A while ago French producer and digi maestro Manudigital went to the Caribbean where he recorded yard sessions with both the older and younger generation of reggae artists. These sessions were published on Youtube and most have now been collected on the album Digital Kingston Sessions, a set collecting seven cuts recorded in Jamaica, Mexico and Trinidad & Tobago.
This type of reggae – which originated in Jamaica in the mid-80s and went global with King Jammy’s game-changing Sleng Teng riddim – is raw and brash and the rhythms are fun and simple, yet often effective.
And for these digital sessions Manudigital has attracted originators like King Kong, Pad Anthony, King Everald and Derrick Parker, singers who recorded many tracks in the mid-80s when the digi craze swept Jamaica. He has also hired Trinidadian performer Queen Omega and she really kills it. She is a truly unique talent with one hell of a voice.
Manudigital also recorded Junior Cat, but for some reason that cut didn’t make it onto the album. Make sure to check the single and you’ll be swept away by his fast-chatting style and fashion.
The same day as Etana released her new album Reggae Forever another superb Jamaican songstress dropped a new album. I’m talking about Diana Rutherford – daughter of singer Michael Rutherford – who is not as well-known as Etana, but both have truly powerful voices.
Better Days is her second album and the follow-up to Ghetto Princess released in 2011. The sets don’t have much in common musically, other than Diana Rutherford’s voice. Where Ghetto Princess was urban and R&B-oriented, Better Days is traditional reggae with grand arrangements and an organic feel thanks to the recording process and live instrumentation.
Diana Rutherford sings with the attitude and confidence of diva. Listen to a cut like Strong Black Woman, especially the two last minutes, or the version of Jackie Wilson’s soul standard (Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher & Higher. The standout track is however the uplifting and gospel-infused Smile On My Face.
Better Days might have an audio quality slightly below par, which is unfortunate since it’s a very mature and sophisticated set. And if your curious about the recording process – check this documentary on Youtube.
Jamaican singer and deejay Skarra Mucci – who moved to Europe in the 90s – released his seventh album Skarra Mucci & The One Love Family in April. It’s a 15 track set with an equal amount of combinations with both veterans and newcomers.
Skarra Mucci is a versatile performer with a inexhaustible flow showcased on almost every cut on this new album, which was recorded around the world with producers such as Oneness Records, Dreadsquad, Weedy G, House of Riddim, Irie Ites and Undisputed Records.
The set collects a mix of released and previously unreleased material and the standout track is a superb combination with Moana & The Tribe from New Zealand. Other highlights include the pulsating Follow Me on which both Skarra Mucci and his partner Little Pepe showcase a fast-chatting style.
Skarra Mucci’s albums are always consistent with few dull moments, but one of his finest tracks to date is the L’entourloop-produced Dreader Than Dread, which was released as a 10” two years ago. It’s also available on a compilation titled Foundations, which is available on several streaming services. Check it!
Eight-piece British ska band New Town Kings released their third album Reach Out a few months ago. It offers a more progressive take on ska and reggae compared to their previous sets M.O.J.O and Sound of the New Town.
With Reach Out the band serves up a fresh take on high-powered ska and rootsy reggae, including an inspired reworking of Sylford Walker’s dread roots anthem Burn Babylon, complete with vocals by the man himself.
New Town Kings has also recorded their own anthem – the smoothly enraged Borderline where they tackle migration and attack current political policy. And even though New Town Kings doesn’t shy away from politics and attacking the social elite, they can also handle lighter moods, for example the breezy Fine Fine Fine or the soulful British Summer, a track that can handle any weather. It will lift you up during rain and keep the party going on a sunny day.
With fierce lyrics, buoyant vocal energy, progressive rhythms and captivating horns it’s no surprise New Town Kings has been endorsed by both David Rodigan and Steve Lamacq.
With Etana’s fifth studio album Reggae Forever she conqured the top place on the Billboard Reggae Album Chart for the second time. Her previous album I Rise – released in 2014 – also climbed to the top spot.
And just as with I Rise it’s certainly well-deserved. Reggae Forever is a certified scorcher with its uplifting melodies and pulsating dancehall and roots riddims. A slice of good old R&B is also thrown in for good measure.
Reggae Forever is Etana’s first album released on her own, but with a little help from Tad’s and VP with distribution. And she runs things. The 14-track set is solid with both excellent self-productions and superb tracks produced by the likes of Kirkledove and Rymshot Productions.
The standout cut is the up-tempo My Man on Reggae Fest riddim and other worthwhile moments include the dubby Sprung, the beautiful Carry You and the intimate Burned.
Etana is a truly gifted vocalist and her singing is remarkable throughout the album.
French producer Blundetto’s fourth studio album Slow Dance follows the same recipe as his previous sets – blunted beats, scenic compositions and a wide array of guest artists, including Cornell Campbell, Jahdan Blakkamoore, Ken Boothe, Biga Ranx and Little Harry, who debuted in the early 80s and is probably nothing close to little anymore.
Slow Dance comes with a unique and an original soundscape. Blundetto can surely paint vivid sonic pictures and creates his very own musical world with the help of deep bass lines, quirky sounds and strong melodies.
Slow Dance is just as the title indicates a swaying slow burner. The beats are sleepy and hypnotic and the album might take a few spins to fully appreciate, but when it hits you, it touches both heart and soul. A magnificent album.
Earlier this year reissue giants Pressure Sounds released the much sought after dub album The War is On – Dub Style, a set produced by Phil Pratt, recorded in Jamaica and mixed at Easy Street Studios in London by rock man Stuart Breed.
The original album was released sometime in the mid to late 70s and included eight tracks. The vinyl edition comes only with those cuts, but the CD is expanded by another four songs, all presented in extended versions.
And the real gem on this release is actually one of the bonus tracks – Owen Grey’s haunting Hear We Them A Say. The dub version – Dancing Kid – is included on the vinyl release, and luckily Owen Grey’s vocal is also released as a separate 12”.
The War is On is an ambient journey and the first four tracks comes with a prominent melodica played skilfully by keys man Bobby Kalphat. Then there is the lingering piano on the slow and meditative The Good The Bad and The Brave.
A superb album that is finally available again.
Jamaican singer Iba Mahr is part of the new roots movement, which also includes talents such as Protoje, Jah9, Chronixx, Dre Island, Kabaka Pyramid and Jesse Royal. He has two sets under his belt and a third was released earlier this year.
Get Up and Show is overseen by Germany’s Oneness Records and includes previously released material along with a few fresh songs and mixes.
Iba Mahr – with his characteristic fragile singing style – made his recording debut ten years ago and scored his biggest hit in 2014 – the mighty Diamond Sox for Notis Records. The song was also followed by an album with the same title.
Get Up and Show comes with eight tracks – six vocals and two dubs. Best of the bunch is the title track recorded over Oneness own Better Days riddim and originally released in 2017 along with the sweet Patrice combination One World. No Vanity – presented in a showcase style – is a fresh conscious cut with a solid horn section and a powerful groove.
Iba Mahr’s style might be an acquired taste, but this album is solid from start to end.
Jamaican singer Freddie McGregor started his career in his early teens in the 60s. He recorded for Studio One – first as part of The Clarendonians and later as a solo artist. And it was as a solo singer he recorded his best material for producers such as Niney and Clement “Coxsone” Dodd.
And it was to Coxone Dodd and Studio One Freddie McGregor returned for his masterpiece album Bobby Bobylon, released in circa 1979 and reissued a dozen or so times since then. The latest reissue came only a few months ago through the Studio One and Yep Roc collaboration.
This reissue is actually the same release as the Heartbeat version in 2006 and includes both the original ten track album as well as a whopping eight bonus cuts, including four lethal disco mixes with guest talents such as Lone Ranger and Jackie Mittoo.
Bobby Bobylon – with its anthemic title track – is essential to any record collection. It holds some of Freddie McGregor’s best material, such as album opener Bandulo, Gonna Take Over Now, a killer version of The Ethiopians classic, the mystical Rastaman Camp and the smoothly militant I Am a Revolutionist.
An amazing album from one of Jamaica’s most beloved vocalists.