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Explosive remixes on Inna Nice Up! Fashion

0007481444_10UK’s Fashion Records started in 1980 and a studio was soon built to record Jamaican artists passing through London at the time. Several smash hits and lesser known gems were recorded at the A-Class studio and released via the label. Some of these 80s and 90s cuts from the Fashion vaults have now been given new sonic life thanks to a number of noted contemporary producers.

Inna Nice Up! Fashion serves up explosive and thrilling remixes by rave-revivalists, dancehall industrialists, digital dub machinists and modern reggae architects, including Dub Pistols, Jstar, Wrongtom, Mr. Benn and Jahtari.

The compilation has the DNA of reggae and dancehall and collects a little bit of everything for bass addicts around the world. Fashion Records has a long and rich history reaching far beyond reggae and this album will hopefully introduce the label to a new audience.

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Sevana’s promising debut

CmJs1mVVAAALci_A lot of talented female Jamaican singers have rose to prominence recently. Some have received more exposure than others, like Shanique Marie, who recently put out her debut album, or Jah9 who has signed with reggae powerhouse VP and is gearing up for her second album.

But there are others too. Singers that has yet to put out a full-length. Like Keida and Toian, two talented singers that dropped an EP each last year.

And now you can add Sevana to the ones who have an EP out on the streets. Her self-titled debut dropped about a week ago and it’s produced by Winta James – main producer on Protoje’s Ancient Future – and Protoje. Some might actually recognize Sevana from Ancient Future, since she appeared on two cuts – Love Gone Cold and Sudden Flight.

She made an impression on me with those songs and her debut single Bit Too Shy wasn’t bad either. And this six track EP is in the same soulful vein and includes four previously unreleased tracks, including the marvelous Rawle, the sensual Easy to Breathe and the slowly pulsating Love the Way.

Jamaican female singers are on the rise and now I just wait for EPs or albums from the likes of Kelissa and Shuga.

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Classic dub albums from Blood & Fire made available again

the-aggrovators-dubbing-at-king-tubby-s-vp-2xcd-34906-pWell-renowned reggae reissue label Blood & Fire closed its business in 2007 and a number of its best and most important sets are no longer available. Now, however, VP’s subsidiary 17 North Parade has started reissuing a number of classic items from the Blood & Fire catalogue. It started earlier this year with Horace Andy’s In the Light and its dub counterpart In the Light Dub.

Now it’s time for another three other crucial releases to see the light of day again and 17 North Parade has collected Dub Gone Crazy, Dub Gone 2 Crazy and Dub Like Dirt on a double disc CD or two double LPs titled Dubbing at King Tubby’s. These three albums were originally released in 1994, 1996 and 1999 respectively and all tracks were derived from rare 7” singles released in the 70s.

This is classic Bunny “Striker” Lee and King Tubby business with dubwise workouts of songs sung by the likes of Johnny Clarke, Horace Andy, Cornell Campbell and Leroy Smart. All cuts were dubbed at King Tubby’s small home studio by the King himself along with apprentices like Prince Jammy, Scientist and Phillip Smart.

This is as good as dub gets and the 44 tracks are the blueprint of dub with odd sound effects, echo, delay, reverb and vocal fragments dropping in and out of the mix. These skilled mixing wizards showcase Jamaican studio techniques and they were among the first to use the mixing board as their musical instrument. They strip the songs to their bare essentials – drum and bass – and then adding instrumentation and vocals along the way. The results were game changing. As shown on this excellent set.

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Positive reggae music on King Mas’ second album

unnamedAfter dropping his debut album One Wish in 2012, Jamaican singer King Mas has released several strong singles – check Zombie Apocalypse, Walk Like a Champion and Reflections – as well as appearing on solid one riddim compilations like Overstand’s Militancy riddim in 2013.

And a few months ago his second album Rasta Evolution was put out. It has been in the making for about three years, and with its 18 tracks it’s certainly a hefty set collecting mostly previously unreleased material in the conscious reggae vein.

Reggae heavyweights like veteran sax maestro Dean Fraser, seasoned master guitarist Earl “Chinna” Smith and newer talents like Unga Barunga from Notis and members of Raging Fyah have all offered their musical magic to the making of Rasta Evolution.

King Mas has an emotive and electrifying vocals which lifts several of the songs, but Rasta Evolution could have been better curated. A number of positive and uplifting nuggets are included and songs like the passionate album opener Our Story and the driving Peace & Love are superb, but with 18 tracks you are bound to find less thrilling fillers.

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