AFRICAN HEAD CHARGE
VISIONS OF PSYCHEDELIC AFRICA
BEATINK / ON U SOUND CD
Taking Brian Eno’s mission description of the landmark ‘My Life in the Bush of Ghosts’ Bonjo I and a loosely reformed Head Charge re-emerge after a period during which the rest of the world has done their best to catch up. You have to go right back to 1993 for their last On U produced release, the almost crossover ‘In Pursuit of Shashamane Land’ which was a follow-up to the groundbreaking ‘Songs of Praise’ an album whose samples were largely sourced from Alan Lomax’s ‘Cantrometrics’ collection. This new set is right back in that territory from the opening ‘Big Country’ albeit deeper and dubbier than before. Though one gets the impression that the tricksy ‘Surfari’ was more a product of Sherwood and engineer Nick Coplowe rather than the more plainly afrocentric impulses of the Iabinghi Noah, but these come into full play for the rest of the set, most traditionally on the chants ‘Run Come See’ and its version ‘Ran Came Saw’ and on ‘Drumming is a Language’ on which Bonjo fulfils his role as adopted master drummer of Ghana. Funkier, jazzier and plainly more accessible than its predecessors this is probably AHC’s best so far.
? STUDIO 7" VINYL
Billed as ‘Mr Soul meets Mr Dodd’, two acapellas from the originator of smooth soul are run over Studio 1 rhythms selected for the job. There’s always debate about the ethics of this kind of blend, as in the Elvis ‘goes Dread’ piece from last year, but what’s fun for the punter is rarely good for business. ‘Lost & Lookin’’ is crooned over the great "Money Generator" by Karl Bryan and the Afrokats – only recently revived in its original version and unusual for a classic Studio 1 rhythm in that it was never utilised for vocals. Unlike the ‘Party Time’ rhythm originally vocalised by the Heptones but here sounding like its made to measure for Sam’s ‘Love Me’. Faux Studio One artwork completes the package but that’s where vintage pastiche ends as the vinyl pressing is pristine!
NEW WORLD OBSERVER
~ SCAPE CD
From the cool perspective of Canada, Scott Monteith aka Deadbeat seems to be picking up the mantle of calculated outrage once donned by Bryn Jones so consistently but to little avail in his lifetime. At least that’s how it seems on ‘Abu Ghraib’ where the ‘new world observer’ seemingly sacrifices his implied detachment with the use of the free speech of a right-wing American radio DJ and ‘Little Town of Bethlehem’ where the helplessness of the ordinary Palestinian is laid bare by a woman’s simple observation of the daily routine of devastation. And the sound of Deadbeat is growing closer to the more accessible side of Muslimgauze, in other words the music Bryn was producing mid-term in his further explorations of percussion, bass and ambience. Thankfully the import of jazz house singer Athesia fails to dilute these largely contemplative undulating rhythms and the considerative mood of this fine set, rather her vocals manage to merge into the overall feel.
BEATINK / ON U SOUND CD
On U Sound have now moved their reissue programme to Japan whilst awaiting completion of a UK deal for back catalogue, but the good news is that these high-end reissues come with bonus tracks and the multiple-spliff holding technique original artwork. 1991’s ‘Stoned Immaculate’, its title purloined from the high point of a Jim Morrison ‘poem’, was Dub Syndicate at their best, trademark rolling rhythms with the witty and liberal application of well-sourced voice samples mainly from old Jamaican singles, plus the harmonies of Akabu – a sound judiciously carried over from Sherwood’s collaborations with Scratch. Heard fifteen years on now the rhythms perhaps lack variation in pace and maybe the dubbing wasn’t as wild as we like to remember, but the four bonus tracks included are all dubs, one from Far I’s "Wadada’, a part two to ‘Well Tuned Now’ – the only reggae tune I know titled from an ‘Othello’ quote!, ‘Well Mashed’ is the title track dubbed and ‘Barking Mad’ a take on ‘No Dog Barks (When I Play!).
EARL "CHINNA" SMITH & IDRENS
INN DE YARD
Earl ‘Chinna’ Smith is perhaps best recognised as owner of the High Times label and probably the most cultured guitarist from the golden age of roots, though he challenged this title with his slide guitar riffs on Ken Boothe’s cover of U2’s ‘I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For’! Less well known is that he appeared as Earl Flute alongside Horace Andy for one of Keith Hudson’s most compelling productions – ‘Satan Side’. That tune is versioned here in a ‘back a yard’ chilling acoustic take in an outdoor session where Chinna is joined by friends, colleagues and his son in a brave departure from the signature roots reggae band cloak. Reminiscent of the late Bim Sherman’s original acoustic sessions for his later Bollywood infused classic ‘Miracle’, it’s surprising that there aren’t more of these acoustic sets from Jamaica as the island is blessed with so many great singers. Despite the presence of Ras Michael Jnr., Ken Bob and Jah Youth its Chinna who impresses here with his naked, impassioned style – never overwrought. The opening track ‘Homegrown’, as might be expected a paean to da weed, is enough to seduce a listen to the whole set.
CAN’T TRICK I
BANANA KLAN 12" VINYL
How refreshing to have a new UK label promoted unashamedly as an adventure in modern dub styles, with no disrespect to the few who have kept the flag flying for so many years. Banana Klan is an imprint funded by Rodney Smith aka Roots Manuva and Ricky Ranking is Rod’s MC, superstar of the South London sound system scene for a number of years. His casual, confident style recalls a younger Junior Delgado. This lovely loping rhythm comes in chugging full-on head nod mode with wistfully distant occasional keyboard, no progression, all groove. And the minimalism is carried through to ‘Two Pieces’ where Ricky turns to a gruff DJ style sounding like an early Shabba – no greater compliment. Final track ‘Flootamenatl’ strips and licks back the rhythm but the noodlings on top hark back to Pharoah Sanders/Lonnie Liston Smith territory as space jazz morphs into space dub.
TEMPA ALLSTARS VOL.2
Light years on from Tempa’s Dubstep outings and a whole other dimension than Grime, the stars of those scenes now occupy the vanguard of both head and dance all-comer genres. Kode9 and Daddy G’s HyperDub outings from last year, ‘Sign of the Dub’ and ‘Spit’ were not exactly the future of dub as one can’t imagine any other artists occupying that deeply fucked-up space, but the challenge was out. Here they retreat from the abyss and skirt on the edge with ‘Babylon (Dub Mix)’ and leave Geeneus to take the blows with the awesome sub-roller ‘Congo’. The whole set fades down the techno and old 2step inputs, ramps up the drum and bass and brings forward the dub. El-P, Loefah and Digital Mystikz make up the crew in like style – everything that the Illbient scenet wanted and failed to be.
SHAKE THE NATIONS - A NEW BREED OF DUB IV
This one snuck through in 2004 mysteriously evading this column’s attention, a dub of many nations sampler in the style that DubHead has applied mainly to the UK in the past. Twilight Circus’ Ryan Moore, a Canadian ex-pat in Holland dedicated to Jamaican music, kicks off with his latest incarnation as the Dub Project and the sound of ‘Impact’ expands into a more elastic, abstract framework contrasting with his recently established nu-roots style as displayed on the churning closer, returning as Twilight with Big Youth for ‘Dub is What We Need’. In between these the international highlights are Japan’s ‘Trial Production’ who may have a mundane name but come with a clearly well-developed bag of influences as their ‘Roots Exotica’ attests and from France Brain Damage with Black Sifichi may be in the area of Ry Cooder’s ‘Paris, Texas’ with their opening sample there again Cooder wasn’t bashful about trampling Blind Willie Johnson’s path but ‘Circle Dub’ emerges into a more of a space cowboy epic. Sir Larsie I are from Germany, AB-10 Norway, Sism-X France and Infantry Rockers and Sound Imperium both from the USA. Other high quality sides are lifted from recent releases by UK nu roots stalwarts Vibronics, Nucleus Roots, Iration Steppers and Jah Warrior.
RELAXIN’ WITH LOVERS VOLUME 4
SONY MUSIC ASSOCIATED RECORDS CD
When in Beijing people are likely to visit the Great Wall or the Forbidden City. Me, I visit the Grand World Second-Hand Electronics Market and visit the many CD stalls there picking up fantastic bargains of Japanese cut-outs such as this Lovers Rock volume from 2003 featuring the work of Clem Bushay. The series is still in print as far as I can discern with other material from DEB, Studio 16, Trojan and homegrown Japan. I already confessed to an irrational obsession with Lovers Rock but anyone taking the trouble to search this one out will come under its spell too, primarily for the presence of a version of the old doo-wop chestnut ‘Silhouettes’ here sung by Janet ‘Silly Games’ Kay, however the song is followed by a monster version also featuring DJ Prince Jazzbo and Rico on trombone – truly the epitome of out of ‘strength comes sweetness’. Also irresistible is Louisa ‘Caught You in a Lie’ Marks’ cover of the Jones’ Girls’ ultra-prosaic ‘Mum and Dad’, which runs along the lines ‘… how can I tell my Mum and Dad, I’ve been bad ….’ – you know the story, all against music that like vintage bottled Ladbroke Grove.
THE SOUND OF DUB – RARE AND SOUNDFUL PEARLS FROM NEW ZEALAND IN DUB (THE GREEN ROOM)
ECHO BEACH CD
By all accounts New Zealand, or Aotearoa as my Kiwi friends would have it, is a place for dubheads. Far away in time, a peaceful island of temperate climate suitable for the growing of weed. Which then in my mind begs the question: is this the right environment for the creation, rather than the consumption, of high quality dub? Germany’s Echo Beach, with as many marketing wheezes as Trojan in the UK, determined to find out with this set – a collaboration with NZ’s Loop Records. The album gets into gear with ‘Speech’ by Pitch Black, a pleasant lope with mix from International Observer – bizarrely an ex-Thompson Twin, followed by another nice tune and another and then a realisation that worthy but embarrassingly naïve lyrics on top of m.o.r reggae riddims is what this is, reaching a dire extreme with Lee Tui’s "Mash’d MZ" by NZ Rasta MP Nandor Tanczos. Grateful then for Joe Dukie and DJ Fitchie, from Fat Freddy’s Drop – best band in the land, and ‘Midnight Marauders’ one of those great tantalising grooves that feels like its about to start for four minutes or so but never does.