And now for something completely different. Or maybe not completely, but almost. NYC’s collective of musicians Megative fuses late-70s UK punk with reggae and dub. They also add slices of electric urgency to create a deep, dense, urban and dystopic sonic landscape owing much to Two-Tone creators The Specials, punk rock giants The Clash and Jamaican mixing maestro Lee Perry.
Singles like More Time and Can’t Do Drugz (Like I Used To) have narcotic soundscapes with singers Tim Fletcher and Gus Van Go trading verses completed by a distant trumpet and gothic sonic effects.
Best of the bunch is however the Metric Man combination Megative No Fear, which is a version of Derrick Morgan’s rocksteady classic Rudie’s Don’t Fear, with its aggressive and haunting production.
This is a youthful sound created by seasoned musicians who aim to create something new and fresh, yet not fearing tradition. It’s a big and bold sound full of defiance and attitude.
Agent Sasco’s, aka Assassin, fourth studio album Hope River is his most versatile and intimate to date. He is one of Jamaica’s most successful dancehall artists and is also popular with hip-hop crowds, showcased by collaborations with Kanye West, Kendrick Lamar, Raekwon the Chef and Royce Da 5’ 9”.
On Hope River he is accompanied by an all-star Jamaican cast of performers, including Dre Island, Wayne Marshall, Stephen Marley, Kabaka Pyramid, Tony Rebel, Queen Ifrica, Romain Virgo and many more. Most of them appear on the upbeat closing track All Aboard.
Agent Sasco reflects on his upbringing in Kintyre in the parish of St. Andrew in Jamaica and he passionately shares his beliefs in a greater force making life and love possible. It’s an album about hope, gratitude and spirituality. It’s also musically diverse and Agent Sasco borrows from gospel, ska, hip-hop and nyabinghi on this stylish set.
Two of the cuts – Energy River and My Song – stand out because of their insanely catchy sing-a-long choruses, two songs sounding like they were written for large stadiums rather than small clubs.
Agent Sasco – with his authoritative tone and rockstone voice – has once again created a landmark album.
Jamaican singer Popcaan has come from being Vybz Kartel’s protege to a superstar in his own right. He broke big in 2010 when he joined Vybz Kartel and Gaza Slim on the nowadays classic Clarks tune. It was followed by a stream of singles and collaborations and his debut Where We Come From was put out in 2014.
That set was produced by NYC’s Dre Skull and he’s also in charge of Popcaan’s second album Forever, a 17 track set where the duo presents a tasty blend of dancehall, pop, reggae, R&B and electro.
In the Jamaican singles-based industry an album could be a collection of singles, but Forever is more than a collection of songs. It’s a cohesive body of work that bubbles with emotion and struggles and Popcaan is both care-free and introspective and spiritual. But it’s not really raw and gritty, it’s rather polished and clean, although lyrically Popcaan can be on the slack side. It’s sex rather than romance.
His expressive voice if often soaked with Auto-Tune, but it still works pretty well. The melodies are infectious and the choruses are catchy. He’s at his best in the deep and powerful Firm & Strong, on which he is joined by a 20 person choir. The last minute or so is pure goosebumps.
Dancehall is everywhere these days and Popcaan has toured with Drake and collaborated with both Jamie XX and Gorillaz. And hopefully this album can help to further elevate dancehall and his career.
London’s funky and soulful reggae oufit Soothsayers recently dropped their seventh album Tradition, an eleven track set mashing together reggae, dub afrobeat, jazz and soul. And just as their other albums it’s a masterpiece mixing grand and creative instrumentals with vocal cuts and angelic harmonies.
But Tradition is far from traditional reggae, even though all cuts are rooted in reggae. It’s like Fela Kuti and Bob Marley held a session in a cloudy London studio.
The music has a strong sense of urgency and the lyrics are often politically charged addressing themes of inequality and injustice. And even though many tracks deal with the harsh reality many people face everyday Soothsayers also offers several slices of joy. Good Vibration is one such track, Nothing Can Stop Us, originally written for Cornell Campbell and featured on their previous album, is another.
Soothsayers is in a league of their own with their fusion of reggae and afrobeat. Tradition is familiar, but at the same time something unique.
Protoje has come a long way since his debut album The Seven Year Itch in 2010. On his fourth set A Matter of Time he continues his creative collaborations with producer Winta James and fellow singer Chronixx, who turns up on two cuts – the western-tinged album opener Flames and the moody single No Guarantee.
This is a superb and cohesive album nodding quite a lot towards booming 90s hip-hop, but also incorporating rock and R&B. It has the essence of reggae, but it’s forward-thinking and Protoje manages to elevate to genre to a higher region with innovative production, clever instrumentation and attention to details. Check the dramatic orchestration on the title track and the sublime cowbell on No Guarantee.
The cover sleeve with a lonesome Protoje facing the endless ocean explains A Matter of Time very well – introspective, thoughtful and timeless.
For Studio One/Yep Roc’s second compilation of rare Studio One singles they look to Clement “Coxsone” Dodd’s Bongo Man imprint. More than half of the cuts on Natural High – The Bongo Man Collection have never been released on an album before and it also adds a previously unreleased discomix version of Horace Andy’s epic Skylarking complete with a toast by Prince Jazzbo.
Coxsone Dodd ran several sublabels to Studio One and Bongo Man was dedicated to the rootiser side of his productions and includes astonishing cuts from The Classics aka The Wailing Souls, The Beltones, Prince Lincoln of The Royal Rasses and Kingstonians’ lead singer Jackie Bernard along with many more.
The set was originally released for Record Store Day only, but is now available on a wider scale. The vinyl is and eye-catching red, gold and green and collections like these are essential and manage to uncover long-lost gems.
Alpheus released his fifth album Light of Day in late March and it’s his third set with talented Spanish producer and musician Roberto Sanchez. And together they have once again recreated a late 60s Jamaican sound nodding towards ska, rocksteady and early reggae.
Unlike its predecessors, Light of Day comes with no relicks or versions of 60s rhythms nor does it include dubs or instrumentals. But it still sounds both rough and raw and like it was recorded at a Kingston studio in 1968 or 1969.
Light of Day is another timeless musical masterpiece from this duo. It’s uplifting, positive and it will certainly make feet moving and heads nodding to the stomping reggae beat.
The same day as Etana released her new album Reggae Forever another superb Jamaican songstress dropped a new album. I’m talking about Diana Rutherford – daughter of singer Michael Rutherford – who is not as well-known as Etana, but both have truly powerful voices.
Better Days is her second album and the follow-up to Ghetto Princess released in 2011. The sets don’t have much in common musically, other than Diana Rutherford’s voice. Where Ghetto Princess was urban and R&B-oriented, Better Days is traditional reggae with grand arrangements and an organic feel thanks to the recording process and live instrumentation.
Diana Rutherford sings with the attitude and confidence of diva. Listen to a cut like Strong Black Woman, especially the two last minutes, or the version of Jackie Wilson’s soul standard (Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher & Higher. The standout track is however the uplifting and gospel-infused Smile On My Face.
Better Days might have an audio quality slightly below par, which is unfortunate since it’s a very mature and sophisticated set. And if your curious about the recording process – check this documentary on Youtube.
With Etana’s fifth studio album Reggae Forever she conqured the top place on the Billboard Reggae Album Chart for the second time. Her previous album I Rise – released in 2014 – also climbed to the top spot.
And just as with I Rise it’s certainly well-deserved. Reggae Forever is a certified scorcher with its uplifting melodies and pulsating dancehall and roots riddims. A slice of good old R&B is also thrown in for good measure.
Reggae Forever is Etana’s first album released on her own, but with a little help from Tad’s and VP with distribution. And she runs things. The 14-track set is solid with both excellent self-productions and superb tracks produced by the likes of Kirkledove and Rymshot Productions.
The standout cut is the up-tempo My Man on Reggae Fest riddim and other worthwhile moments include the dubby Sprung, the beautiful Carry You and the intimate Burned.
Etana is a truly gifted vocalist and her singing is remarkable throughout the album.
French producer Blundetto’s fourth studio album Slow Dance follows the same recipe as his previous sets – blunted beats, scenic compositions and a wide array of guest artists, including Cornell Campbell, Jahdan Blakkamoore, Ken Boothe, Biga Ranx and Little Harry, who debuted in the early 80s and is probably nothing close to little anymore.
Slow Dance comes with a unique and an original soundscape. Blundetto can surely paint vivid sonic pictures and creates his very own musical world with the help of deep bass lines, quirky sounds and strong melodies.
Slow Dance is just as the title indicates a swaying slow burner. The beats are sleepy and hypnotic and the album might take a few spins to fully appreciate, but when it hits you, it touches both heart and soul. A magnificent album.