Legendary Jamaican roots singer Prince Alla – sometimes Prince Allah or Ras Allah – cut a number of haunting and heavyweight roots numbers in the late 70s. And his rare debut album Heaven Is My Roof is a bona fide masterpiece.
His second album was oddly titled The Best of Prince Alla and collected singles for the Freedom Sounds label. This great set has now been reissued by France’s Iroko Records. It comes with only eight tracks, of which two are ferocious discomixes with lethal dub mixing courtesy of Scientist.
Best of bunch is album opener Youth Man with its bulldozing bass line and drums crashing down like lightning. The dub version confirms its feeling of brimstone and fire. Other highlights are stone-cold classics like the eerie Stone or the dark and dread Lot’s Wife.
Prince Alla has never been quite as prolific as many of his peers, but many of his recordings have proven to be landmarks in the history of reggae music.
UK roots veterans Paul Fox and Brother Culture have joined forces on a new combination album called Heartical Connection, a ten track set – 20 when adding the ten bonus dubs – that is slightly different than expected.
You have the usual ground-shaking bass lines and intense keys, but Heartical Connection also includes a few more lightweight and catchy cuts. Good Time is a joyous and bright celebration of life and the title track is mellow and summery with breezy keys and infectious guitar. The only thing hinting about these roots stalwarts are the added effects.
Then there’s Seat of God. Probably the greatest surprise. It’s an ethereal dancehall version of Amazing Grace with an angelic chorus and mean and lean toasts from Brother Culture in the verses.
Paul Fox and Brother Culture have a good chemistry and complement each other very well – Paul Fox with his dramatic and light singing style and Brother Culture with his stylish delivery.
The reggae reissue market has produced a number of gems in recent years, but it’s not often an unreleased album turns up. This is however the case with vocal harmony quartet Still Cool’s self-titled debut set that has now seen the light of day through Digikiller.
Still Cool was in the 70s part of the musical arm of the 12 Tribes of Israel and regularly performed at their shows. The album was produced by the obscure Carl “Stereo” Fletcher and was supposed to have been released via his Uprising label, but it never materialized. Now – about 40 years later – it has finally hit the streets.
Still Cool is much in the same vein as other Jamaican vocal harmony groups and the set should appeal to anyone interested Israel Vibration, The Meditations or The Abyssinians. The harmonizing is however slightly less polished and the singing is a little rough around the edges.
Four of the ten tracks have previously been put out as singles, but the other six have never have issued before. The LP comes with ten tracks, while the CD collects 16 – the full LP plus six bonus cuts of alternate and extended mixes from rare 7” and 12” singles. The ten album tracks are on the CD also longer versions.
It’s insane that an album like this has been shelved for about 40 years.
Benin-born singer Joe Pilgrim spent his childhood in France and started to sing in church at a tender age. At the age of 17 he discovered reggae and has since worked with loads of artists and producers. And last year he was actually involved in no less than three full-length albums – The Good, The Bad & The Addict by Pilah & Joe Pilgrim, Maÿd Hubb & Joe Pilgrim’s Mellowmoon and Joe Pilgrim & The Ligerians’Intuitions.
Best of the bunch is by far Intuitions and it sounds like nothing Joe Pilgrim has recorded previously. He has mostly voiced heavy and hard dub cuts. Intuitions is something completely else.
The album is divided in four chapters – Illusions and Crises, The Sparkling Light, Intuitions and Incarnations – and is a throwback to 70s Jamaica, especially the sounds of Israel Vibration, but also Culture and Burning Spear. We’re talking dread roots with sweet harmonies and spiritual and humanistic messages overcoming hardships of life and global social justice along with shortcomings contemporary society.
The musicianship on Intuitions is sublime – just listen to the marvelous break and the superb horns in Blind Civilization – and Joe Pilgrim has one of those up-in-the-hills singing styles. This album is yet another proof of the thriving and fantastic French reggae scene.
On Tu Sheng Peng’s – one of France’s premier roots reggae bands – fourth studio album they have teamed up with a number singers to pay tribute to Vineyard Town, an area in the heart of Kingston.
Their work on this album started six years and has come to completion with help from the group’s musical mentor Winston “Sparrow” Martin, multi-instrumentalist, teacher at the acclaimed Alpha Boys School and previously musical director at the legendary Studio One.
The formula on this album is the same as on Tu Shung Peng’s previous sets – original compositions, talented and passionate singers, sweet harmonies and live instrumentation along with analogue gear and recording techniques. This is harmonious reggae firmly rooted in the 70s.
Wise Stories from VineyardTown brings together several artists – both rising stars and successful veterans. Ken Boothe has recorded since the 60s, while Bongo, 60 years old and farmer by trade, has never recorded before. Nazzleman is also an unknown talent that lends his voice to the excellent Dem Want Love and Children Love Each Other.
The set comes with 15 tracks – 19 on the digital version which includes four dub versions – and best of the bunch is Jah Children No Lie, which starts like a smooth Barry White ballad, but quickly changes into a red, gold and green anthem when the gritty-voiced Ken Boothe gets down to business on this beautiful cut influenced by Ras Michael’s None a Jah Jah Children.
Another highlight is Bunny & Skully’s – a pivotal duo in the course of Jamaican music – brilliant and sincere Take Us There with its pounding bass and drums along with spoken verses and rough harmonies.
A solid release that once again cements France as one of the leading lights in roots reggae.
At U.S. based label and production house Zion High Productions they go their own way. That was clear last year when they issued saxophone player Jah Bless’ excellent instrumental album Redemption. Now they have released another daring set.
Nyacoustic Chants probably isn’t the multi-million selling, Grammy award winning and cross-over-tinged set that other labels are looking for. No, this set is something else.
Nyacoustic Chants – produced by Zion High Productions’ own Jah David along with partners from powerhouse roots reggae production team of Zion I Kings – offers 13 percussion-driven tracks greatly inspired by the likes of Count Ossie and Ras Michael.
The album is bubbling with consciousness and uplifting vibes. It’s the sound of natural mystic. It’s a melodic and pulsating feast, so gather your friends and prepare them for a journey to another musical dimension.
His latest single is the smooth Rastafari Way, produced by Lloyd “Jam2” James. Now comes a mixtape with the same title. It’s mixed by King I-vier of U.S. Jah Warrior Shelter Hi-Fi and collects several big tunes, among them cuts on well-worn riddims like Police in Helicopter, Baltimore and Cuss Cuss.
Bristol Archive Records has dug out 15 songs from the little-known Bristol-based roots singer Joshua Moses, who supplied the excellent Africa (Is Our Land), Rise Up and Stick it Up to the label’s compilation series Bristol Reggae Explosion vol. 1, 2 & 3.
The tracks on Joshua Moses debut album were recorded between 1978 and 2003 and are collected as From Joshua to Jashwha – 30 Years in the Wilderness. And prior to Bristol Archive Records’ involvement the only tune previously released was the hard to find Africa (Is Our Land) along with its dub counterpart.
Joshua Moses is a versatile and dedicated singer who can sing pure and clean as well as harsh and rugged. Or Curtis Mayfield falsetto style. Just listen to Suffering in the Past, Stick it Up or Children of the Light. Three styles, one singer.
Musically this is mostly – the odd country and western-influenced Distant Guns being the grand exception – roots reggae of the highest order with hard working, grinding bass lines along with pulsating organ work. Lyrically it’s in the same vein. Repatriation, universal unity, spirituality and overcoming suffering are some of the themes.
Out of the 15 tunes there are three dub versions and three live recordings and the sound quality is usually surprisingly good.
Just as several of the other lost tunes and albums dug out and released by Bristol Archive Records it’s a mystery why these tunes have been forgotten all these years. It has been 30 years, but Joshua Moses now hopefully gets the recognition he deserves.
I’ve listened to reggae since 1997, and in these 15 years I’ve for some reason ignored UK roots and dub veteran Martin Campbell. And now when I’m listening to Rootspective: Roots Vocals & Dubs 1990 to 2011 Vol. 1 – a compilation with some of his work – it’s hard to understand why I allowed this to happen.
Martin Campbell is a British singer, producer, label owner, multi-instrumentalist and composer that started in the music business in the 70’s when he was living in Jamaica.
Through the years he has worked with many roots artists, including Devon Russell, Tena Stelin and Neville Brown, and several of these singers are represented on this compilation with uncompromising roots-inspired early dancehall. The backing tracks almost sounds like the taking no prisoners approach of the Roots Radics back in the early 80’s.
The 20 tunes collected here are vocals often followed by their dub version, and they were originally released on 7”, 10” and LP. Some have found their way onto CD for the first time and a few are also previously unreleased.
Rootspective is a low key and minor key masterpiece with sparse arrangements with a dark trolls and goblins feeling to them. The bass lines and the drumming pave the way, while the singer, the guitar and the keys just follow the trail.
This is an excellent introduction to Martin Campbell and his productions, and I’m sure I’m not the only one that will pay a visit to an e-tailer or a retailer to check out more of his output.
The latest vocalist teaming up with a French band is the culturally themed Rod Taylor. His Original Roots is recorded together with Positive Roots Band and their singer Bob Wasa.
Rod Taylor started his career in the mid 70’s with Greenwich Farm-based producer Bertram Brown, with whom he cut the rough and tough singles Ethiopian Kings and In the Right Way.
His talent was soon recognized and he began recording together with Mikey Dread, Linval Thompson, Prince Jammer and Henry “Junjo” Lawes. Fast forward 20 years and his album Shining Bright for UK label Jah Warrior. And since the early 2000’s Rod Taylor has been recording for various producers as well as being the object of two excellent compilations with hard to find material.
Original Roots collects 14 cuts, seven sung by Rod Taylor and seven with lead vocals from Bob Wasa. Both singers vocal style suits the one drop backing well with the mood often set by a delicious keyboard loop. Rod Taylor’s playful style rides the riddims perfectly, while Bob Wasa’s more laid-back deeper voice gives his cuts a darker tone.
Lyrically this album leans strong towards culturally conscious roots dealing with justice, inequality and the state of the world today.
Original Roots is a strong set of hard roots reggae and one of the best albums so far this year.