A while ago a watched an interior design show on TV and one thing that baffled me was a new trend in Hollywood where the rich and famous hired consultants to arrange their book shelves. The consultant came to their house and interviewed them about their literature preferences and then bought books that looked good in the shelf and books that they were supposed to have, i.e. the classics.
Two books that that fit at least one of these demands are the latest reggae coffee table books from label and publishing agency SoulJazz.
Reggae Soundsystem – Original Reggae Album Cover Art contains 300 full-size original album sleeve designs from the 50’s to the 90’s, complete with informative text on each musical section, compiled by Steve Barrow – co-author of The Rough Guide to Reggae and co-founder of Blood and Fire Records – and Stuart Baker, founder of SoulJazz. It has also special sections for one riddim albums, soundclash albums and gun focused album sleeves.
Reggae 45 Soundsystem – The Label Art of Reggae Singles features the artwork and histories of 1,200 records spanning the course of Jamaican music from its beginnings in the late 1950’s through to the end of the 1970’s. This one is also compiled by Steve Barrow and Stuart Baker, but written by reggae historian Noel Hawks together with Steve Barrow.
Both books create a stunning visual history of Jamaican popular culture and its musical developments – from traditional mento and calypso in the 50’s to the rise of ska and rocksteady in the 60’s, the emergance of dub, DJ and roots in the 70’s through the arrival of dancehall at the start of the 80’s up until the early 90’s.
When browsing the books – especially the one focusing on album art – is it apparent how creative Jamaican artists were and often still are. The sleeves are clever and well-crafted and often comments local Jamaican issues – cultural or political.
I’m huge fan of Stir It Up, another book that features Jamaican album sleeve design, but these two from SoulJazz definitely excel any other book on reggae album cover design.
Soul Jazz Records is one of the best reissue labels around, focusing not only on reggae, but also on soul, hip-hip, funk and many other genres.
One of the many highlights of the label’s output is the reissues of material from Jamaican foundation label Studio One. A few years back Soul Jazz stopped issuing Studio One releases, but since November last year they’re back on track.
I’ve talked to Soul Jazz founder Stuart Baker about the relationship with Studio One and the label’s future. Check the full interview over at United Reggae.
A few months ago I heard that Soul Jazz Records was back on track reissuing material from Studio One Records. It was terrific news and it almost felt like a good old friend had been heard from again.
Because the nearly 30 releases from Soul Jazz with music from Studio One are all essential. They’re beautifully packed and contain music that has helped define and refine reggae.
A virtual who is who in the world of reggae in the 60’s and 70’s recorded for Studio One at some point in their career – Ken Boothe, The Heptones, Bob Marley, Alton Ellis, Burning Spear and so forth. The list could go on and on and on.
The first project that has been materialized from the revitalized cooperation is The Album Cover Art of Studio One Records, a deluxe 200 pages plus 12×12” hardback, with an introduction by Steve Barrow, author of the Rough Guide to Reggae and co-founder of Blood and Fire Records. It includes hundreds of Studio One sleeves, of which many I haven’t seen before nor even heard of.
It’s divided in eight different sections – artists, calypso, dub, gospel, showcase, labels, disco and versions. The versions section is interesting since it shows that several of the releases changed appearance over the course of time. Some releases had up to five different sleeves.
The Album Cover Art of Studio One Records is a goldmine for designistas and reggae aficionados alike.
Soul Jazz – one of UK’s finest labels – continues their odyssey in dubstep with the beautifully packed compilation Invasion of the Mysteron Killer Sounds. It contains 35 old and new tracks cherry-picked by dubstep pioneer Kevin “The Bug” Martin and Soul Jazz’ founder Stuart Baker. Together they present the past, present and future of digital reggae.
The two compilers are treated one disc each and you can follow the journey from early Jamaican dub experimentalists such as King Tubby, Scientist and King Jammy to the contemporary dubstep sounds of Fira and Diplo.
Dubstep emerged out of south London in the early 2000’s and has since grown from an underground phenomenon to an international trend with producers and artists from all over the globe.
The dubstep producers are continuing the dub craftmanship that evolved in Jamaica. They twist and turn the beats and riddims and then they deconstruct and reconstruct them again. It’s about breaking down and building up.
But then again, it’s also about the bass and the drums. Just like reggae.
The abyss-deep bass lines and the often complex drum patters are wobbling, hypnotic, distorted and filled with a high level of energy.
It’s highly addictive. At least in a setting that comprises dim lights, shady characters, cheap beer, sweaty t-shirts and speakers from the floor to the ceiling.
Invasion of the Mysteron Killer Sounds will give your woofers a real run for your money. Fasten your seatbelt and bring the Mysteron Killer Sounds. I’m ready.
SoulJazz Records is about to put out a book on the cover art of legendary label Studio One, owned and run by one of the greatest producers in reggae music – Clement “Coxsone” Dodd (1932-2004).
Studio One is sometimes described as iconic as Motown was to jazz, or Blue Note for Jazz. Several of the most beloved and utilized riddims were originally laid for Studio One by musicians such as Jackie Mitto and Leroy Sibbles. Riddims like Full Up, Real Rock, Mean Girl and Satta Massagana saw the light at Studio One.
Chris Blackwell – founder of Island Records – has described Studio One as the University of Reggae. And there is some truth to that. Almost every well-known Jamaican artist from the 60’s and 70’s did recordings for the label – Bob Marley, Horace Andy, Alton Ellis, Burning Spear, The Abyssinians, Sugar Minott and many, many more.
The Cover Art of Studio One Records is edited by Stuart Baker and claims to be the first book ever to tell the story of Studio One and the many artists whose careers it launched.
It features hundreds of full-size Studio One record cover designs and original artwork, as well as rare and exclusive photographs, original flyers and artist interviews.
Available on November 30th. File it right next to your copy of Stir it Up: Reggae Album Cover Art.