Barrington Levy is one of those people whose importance in reggae can’t be over exaggerated. Together with producer Henry “Junjo” Lawes, mixing engineer Scientist and the brutally hard skanking Roots Radics he was part of creating dancehall in the late 70’s. And he was only in his late teens. Scientist was a little older and Henry Lawes was in his early twenties. Impressive to say the least.
It was during the early dancehall era that the young Barrington Levy had his heydays. His juvenile, energetic and enthusiastic singing style was extremely popular and suited the dancehall format very well, and he managed to release hit song after hit song after hit song, including Collie Weed, Looking My Love, Shine Eye Gal, Hammer, 21 Girls Salute and Prison Oval Rock. His biggest hits to date are however the ganja anthem Under Mi Sensi and Here I Come – with its infectious skiddly-waddily-iddily-diddly- diddly-whoa-oa-oh.
All these and 32 more tracks of the same high caliber produced by the likes of Joe Gibbs, Donovan Germain, George Phang, Linval Thompson, Jah Screw and the aforementioned Henry Lawes are collected on the two disc Barrington Levy anthology Sweet Reggae Music 1979-84. Even though this is a single artist anthology, it’s also a great way to discover the early days of dancehall and the Roots Radics militant and disciplined way of revitalizing vintage riddims giving them a rock solid edge.
Barrington Levy has had a long career and still records sporadically, even though he has announced his final album. His best period is by no competition his early years, a time when his output was massive. But this magnificent compilation manages to collect almost only certified scorchers, even though the audio quality could have been better on some tracks.
Producer Lee Perry is probably best known for his work with Bob Marley and for his swirling productions recorded at his own Black Ark studio in the mid to late 70’s.
But Lee Perry was a strong force in reggae music already in the late 60’s and early 70’s. This is the period when he dropped his UK top 5 Return of Django and the raving organ dominated scorcher Live Injection. And this is also the period when he together with Bob Marley, Peter Tosh and Bunny Wailer created classics such as Small Axe, Duppy Conqueror and Sun is Shining.
UK’s finest reissue label Pressure Sounds has dedicated their sixth Lee Perry compilation to this period, and High Plains Drifter – Jamaican 45’s 1968-73 collects 20 obscure and overlooked tunes from his early years as a producer, vocalist and musician. During these five years Lee Perry founded his own Upsetter imprint, toured Europe and released a weighty 280 plus singles and more than 20 albums.
This charming and diverse compilation includes up-tempo instrumentals, jiving deejay chatter, roots vocals and soulful singing. And the sound is a long way from what was created at Black Ark some years later.
Highlights include The Ethiopians rootsy Awake, The Upsetters hip saxophone driven Val Blows In and The Silvertones He Don’t Love You with some fine, yet a little rough, harmonizing.
High Plains Drifter drops on February 14th on CD and double vinyl LP with limited edition artwork. And Pressure Sounds has as usual given the details an extra effort. The sound quality is surprisingly good and the liner notes from Lee Perry aficionado Jeremy Collingwood are well-written and informative.
In the past ten years or so there have been a number of musical celebrities choosing their favorite tunes for compilations. Some of these are mixes while others are straight various compilations. Two personal favorites are DJ Kentaro’s Tuff Cuts on Pressure Sounds and Barry Myers diverse Barry Myers Presents Scratchy Sounds on Trojan.
Now a new compilation of the same sort has hit the streets. The compiler for The Hit Sound of the Dub Pistols At Midnight Rock is Barry Asworth from The Dub Pistols. His love of roots and dancehall reggae traces back to the 70’s. His record bins are probably jam-packed with goodies.
Some of these are presented on this compilation that consists of material from the labels Hit Sound and Midnight Rock, operated by U Brown and Jah Thomas respectively.
The material Barry Ashworth has chosen is a blend of singers, deejays and dub versions mainly from the early 80’s and includes many magnificent tunes, whereof most are already easily available on other compilations.
Nearly all tunes are actually on the compilations U Brown’s Hit Sound, The Lion Roars and DJ Sounds From Uptown on Roots Records, the same label behind The Hit Sound of The Dub Pistols at Midnight Rock.
Both U Brown and Jah Thomas had a good feeling for deep, uncompromising bass lines, as is apparent here. Just listen to U Brown’s own Blow Mr. Hornsman Blow on the Take Five riddim or Early B’s amusing History of Jamaica on the Answer riddim.
If you aren’t familiar with the Hit Sound and Midnight Rock labels this compilation is a good introduction. But make sure to check out the compilations mentioned above as well. Because both labels dropped some rough and tough material in the heydays of early dancehall.
February saw the release of the heavyweight compilation The Bristol Reggae Explosion 1978-1983. That compilation included three Talisman tunes – Run Come Girl (live), Wicked Dem (live) and an eleven minute long 12” version of Dole Age that wetted the appetite.
Other versions of these together with eight additional tunes are collected on the new Talisman compilation Dole Age – The 1981 Reggae Collection put out by Bristol Archive Records.
These 11 tracks from this far too unknown six pieced Bristol-based group are a mix of live and studio recordings made in 1981. The majority of the tunes was recorded live at the Glastonbury Festival and at Bath University and has never been properly released before.
All of the live performances are over five minutes. The sound quality is amazing and it at times feel like you are part of a jam session, especially in Words of Wisdom that spans over 14 minutes.
There is no coincidence that some of the tunes were recorded at a university since Talisman’s lyrics often deal with politics and experiences in the Thatcherite 80’s.
Despite the group’s acquaintance with the cold 80’s UK there is incredible warmth in their performances, and the often present saxophone adds to that feeling.
Dole Age – The 1981 Reggae Collection hit the streets on May 9 and is available on CD, digital download and a limited edition vinyl that includes five different tracks. I highly suggest you acquire the CD or vinyl edition since they include very informative liner notes and an interview with saxophonist Brendan Whitmore.