Thursday, 18 April 2019

The Abyssinians - Arise (1978)

  

Released in 1978

Coming right in the middle of the roots reggae boom and the credibility offered to it by its popularity with punk rockers, this second album from the Abyssinians is an excellent offering, one of my favourite roots reggae albums. Like The Mighty Diamonds, Israel Vibration and, to a certain extent, The Gladiators, The Abyssinians managed to combine a rootsy beat, a Rasta devotional message with really melodic, appealing vocals. The tracks are nearly all upbeat and uplifting, like a breath of fresh Caribbean air. Despite the liberal sprinkling of Rasta consciousness, this is certainly no gruff, preachy, doom-laden album of warning. It is an optimistic album and highly enjoyable. The group pushed aside a few boundaries - more power to them for it.

TRACK LISTING

1. Oh Lord
2. This Land Is For Everyone
3. The Mightiest Of All
4. Meditation
5. Wicked Man
6. Jah Loves
7. Dem A Come
8. South African Enlistment
9. Hey You
10. Let My Days Be Long

"Oh Lord" is a delicious opener, with an infectious bass line and lovely vocal. It has a great "Catch A Fire"-style guitar solo too and some impressive organ. This track skanks beautifully. "This Land Is For Everyone" is also a catchy, melodic delight, full of great vocals and a fetching rhythm. This is not a track that would please the hard-core roots aficionados, but for me it shows a willingness on the part of the group to produce a different style of roots. "The Mightiest Of All" is an insistent, deeply attractive groover. "Meditation" is a gloriously enjoyable number. Lovely bass and guitar interplay. It almost gets into a sort of soulful/jazzy guitar-driven groove at times. A most impressive and slightly different roots reggae track.

"Wicked Man" is the first overtly "fire and brimstone" number but still manages to retain that irresistible, tuneful sound. "Jah Loves" is upbeat, lively, harmonious and in possession of some sublime, crystal clear cymbal sounds, as well as a winning bass line. It has a feel of Third World about it. That whole airy, breezy jazzy ambience. There is something a bit dance/disco underpinning it. Just a great song, I have to say. That same vibe continues on the sensual, rhythmic "Dem A Come".

"South African Enlistment" has a lilting, vaguely South African-sounding guitar sound, a thumping bass and drum sound and some excellent vocals once more. "Hey You" is vocally perfect and has a really impressive guitar skank to it too. "Let My Days Be Long" has an almost sixties-sounding bluesy soulfulness to it and some punchy horns and strong female backing vocals. Make no mistake, this is an excellent roots reggae album and one of the genre's most enjoyable offerings. The dub cuts on the extended version are good too, not just all bass and drums, but still using vocals in places and other instruments, such as the flute on "This Land Is For Everyone". "Wicked Men" has some killer bass too. Highly recommended. Well remastered too.

B+

Tappa Zukie - The Best Of The Front Line Years

  

Around 1975, Tappa Zukie (born David Sinclair) did what a lot of young Jamaican singers did, and diversified from rocksteady style reggae into "conscious" rootsy, dubby "toasting" grooves. A semi-spoken vocal delivered vocals over a big, bass-heavy rumbling dubby beat. Zukie's voice was more melodic, and lighter than other gruffer toasters like Big Youth, Prince Far I and U-Roy. The cuts here, recorded on the Virgin Front Line label were certainly very dub heavy but the vocals give them a slightly less fervent feel. There is a strong Rasta message prevalent on a lot of the material, which was pretty unsurprising, as that was what the roots genre within reggae was all about.

TRACK LISTING

1. Pick Up The Rockers
2. M.P.L.A. Dub
3. Don't Get Crazy
4. Stop The Gun Shooting
5. Marcus
6. Chalice To Chalice
7. Oh Lord!
8. Satta
9. Green By Murder
10. Freedom Street
11. First Street Rock
12. The City Of Mount Zion
13. Ghetto Rock
14. Praise Jah In Gladness
15. Peace In The City
16. Dangerous Woman

This compilation mainly covers material from the 1976-1979 glorious period for roots/dub reggae.

"M.P.L.A. Dub" is Zukie's most famous track. It is supposdly about Angolan freedom fighters but you don't get much hint of that in the lyrics. "Don't Get Crazy" is a sparse bassy piece of dub, while "Stop The Gun Shooting" continues in the same vein, with an infectious bass riddim and a strong anti-violence message. So, while Rasta devotions were high on Zukie's agenda, he had strong social concerns too. "Marcus" reworks the Burning Spear "Marcus Garvey" in a dub/toasting style.

As the tracks progress into the 1978 period, we get a slightly crisper sound, such as on "Oh Lord!" with the cymbals to the fore and that typically dubby brass backing. The dub had progressed a little from the bass and drum of "Don't Get Crazy". I like the bit where Tappa starts talking about cricket half way through "Oh Lord!". The West Indies were the best cricket team in the world at the time. "Satta" has an addictive bass line but the vocals get a bit tiresome as "satta" is repeated many times.

"Green By Murder" features that "murder!" line that The Clash used on "Somebody Got Murdered". It features some appealing saxophone underpinning the riddim. Another sign of musical broadening of horizons. "Freedom Street" has some delicious horns and a lively catchiness to it. While the basic toasting vocal style remained the same, it is clear that Zukie was attempting to include different types of backing on occasions. The music becomes slightly more inventive. "The City Of Mount Zion" has an excellent bass line.

Overall, this is an interesting example of the rootsy DJ toasting style that was prevalent in 1976-79 reggae. Personally, I can listen to about half an hour before I start to tire just a little. I prefer my Tappa Zukie tracks appearing every now and again, as part of a compilation of various artists or a playlist.

C+

Dread Meets Punk Rockers Uptown


  

This is an excellent compilation, curated by Don Letts, that presents some of most atmospheric roots/dub reggae numbers from the period 1975-1977 that were very much a part of the punk/roots reggae crossover that broke big in 1978. Punk band like the Clash, The Slits, The Ruts, Stiff Little Fingers, The Police and many more were influenced by the deep, bassy sounds of dub and roots reggae. The music is dripping with nostalgia for anyone, like myself, who was around, attending gigs during that incredibly exciting period. The p.a. systems before punk gigs regularly played this material non-stop. Before your favourite punk band took to the stage, there would often have been half an hour or more of solid roots/dub reggae blasting out of the venues speakers. Then, of course, there was Notting Hill carnival - cans of cold Red Stripe, plates of curry goat with rice and peas and enormous sound systems pumping out Big Youth, U-Roy, King Tubby and Culture.

It is a shame that the compilation couldn't be interspersed with some punky white reggae classics like The Clash's "Armagideon Time" or The Ruts' "Jah Wars", but, then again, you can make a seriously good playlist yourself by doing just that, as I have. Otherwise, just play the sumptuous, ranking fare on offer here.

TRACK LISTING

1. Bag A Wire Dub - King Tubby
2. Marcus Garvey - Big Youth
3. Fade Away - Junior Byles
4. M.P.L.A. Dub - Tappa Zukie
5. Black Harmony Killer - Jah Stitch
6. Fisherman - The Congos
7. Wear You To The Ball - U-Roy
8. Rush I Some Dub - Tappa Zukie
9. Pure Ranking - Horace Andy
10. I Need A Roof - The Mighty Diamonds
11. King Tubby Meets Rockers Uptown - King Tubby & Augustus Pablo
12. Train To Zion - U Brown
13. Two Sevens Clash - Culture
14. Deuteronomy - Sylford Walker
15. Police And Thieves - Junior Murvin
16. The Tackro - Lee "Scratch" Perry & The Upsetters

The stand out and well known classics on here are Junior Murvin's iconic "Police and Thieves" (also covered by The Clash), Culture's crucial groove "Two Sevens Clash", King Tubby and Augustus Pablo's ground-breaking dub "King Tubby Meets Rockers Uptown" and The Congos' melodic "Fisherman". There are also several examples of "toasting", the semi-spoken vocal accompaniment to a dubby beat in U-Roy's take on John Holt's "Wear You To The Ball", Jah Stitch's beautifully bassy "Black Harmony Killer" and U Brown's "Train To Zion". Dub is here with, amongst others, King Tubby's "Bag A Wire Dub" and Tappa Zukie's thumping "M.P.L.A. Dub". The same artist's "Rush I Some Dub" is a piledriving bassy dub too. Nice to hear the more melodious roots of The Mighty Diamonds' "I Need A Roof".

The sound is pretty good, but some of the tracks still have that crackling sound that they always had. That just seems to add to the atmosphere. You would almost think Letts put them on there deliberately, as they are not on other issues of "Two Sevens Clash", for example. Put this on, turn the bass up to full and imagine its 1978 again.

B+

King Tubbys Meets Rockers Uptown - King Tubby & Augustus Pablo (1976)


  

Released in 1976

This was probably the first dub album that was critically accepted in its own right and preceded the punk/dub/roots reggae crossover that really took off in 1978. The dark, deep, bassy, often scratchy and mysterious "riddims" dominated the sound systems at Notting Hill Carnival, pounding out from under the Westway flyovers once darkness fell. The sounds were also played a lot, pre-gig, over the p.a. at countless punk gigs, which is where I first came across it. Listening to this takes me right back there.

"Dub" is in its purest form was instrumental reggae backings to songs, stripped down to a thumping bass, drums, staccato cymbals (check out "Young Generation Dub" for an example) and intermittent horn breaks. Here, the acknowledged "dub master" King Tubby mixed these intoxicating, deep sounds with the assistance of Augustus Pablo, who played the unique, strange-sounding melodica as well as piano, organ and clavinet. Vocals, when they occur are often repetitive and deliberately echoey, fading in and out. Guitar sounds are typically chunky "skanking" breaks, but, once again, they come and go. The organ swirls in and out too. It is all one big, infectious cornucopia that instantly summons up the spirit of inner-city London in the 1976-1980 period. The style of music influenced so many - Don Letts, Mick Jones, Joe Strummer, The Ruts, The Slits, The Police as well as countless reggae artists subsequently.

Other musicians on here are Wailers drummer Carlton Barrett, bassists Robbie Shakespeare and Wailer Aston Barrett and Earl "Chinna" Smith on guitar. Reggae royalty indeed.

TRACK LISTING

1. Keep On Dubbing
2. Stop Them Jah
3. Young Generation Dub
4. Each One Dub
5. 555 Dub Street
6. Braces Tower Dub
7. King Tubby Meets Rockers Uptown
8. Corner Crew Dub
9. Say So
10. Skanking Dub
11. Frozen Dub
12. Satta Dub

It is pretty pointless analysing each cut one by one, as I do on most albums, as they just wash over you in one well-spent, atmospheric half hour of bassy therapy. I will say, though, that Carlton Barrett's drumming is just superb - rhythmic and powerful simultaneously. The best reggae drummer of all time? Up there with Sly Dunbar.

If you want to choose just one track, just go for the title track, "King Tubby Meets Rockers Uptown", which introduced Augustus Pablo's evocative melodica. Check out Carlton's cymbal work on it too. Sublime. That guitar skanking on "Corner Crew Dub" is exhilarating as well. The bass and skanking on "Say So". There you go, I am picking out some of the cuts after all. A whole new genre was being created. I know dub versions of hit singles had existed for several years before, often created by just taking the vocal out of the recording, but this was taking the whole thing to a new level. It became an art form. Yes, there is heavier dub around than this, produced as the genre developed, and the sound isn't great (but isn't that part of the nostalgic appeal?) but this is certainly a ground-breaking album. Check out any of Lee "Scratch" Perry's Ark Studio work as well as an example of the art of dub at its finest - "Arkology" or "Sipple Out Deh".

B+

Israel Vibration - The Same Song (1978)


  

Released in 1978

This was one of the most refreshing, exciting debuts from a reggae band in the roots era of the mid-late seventies. It had a lively, airy, upbeat feel to it. Yes, it had a Rasta message, but it was delivered with a highly melodious, carefree vitality to it. They were a vocal trio and the vocals had a quavering, light quality about them, a bit Jacob Miller-ish. There is also something of The Wailing Souls about them, but lighter. The music had to avoid being too deep and thumping in order to allow the vocals to flourish. Notably, all three of them had suffered from polio in childhood and had disabilities. Their slightly sad-sounding vocals are not linked to this, but you can't help but feel a poignancy, somehow. Their backing musicians on here included Sly Dunbar, Robbie Shakespeare, Ansel Collins and Augustus Pablo. The music is top quality as is the sound reproduction. Nice and bassy, but not speaker-shaking.

The album is totally a Rastafarian "conscious" one, with warnings and messages abounding. Don't let that put you off, though, it is all delivered in a most winning fashion. It is one of the most accessible but genuinely authentic Rasta roots albums. It may lack the preachy fire of Burning Spear, Big Youth or Black Uhuru, but it is no less convincing.

TRACK LISTING

1. The Same Song
2. Weep And Mourn
3. Walk The Streets Of Glory
4. Ball Of Fire
5. I'll Go Through
6. Why Worry
7. Lift Up Your Conscience
8. Prophet Has Arise
9. Jah Time Has Come
10. Licks And Kicks

"The Same Song" is a beautifully lilting skank, with some fetching saxophone. "Weep And Mourn" has another infectious, toe-tapping rhythm with a bit of a Burning Spear style vocal dishing put the Rasta warnings of "great tribulation". It has a sumptuous guitar skank throughout as well. "Walk The Streets Of Glory" has an insistent, bass beat and a wobbly but appealing vocal. "Ball Of Fire" is just lovely, full of feeling in its vocals and driving along on a most attractive rhythm. Great stuff.

"I'll Go Through" is another laid-back, peaceful skank that just draws you in and envelops you. "Why Worry" is a more muscular, solid chugger. "Lift Up Your Conscience" is in the same vein but slightly less heavy. Back to a heavier, more typically late seventies roots groove is "Prophet Has Arise". The last few tracks have indeed been slightly deeper in their sound, but this is lifted by the subtle skank of "Jah Time Has Come". It reminds me a lot of The Mighty Diamonds.

A deep bass and saxophone backs the hard-hitting "Licks And Kicks", which is the album's only political song, detailing an act of police brutality. Even then, the act is explained as a "fulfilment of holy prophecy". This is a devout trio.

B-

"The Harder They Come" - Original Soundtrack


  

Released February 1973

Reggae had really not been considered a credible music genre before 1973, despite the many late sixties/early seventies chart hits (particularly in the UK). The release of Bob Marley & The Wailers' "Catch A Fire" changed that and in the same year came this iconic soundtrack release. The movie of the same name was a low budget, often incomprehensible (a lot of the speech was in Jamaican patois) but highly atmospheric one and the music used that appears on this album was truly outstanding.

The tracks that had already been hit singles are the ones that always catch the eye for most people - Desmond Dekker's catchy and poppy "You Can Get It If You Really Want", his "007 (Shanty Town)" and Jimmy Cliff's "The Harder They Come". However, it is some of the lesser-known tracks that contain some of the album's most authentic reggae. There is the patois-drenched early roots of Scotty's "Draw Your Brakes", the melodious but admonishing "Johnny Too Bad" from The Slickers and two wonderful cuts from the ebullient Toots & The Maytals - the marvellously lively "Sweet And Dandy" (a tale of a Jamaican wedding) and "Pressure Drop", one of my favourite reggae tracks of all time. There is also the original "Rivers Of Babylon" by The Melodians, which is far more roots than the Boney M version everyone knows. Strangely two of the album's most evocative numbers do not contain any reggae rhythms. Jimmy Cliff's "Sitting In Limbo" is a soulful, gentle number, while the truly iconic "Many Rivers To Cross" is a plaintive, organ-backed ballad.

It is only a short album, and, to be honest, there are many fuller, more complete compilations around, ("Trojan Presents: Classic Reggae" or "Monkey Business: The Definitive Skinhead Reggae Collection" to name but two), but the material included on here provides a great bite-sized sample of the irresistible glory of early seventies reggae.

TRACK LISTING

1. You Can Get It If You Really Want - Desmond Dekker
2. Draw Your Brakes - Scotty
3. Rivers Of Babylon - The Melodians
4. Many Rivers To Cross - Jimmy Cliff
5. Sweet And Dandy - Toots & The Maytals
6. The Harder They Come - Jimmy Cliff
7. Johnny Too Bad - The Slickers
8. 007 (Shanty Town) - Desmond Dekker
9. Pressure Drop - Toots & The Maytals
10. Sitting In Limbo - Jimmy Cliff
11. You Can Get It If You Really Want (Instrumental) - Jimmy Cliff
12. The Harder They Come (short version) - Jimmy Cliff

B+

Wednesday, 17 April 2019

Jimmy Cliff - Reggae Greats


  

Jimmy Cliff was one of the great late sixties/early seventies reggae artists, along with Desmond Dekker. They were the voices that were on several of the huge hits that had that "reggae with strings" production that commercialised reggae and brought it to the charts. The importance of reggae's pop breakthrough here cannot be over-estimated. It paved the way for Bob Marley to make reggae credible. To dismiss this material as mere pop chart fare would be wrong. It is feel-good music of the highest order. It brought Jamaican music into the UK mainstream and is hugely culturally important because of it.

The highlights are the iconic "The Harder They Come", used to great effect in the movie of the same name; the singalong "Let Your Yeah Be Yeah"; Cliff's cover of Desmond Dekker's "You Can Get It If You Really Want"; the unusually serious "Vietnam"; and two songs that actually don't contain any real reggae rhythms - the melodious, soulful "Sitting In Limbo" and the moving, evocative ballad "Many Rivers To Cross". All quality stuff.

TRACK LISTING

1. Vietnam
2. Sitting In Limbo
3. Struggling Man
4. Let Your Yeah Be Yeah
5. Bongo Man
6. The Harder They Come
7. Sufferin' In The Land
8. Many Rivers To Cross
9. Hard Road To Travel
10. You Can Get It If You Really Want
11. Sooner Or Later

B-