Iconic reggae label Greensleeves – nowdays owned by VP Records – was key in putting dub on the musical map through releasing a number of classic albums. The ones mixed by mixing engineer extraordinaire Scientist have never been officially reissued before. I guess it has had something to do with copyright laws, or the lack of it in Jamaica in the early days of reggae and dancehall.
The label has now however managed to come around these issues by not crediting Scientist as the artist. Instead the albums are centred on the producers – Henry “Junjo” Lawes and Linval Thompson. Very clever.
The albums finally reissued are based on recordings that heralded the hit making start for Henry Lawes and the Roots Radics, a band often described as the main architects behind dancehall, a genre that represented a shift and big leap forward for reggae. Many of these dangerous recordings also marked the start for several long and successful careers. Barrington Levy is one the artists that started his career together with Henry Lawes and the Roots Radics.
And two of the dub albums are almost solely based on two of his sets – Englishman and Robin Hood. These two albums form the foundation for Big Showdown – where Scientist goes head to head with Prince Jammy – and Heavyweight Dub Champion. The other three sets – The Evil Course of the Vampires, Wins the World Cup and Space Invaders – have riddims taken from a large number of different artists.
But these five reissues offer more than just dub. Each album include the vocal counteractions on a different disc. It’s the first time the sets are presented in this fashion. Again, very clever.
These eye-catching comic book style albums are some of the best dub sets ever put out and they marked a change history of dub. The riddims provided by the Roots Radics are some of the rawest and heaviest ever to be put on wax. Scientist demolishes the riddims and then he builds them up piece by piece creating a completely new sonic landscape with emphasis on bass and drums.
These selections are crucial to say the least. Roots Radics riddims produced by Henry Lawes and Linval Thompson recorded at Channel One and then mixed by Scientist at King Tubby’s. It doesn’t get any better than that.
So, it was a beautiful Saturday morning and I was having a coffee while writing a record review. When the piece was finished my hard-drive crashed. The story was written in Office Word and I didn’t save. Why? I don’t know. I should have. I know. But I didn’t. End of story.
So to make a long story short – here’s a brief and less informative review, but it will still hopefully whet the appetite for yet another solid scorcher from UK’s Hot Milk Records.
Jamaican singer-turned-producer Linval Thompson released his material via a variety of labels, but saved his hardest pieces for his own Strong Like Sampson label, an imprint active between 1979 and 1980.
And for the first time his productions on that particular label have been compiled and reissued. We are talking about 18 tracks on two discs. Nearly two hours of some of the most uncompromising early dancehall to be put on wax. The fearsome Roots Radics do not apologize for their sparse and heavy as lead riddims.
And singers and deejays like Barrington Levy, Anthony Johnson, Rod Taylor, Sammy Dread and Papa Tullo take it directly from the grim streets of Kingston. Their lyrics are a reality check on police brutality and oppression.
All vocal cuts come with its dub or deejay version. And the material collected on Strong Like Sampson brims with dread echoes and streetwise energy.
The latest album from UK’s Hot Milk is yet another Linval Thompson produced effort. Barry Brown’s The Thompson Sound 1979-82 was originally issued on Thompson’s own imprint Thompson Sound a while ago, and now it’s available again.
The riddims on this tough set was laid down at Channel One by Roots Radics and mixed at King Tubby’s by Scientist. It collects singles and versions recorded in 1979 as well as an albums worth of material recorded in 1981 and 1982. The album was however shelved at the time because the market was already flooded with Barry Brown material.
Linval Thompson was something of a mentor to Barry Brown and they share a similar vocal style, a style also utilized by singers such as Tristan Palma and Rod Taylor. It’s a high, devotional and intense style that was very popular in the late roots and foundation dancehall eras, circa 1979 to 1982.
The first single from their fruitful relationship was the excellent Please Officer, included on the album with its dub counterpart. Other key tracks include the eerie Ketch A Fire and the sparse Free Dreadlocks.
The late Barry Brown died only 42 years old. But this grassroots singer certainly had a great feeling for singing Rasta praises as well as telling stories from the harsh life in the Kingston ghettos and managed to drop about 15 albums and countless of strong singles during his prime period.
Badman deejay Ranking Dread’s debut album Girls Fiesta was reissued yesterday by Cherry Red’s subsidiary Hot Milk. It’s partly the deejay counterpart to Linval Thompson’s Love is the Question album released the same year, i.e. 1978.
Ranking Dread is a mythological character in the reggae industry and his story is a real wild one. He was probably born in 1955 and in his late teens he was involved in political activism for Jamaican Labour Party (JLP). He was soon involved in several incidents with the law and escaped from Kingston to London where he started a musical career.
This lead to the voicing of Girls Fiesta and three other albums followed – Kunta Kinte Roots, Lots of Loving and Ranking Dread in Dub. He also dropped a number of strong singles, the monotonous and suggestive Fattie Boom Boom – a version of Cornel Campbell’s Rope In – being the most successful.
Girls Fiesta collects ten tracks and is packed with tough and stripped down riddims executed by Sly & Robbie and others. The dubwise mixing by Sid Bucknor puts the emphasis on the drums and the bass and Ranking Dread rides the riddims with ease.
Unfortunately a life of crime seemed more lucrative for Ranking Dread and his musical output evaporated in the early 80s. He is rumoured to have run a criminal empire in the 80s and he lived in the U.S. and Canada for a while. He probably died in a Jamaican prison in 1996, but this is not confirmed.
Ranking Dread lived the life of a bonafide gangster and has been charged with murder, possession of illegal firearms, armed robbery and possession of drugs. A shame. Because he was a real talent in the studio and his relaxed, yet lively, style of deejaying has made him a musical giant.
The CD contains excellent liner notes by David Katz telling the story of Ranking Dread’s short musical career and criminal lifestyle.
Singer turned producer Linval Thompson is primarily known for songs such as the highly popular Don’t Cut Off Your Dreadlocks and the anti-police anthem Six Babylon. Apart from voicing his own productions he has also been the mastermind behind strong dub albums like Negrea Love Dub and Outlaw Dub, issued in 1978 and 1979 respectively.
But he was also the driving force behind another strong dub effort, a white label set released around 1979/1980 only as a test pressing. This impossibly rare and highly sought after album has now been made commercially available under the title Boss Man’s Dub – The Lost 1979 Dub Album.
It collects eleven Linval Thompson productions, of which ten are dub versions and one is an instrumental. The original versions were sung by Linval Thompson himself along with Michael Black, Anthony Johnson, Sammy Dread and the vastly underrated and under recorded Freddy McKay.
The album was probably recorded at Channel One with the Revolutionaries as backing band. Who the mixing engineer was and where it was mixed remains uncertain, but he or she seems to have been inspired, because the dubs are well-crafted, spine-chilling and carries a swing. Some cuts are scraped down to their bare essentials, while others still remain decorated with horns, distant guitars and echoing vocal snippets.
David Katz – known for biographies of Lee Perry and Jimmy Cliff – is responsible for the excellent and thorough liner notes telling the story of Linval Thompson and the album itself. It’s a compelling read fitting nicely with this rough and tough dub album.
A while ago I called for a reissue program of the late Jamaican singer Freddie McKay’s output. And the Almighty heard my plea. Or, maybe not the Lord, but French producer Hervé Brizec from Iroko Records.
His label recently put out Freddie McKay’s last album Tribal Inna Yard, produced by Linval Thompson and originally released in 1983.
Freddie McKay’s heartfelt, soulful voice has a bittersweet tone, which gives his material a sincere quality, regardless of cultural or more lovers oriented lyrics.
Linval Thompson usually employed Roots Radics for cutting his relentless and rolling riddims, and Tribal Inna Yard is no exception. Recorded at Channel One it also has that bright, almost metallic, sound. Barrington Levy fans will recognize Youths of Today as a version of his A Yah We Deh.
Tribal Inna Yard comes with new artwork and is currently vinyl only. And since this album is the only available Freddie McKay set it will probably soon vanish from your reggae retailer.
Remember the great vocal duo The Maytones? They recorded some great tunes with producer Alvin Ranglin in the 70’s. Songs such as Boat to Zion, Madness, Zion Land and Money Worries, also featured on the Rockers movie soundtrack.
Anyway, lead singer Vernon Buckley, aka Vernon Maytone, is nowadays living in Canada and runs his own label – Music Life Movements – together with his cousin Everton Phillips.
Last year the label collaborated with Dutch producers Manu Genius and Marc Baronner from Not Easy At All, the same producers responsible for acclaimed albums from Chezidek, Earl Sixteen and Apple Gabriel. The result was an album titled Foundation Compilation – Reggae Series vol.1 with performers such as Ken Boothe, Leroy Sibbles and the late Sugar Minott.
Their collaboration obviously worked out fine since they have teamed up for the album Words of Wisdom. This album is almost a solo album from Vernon Maytone.
It collects 15 tunes, where of three are duets with Linval Thompson, U Roy and Vernon Maytone’s son Dillon Buckley, who turns out to be an above par rapper.
The U Roy duet was featured on Foundation Compilation, Show us the Way was originally put out in 1979 on the One Way album and some of the riddims have been heard on other Not Easy At All productions.
Words of Wisdom is however a well-produced modern roots reggae album. Vernon Maytone’s heartfelt singing is just as great as it was in the 70’s and suits the polished live-played riddims nicely.
I’ve been a long-time fan of The Maytones and I’ve previously praised Not Easy At All’s productions. So don’t get fooled by the gangsta hip-hop album sleeve and check out Words of Wisdom.