CB200 / BIONIC DREAD
As Dillinger’s CB200 album was tagged ‘essential’ only just back in the November column then its coupling with the almost-as-essential Bionic Dread set demands attention, but beware – this is a five hundred only limited edition run remastered from the original master tapes. Named Dillinger in tribute to his hero and mentor Dennis Alcapone and as was the trend at the time as street legends replaced the Wild West fad, the young Lester Bullock recorded first for Lee Perry at Dynamics in the early 70s but went on to real stardom at Channel One. There he cut ‘CB200’ a DJ version of Bob Andy’s ‘Sun Shines for Me’ rhythm as reversioned by Gregory Isaacs, a hymn to the latest Honda motorbike tearing up the streets of Kingston. "Cokaine In My Brain" was one of the seminal tracks to ignite the flames of hip hop, not only in the late seventies but in countless samples and quotes in the following years. The massive hits he chalked for the Hookims on their Well Charge and Discomix are here in full, including ‘Ragnampiza’, ‘Eastman Skank’ and the great ‘Plantation Heights’.
BETTER PLACE EP
PAN AMERICAN CD / 12" EP
Slick, dubby house fusion seems to be the order of the day in the lazier end of the Euro dance market and what other end is there? No matter what the pedigree of the rootical vocalisers drafted in to bolster up Djosos Krost (DJ Farfar on drums and DJ Filip on guitars and bass) the sounds just skim along the top waves of dub’s depths. The Copenhagen-based duo were the remixers behind the 'Move Your Feet' tune picked up by DJs worldwide and their reductive approach to constructing pop as dub is amply demonstrated on this tune that makes the Guidance boys sound ruff.
TO BE A LOVER
HIP-O SELECT CD
An eye needs to be kept on the release schedule of this Universal Music Group specialist reissue reprint - comparable to Rhino’s symbiotic relationship to Warners - as a few limited edition represses have appeared, notably the Upsetters crowning achievement in modern dub ‘Superape’ and this immaculate set from George Faith that vies with the Congos’ ‘Heart of the Congos’ as Lee Perry’s finest production moment. In the early Seventies, he hooked up with producer Lee "Scratch" Perry, He first recorded a version of William Bell's Stax classic "To Be A Lover" for Scratch in the early seventies but with no success. In 1977 for the second time around and incubated in the Black Ark at its creative zenith, with harmony vocals from the on top Mighty Diamonds and the Meditations, the results were a dream as the singer’s voice proved a perfect foil to Perry’s mesmeric sound on such classics as the O’Jays’ "I’ve Got The Groove" and Paul Anka’s "Diana", whilst the apparently bizarre combination of Wilson Pickett’s "In The Midnight Hour" and Lee Dorsey’s "Ya Ya" turns out as the album’s unlikely masterpiece. Unfortunately the album’s success coincided with the producer’s crack-up and equally fine tunes and a rumoured second album never saw the light of days except latterly on the odd reissue.
BYRON LEE AND THE DRAGONAIRES
JAMAICA SKA AND OTHER JAMAICAN PARTY ANTHEMS
Pleading guilty in the past to avoiding Byron Lee releases at all costs I can now freely confess to having great fun listening to Jeremy Collingwood’s two disc selection that compiles just a smattering of the tidal wave of tunes issued by the this most prolific and commercially successful Jamaican artist of the sixties and seventies. The appearance of tough, jazz-based players such as Hux Brown, Bumps Jackson and Lester Sterling has got to count for something, and they made their rent in Lee’s band that gave the punters what they wanted along the tourist resorts lining Jamaica’s north coast. The ‘cheese factor’ is held at bay through takes on ‘Bam Sa Bo’, ‘Maga Dog’ and ‘Music Like Dirt’ but its Lee’s versions of his own tune ‘Dumplins’, r’n’b from 1960 and ska from 1964, that stand out as the musical equivalent of ‘melt in the mouth’.
PEACE AND LOVE - ANTHOLOGY
TROJAN DOUBLE CD
The first CD of this set is more interesting historically than musically as the Heptones are captured in pre-Studio One days recording at Treasure Isle studio’s for Ken Lack’s Caltone label, albeit laying down an early rocksteady version of ‘Crying Over You’, and in the process of attempting to develop, occasionally painfully, a new pop soul identity. The second disc is a different cup of meat rolling out a series of stone classic roots sides from producers Harry J (‘Book of Rules’), Pete Weston (‘Tripe Girl’), Gussie Clarke ("Guiding Star’), the Observer ("Through the Fire), Scratch ("Mystery Babylon) and Phil Pratt ("Party Time’) and as such is as near as we have got to a definitive overview of one of reggae’s greatest harmony groups.
KEITH HUDSON AND FRIENDS
THE HUDSON AFFAIR
TROJAN DOUBLE CD
Reminded here of the old On U album ‘Staggering Heights’ a title that would be fittingly re-assigned to this remarkable compilation – a revamp of Steve ‘Blood & Fire’ Barrow’s groundbreaking Hudson selection on ‘Studio Kinda Cloudy’ put together during his stay at Trojan. Although the late Keith Hudson was indeed a staggering talent – both as producer and artist - he had the misfortune to be around at the same time as Bob Marley, to whom he was inevitably and unsuccessfully compared for marketing purposes. Basic Replay reissue of the spooky ‘Flesh of My Skin’ might have been one for the already committed Hudson devotee but this one is designed to claim his rightful place in reggae history as a charismatic, wildly talented, ground-breaking producer and maverick artist of limitless depth and bravery. The first disc takes off on the sonic ski-jump of Ken Boothe, U Roy and Dennis Alcapone riding a rhythm that crashes in and surges forward avalanche-like whilst disc two has multiple versions of the rhythm known as ‘Melody Maker’ culminating in the Dark Prince of Reggae’s capture of proud alienation which is Horace Andy & Earl Flute’s ‘Don't Think About Me (I'm Alright)’. Also standing out the old reggae hip hop standard Soul Syndicate’s ‘Riot’ and ‘Satan Side Version (aka Kiss 14)’ the Pablo version of the Wire’s favoured dub of all time. OK, as a singer Hudson may have been an acquired taste, but the same can be said of Tom Waits and Captain Beefheart. The only curmudgeonly gripe is that I expected ‘135 Stamma Style" Merna Townsend Allstars was half-promised for this set and in the end does not appear, understandably as the track, a stammering oddity long attributed to Hudson, is now assigned correct provenance.
THE AGE OF VENUS RECORDS CD
Not enough of top UK modern reggae producer Steve Mosco is seen through these columns, perhaps only partially explained by the sheer reliability of his modern roots output. Recorded at Dougie Wardrop’s Conscious Studios in London with live brass section this new showcase of his production talents kicks off as vocal and dub combinations lining up the talents of Jamaica’s old school with appearances from Earl 16, Ranking Joe and Peter Broggs. Following on is UK roots stalwart Tena Stelin who goes back a long way with Jah Warrior to the heady days of the WAU Mr.Modo label and beyond. But it’s the relative newcomers Afrikan Simba and young Bobo dread Lutan Fyah who surprisingly impress. ‘Impostor Dub’ is a strictly unadulterated brain-masher whilst for ‘Righteous Children Remix’, one of eight unreleased versions, Jah Warrior draws the brakes as the rhythm hesitates for a full two minute stutter before the bass kicks in.
THUG FEVER / WOOH STAR
JSTAR 12" Vinyl
The Nuffwish and Jstar units have cornered the market lately on reggae hip hop blends flying out on both 12 and 7" pieces, on this fifth release Jstar works Missy into a deeper cut. Winding the acapellas Tweet and Missy’s "Thug Man" into the Waterhouse vintage digi-riddim cut at Tubby's by the boys with new toys back in the mid-eighties, back then sounding weak compared to the militancy of the 70s and now sounding awesome against almost everything else. Jstar bring the tune up shine and criss especially on the stumbling dub, makes Busta Rhymes on the flip with his "Whoo Ha" mixed on Jeremy Harding’s 'Playground' rhythm sound a little limp. Hot on the heels of this comes Jstar back on 7" with a mashing together of Toots’ "Funky Kingston" rhythm with Gangstarr's "DWYCK" vocals – these pieces are hot and then they are gone, frothy but fun.
Those who felt Pole’s departure from his own peculiar dub diversions was to oblique may perhaps Lena’s genuflectory musings on the potential warmth of dub to be a mite more comfortable. Mathias " Lena " Delplanque originates from Ouagadougou in Burkina Faso, succoured waves by of disco, reggae, zouk and Congolese rumba he could have ended up as just another accomplished hip-swayer but was seduced by a series of musical outsiders. The first album in 2002 was just a step towards ‘Floating Roots’ where Black Sifichi but mainly MC Tablloyd take the Tikiman role acting as narrator, chanter and singer in turn. The slower less bubbly tracks work best when the vocals remain as indistinct but clearly patois laden signifiers – ‘roots injection’, ‘Jah man!’ and so on … - so there is no clear requirement to engage. The set reaches its heights on the rippling pulses of the title track where all the previous meanderings come together for a darkly elegiac summary – save that is for the unusually energetic crisp-beat Daniel Meteo remix of ‘Mountain Dub’ which destroys the spell but confirms the promise.
THE SMALL AXE PEOPLE
A PORTION OF VERSION
SMALL AXE PEOPLE CD
Lest we forget, the Small Axe People are the brainchild of Ray Hurford, headboy of web-based reggaezine Small Axe. On the last album there was a kind of Flash Gordon style serial end as Ray indicated the SAPs were heading for New Orleans with a funky little nod to the Crescent City. That’s turned out to be a mere tributary as the stream fed by Lynford Anderson aka Andy Capp’s immortal pre-dub ‘Pop A Top’ reggae instrumental continues unabated. This reminds me of a mirror image of the Jorge Luis Borges story where Cervantes’ ‘Don Quixote’ is rewritten unconsciously word for word by another author a century later. In this case the Small Axe people consciously try to recreate ‘Pop A Top’ and in failing produce a thousand versions in the process.
UNDER ME SLENG TENG
This one snuck out in the middle of last year in a batch of Greensleeves reissues. The problem with knocking out an epoch-bending bona fide classic in any genre is that all subsequent output pales in comparison, unfortunate then as Wayne Smith was already a recognised quality purveyor of roots vocals – look no further than Jammy’s production of his ‘Time is a Moment in Space’, actually of version of the Bee Gee’s ‘Woman in Love’! – and despite the presence of three versions of the mighty ‘Sleng Teng’ the other tunes on this album are all worthy of attention. The vocal gymnastics on the rapid chat ‘In Thing’ require funding of a PhD for adequate decipher and ‘Icky All Over’ is something we may have all felt at one time but I’m sure this is not what Wayne has in mind. An indispensable addition to the shelf of reggae history, riddim as the engine of change.