About 20 years ago I was caught in the American ska craze with bands like The Toasters, The Slackers and The Pietasters. The spark that lit my fire was a compilation called Give ‘Em the Boot, and on that album was a ska band called Hepcat with singers Deston Berry and Alex Désert.
Unfortunately Hepcat soon went on a hiatus and I didn’t hear anything about them until two years ago when The Lions dropped their excellent debut album This Generation, dubbed to perfection the year after by Tom Chasteen.
Deston Berry and Alex Désert form half of the vocal team along with Malik Moore and deejay Black Shakespeare, the cousin of Robbie Shakespeare. And on The Lions’ brand new album they have also invited label mate Myron Glasper, of soul duo Myron & E, to showcase his talent.
And it’s no coincidence that a soul singer is appearing on Soul Riot, as this brilliant twelve track set is titled. It’s definitely a reggae album, but with a myriad of other influences, particularly funk, soul, hip-hop and a little bit of disco.
This is hip reggae sounding like it did it in the late 60s and early 70s. It’s creative, playful and festive, such as Rhythm Rock with its live-played hip-hop-ish beat with bright horns and the discofied Magnificent Dance.
But it also has a more emotive side, as shown on Smoke & Mirrors with Malik Moore’s sweet falsetto and the smoky Falling with Alex Désert on the microphone.
Soul Riot is steamy and breezy at the same time and it’s a fantastic album that deserves wide attention.
Dub Club’s Tom Chasteen has dubbed the hell out of The Lions’ excellent This Generation, a set released last year. He has twisted and turned the knobs and the remixed version has a brand new sound, where the bass has been turned up to the max and the percussion plays a more central part.
This Generation in Dub is not a fully accurate title though since album opener Picture on the Wall is a full-blown vocal cut, however in a new shape since Ranking Joe and Leroy Sibbles take turns on the microphone on this version. The other seven cuts are more or less straight dubs with lots of imaginative mixing.
The original album was beautifully arranged with stunning harmonies, tough bass lines and sweet horns, so Tom Chasteen had much to deconstruct and build up again, though with added echo and reverb.
The album title track has been dubbed beyond belief and has something of rock feeling to it now, while New Dub sounds like it has been sent to outer space and back. And not to mention Dub It Tonight. It’s razor sharp and sounds like two ninjas sword fighting.
Another nugget from Stones Throw Records, a label that now has several excellent reggae albums under their belt.
Los Angeles based band The Lions has something of an ad hoc membership and on their latest set This Generation no less than 17 musicians were involved. Of these four are lead singers – the gritty and smooth vintage style of Malik Moore, the deejay efforts of Robbie Shakespeare’s cousin Black Shakespeare, the soulful Alex Désert and the legendary Leroy Sibbles from The Heptones.
The core of the band joined forces in 2007 and the year after their mostly instrumental dub and reggae debut Jungle Struttin’ was put out. This new album also incorporates instrumentals, but the vast majority of the tracks are vocals with a soulful, funky and jazzy backing.
This Generation is all about exquisite musicianship, excellent showmanship courtesy of Black Shakespeare and delicate singing and harmonies. It’s classic Jamaican 70’s reggae played by real musicians who know how to start a groove and set a dancefloor on fire.
Highlights include all of Malik Moore’s cuts, especially the sad Padre Ichiro and the more joyous album opener Bird On A Wire, and Black Shakespeare’s rolling and rocking Let’s Go Out Tonight complete with several references to reggae history.
This Generation is now available on CD and digital platforms.