Sly & Robbie meet The Paragons in dub

81yanrP5-0L._SL1500_Island Records did something strange last year. They reissued the album Sly & Robbie Meet The Paragons adding another ten tracks, of which nine are previously unreleased dub versions. But on the album sleeve they don’t mention anything about these added tracks. It looks like the original set from 1981.

They should of course have marketed this treasure chest much harder. I mean unreleased dub mixes of Sly & Robbie rhythms mixed by Steven Stanley in the early 80s. That’s pure dynamite. The dub album could easily have been a single album. Or better – a double vinyl album with one vocal set and one dub counterpart. Unfortunately Island didn’t do it that way. They released a CD and digital version with the added tracks while the vinyl only comes with the ten original cuts.

Flaws aside, this is a superb album remastered to perfection. When it was originally released in 1981 it marked the reunion of one of Jamaica’s premier vocal groups and harmony trios. They were led by the late John Holt, who is the essence of smoothness, and on this set they teamed up with Sly & Robbie to re-record some of their greatest tracks in an early dancehall fashion. Included are melancholic and uplifting masterpieces like On the Beach, My Best Girl, Riding On a High and Windy Day, Man Next Door and The Tide is High, which was successfully covered by both Blondie and Atomic Kitten.

Every track on this set is excellent and same goes for the dub versions, which showcases both Steven Stanley’s mixing skills and the strength of Sly & Robbie’s rhythms. Cuts like Riding the Rhythm, with its haunting bass line, Wear Out the Dub, with its picking guitar and hint of vocals, and Indiana James, with its eerie synths, are pure genius. Indiana James is actually the only dub version that has been previously available. It was featured on Sly & Robbie’s Raiders of the Lost Dub released in the early 80s.


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Soul Jazz showcases Studio One in the 70s

Layout 1Last year UK reissue label Soul Jazz released the three disc album Coxsone’s Music, a 46 track compilation covering a lesser known side of pioneering Jamaican producer Clement “Coxsone” Dodd. It focused on his early days in the late 50s and early 60s.

Now the same label has turned to a significantly better known part of this music giant’s career – the 70s, a time when Coxsone Dodd started to reinvent his recordings and reversion classics from the 60s.

Coxsone Dodd and his main rival Duke Reid ruled the Jamaican music scene in the days of ska and rocksteady, but when new technology arrived and reggae took the island by storm in the late 60s both producers were challenged by eager and youthful producers like Joe Gibbs, Lee Perry and Bunny Lee. It was a challenging time for Coxsone Dodd and after the success with artists like Bob Marley & The Wailers, The Skatalites, Burning Spear and The Heptones his career was starting to decline.

But challenges and increased competition drive creativeness. And this was the case with Coxsone Dodd. He refused to be beat down and embraced changes. When the new players started to relick, or maybe copy is more accurate, many of the timeless riddims recorded at Studio One in the 60s, Coxsone Dodd answered and reinvented his own riddims in a contemporary style and fashion.

Studio One Showcase brings together a mighty fine selection of tracks from this period – the 70s and early 80s. A great number of Jamaica’s premier singers, harmony groups, instrumentalists and deejays show their skills. We’re talking Horace Andy, Freddie McGregor, Johnny Osbourne, Lone Ranger, Sugar Minott, Jennifer Lara, Cedric Brooks, The Gladiators, The Heptones and Wailing Souls along with a few more.

Several of these recorded at Studio One already in the 60s, but came back when Coxsone Dodd called. Others were rising stars keen to work with the man and the myth himself. Together they reinvigorated the label. They stripped the riddims and reshaped them and explored new musical horizons. This manifested a new era in reggae and marked the dawn of dancehall.

The story is well-put in the thorough liner-notes provided by Soul Jazz head honcho Stuart Baker, who also provides a track-by-track run-down. Excellent stuff.

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Marley’s well-assorted shop

SetUpShopVol3For the third year in a row Ghetto Youths International – the label spearheaded by Damian, Stephen and Julian Marley – has launched a new volume in the Set Up Shop series. This third and latest installment was put out in late December – two days before Christmas – with virtually no marketing or PR. Not even a press release was distributed.

The compilation features tracks from the Marley brothers together with their usual collaborators, including Black-Am-I, Christopher Ellis and Stephen Marley’s eldest son Jo Mersa Marley along with a few new additions to the roster, such as Kabaka Pyramid, Bunji Garlin, J Boog and Skip Marley, son of Bob Marley’s daughter Cedella Marley.

Several of the tracks have previously surfaced – Morgan Heritage & Jo Mersa’s Light It Up was featured on the band’s Grammy nominated latest album and Kabaka Pyramid’s ironic smash hit Well Done, Julian Marley’s Lemme Go, Stephen Marley & Bounty Killer & Cobra’s Ghetto Boy, Skip Marley’s Cry To Me and Damian Marley & Bunji Garlin’s The Message have been released as a singles.

Set Up Shop Vol 3 is like a well-assorted store with one isle with dancehall, like album opener The Message, and another with some rootsier cuts, such as Rude Bwoy with its all-star cast and Eek-a-Mouse influenced hook. Then you also have a shelf with sweets, where you’ll find Christopher Ellis’ Glory.

As usual with releases from Ghetto Youths International they are not available for streaming, only purchasing via iTunes. But this edition has a highly competitive price though – roughly only $2 or €2 for the full album which comes with 16 tracks.

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New, shelved and forgotten gems on new Benaïssa EP

cover170x170For a few years around 2010 Dutch production duo Not Easy At All – Marc Baronner and Manu Genius – made a number of ultra-solid albums, singles and compilations, including masterpieces by Chezidek, Earl 16 and Brinsley Forde. Unfortunately the duo went separate ways about three years ago.

Now a few more recordings from Not Easy At All have fortunately surfaced. Benaïssa’s EP African Blood collects four cuts produced by Not Easy At All and two produced by Manu Genius, who today runs his own Dubshelter Recordings.

The set collects versions of some of Not Easy At All’s best riddims and only one has been previously released – the title track, which appeared on the flip to Chezidek’s Walk With Jah 7”.

The powerful, yet insanely sweet, Rock It is probably the strongest cut and is voiced over the One Blood riddim. But tracks like the aforementioned African Blood and Jealous are almost equally strong. The solo additions from Dubshelter is in the same smooth and earthy vein and could have been recorded during the same sessions.

Break-ups happen all the time and since Not Easy At All probably is history it’s nice to have a few “new” recordings from one of contemporary European reggae’s finest production teams.

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Relevant debut album from Irie Souljah

cover-iriesouljah-inmigrant-web-740x740Over the past years several European reggae artists have relocated to Jamaica to pursue a musical dream. Alborosie moved from Italy many, many years ago and is nowadays a Jamaican citizen. Cali P from Switzerland/Guadeloupe moved in 2010 and in 2014 Catalan singer Irie Souljah settled there as well.

And Irie Souljah’s debut album Immigrant is the fruit of his new life in the Caribbean and it was recorded entirely in Jamaica with production by Irie Souljah and Genis Trani from Reggaeland.

The title of this album – and its title track – carries some urgency and is certainly relevant in a time of war and crisis – “who is the immigrant, we are living in the same land, sharing the same sun, who is the immigrant, we are coming from the same mom, mother of creation, who is the immigrant, no matter where you come from this is not important”. It’s important to keep this in mind when refugees from, for example, the Middle East and Africa leave their countries in search of a better life.

Immigrant collects 13 tracks – including two solid dub versions and one inspired melodica cut – and offers contemporary roots reggae with a few lighter dancehall excursions as well. Bouncy and uplifting with messages of unity and love. Highlights include the thumping first single Learn & Grow and its follow up Immigrant.

Musicians and guest artists involved in this album – Jesse Royal, Kabaka Pyramid, Sly & Robbie, Style Scott, Lee Jaffe and Nambo Robinson – should give a clear idea of what to expect.


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Memories by the Score shows several sides of John Holt

untitledIn 2014 one of reggae’s most beloved and enduring singers and songwriters left us. In August that year John Holt collapsed on stage during a show and two months later he succumbed to cancer. His musical legacy is vivid and almost difficult to grasp. But reggae powerhouse VP has decided to give it a try on the massive John Holt anthology Memories by the Score, a set collecting 100 (!) songs across five CDs.

John Holt came up via the Jamaican talent circuit in the late 50s and early 60s still in his teens. He soon joined The Paragons – an outfit that became almost the epitome of rocksteady – and together with his bandmates Howard Barrett and Tyrone Evans, John Holt enjoyed massive success with timeless classics like Happy Go Lucky Girl, Only a Smile and The Tide is High, all recorded with rocksteady mastermind Duke Reid.

The Paragons split in the late 60s when Howard Barrett and Tyrone Evans relocated to the U.S. Now John Holt started a long and fruitful career as one of Jamaica’s premiere balladeers with many sultry, often orchestral, love songs. He was an expert at covers – especially interpreting romantic songs – and skilled at penning three minute pop masterpieces. He was also recording lovers rock before the term was even coined. Never saucy or risqué. Always charming and positive.

From the early 70s and onwards he freelanced, but always returned to Bunny Lee; an acclaimed producer and a close friend to John Holt. And Memories by the Score is a Bunny Lee affair – which means no lush string arrangements – with Striker producing around 80 of the cuts. Other producers represented are, for example, Phil Pratt with the eerie Strange Things, Hugh “Redman” James with the digital scorcher Why I Care, Henry “Junjo” Lawes with several roots busters, including the immensely popular Police in Helicopter, and the monumental self-productions Got to Get Away, aka Man Next Door, and Left With a Broken Heart.

Over the years John Holt was blamed for recording bland music. Middle of the road stuff targeted at housewives. And there are some truth to that. But I can’t think of any singer or group that have produced albums praised by critics and fans alike for five decades. Every artist has his or hers poorer moments, just as John Holt had on an album like John Holt Goes Disco.

I’m not a huge fan of John Holt’s most sugarcoated side and his velvety covers, but those albums – like 1000 Volts of Holt – and singles – such as the Kris Kristofferson cover Help Me Make it Through the Night – sold like hotcakes in the 70s.

But John Holt wasn’t just the Luther Vandross of reggae. He had several sides and managed to reinvent himself two times. First time was in the mid-70s with the militant Up Park Camp and then again in the early 80s when he suddenly became a cultural warrior working with dancehall renegade Henry Lawes.

During his long career John Holt worked with almost every prolific Jamaican producer – Coxsone Dodd, Alvin Ranglin, Harry Mudie, Prince Buster, Leslie Kong, King Jammy etc – and his own compositions were also covered successfully by other artists. UK punk band The Slits enjoyed a chart triumph with their version of Quiet Place and Blondie conquered the charts in both the U.S. and the UK with their interpretation of The Tide is High. And in the year 2000 – 20 years after Blondie’s version – Atomic Kitten’s cover of The Tide is High climbed to the number one spot on the UK National Chart.

Memories by the Score isn’t the ultimate John Holt experience since it lacks tracks from a few important parts of his career. However, it certainly has enough striking cuts to make it the best John Holt collection on the market as well as a solid overview of how reggae developed from the 60s up until the late 80s.

In 2004 John Holt was well-deservedly awarded the Order of Distinction by the Jamaican government for his contribution to Jamaican music. He has been one of only a few Jamaican artists that have enjoyed lasting success for over five decades and with his timeless music John Holt’s legacy will forever live on.

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Eclectic and vital on Illbilly Hitec’s Reggae Not Dead

0006275380_10Berlin-based music collective Illbilly Hitec returns with the intoxicating and eclectic album Reggae Not Dead, a 19 track – including four bonus cuts and four remixes – set following Reggaetronics released in 2013.

On the album Illbilly Hitec has invited several European tongue twisting lyricists, including Tribuman, Longfingah and Cheshire Cat. They – along with a few others – spit lyrics in English, Spanish, French and patois over up-tempo beats and intriguing rhythms borrowing from reggae, hip-hop, ska, dub and dancehall along with a few other bass-heavy genres.

Highlights include Chase, a clever cut borrowing from Max Romeo’s popular Chase the Devil, Essencial, with an Eastern European melody and a chorus slightly similar to Matthew McAnuff’s Be Careful, The Hempolics combination Friday Session, with its cavernous bass line and infectious chorus, and the pulsating Talking Everyday.

This album is a solid example that reggae is not dead. The global reggae scene is vital and reggae music continues to influence musicians from Japan and Australia via the Middle East and Europe to the U.S. and South America. And reggae is also a style that has always been keen to absorb influences from all over the world. Reggae is a global phenomenon. It will always stay alive; no matter what the critics may say.

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King Tubby unleashes two big bulls

R-7457532-1446924118-7900_jpegJapan’s Dub Store Records has recently initiated a reissue program covering the late and great producer and mix master extraordinaire King Tubby. Part of that program is a scorching digital set – Red Rose & King Kong’s Two Big Bull in a One Pen, originally released on King Tubby’s Firehouse label in 1986.

This was at the dawn of King Tubby’s production days and at the time he had just dropped Anthony Red Rose’s monumental Sleng Teng killer Tempo. And on Two Big Bull in a One Pen he pairs Red Rose with the similarly-voiced King Kong. The two were among the brightest shining stars of the early digital era and on the album they go head to head on a few cuts, including the anthemic title track. The album is actually worth getting just because of that particular song. It’s deadly.

The original copy of this album is hard to come by and fetches prices around $50. But thanks to Dub Store this essential set is readily available to all. For the full King Tubby experience – pair it with its dub counterpart Two Big Bull in a One Pen Dubwise.

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Keith Hudson meets The Wailers on new unreleased album

$_35Keith Hudson, aka The Dark Prince of Reggae, died in 1984 only 38 years old. He was a creative and innovative producer turned singer that worked with some of the biggest singers and deejays in the 60s and 70s, including Ken Boothe on Old Fashioned Way and Delroy Wilson on A Place in Africa.

He’s known for his moody, haunting rhythms and a vocal style that’s an acquired taste. That’s why I have always preferred his role as a producer than a singer. And that’s also why I had slightly low expectations on a new Keith Hudson album that surfaced out of the blue in early December.

The tracks on Tuff Gong Encounter were recorded around 1984 with Carlton Barrett and Aston “Family Man” Barrett, known as the Wailers’ riddim section, on drums and bass. These key musicians were joined by Junior Marvin on guitar and Tyrone Downie on keys, two players that have also worked extensively with Bob Marley.

The cuts were intended for an album that never saw the light of day. Until now. More than 30 years after the recordings took place. But the album is not full-blown vintage material. Prior to the release King Jammy finished off the existing mixes for the six vocal cuts and also mixed six woofer testing dub versions.

Tuff Gong Encounter is solid. It’s one of Keith Hudson’s most accessible albums and his singing is more on pitch than usual. The dub versions are nicely mixed with just a dash of effects. And Keith Hudson’s voice is almost completely removed from the dub versions; the bass, the drums, the guitar and the keys does most of the talking.

The album comes with fascinating and detailed sleeve notes courtesy of Vincent Ellis, who is currently writing a biography on Keith Hudson. Probably the final album from one of reggae’s most ingenious producers.

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Massive Jacob Miller album reissued

untitledJacob Miller. Augusts Pablo. King Tubby. Three highly revered names in reggae. And these three legends make up the astonishing Who Say Jah No Dread – The Classic Augustus Pablo Sessions, a collection that has recently been reissued by Greensleeves.

The original version of this crucial album was posthumously released in 1992, collected 12 tracks and was only about 30 minutes long. It had six vocal cuts and six super-heavy melodica-led dubstrumentals from the great Augustus Pablo. The new remastered deluxe edition expands the original album with ten tracks adding dubplates, versions and next cuts.

Who Say Jah no Dread is dark, deep and oozes with spirituality and creativity. It was recorded in 1974 and 1975 and offers something very different to the disco/reggae/pop that Jacob Miller later recorded with Inner Circle. Jacob Miller’s distinctive, soaring and heartfelt voice cries over the monumental bass lines and militant drums provided by some of Jamaica’s most skilled session musicians.

For this edition Greensleeves have added two different sleeve notes – newly written ones by Harry Wise and the original by Ian McCann. Together they make up a highly informative 12 page booklet.

This album is not for the faint-hearted and essential doesn’t half describe this set of classic cuts and rare gems. And alongside the CD version comes a 7”x7” box collecting the complete set of singles that Jacob Miller recorded for Augustus Pablo.

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