ALPHA & OMEGA
TRAMPLE THE EAGLE AND DRAGON AND THE BEAR
ALPHA AND OMEGA CD
Alpha & Omega, Christine Woodbridge and John Sprosen, have such a massive catalogue now they have become a durable nu dub institution. Like just a handful of other UK dub acts, On U, Zion Train and Jah Warrior immediately come to mind, they have a signature sound - largely based on their preference for insistent steppers rhythms driven by Christine’s slinky bass and the light swirling sound of John’s melodica. This new set, the first real new one for some time, is something of a departure as it takes the structure of a showcase set with vocal followed by dub. Scratch and the Mad Professor open the set with yet another undistinguished effort in ‘Dub Fire’ it’s a relief when the dub arrives, but the appearance next of Greg Isaacs on ‘Bush Ganja’ puts the set back on track as the Cool One dispenses weed reasoning in a voice not too distressed from its peak. Other fine contributions from Bunny Lie Lie, Horace Martin, Reuben Master and Sis Nya who recovers well from a wobbly start.
NATTY DREAD – ANTHOLOGY
Here’s one of the golden keys to all those Bunny Lee produced dub albums that have surfaced over the years, the original vocals of tunes that were versioned incessantly through the seventies and have since become roots reggae standards. The sweet falsetto voice of Cornell Campbell was nurtured as a member of the Uniques along with the great Slim Smith, he then went on to lead the Eternals returning to Studio One for the immortal ‘Queen of the Minstrels’ eventually joining the Bunny Lee production stable in 1971. Here he locked horns with Johnny Clarke and together they spurred each other to higher heights ruling the roots roost through the decade. All of Campbell’s hits are here on this double set plus some more obscure, but equally stunning, sides. Amongst the many tasty cuts essential consumption is the Ray Harryhausen inspired series ‘The Gorgon’, ‘The Conquering Gorgon’, ‘The Gorgon Is the Ruler’ and ‘The Gorgon Is Back’, Cornell’s inspired take on Gene Chandler’s ‘Duke of Earl’ and his tuffest tune ‘Boxing’ cut for Joe Gibbs.
FAMILY MAN BARRETT / ANSELL COLLINS / LYNN TAITT
SOUL CONSTITUTION / PORTOBELLO / WILLIAMSBURG
PK 10" VINYL
PK is an occasional imprint for the rarer side of reggae and dub that will never crossover into wider audience. This time Honest Jons, the people behind PK, team up with the Dubstore Records shop in Tokyo to mine three deep reggae instrumentals for which you would normally have to give up the proverbial arm and leg. ‘Soul Constitution’ has Upsetter and eventual Wailers’ bassman in the style of an easier JB’s jam but leaning more into Meter’s country, whilst ‘Portobello’ is a rare but funky Augustus Pablo melodica piece on top of a wah-wah guitar. But the concept becomes stretched with the inclusion of guitarist Lynn Taitt's unreleased ‘Williamsburg’ a sweet but chunky travelogue piece with a jaunty flute where you’re just left waiting for the commentary to begin.
HORACE ANDY / BULLWACKIES ALL STARS
SERIOUS THING / SERIOUS DUB
WACKIES 12" VINYL
Originally released in 1981 and itself a recut of an earlier Bunny Lee version, the Bullwackies produced version of Horace Andy’s "Serious Thing" is another unexpected revival classic. The Rhythm & Sounds boys have done a great job with the Wackies catalogue or perhaps the time just happened to be right to re-evaluate these tunes. Previous reissues have just not caught the spark whilst now, especially with the extra cuts on the 12" of horn and guitar dub mixes, plus an extra vocal version, Horace’s delicate singing floats dangerously on top of the broiling instrumental bed pumped back up to safety by the horns. Another good reason to keep collecting your dub in vinyl form.
SAFE TRAVEL - THE RARE SIDE OF ROCK STEADY WITH PHIL PRATT AND FRIENDS 1966 TO 1968
PRESSURE SOUNDS CD/ DOUBLE VINYL
One time box carrier for Coxsone’s Downbeat Sound System Phil Pratt linked up with ex-road manager for the Skatalites Ken Lack to establish the Caltone, Jon Tom and Wiggle Spoon record labels as outlets for a music that became known as rocksteady. It was their partnership with guitarist and arranger Lynn Taitt, the man sometimes credited as the engine behind the change of the beat from ska to rocksteady and the introduction of the original drum and bass sound we still know today. This release from Pressure Sounds establishes another cultural landmark of Jamaican music along with their recent Herman Chin-Loy and Clive Chin sets. Between 1966 and 1968 it was the skeletal sound of rock steady that provided the framework for vocalists to step away from the frantic rush of ska and in turn form the bedrock for the eventual development of many of the great Jamaican vocalists. Here Ken Boothe, Horace Andy, Larry Marshall and the Clarendonians are all featured, and Phil Pratt himself is revealed as a singer of some talent. After so may Treasure Isle compilations this is a real treat.
FEAR OF FLYING
As Big Bud music producer and DJ, Robin O'Reilly was a stalwart of the foundation drum and bass imprint Good Looking. Since splitting with them a couple of years ago he has been DJing around the world. Judging by the throw away nature of the first CD on this set, generic d&b at best, its tempting to think staying at home was a better plan. Reinforced on the second CD especially with G Rhymes painfully arch and out of time ‘How I Make my G’s’, then the sun breaks through and birds begin to whistle as Dan Marcus, Big Bud’s Belize discovery comes with ‘Fan the Flame’ and Lugua Centeno, a vocalist and percussionist from Triunfo de la Cruz, a Garifuna coastal village in Honduras, with ‘Gimme the Woman’, both areas untouched by today’s musical conquistadors until now. Cleansing out the preceding stodge Big Bud are revitalised with ‘Stinkweed’ and ‘Lazy Iguana’ two dubby instrumentals, the first dope-ridden with ‘bone and the second trippy percussion with sparkling flute. Re-edited with the second half of the second CD occupying the core this album would have been a contender.
Appearing at the same time as last year’s Burning Spear retrospective on Soul Jazz this can only really happen with Jamaican music. It must be that the late Clement Dodd would have ‘blessed’ this release containing as it does a rare original version of Spear’s ‘Rocking Time’ with Coxsone as DJ. Other than that many of the cuts are in common with its ‘competitor’ with the exception that a number bear the legend ‘alternate stereo mix’. As Heartbeat’s Chris Wilson has in the past not been able to resist the urge to remix original Studio One multi-tracks, notably on Willie Williams’ "Armagideon Time’ album, then I approached in trepidation. But no reason for reggae purists to get too paranoid as the sound is crisp, full and we are assured that everything is sourced from the "Studio One archives". Both ‘Pick Up The Pieces’ and ‘Weeping And Wailing’ are exclusive to this release, but if one were searching for exclusivity then the advice must be to go for the actual Studio One CD re-releases of ‘….. Presents’ and its follow-up ‘Rocking Time’. The uninitiated should beware, Burning Spear breeds these kind of compulsions.
INCREDIBLE MUSIC CD
As this column is being written and Junior Delgado’s new album is released comes the sad news of his untimely death at the age of just 46, passing away in his sleep whilst in a diabetic coma. Truly a singer with the voice of a lion and magisterial delivery demanding attention and commanding respect. Junior, or Jux as he was often known, had worked with all the great producers, most notably Scratch, Augustus Pablo, Sly & Robbie and most memorably his great friend, the late Dennis Brown. This album is a mix of productions from Jux himself, Adrian Sherwood and Skip MacDonald whom he had worked with extensively over past ten years or so. His rich, resonant voice is often a challenge to listen to through a whole album – like an endless gourmet meal with each course more delicious but also more difficult to consume – but each track taken alone is a thing to marvel, none more so than ‘None Shall Escape’ a song of faith, spiritual uprising and revolution in the mind. Incredible Music was Junior’s own label and most of his exemplary back catalogue of roots, lovers and conscious music is still available.
KING STURGAV SOUNDS
CHARLIE CHAPLIN LIVE IN CLARENDON
The availability of quality sound system recordings outside the collectors market is scarce, so the reappearance of this set capturing U Roy’s King Stur Gav Hi-Fi, the primary deejay academy of the early eighties where microphone talent of the era’s finest DJs was laid on the line. First came Ranking Joe with Jah Screw on decks. When that duo defected for Ray Symbolic up stepped ‘Colonel’ Josey Wales, partnered by ‘Principal’ Charlie Chaplin and selector Inspector Willie at the control to challenge the pre-eminent slack styles of General Echo and Yellowman. As entertaining as Daddy U Roy’s cultural rhythm picks here is Charlie Chaplin’s between tune chat giving a flavour of the times (1983). Not for a hi-fi audience, although the sound quality is excellent for a sound system session we can hear the grit jumping out of the grooves as needle hits the records and the selector changes the pieces over, as one by one classic version follows version
PUSH COMES TO SHOVE
Although Freddie McGregor started at Studio One as a member of the Clarendonians and recorded some of his greatest solo tunes there his classic ‘Bobby Babylon’ album was only released to cash in on the success of his later success with Niney in the late seventies that provided great lovers and roots versions of Jah Bob’s ‘Chant Down Babylon Kingdom’ and Sugar Minott’s ‘Lovers Rock inna J.A. Style’; and its this period running through to the late eighties from which this selection is culled by John Masouri. A jazzier relick on ‘Rastaman Camp’ and the dubbed up ‘Make it Snappy’ in combo with Capleton are highlights but the cover of Buffalo Springfield’s ‘For What it Worth’ is signally dispensable and the title track always springs questions as to why the song wasn’t a major crossover hit. The fact there are no production, musician and engineer credits is an error that compounds the feeling that somehow a mere great vocalist does not deserve the serious treatment that’s usually accorded to strict dub sets – or laziness on behalf of the label.
RUN IT RED – MICK HUCKNALL SELECTS FROM 10 YEARS OF BLOOD AND FIRE CLASSICS
BLOOD AND FIRE CD
The boys down at Blood and Fire continue to tread water with the delay, or is it cancellation, of the promised modern ‘Congos set’ from Cedric Myton and come up with this obvious but forgivable transparent marketing ploy as Mick ‘Simply Red’ Hucknall picks his choice tracks from the catalogue. However Mick does not get as far as making any comments on the tracks – hard work! – that’s left to a quote from Red to the effect that a statue of King Tubby in Kingston would not go amiss. Twenty tracks gathered together most of which reggae fans would have killed for 15 years ago, as a primer to roots and seventies dub there can be no argument, drawing attention to ‘123 Beat Street: Ja-Man Special’ and the Freedom Sounds’ ‘Only Love Can Conquer’ is a social service. But the opportunity for nod to the late Roger Eagle, the ultimate dub champion who did so much to inspire in Mickie and others yet another peculiar strain of North-West musical fanaticism is passed over.