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.
Eight-piece British ska band New Town Kings released their third album Reach Out a few months ago. It offers a more progressive take on ska and reggae compared to their previous sets M.O.J.O and Sound of the New Town.
With Reach Out the band serves up a fresh take on high-powered ska and rootsy reggae, including an inspired reworking of Sylford Walker’s dread roots anthem Burn Babylon, complete with vocals by the man himself.
New Town Kings has also recorded their own anthem – the smoothly enraged Borderline where they tackle migration and attack current political policy. And even though New Town Kings doesn’t shy away from politics and attacking the social elite, they can also handle lighter moods, for example the breezy Fine Fine Fine or the soulful British Summer, a track that can handle any weather. It will lift you up during rain and keep the party going on a sunny day.
With fierce lyrics, buoyant vocal energy, progressive rhythms and captivating horns it’s no surprise New Town Kings has been endorsed by both David Rodigan and Steve Lamacq.
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.
Earlier this year reissue giants Pressure Sounds released the much sought after dub album The War is On – Dub Style, a set produced by Phil Pratt, recorded in Jamaica and mixed at Easy Street Studios in London by rock man Stuart Breed.
The original album was released sometime in the mid to late 70s and included eight tracks. The vinyl edition comes only with those cuts, but the CD is expanded by another four songs, all presented in extended versions.
And the real gem on this release is actually one of the bonus tracks – Owen Grey’s haunting Hear We Them A Say. The dub version – Dancing Kid – is included on the vinyl release, and luckily Owen Grey’s vocal is also released as a separate 12”.
The War is On is an ambient journey and the first four tracks comes with a prominent melodica played skilfully by keys man Bobby Kalphat. Then there is the lingering piano on the slow and meditative The Good The Bad and The Brave.
A superb album that is finally available again.
Jamaican singer Iba Mahr is part of the new roots movement, which also includes talents such as Protoje, Jah9, Chronixx, Dre Island, Kabaka Pyramid and Jesse Royal. He has two sets under his belt and a third was released earlier this year.
Get Up and Show is overseen by Germany’s Oneness Records and includes previously released material along with a few fresh songs and mixes.
Iba Mahr – with his characteristic fragile singing style – made his recording debut ten years ago and scored his biggest hit in 2014 – the mighty Diamond Sox for Notis Records. The song was also followed by an album with the same title.
Get Up and Show comes with eight tracks – six vocals and two dubs. Best of the bunch is the title track recorded over Oneness own Better Days riddim and originally released in 2017 along with the sweet Patrice combination One World. No Vanity – presented in a showcase style – is a fresh conscious cut with a solid horn section and a powerful groove.
Iba Mahr’s style might be an acquired taste, but this album is solid from start to end.
Jamaican singer Freddie McGregor started his career in his early teens in the 60s. He recorded for Studio One – first as part of The Clarendonians and later as a solo artist. And it was as a solo singer he recorded his best material for producers such as Niney and Clement “Coxsone” Dodd.
And it was to Coxone Dodd and Studio One Freddie McGregor returned for his masterpiece album Bobby Bobylon, released in circa 1979 and reissued a dozen or so times since then. The latest reissue came only a few months ago through the Studio One and Yep Roc collaboration.
This reissue is actually the same release as the Heartbeat version in 2006 and includes both the original ten track album as well as a whopping eight bonus cuts, including four lethal disco mixes with guest talents such as Lone Ranger and Jackie Mittoo.
Bobby Bobylon – with its anthemic title track – is essential to any record collection. It holds some of Freddie McGregor’s best material, such as album opener Bandulo, Gonna Take Over Now, a killer version of The Ethiopians classic, the mystical Rastaman Camp and the smoothly militant I Am a Revolutionist.
An amazing album from one of Jamaica’s most beloved vocalists.
French singjay Bazil released his debut album 2011 and put out his latest set East to the West earlier this year. This is an intense and eclectic affair showcasing musical influences from Europe, the U.S. and, of course, the Caribbean.
Bazil started recording at the age of 15 and is nowadays a seasoned performer and recording artist not shy to break musical boundaries.
East to the West is colorful and urban and stands firm in the reggae tradition, but it also incorporates hip-hop, tropical and electronica. Check for example the infectious Vision, the bouncy Love the Night, the fierce General or the summery Escape with a strong cross-over appeal.
This is an album for a late-night summer party.
The midpoint of 2018 is behind us, and it’s time to sum up the first six months. Below is a list of 30 massive reggae and dancehall cuts released this year that I have been spinning quite frequently. Some have even been on repeat, like New Town Kings’ Borderline, Alborosie & Chronixx’ Contradiction and Micah Shemaiah’s Zion Trod.
The first six months have been very strong with a many contenders, but I need to draw the line somewhere. And 30 seemed about right this year.
The list is an eclectic one and is as usual presented in no particular order and the songs included are only singles or tracks taken from compilations. If you are curious about the songs you can download a Spotify playlist with all cuts. Download the Spotify playlist here and I hope you enjoy the music as much as I do.
Artist – song title (riddim)
Shenseea & Shatta Wale – The Way I Move
Soothsayers – Natural Mystic 7” Edit
Rudimental & Shungudzo & Protoje & Hak Baker – Toast To Our Differences
Slowly & Courtney John – The Rightway
New Town Kings – Borderline
Richie Loop & Tribal Kush – Way Up
Emeterians & The Island Defenders – Dub Master
Sean Paul & Major Lazer – Tip Pon It
Alaine – Lucky You (Destiny)
Rage – I’m Not A Lonely Girl (Episodes)
Lutan Fyah – Chant Down Babylon (Straight Step)
Kabaka Pyramid & Stonebwoy – Borders
TiMeka & Vershon – Live Life (Vibes Maker)
Naomi Cowan – Paradise Plum
Nico D – Money Come My Way (April)
Alborosie & Chronixx – Contradiction
Protoje & Chronixx – No Guarantee
Ginjah – Bring Heaven Down (Twilight)
Micah Shemaiah – Vibes Town (Good Balance)
Jahbar I – Friendly Foes (Pon Di Grind)
Keida – So Much More (Gems)
Jada Kingdom – Best You Ever Had
Racquel Jones – Take It Easy (Communion)
Soul Sugar & Leonardo Carmichael – I Want You (Discomix version)
Micah Shemaiah – Zion Trod (Extended mix)
Lutan Fyah – Where Is the Culture (Dinner Time)
Joe Pilgrim & The Ligerians – Migrants
Sara Lugo & Randy Valentine – Growing A Jungle (Nice & Easy)
Konshens – Tan Up (Bashment Time)
Kabaka Pyramid & Damian Marley – Kontraband