Following Al Fingers’ excellent and in-depth look at Clarks and its Jamaica/UK connection comes its musical companion.
This 21 track compilation – 12 cuts on the vinyl edition – celebrates an iconic footwear and its role in Jamaican music and culture. The album showcases several tough tunes from the 80s, including Little John’s anthemic Clarks Booty, Laurel & Hardy’s driving Dangerous Shoes and Early B’s pulsating Pedestrian.
The most well-known Clarks tune today – Vybz Kartel’s smash hit Clarks from 2010 – is not included since the compilation is focused on old school reggae and dancehall. And that’s because Al Fingers wanted to show this deep-rooted love affair and highlight the many artists that have sung about Clarks several years before the Wurl Boss did.
So, put on your mesh marina, your three piece suit or khaki dress and your Clarks and you might be able to carry the swing.
After the release of Capital Letters’ seminal Wolverhampton – their first album in 30 years – comes its dub companion Wolverhampton in Dub, a 17 track set – including three alternate versions – mixed by Dave “Oldwah” Sandford.
Wolverhampton received several positive reviews and Dave Sandford got a free card when mixing this new album, so the set comes with extra everything and he doesn’t pull any breaks when it comes to adding audio effects and sonic wizardry.
And dub is a great genre for such sonic adventures since there are no rules, no norms and no manuals. When Dave Sandford strips the song and handles the mixing desk details get major exposure and minor elements suddenly play a key part.
However, Wolverhampton in Dub is not an experimental dub album. It has the usual deep and heavy bass and drums along with several secondary instruments playing an integral part of the music. The keys on Wolf are one example, and the bass on Roots Music sounds like it has been in and out of the tumble dryer.
With its 17 cuts Wolverhampton in Dub provides you with a truckload of dub for your money.
After the success of excellent Jamaican bands like Dubtonic Kru, Uprising Roots, Raging Fyah, C Sharp, No-Maddz, Mystikal Revolution and Pentateuch comes Earthkry. This fresh quartet formed – just like a host of the other bands – at the acclaimed Edna Manley College of the Visual and Performing Arts in Kingston.
They have spent two years together writing songs, rehearsing and playing live in Jamaica. Their self-produced debut single 9 to 5 was released earlier this year, and it’s now followed by a five track EP. It showcases a classic roots rock reggae sound with live instrumentation, beautiful melodies and conscious lyrics echoing tribulations of everyday life and cries for social change.
When recording the superb Hard Road they have been working under the guidance of veteran reggae musicians like trombonist Ronald “Nambo” Robinson and former Third World keyboardist Michael “Ibo” Cooper along with producers Sam Clayton and Stephen Stewart, who currently runs the legendary Harry J studio.
Together they have crafted a solid and very promising debut set.
Well-respected Jamaican singer and songwriter Joe Higgs died in the late 90s, but his legacy lives on through various reissues of his excellent material. Now – however – comes a previously unreleased album from this singer who mentored Bob Marley and who was instrumental in creating the sound of The Wailers in the 60s.
Godfather of Reggae collects Joe Higgs’ last recordings. It was recorded in 1997 and 1998 in Ireland and Jamaica and it sees Joe Higgs collaborating with Irish folk musician Donal Lunny and Irish band the Hothouse Flowers. They were joined in Jamaica by Wayne Jobson from the band Native and drummer Max Hinds, son of Justin Hinds, another reggae legend.
This is an unusual and extraordinary album containing both violins and harmonica. It’s stylistically varied, yet never losing its focus. Godfather of Reggae offers a rousing mix of reggae, Irish folk music, soul, pop and blues and showcases Joe Higgs’ rich and passionate voice.
Highlights include the naked Caution with its urgent backing vocals, the countrified And It Stoned Me and the uplifting You Don’t Have to See Me with its catchy saxophone solo.
Melancholic, yet positive, and best described as an astonishing slice of alternative reggae.
Irish production and DJ duo DJ Obese and Jay Sharp, better known as Dirty Dubsters, have dropped a new full-length set collecting a hefty 15 tracks spanning several bass heavy genres, including reggae, dub, hip-hop, jungle and house.
The duo doesn’t pull the breaks and Special Request is a dancefloor extravaganza from start to finish with its clever samples, massive drum beats and fat bass grooves.
The album hosts a ton of collaborations, including fierce performances from the versatile Soom T, rockstone-voiced Blackout JA and the stylish Mr. Williamz, just to name a few. The first single off the album – Big Sound – certainly earns its title with a driving bass line and Screechy Dan and Chip Fu showcasing their skills on the microphone.
A blazing and genre-crossing album showcasing how multifaceted reggae is.
I enjoy technology development, like streaming and digital download, but in some cases old school is the way to go. Take for instance the LP with its limited running time. A single album has about 45 minutes. That’s it. You can’t fit any more music. A digital album allows for an unlimited amount of music, which can cause quality issues. No need to kill your darlings.
This is the case with Anthony B’s new album Tears of Luv which collects a hefty 18 tracks. About half of them are massive and the other half is somewhat weak. If Anthony B had decided to focus on his strengths this album could have been a bona-fide killer.
This partly self-produced set opens with There’s A Reward for Me, a heartfelt combination with Richie Spice and a tribute to the late and great Joe Higgs, a Jamaican singer that taught Bob Marley, Peter Tosh and Bunny Wailer how to sing harmonies.
Other highlights include the murderous Bring Back the Vibes, the uplifting Hold Again, the powerful Mau Mau Warrior and the catchy Vow the Nazarene.
But as the album title suggests this set also collects a number of soft tunes and several of those could have been left out. But unfortunately they were not. Anthony B is on top of the game when he flexes his blazing deejay skills chanting down the walls of Babylon and not when singing love songs.
Jamaican-born, Miami-bred and NYC-based dancehall singer Kranium rose to prominence with his breakthrough hit single Nobody Has to Know, which catapulted him onto A&R’s radars. It was originally released on small independent label Frequent Flyer and became a summer anthem in 2014, and it’s the closest to a smash dancehall hit since Gyptian’s monster tune Hold Yuh. And that was in 2010. Dancehall hits doesn’t come often these days.
The success of Nobody Has to Know soon led to a major label contract along with a ton of remixes. The best version – together with Major Lazer’s cut – is the remix with Ty Dolla $ign, and that track is also available on Kranium’s debut album Rumors, a set where he teams up with Ricky Blaze, who was responsible for Hold Yuh, and Lamar “ LMR Pro” Reynolds, who produced Nobody Has to Know.
Rumors is urban and contemporary, but not the usual dancehall album. It’s slower, darker and more atmospheric. It doesn’t have the pedal to the metal and party-frenzied riddims often associated with dancehall. It has several slower jams and most songs are melancholic rather than joyous.
It’s just as dark and introspective as its cover sleeve and probably better suited for an oozing after-party rather than crazy clubbing.
Ivorian reggae superstar Alpha Blondy recently dropped his 18th studio album. I’ve been listening to him since the 90s and really enjoy his 80s efforts, especially Apartheid Is Nazism and Jah Glory.
This new album – Positive Energy – comes with twelve tracks and is classic Alpha Blondy. His sound has more or less remained intact since the 80s. He’s a master of creating grand arrangements, majestic backing vocals, pulsating bass lines and sing-a-long choruses aimed for big stadiums and arenas. He’s like the U2 of reggae.
Positive Energy is nothing like his excellent efforts from about 30 years ago, but it’s still a pretty enjoyable set with its uplifting vibes and hefty grooves.
After a large number of Lee Perry and Bunny Lee compilations on UK reissue giant Pressure Sounds one might think that the vaults would be more or less empty by now. But no. That wasn’t the case on Pressure Sounds’ mighty Bunny Lee compilation Next Cut! released a few months ago, and that’s not the issue with yet another set shining light on Lee Perry – one of the most innovative producers in popular music.
Mr Perry I Presume collects rare tracks and exclusive mixes, mixes that were only ever heard by those that went to particular sound system dances. The tracks range from remixes and existing classics to obscure cuts that never reached the shelves. Included are recordings from the period before and during Lee Perry’s Black Ark studio.
Out of the 16 songs 14 are previously unreleased. Particularly interesting is Joy White’s Lay Besides You, the original vocal to Susan Cadogan’s famous Hurst so Good, but also Susan Cadogan’s duet with Bunny Rugs on the same riddim.
An exciting version of The Gatherers’ haunting Words of My Mouth is also included. It’s described as an acapella version, but it’s not. It’s a very different version though. It’s captivating and even more dread than the original.
Pressure Sounds continue to plug the gaps in reggae history and Lee Perry’s unreleased catalogue is obviously not exhausted and this collection of dubplates, alternate mixes and unreleased cuts is essential and consistent.
Following last year’s excellent mixtape Back to Rub a Dub, versatile singjay Sr. Wilson and talented producer Genis Trani have once again collaborated with great effect.
On the twelve track Paso Firme Sr. Wilson shows his full range as an artist and he sounds comfortable with anything that Genis Trani provides him him. He can sing and he can deejay. He sounds like I Roy, Shabba Ranks and Yellowman. Not at the same time though.
Genis Trani has provided him with solid riddims, ranging from superbly executed rub a dub over on ¿Quién Viene? via slick lovers rock El Instante to booming hip-hop on El Muro. Sr. Wilson and Genis Trani can also do pop and contemporary dancehall as showcased on the uplifting Feel Good and the melancholic My Teachers.
Judging by the arty album cover this set might be confused by an album from an indie rock band like Weezer. But never judge an apple by looking at the tree and don’t judge no honey by looking at the bee, as Freddie McGregor once sang. Paso Firme is personal and fresh reggae well-above average.