Devon Clarke has been recording since the mid-80s and now – about 30 years after his first singles – his debut album has been released via US label Bent Back Records. Devon Clarke has mostly worked with Massive B and Digital English, but he hasn’t really recorded much over the years.
His style is reminiscent of mid-80s giants Tenor Saw, Nitty Gritty, King Kong and Anthony red Rose. A simple, smooth, hypnotic and flat style with catchy melodies delivered over old school synthesized riddims.
The set comes with ten tracks – vocals on one side and versions on the other. The standout cut is Beat the Banker, on which he rides a moody version of King Tubby’s fierce Tempo riddim. Other highlights include the JohnnyGo Figure combination Soldier and a remix of Hangin’ in Deh, originally released in 2014 on Bent Back.
Call Me Bobo Saw is mid-80s digital reggae at its very best.
The U.S. reggae scene seems to the thriving and no less than four bands have put out albums during the past months. I’m talking about The Simpkin Project’s Beam of Light, The Green’s Marching Orders, Iya Terra’s Sacred Sound and Soja’s Poetry In Motion.
All these bands have a roughly similar sound with a hybrid of pop/rock and reggae. These bands are not as much rock as Rebelution and not as rootsy as Midnite. They are somewhere in between and offer a lightweight sound rooted reggae, but with influences from pop, rock, blues, dancehall and Americana.
Many songs sound like vacation tunes and offer a mouthful of sunshine and beautiful harmonizing. The production is glossy, polished and overwhelmingly radio-friendly. Check for example The Green’s All I Need, The Simpkin Project’s Some Thing’s Don’t Change and Soja’s Sing To Me.
The U.S. reggae scene has been growing for several years with many new groups and artists. These four bands – at least Soja, The Simpkin Project and The Green – are some of the more well-known and they have managed to attract an audience that is not necessarily hardcore reggae fans. Happy to see that they are spreading the reggae gospel.
Stix Records is back with yet another compilation focusing on making reggae versions of soul and disco scorchers. This third edition comes with a variety of producers, including Taggy Matcher, who is onboard as usual and graces the album with three productions.
The nine track set includes both newly recorded material and classics. And among the standout tracks are Mato’s reggae refix of Lucas Arruda & Leon Ware’s funky Melt the Night with its slick guitar work and Taggy Matcher’s version of Inner City’s Big Fun complete with great horns and a memorable synth line. Also included is The Dynamics’ version of Rolling Stones’ disco joint I Miss You with its infectious “oooh oooh oooh oooh and aaah aaah aaah aaah aaah aaah aaah” chorus.
Cool, breezy and funky. Music for laid-back cats.
About ten years ago Heartbeat issued a compilation with B-sides taken from Studio One singles. That compilation has been deleted for many years, but has now been reissued by Studio One and Yep Roc Records.
Version Dread comes with a hefty 18 B-sides of rare Studio One singles, and includes versions of classic cuts by the likes of Wailing Souls, Abyssinians and Burning Spear. Also included are two extended mixes – Never Give Version by Carlton and the Shoes and a rare mix of Ernest Ranglin’s Surfing. Neither of these songs were featured on the original LP.
These tracks are in some cases little more than glorious instrumentals of reggae staples and the music is presented with vocals dropping in and out of the mix. But the mixing engineers – label head Clement “Coxsone” Dodd and Sylvan Morris – have added none or very little effects. The music is what you get. Check excellent cuts like Please Be True Version, a cut of Alexander Henry’s original, or The Brentford Rockers’ version of Cornell Campbell’s Natty Don’t Go.
To call these cuts just versions doesn’t really give them credit for their greatness. These tracks are sublime and timeless instrumentals.
After eight years only releasing 7 inches Swiss roots label Darker Shades of Roots finally put out an album – Red Foot & The Shades’ Children’s Prayer. It was released during the first quarter this year and comes with 12 tracks with a highly individual and unique roots sound, a sound somewhat influenced by Augustus Pablo’s ethereal and mystic sonic landscapes.
Children’s Prayer includes dub poetry spoken by Red Foot, a vocal track featuring Ras Ico on lead and several melodica and organ led instrumentals.
And the standout cuts are the instrumentals, especially Ladder Builder, the hymn-like Cold Rain And Snow and Samson Ki Malaa Pe, an organ adaption of Pakistani singer and musician Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan’s song of the same name.
Children’s Prayer is a dreamy, emotional and soothing masterpiece recorded and mixed with analogue equipment and powered by devout musical and spiritual perspectives.
French singer and singjay Naâman recently dropped his third full-length album Beyond, a set released via his own label Big Scoop. The set follows Rays of Resistance, put out in 2015, and offers a more diverse musical landscape where Naâman leans more towards pop music and also borrows from Latin and gospel rather than hip-hop, which he did on his two previous efforts.
He has come a long way since he put out his debut Deep Rockers – Back a Yard in 2013. He has something like 300 concerts behind him and has toured the world. So, it’s no big surprise that his sound has changed and matured with new inspiration.
The two first singles off the album – I’m Alright and Simplicity – are representative of the full album. Sunny, sandy and breezy with influences from both gospel and dancehall. The kind of causal and easy-going pop music that make anyone forget troubles and tribulations and just indulge.
Another infectious gem is the lightweight dancehall and disco joint I Feel Your Soul with its soulful chorus and airy horns. Best of the bunch is however the acoustic Love Is Allowed with its heartfelt strings and driving beat. It’s also impressive that Naâman has Toots Hibbert joining him on the pulsating ska cut Got To Try.
Beyond is about good hearty fun and nice vibes.
Up until the mid-70s supreme producer Clement ”Coxsone” Dodd had been ruling the Jamaican music scene for almost two decades and had only been challenged by Duke Reid. But the musical landscape was changing and he was increasingly challenged by producers like Bunny Lee, Joe Gibbs, Niney and a host of others.
And in the late 70s dancehall emerged and producers along with singers and deejays were increasingly starting to utilize and re-lick foundation riddims, especially from Studio One. Coxsone wanted, and needed, to be part of this new music and started to update his old riddims as well as creating new ones.
He continued to work with several veteran and returning artists like Alton Ellis, Horace Andy and Johnny Osbourne as well as turning to new and upcoming talents such as Lone Ranger, Sugar Minott and deejay duo Michigan & Smiley.
He updated his signature sound and managed to adapt new musical fashions and continued to stay relevant in the ever-changing Jamaican music industry. This is showcased on Soul Jazz Records’ latest Studio One compilation Studio One Supreme – Maximum 70s And 80s Early Dancehall Sounds, which comes with classics and lesser-known gems from some of Jamaica’s finest artists.
Standout cuts include Johnny Osbourne’s soulful album opener Keep That Light, Michigan & Smiley’s Compliment To Studio One, The Gladiators’ Happy Man and Lone Ranger’s Quarter Pound of Ishen, all presented in glorious discomix versions.
With the help of creative musical and technological developments of the 70s – syndrums, synthesizers, discomixes and more – Coxsone Dodd re-invented his organic sound for a new generation of reggae fans.
UK’s smooth chatting lyricist Macka B is back with a new album following the excellent Never Played A 45, which was produced by vintage revivalist Chris Peckings. This new album – Health Is Wealth – has a more contemporary sonic landscape and was recorded in Jamaica, Japan, Germany and the UK.
The album is heavily influenced by Macka B’s ital lifestyle and on several cuts he offers food for thought celebrating his vegan diet. Check for example the anthemic Wha Me Eat (remix), the title track and the viral video hit Cucumba, which has over 43 million views on Facebook.
But Macka B is as usual brimful of lyrics and offers thoughts on ganja on Natural Herb, voiced over a version of the classic Sleng Teng riddim, and refuses the gang lifestyle on the heartfelt Gangster. He also celebrates reggae veterans on not one, but two, cuts – Legendary Reggae Icons and 70’s Legendary Reggae Icons – and together with hitmaker Maxi Priest he revitalizes Ras Michael’s None A Jah Jah Children.
With his persuasive and thoughtful lyrics Macka B could probably turn any hardcore carnivore into a vegan or vegetarian.
In 1976 Lee Perry dropped one of the best dub albums ever recorded – Super Ape. Now 41 years after its original release, and when Lee Perry is 81 years old, he has joined forces with New York City’s Subatomic Sound System to re-record the album using today’s technology.
It’s a bold move to try and improve a masterpiece, but the result is stunning. Super Ape Returns To Conquer is true to the original sound with its dense and steamy tropical sonic landscape. But at the same time it has more punch thanks to influences from electronic music, dubstep and hip-hop. It has superb horns and pounding percussion along with booming bass, blasting beats and blazing energy.
Lee Perry’s idiosyncratic vocals is present throughout the album, but a number of guest vocalists also turn up – Jahdan Blakkamoore, Screechy Dan and the late Ari-Up from punk rock band The Slits. Dub music has however never been about vocals. It’s about atmosphere and mixing and the ability to create something new by using something already recorded.
Or as Emch from Subatomic Sound System describes the recording process – “We didn’t create the album like it was being re-recorded today with current technology. We imagined we went back in a time machine to 1976 and brought Lee Perry the tools he needed to create an album he envisioned that would sound like it was 40 years in the future, so that today’s listeners can recognize that in 1976 it was in fact 40 years ahead of its time.”
A classic album for a new generation of dub fans.
French versatile singer and singjay LMK drops her second album Highlights, the follow-up to her debut full-length Musical Garden released in 2015. On this new set she has sharpened her musical edge and crafted many memorable hooks and catchy choruses.
Highlights is a dancehall album particularly influenced by R&B, hip-hop and pop. It’s delightful and the chorus on See the Light is simply irresistible with its strings and LMK’s sprightly and youthful singing.
But she also has another side. Check the fierce See Dem Out and the brilliant Skarra Mucci combination Crazy And Alive where she showcases her rapping and fast chatting style. She also has a distinct hip-hop connection and is joined by four U.S. rappers – Reverie and Gavlyn along with veterans Mann and Billy Danze from Brooklyn’s MOP.
LMK is along with Soom T and Marina P the most promising and interesting talent on the European reggae and dancehall scene.