Last year was a good year for reggae albums, especially for those in one drop mode. Single artist dancehall albums were rather absent as usual, even though Chino and Vybz Kartel dropped decent albums.
In late December I published lists covering the best tunes of 2011 and some general highlights. Now it’s time for the favourite albums of 2011 list. But rather than choose the titles all by myself I joined forces with my fellow United Reggae writer Angus Taylor.
Together we managed to agree on our 20 favourite albums from last year. Only those that showed up on both our private lists were selected for the final top 20. This list is unranked, and no reissues or compilations have been counted.
There were of course albums we couldn’t agree on. Therefore we made a separate section where these are listed. We’ve also compiled a list for free downloads at the end.
Looking into 2012 there are several highlights ahead. I’ve had a listen to Da Professor’s upcoming album The Laboratory for producer Don Corleon and it’s very promising.
Also worth keeping an eye out for is Mr. Vegas’ double album Sweet Jamaica Reggae/Sweet Jamaica Dancehall, Sizzla’s The Chant, Konshens’ Mental Maintenance, I-Octane’s Crying to the Nation, Sean Paul’s Tomahawk Technique, Skarra Mucci’s Return of the Raggamuffin, Groundation’s Building an Ark and new titles from both Etana and Queen Ifrica.
Stephen Marley – Revelations Part One: The Root Of Life
The second half to this two part concept series never surfaced this year as initially promised. But part one was a beautifully crafted tribute to Stephen’s father’s era of music and his finest platter yet.
Sizzla – The Scriptures
Every culturally minded album by Sizzla is hailed as a return to form but this one actually was: a wobbly opus using digitally enhanced Jammys rhythms from his son John John. The tracks actually felt like they had been chosen for a reason while Sizzla’s controversial falsetto never sounded better on the Beach Boys/Animal Collective-like Jah Is My Shield.
Takana Zion – Rasta Government
The Guinean chanter’s longplayers have gone from strength to strength and this was his masterstroke. Lyrically simple (but hey, the man speaks multiple languages), the messages were manna to roots reggae fans worldwide.
Hollie Cook – Hollie Cook
Punk had a curious relationship with reggae in the 70s. But today the ethereal voiced daughter of sex pistol Paul Cook created a head swimmingly retro lovers rock debut with unstoppable engineer Prince Fatty that pleased purists and public alike.
Alpheus – From Creation
When British Studio One prodigy Alpheus said he would never sing another modern reggae song it sounded bizarre. But that was before he and producer Robert Sanchez unleashed this note-perfect recreation of the days of Coxsone and Phil Pratt in the ska and rocksteady era which took the critics of Europe by storm.
Earl Sixteen – The Fittest
Dubby Dutch double team JahSolidRock and Not Easy At All trumped this list with two releases last year. This time they kept their hand in with a full showcase effort from prolific roots internationalist Earl Sixteen.
Richie Spice – Book Of Job
The unmistakable voice of Richall Bonner over Penthouse and other rhythms was an early favourite from Jamaica in 2011. My Life, a remixed adaptation of Randy Crawford’s Street Life, was an instant modern classic, while Richie’s singing on the Raging Fyah production Black Woman had a distinctly West African vibe.
Protoje – The Seven Year Itch
Lorna Bennett’s talented singjay son’s eclectic radio-friendly introduction silenced the doom and gloom merchants who had been writing off Jamaican music. The last-minute removal of strongest track Our Time Come (due to clearance issues over its Burning Spear sample) was a disappointment but the rest still held its own.
I-Taweh – Overload
Again the naysayers were silenced when a St Ann’s parish roots reggae artist took the Richie B album chart number one spot. Veteran session musician I-Taweh Cunningham’s story – like his record – was one of the most inspirational of the year.
Perfect – Back For The First Time
Another St Ann’s man, the ever dependable Perfect, linked up with Californian rhythm team Lustre Kings for a record that hit his highest heights since 2008’s Born Dead With Life. More of a grower than that album it was a unanimous choice in our office nonetheless.
Joggo – Modern Rockers Vol. 1
Yet another strong rootsy album from the Netherlands. Clarence Seedorf’s brother Joggo’s direct and desperate tone along with several sing-along choruses made this a very memorable set.
Uprising Roots Band – Skyfiya
The debut album from one of the several bands that have surfaced in Jamaica in recent years. This is eerie roots reggae that pays homage to pioneering Jamaican groups such as Culture and The Gladiators.
Luciano – Rub a Dub Market
His third full-lengther in less than a year, and Luciano continues to work with producers outside Jamaica with great success. This one was produced by Vienna-based Irie Vibrations and holds many familiar Luciano ingredients – beautiful harmonies and grandiose choruses.
Sara Lugo – What About Love?
The little lady from outside Munich with the room-silencing voice decided not to make a straight reggae album for her debut. Even so, it was a prodigious statement that played on the close relationship between soul and reggae, and announced the rising of a new star.
I Wayne – Life Teachings
I Wayne’s Third Record for Loyal Soldiers caused a dilemma for liberal listeners. His proscriptive lyrics seemed preoccupied with sexual behaviour but the music was stronger than anything he had released before.
J Boog – Backyard Boogie
The Hawaii based singer’s cracked-voiced crooning seemed well at home on the more Jamaican sounding rhythms of his second disc. This versatile, hugely popular artist delivered one of the best slices of “island pop” this year.
Ziggi Recado – Ziggi Recado
Ziggi’s third album showed a brand new side to him. This was an adventurous blend of reggae, soul, hip-hop, funk and even rock. In some cases it would have sounded disunited, but it’s actually a cohesive whole.
Midnite – Kings Bell
On their fifth album in 2011, and about the 45th during their career, Midnite is more accessible than ever before. But it doesn’t mean that Kings Bell offers extravagant harmonies or na-na-na’s. It’s still the same Midnite, but – thanks to producer Andrew Bassie Campbell and his top Jamaican session musicians – with clearer melodies and more memorable hooks.
Raging Fyah – Judgement Time
Singer Ray Darwin’s former band mates have found a new singer, and on their promising opening set they play skanking, uplifting reggae as it was played in the 70’s.
Little Roy – Battle For Seattle
The reggae covers industry took a bold step beyond the safer choices of Easy Star Records. Little Roy’s second album in 2011 deservedly moved him into the mainstream as he highlighted the uplifting quality to Kurt Cobain’s songs across a series of Nirvana covers. It’s the second appearance on our list from producer/engineer Prince Fatty whose daring concept showed he is as interested in taking reggae forward as looking back.
Other essential albums that didn’t make the list (i.e. we couldn’t agree!)
Reggae Regulars – If Only
Tappa Zukie – X Is Wrong
Gappy Ranks – Thanks & Praise
Little Roy – Heat
Deadly Hunta – Speak My Mind
Etana – Free Expressions
Joey Fever – In A Fever
Ray Darwin – People’s Choice
Alborosie – Two Times Revolution
Warrior King – Tell Me How Me Sound
Collie Buddz – Playback EP
Kabaka Pyramid – Rebel Music EP
Mark Wonder and Zion Roots – The Dragonslayer
Mandinka Warrior and Mr Williamz – Dancehall Nice Again
Jahmali – Sounds with a Purpose