U.S. singer Jr Thomas has together with The Volcanos dropped an absolutely astonishing debut album. Jr Thomas – bred on a diet of 60s and early 70s rocksteady and early reggae artists – has a passionate vocals and is no stranger to beautiful minor key melodies.
All 16 cuts on Beware echoes from a time when the Jamaican music scene was starting to take form. The album has a sound firmly based in the mid to late 60s, just when smooth and slick rocksteady was making way for the more up-tempo early reggae sounds. Producers like Phil Pratt, Bunny Lee and Leslie Kong would probably hear themselves in these songs.
The sound is warm and organic and it’s soulful to the bone with sizzling organs, picking guitar and infectious melodies.
Beware certainly pays respect to one of the best eras in the history of Jamaican music.
Legendary Jamaican singer John Holt died yesterday evening in a hospital in London. He was 69 years old and had been ill for some time according to Jamaica-Gleaner.
John Holt was the essence of smoothness and made lovers rock before the genre was invented. He started his career – just as many of his peers – at Studio One and Treasure Isle in the mid-60s. He was one of the founding members of the highly successful vocal trio The Paragons, a trio that made immortal gems like On the Beach, Happy Go Lucky Girl and The Tide if High, later covered by U.S. pop rockers Blondie.
He soon left The Paragons to pursue a solo career and he put out several classics, including A Love I Can Feel and Strange Things. He also dabbled with disco and strings, but later moved on to dancehall. And it was with Henry “Junjo” Lawes he scored one of his biggest hits – Police in Helicopter, taken from the album with the same name.
John Holt continued to tour and perform almost up until the time of his death and he will be greatly missed.
Three years ago UK singer Alpheus dropped the critically acclaimed rocksteady and ska-tinged album From Creation, and in an interview with United Reggae he said that he would from now on only record in the same vein. No more roots or one drop. Just the sweet and smooth sounds of early Jamaica.
He has kept this promise and together with Spanish producer Roberto Sánchez he has again recorded a sublime 14 track set that consists of striking relicks and fresh originals. And just as From Creation Good Prevails sounds authentic and vintage, almost as the album was recorded in the mid to late 60s.
Alpheus’ singing is warm and comforting and the live recorded riddims are heartfelt and soulful, spiced with plenty of bright horns and moody organ and guitar licks.
This album is impressive to say the least. So skip the poorly sounding rocksteady reissues and go for this meticulously constructed and well-produced set. This is the sound of real reggae music.
UK-based singer Alpheus teamed up with renowned Spanish producer Roberto Sánchez about four years ago and in 2011 the acclaimed album From Creation was released. It was a step in a new and different direction for both Alpheus and Roberto Sánchez.
From Creation was not the usual European one drop or hard Channel One roots reggae. It was something completely different – soulful rocksteady and swinging ska.
Now this duo has a new album – Good Prevails. It collects 14 tracks, of which two are melodica instrumentals. It also offers a mix of fresh originals and re-vitalized versions of riddims created by Coxsone Dodd, Phil Pratt and Winston Riley.
Good Prevails hits the streets on LP and CD on April 28. If you can’t wait to hear how it sounds, check Our Strength taken from the album.
The latest Studio One compilation on one of the world’s premier reissue labels – Soul Jazz Records – is all about pure quality and as usual with these compilations an an all-star selection of artists is featured – Ken Boothe, Marcia Griffiths, John Holt, Dennis Brown and more. Sure, a number of these lovely tunes have been reissued plenty of times before, for example The Eternals’ Stars, The Heptones’ Party Time and The Gaylads’ Joy in the Morning.
The title – Studio One Rocksteady – doesn’t tell the whole truth though. It surely includes lots of rocksteady, but also early reggae, like Alton Ellis’ Hurting Me, Jackie Mittoo’s Our Thing and Duke Morgan’s Lick it Back.
The sounds are gorgeous, bouncy and optimistic, but also moody and melancholic as in Cecile Campbell’s Whisper to Me and Ken Boothe’s When I Fall in Love.
Studio One may not have been a rival to Duke Reid’s Tresure Isle when it comes to putting out beautiful rocksteady, but Coxsone Dodd had two aces up his sleeve – master organist Jackie Mittoo and bass virtuoso Leroy Sibbles. Together this trio created countless of classics, and several of these are collected on this essential album, an album with excellent sleevenotes by Lloyd Bradley, author of the classic book Bass Culture – When Reggae Was King.
On his fifth album Love Situation Tarrus Riley and his fellow producers Dean Fraser, Shane C. Brown, Mitchum Khan Chin and Jordan McClure take a stroll down memory lane to Duke Reid’s Treasure Isle studio.
Love Situation is a throwback to Jamaica in the 60s, a time when rocksteady and early reggae ruled the airwaves and U Roy, The Uniques and Ken Boothe dominated the charts.
The set mixes samples from the past with new instrumentation. Melodically and rhythmically it’s contemporary vintage, modern old-school or current classic. Just listen to Tarrus Riley’s version of The Gaylads’ excellent ABC Rocksteady titled 1, 2, 3 I Love You. This track also sets the theme for the full album. It’s mostly about relations and affairs of the heart.
It has the same timeless quality and feel as some of the best cuts coming from Duke Reid, Bunny Lee or Coxsone Dodd in their heydays.
Great riddims and strong vocals courtesy of Tarrus Riley’s warm tenor voice along with his invited fellow singers U Roy, Konshens, Big Youth, Mr Cheeks and Wippa Demus make Love Situation a tasty effort.
And with its 17 tracks Love Situation is certainly a long-player. But it still leaves me wanting more of the slick and polished intergenerational vibes that that this project has to offer.
After the excellent and beautiful Ken Boothe combination A Change Must Come, about how immigrants are treated, Spain’s six piece band Tasty Grooves have returned with another vintage reggae scorcher, this time their debut album Soul Street.
Soul Street features eleven brand new tracks influenced by vintage reggae, rocksteady and soul. It’s a mix of instrumentals and vocal cuts and includes collaborations with Jamaican deejay veteran Big Youth and Spanish soul songstress Astrid Jones.
The arrangements are sparse and the songs have a distinct sound echoing from a time when Duke Reid and his Treasure Isle studio ruled the Jamaican airwaves. Some of Ken Parker’s best work comes to mind, as does the early work from producers like Joe Gibbs and Niney. Highlights include the uplifting single Rise From the Ashes and the driving organ instrumental Panda Man.
Soul Street is an excellent album, even though vocalist Marc Ibarz could work on his English a bit more. It’s available on LP and CD, and the LP includes a CD, so buying the LP you’ll get both formats.
French nine piece band Jim Murple Memorial has been together in various constellations for 17 years and has recently released their ninth official studio album Take Your Flight, Jim!, collecting 16 tracks aimed a starting any party around the globe.
Their sound is a melting pot of ska, rocksteady, calypso, boogaloo and Jamaican and American R&B. They’ve might have listened to an equal amount of Bo Diddley, Fats Domino, Willie Colón, The Skatalites, Slim Smith and Laurel Aitken.
It’s fun, passionate and soulful and unless Tony Soprano has put your feet in wet concrete, you’re guaranteed to at least tap your toes to this full and swinging sound with upright bass, shuffling piano, funky organ, rampant horns and cheerful, but also mild at times, vocals courtesy of no less than five lead singers, who mostly sing in English.
Included are also a number of explosive and catchy instrumentals, where the musicians present their respective skills in a party-styled fashion.
Take Your Flight, Jim! is currently only available via the band’s website and over there you decide the price yourself.
Falsetto vocalists have always been popular in Jamaica, and some of the earliest and most acclaimed ones include the late Slim Smith, Cedric Myton, Pat Kelly, Cornell Campbell and Junior Murvin.
A newcomer in this great genre of singers is Courtney John, who just dropped his fourth album From Letters to Words. It’s a ten track ode to 60’s rocksteady spiced with tender 70’s soul and a hint of singer/songwriter.
Courtney John weighs every word, every syllable, carefully, and his smooth falsetto is light as a feather. His hearty lyrics deal mostly with romance and his longing for intimacy.
Included are fresh originals and relicks, and also a cover of Chi-Lites 1971 Billboard chart topper Have You Seen Her.
This is a contemporary reggae and rocksteady album with a lazy Sunday morning feeling.
UK reissue label Pressure Sounds has started the year in an old school vintage reggae style. First it was a compilation with early reggae scorchers produced by Lee Perry. Now the label has reissued a second collection of tunes from Blondel Keith Calneck, aka Ken Lack, and his group of labels, including Shock, Jontom and Caltone.
Listen to the Music: Caltone’s Jamaican 45’s 1966-69 collects 21 tunes covering frantic ska, up-tempo early reggae and elegant, classy rocksteady. A few straight forward R&B and Sam Cooke influenced tunes from The Uniques are also included.
Ken Lack was a business man with a keen interest in music and is not one of the more well-known producers in the history of reggae music, but thanks to the Pressure Sounds compilation Safe Travel – released in 2005 – he has received some very well-deserved attention.
Bunny Lee and Phil Pratt handled most of the hands-on production on his recordings with input from Trinibagoan guitarist Lynn Taitt, saxophonist Tommy McCook and trumpeter Johnny Moore.
One of the better known singles from the Ken Lack camp is The Heptones’ Gunmen Coming to Town, a tune that borrows its melody from the William Tell Overture.
Ken Lack worked extensively with Tommy McCook, and his saxophone is present on many of the tunes. And the horn arrangements are classy and tasteful throughout the compilation.
Standouts among the vocals cuts are The Claredonians’ – with the extraordinary talent of Peter Austin taking lead – I’m Sorry, Devon & The Tartans’ Making Love and Alva Lewis & Lynn Taitt’s Return Home. The harmonies are excellent and so are the musicianship with outstanding lead guitar and shuffling organ work.
Listen to the Music is currently available on CD, double LP and digital download and includes excellent liner notes courtesy of Pressure Sounds’ founder and director Pete Holdsworth.