The Congos’ debut album Heart of the Congos is by many regarded as the greatest reggae album ever to be released. And this album is certainly something very special with its swirling soundscape and haunting vocals courtesy of Cedric Myton’s falsetto and Watty Burnett’s deep baritone.
The set was originally released 40 years ago, but was soon withdrawn by producer and engineer extraordinaire Lee Perry. A year later – in 1978 – it surfaced again, but this time with new and different mixes. That release also formed the blueprint for all subsequent reissues.
But now – for the first time ever – the original album from 1977 has been reissued by reggae powerhouse VP Records. The set was put out on LP on Record Store Day in April and in early June on digital and a deluxe 3CD edition. The 3LP version put out in June does not include the original mixes. The only way to get your hands on those are via digital, CD, the Record Store Day edition or the incredibly rare original from the 70s.
Some might argue that this release is for reggae aficionados only. But think again. The digital and the 3CD set is the most definitive edition of this iconic album. It comes with the album mixes from 1978, discomixes, versions, the previously unreleased Don’t Blame it on I and, of course, the original album mixes, which are quite different from the others. These originals are more stripped-down, cleaner and lacks the mooing cow on Children Crying and Ark of the Covenant.
Get it and compare and judge for yourself.
To 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.
Just when legendary producer, innovator and mixing engineer Lee Perry turned 80 he dropped a new album titled Black Ark Classic Songs. This twelve track set is the vocal version to the excellent, and also recently released, Black Ark Classics in Dub.
Both sets are produced by Mad Professor – who has worked with Lee Perry since the early 80s – and backed by The Robotiks.
Together with Lee Perry they have re-recorded and re-shaped a number of classic cuts, most of them originally recorded at Lee Perry’s (in)famous Black Ark studio in the 70s. As expected the riddims are insanely strong and dynamic with an ethereal and swirling audio landscape, but Lee Perry’s mumbling vocal style is as usual an acquired taste. It’s mystical and spiritual rather than graceful and melodious.
Lee Perry’s music career spans almost 60 years and he still manages to stay relevant. Impressive.
Legendary production wizard Lee Perry’s vocals is certainly an acquired taste and I have always preferred him as a producer rather than a singer. And on the most recent Lee Perry album his vocals is fortunately only featured on only a handful of the 14 – eleven on the vinyl edition – tracks.
The album in question is Black Ark Classics in Dub, a set where Mad Professor and his band The Robotiks, which features Prince Fatty regular Horseman on drums, take on a number of classics rhythms originally recorded at Lee Perry’s infamous Black Ark studio.
The Robotiks have recorded new versions of a number of stellar riddims, including Party Time, Soul Fire, I’ve Got the Groove and Zion’s Blood. The riddims have been received the Mad Professor treatment and the set offers a cocktail of instrumentals and dubstrumentals sharing heavy and smattering percussion as a key ingredient.
There are no far-out dub excursions to be found here and there are no signs of madness. Mad Professor and Lee Perry have grown up. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing when the riddims are as powerful as these.
World-renowned reggae producer and dub legend Lee Perry has collaborated with a big number of artists over the years, and one of the best such was with UK’s Daniel Boyle, who produced the massive and Grammy-nominated album Back on the Controls. That album successfully re-created Lee Perry’s erratic and colorful sound from the mid-70s.
Belgian band Pura Vida has also been disciples of Lee Perry and his sonic adventures at his (in)famous Black Ark studio in Kingston. Now they have had the opportunity to work with the myth himself.
Their collaborative album The Super Ape Strikes Again carries a bold – and promising – album title since it refers to some of Lee Perry’s best work – his 1976 landmark release Super Ape, which is by some considered as his best album.
And it’s a pleasant listening throughout, even though it’s not in the same league as the innovative Super Ape set. But The Super Ape Strikes Again has all the classic Lee Perry elements – dubwise effects and dread atmosphere where instruments and vocals swirl around in thick ganja smoke. Lee Perry’s half-sung/half-spoken wordplays are also in full effect and are as usual an acquired taste.
This album could be mistaken for one of Lee Perry’s more accessible productions from the 70s. It doesn’t have some of the bizarre vibes sometimes associated with him, but it has the same lo-fi feel and grim bass lines. It’s something of a time capsule and pays respect to one of the masterminds of contemporary music.
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.
Listening to the latest Peter Tosh compilation Peter Tosh & Friends – An Upsetters Showcase. This 15 track set is described as a Peter Tosh compilation, but there are a lot of friends and only five of the 15 songs are by the man himself. The other ten tracks are singles from the likes of pioneering deejays U Roy and Big Youth along with the gritty Carl Dawkins and the soulful, and underrated, Dave Barker.
All tracks are however produced by the Upsetter himself and during the period covered on this album Lee Perry recorded some of his best work, including Bob Marley & The Wailers’ post-Studio One and pre-Island days.
All songs on this compilation has been reissued before and several are available on Trojan’s six disc compilation Bob Marley & The Wailers Complete Upsetter Collection. Nothing wrong with reissuing these fine tracks again and making them easily available, but the title could be more accurate.
Sly & Robbie have recently been very productive. Last year they, for example, dropped no less than three dub albums and a combination set with Japanese Spicy Chocolate. And when 2015 has just started they have been heavily involved in two glorious efforts – first No-Maddz’ excellent debut album and now a new set from Omar Perry.
Omar Perry is son of the legendary production wizard and mixing virtuoso Lee Perry. Be Cool is his fourth album – or EP is maybe more accurately since it collects only seven tracks – and is his first four years.
Sly & Robbie are responsible for production and the solid Dub-Stuy crew from New York City have made magic behind the mixing desk.
Omar Perry has a style similar to more familiar artists like Jah Mason, Junior Kelly and Turbulence. It’s a rough mix of raw singing and gruff deejaying. In the effective album opener Can’t Stop Me Flow he explodes and is at his best battling the pulsating bass line and pounding drums accompanied by synths and horns. Blaze Ya Fire is in the same vein, and so is Nah Go A Jail Fi Ganja, even though it’s a bit slower.
But Be Cool is not all about dread lyrics and haunting melodies, a softer side is also showcased on My Shining Star and Love to See You Smile.
As usual with Sly & Robbie – it’s well-crafted, expertly executed and with intriguing arrangements and song structures. And with Omar Perry showing no mercy on the microphone there is need to put up a fight against a set like this. Just surrender.
Eccentric Jamaican music legend Lee “Scratch” Perry is a little bit of everywhere these days and works in several genres. In May he was part of the vintage sounding Back on the Controls album and he has also worked with more future-sounding acts like The Orb, Dubblestandart and EasyRiddimMaker.
Now he is involved in another project with a vintage sound. But it’s not swirling roots like Back on the Controls, almost the opposite actually. Shake It! is Dutch band The Upsessions’ fourth album, and it features 14 tracks in the ska, rocksteady and early reggae vein, largely inspired by Desmond Dekker, The Maytals and The Skatalites.
They teamed up with Lee Perry while on tour in Germany and he has injected his distinctive half-sung/half-spoken style to several of the songs. It certainly adds a rough flavour to the otherwise smooth, yet often up-tempo, material.
Just as many albums in this vein Shake It! blends vocal cuts with instrumentals. And the set ranges from the calypso-tinged and risqué The Big Bamboo Treat and Punani Strike via the funky 100.000.000 Tons of Reggae and Funky Lumpini to skanking dance floor crashers like the title track and Hold Your Wining.
Sharp and infectious for your dancing feet.
Belgian band Pura Vida has managed to create a sound almost identical with what Lee Perry did at his famous Black Ark studio in the mid-70s. It’s swirling, sweaty and raw, and has been a successful recipe on a number of albums over the past years.
Pura Vida’s latest set is yet another combination with The Congos, and this time with Congo Ashanti Roy, one of The Congos’ lead singers.
Step by Step collects 17 cuts, of which five are dub versions and one is an instrumental with acclaimed trombone player Tommy Tornado taking lead. It offers well-crafted and live-played riddims as well as interesting arrangements, especially when it comes lead and back-up singing.
But, the problem with this set also lies in the vocals. Because Congo Ashanti Roy isn’t at the top of his game. He suffers occasionally from pitch lapses, and is off-key several times. A pity since he has emotional intensity, an intensity particularly showcased on the skanking and swinging Be True to You with its infectious sing-a-long chorus.
Even though Congo Ashanti Roy’s singing isn’t always up to par, he’s still a powerful exponent of vintage-flavoured roots reggae.