On Record Store Day 2016 reggae powerhouse VP’s reissue imprint 17 North Parade dropped a limited edition 7” box set collecting 14 rock steady gems. This release has now been expanded with another 26 cuts and released as a double CD celebrating the 50th anniversary of rock steady.
This comprehensive collection comes with timeless hits and ultra-rare gems showcasing the impact rock steady has had on Jamaican and popular music.
Rock steady only lasted for about two years – 1966-1968 – but is an undeniably influential genre with riddims that have been versioned and covered countless of times. The slow and melodious rock steady paved the way for the evolution of reggae and how it sounds today.
First Class Rock Steady shows many aspects of the genre and includes love songs, dance celebrations, conscious cuts and beautiful instrumentals played by some of Jamaica’s finest musicians, such as Tommy McCook, Lynn Taitt and Bobby Ellis.
Sensational songs like Hopeton Lewis’ Take It Easy, The Techniques’ You Don’t Care and Alton Ellis Rock Steady helped to put Jamaica on the musical map and the music still sounds fresh today.
Following two excellent albums in 2011 and 2014 – Judgement Day and Destiny – Jamaican roots rockers Raging Fyah signed to reggae powerhouse VP’s subsidiary Dub Rockers and recently put out their third album Everlasting, a bombastic set with infectious melodies, lush harmonies and sing-a-long choruses.
Raging Fyah formed about ten years ago after several of the five members had met at Edna Manley College of Visual & Performing Arts in Kingston. Their elegant sound is inspired by reggae bands such as Third World, Steel Pulse and Aswad and they often tackle topics of socio-economics and politics together with uplifting messages about hope and inspiration.
Everlasting – produced by Llamar “Riff Raff” brown, whose credits include work for Stephen Marley, Damian Marley and Morgan Heritage – features J Boog, Busy Signal and the stylistically superior Jesse Royal on guest vocals. The latter kills it as usual on Humble and Busy Signal offers some well-needed edge to the pop-flavoured Would You Love Me.
Raging Fyah is at their best when staying on the grittier side of the reggae spectrum. The sparse and dark Raggamuffin is one such highlight, the roaring title track is another.
Everlasting has several irresistible moments – even though a few might be slightly too slick and polished – and passionate and expressive vocalist Kumar shines throughout this sonically sophisticated collection.
About two years ago reggae powerhouse VP Records announced a collaboration with renowned reggae historian and label head Steve Barrow, one of the founders of the legendary Blood & Fire label. Not much materialized from the collaboration and Steve Barrow left.
But one can guess that the most recent release from VP’s subsidiary 17 North Parade might be a result from the Steve Barrow and VP collaboration. Horace Andy’s In the Light and its dub companion In the Light Dub were namely reissued by Blood & Fire in 1995 and both are now reissued by 17 North Parade.
The sets were however originally put out in 1977 and the vocal version was recorded as a full album with two dedicated producers rather than a collection of singles for a variety of producers. Not always standard in the world of reggae.
Horace Andy is one of the most distinctive voices in reggae and several singers have followed in his footsteps over the years. In the Light is one of his best albums and was produced by Horace Andy himself along with the late producer Everton DaSilva.
It includes a number of new recordings along with updated versions of classics like Fever and Problems. The dub version is superb and shines light on the excellent musicianship provided by some of Jamaica’s top session players. The dubs are explosive with the usual emphasis on the rhythm section.
When these sets were reissued some 20 years ago they reached a new and wider audience and now they are finally made widely available once again.
Reggae powerhouse VP Records’ subsidiary Greensleeves has started the year with a number of solid reissues. First off was three rare Glen Brown compilations from the late 80s and now the label has put out Horace Andy’s hard to find In the Light and In the Light Dub along with Augustus Pablo’s classic Original Rockers.
I have noted some critique on these releases. Some say it’s easy money dropping reissues and that’s why VP is doing it. It’s probably cheaper to release an already recorded album, but for me that’s not the case. I think VP is doing the right thing reissuing solid and hard to find – sometimes downright impossible – albums and singles. These reissues – at least the CD and digital versions – also come with added tracks. Sure, they have reissued before, but there are new generations out there, generations that haven’t heard these great sets.
Augustus Pablo’s Original Rockers album was originally released in 1979. It’s a collection of severely rare singles from his early days, circa 1972-1975, and showcases three creative masterminds – Augustus Pablo himself along with legendary mixing engineers King Tubby and Prince Jammy, the former gracing a few cuts with his dub wizardry.
Original Rockers is extraordinarily innovative and is a mostly instrumental set. This expanded version comes however with vocal cuts from Dillinger, Big Youth, Leroy Sibbles, The Heptones and Bongo Pat.
Augustus Pablo’s dreamy melodica floats around in the mixes and standout cuts include Up Wareika Hill, the militant Jah Dread, the mellow Thunder Clap and Park Lane Special, a superb version of Hugh Mundell’s classic Africa Must Be Free By 1983.
Original Rockers is the essence of Augustus Pablo and the album now gets a well-deserved reissue.
Jamaican singer Luciano has been honoured reggae legend by VP Records and the label has dedicated him a four disc box set collecting three stunning original albums along with a live set.
The box set comprises no less than 58 tracks across the albums One Way Ticket (1995), Sweep Over My Soul (1999), Live (2000) and A New Day (2001) and gives a comprehensive overview of major talent that arrived in the early 90s.
Some of Luciano’s best work was produced by the late Phillip “Fatis” Burrell and he is behind the spectacular One Way Ticket and the atmospheric Sweep Over My Soul. Dean Fraser produced the Grammy-nominated A New Day, which features a remarkable version of Count Ossie & The Mystic Revelation of Rastafari’s nyabinghi hymn No Night in Zion, and Live was recorded on stage in London at the peak of his career.
Luciano has always been highly influenced by Frankie Paul and especially Dennis Brown, which is certainly quite clear on One Way Ticket. The resemblance with the late Crown Prince of Reggae is striking. And just like Dennis Brown, Luciano is always soulful and gentle, and often spiritual and reflective.
A sublime introduction to Luciano, and it would actually be rather easy to do this exercise again since Luciano has been one of the most prolific modern Jamaican singers. Another four disc box could collect masterpieces like Where There is Life, Serious Time, United States of Africa and Write My Name.
Reggae powerhouse VP Records’ subsidiary Greensleeves has reissued three superb compilations of cuts produced by Glen Brown, a singer, instrumentalist and producer that made some of the most uncompromising reggae music ever to be put on wax.
Glen Brown started as a harmony vocalist singing with Lloyd Robinson, Hopeton Lewis and Dave Barker, later of Dave and Ansell Collins fame, and recorded with several top producers in the late 60s, including Coxsone Dodd and Harry J.
In the early 70s he tried his hand at producing and he was – just like his peer Keith Hudson – an innovative and idiosyncratic producer. He was a rebel, not afraid of cutting downright uncommercial music with false starts, vocal interjections and eerie sonic landscapes with earth-shattering bass lines and minor key melodies.
His productions were pressed in tiny quantities on a broad variety of labels and hard to come by back in the days. And these three reissues – originally put out in 1989 – were highly sought after since they collected rare recordings on Glen Brown’s Pantomine label by some of the finest Jamaican singers, deejays and instrumentalists, including performances by U Roy, I Roy, Prince Jazzbo, Big Youth and Tommy McCook. Featured are also Prince Hammer’s Daughter a Whole Lot of Sugar Down Deh, his first recording, and one of Gregory Isaacs’ earliest tracks – One One Coco.
But Glen Brown wasn’t only a truly original producer, he was also ahead of his time when he recycled his riddims for various performers. These three compilations – Boat to Progress (vocal cuts), Check the Winner (instrumentals) and Dubble Attack (deejay outings) – contain largely interpretations of the same deadly riddims. All in all 46 killer tracks showcasing the essence of dread. For a dubwise shower of Glen Brown’s music seek out Blood & Fire’s Termination Dub.
The late and great Augustus Pablo had a distinctive musical vision and his take on reggae is inimitable and his productions are easily identifiable. Organic and dynamic with his typical Far East sound. He was no stranger to instrumentals and was responsible for the massive melodica cut Java.
His music has been heavily reissued and now reggae powerhouse VP has a fresh addition to the Augustus Pablo section in the shelves.
The compilation Rockers International was originally released in 1980 and showcased a bunch of the artists he was currently working with, including Earl Sixteen, Norris Reid and Delroy Williams. Its follow up – Rockers International Vol. 2 – was put out in 1992. Both are now available again on one lovely double disc with liner notes by reggae historian Harry Wise.
The 28 track compilation features several thunderous instrumental gems from Augustus Pablo himself along with earth-shaking dub versions and affecting vocal cuts from the likes of Jacob Miller, Junior Delgado and Jah Levi aka Hugh Mundell.
This album draws deep from the Augustus Pablo vaults and showcases signature productions from his golden era. His music is timeless, spiritually inspired and definately unique.
Honey-voiced Jamaican singer Christopher Martin inked a deal with reggae powerhouse VP Records almost two years ago and finally a result of this collaboration has been put out.
Steppin Razor is a five-track, digital only, release that balances sweetness with sex and showcases this reggae loverman at the top of his game.
Christopher Martin is versatile singer that won Jamaica’s televised talent show Digicel Rising Star in 2005. He has since build a strong fan base around the world and on this set he shows great confidence, especially when it comes to ladies.
Just listen to the title track – which isn’t a cover of the Peter Tosh cut, even though it borrows from it – and lines like “Now ladies love to be next to me, if they are down and am around, I am the remedy” and “they get addicted to my vibe, a make dem feel so good inside, intoxicated by my smile, these girls fall in no time”. Or the swaggering I’m a Big Deal with its introduction “#I’m a big deal”.
Christopher Martin is a certified reggae crooner with a passionate and urgent voice. Lyrically he might be a bit self-centred, but ladies might fall for his confidence and high self-esteem.
Alborosie’s label VP Records certainly tries to make the most out of his acclaimed latest album Sound the System, released in June last year.
After the original album release a dub version was put out in December 2013. And now a new version is available in two separate editions.
Sound the System Showcase comes with ten tracks in full showcase style, i.e. followed by their dub counterparts. It’s available on CD, digital download and a limited edition 5×10” vinyl box set. The latter looks like a bona fide eye-catcher with its master tape style box with lift-off lid.
Sound the System Showcase effortlessly pairs Sound the System with Dub the System. It’s great set honouring the lovely showcase style. If you already own the vocal and the dub set, then this album maybe seems like a collectors item and only for die-hard Alborosie fans.
But that’s not necessarily the case. Here you get the best out of two worlds. Definitely well-worth seeking out.
A few years ago I cried on Twitter about the need for a thorough Augustus “Gussie” Clarke anthology, and maybe someone heard my plea, because reggae powerhouse VP’s vintage imprint 17 North Parade can proudly present Gussie Presenting The Right Tracks.
This double disc features the original eleven track album of the same name complemented by no less than 29 more songs, including unreleased material from the same period, i.e. mid 70s. The set collects instrumentals, dub versions and vocal cuts from a plethora of talented singers and deejays, for example Leroy Sibbles, Gregory Isaacs, Horace Andy, Jacob Miller, Delroy Wilson, Dennis Brown, I Roy and Mikey Dread.
Augustus Clarke was born in 1954 and was only in his late teens when he started in the music industry. He was only 19 years old when he cut the original and exceptional debut albums Screaming Target (Big Youth) and Presenting I Roy (I Roy). He was one of the first so called rebel producers and has always managed to break new ground – check the use of violin on I Roy’s classical Black Man Time or Simplicity People’s K.G.’s Halfway Tree – and stay one step ahead of the current scene.
The sounds collected on these two discs are at times uplifting and joyous, but also haunting, ethereal and eerie. Augustus Clarke certainly had a great ear for arrangements and moods.
He has had an extremely successful career and today he’s one of the biggest music publishers in Jamaica, working largely behind the scenes. And Gussie Presenting The Right Tracks only tells one side of his career. In the 80s he scored a massive hit with Mighty Diamonds’ Pass the Kouchie and re-invented reggae with Gregory Isaacs’ monster smash Rumours. But that’s two other stories, and hopefully two more anthologies.
Gussie Presenting The Right Tracks is available as double disc CD (with excellent liner notes by Harry Wise), single LP and digital download.