Monday, 22 April 2019

The Best Of King Tubby (Trojan)


  

This is an excellent compilation in the equally impressive series from the legendary Trojan label. As on all the releases, the sound quality is excellent, as indeed it needs to be on the deep bass-heavy dub from iconic dub master King Tubby (Osbourne Ruddock).

The music is so redolent of the punk/dub/roots reggae crossover era of 1977-80 when sound systems before punk gigs blasted out this solid, dense dub material endlessly. No punk gig was complete without these pounding bass lines filling the expectant pre-gig air. Similarly, no Notting Hill carnival after dark in that era was complete without them.

To the uninitiated, King Tubby took the instrumental backing tracks from songs and tinkered with them, adding occasional repeated vocal lines, similar brass breaks, intoxicating crystal clear cymbal work and, of course, big, booming bass lines all over them, shaking your speakers almost out of service. That was dub reggae, and Tubby was one of its pioneering exponents, starting around 1970-71 to experiment with creating new rhythms. It became a whole genre in itself and many dubs were soon being made in their own right, simply instrumental tracks as opposed to the backing track of a well-known song (which is how the very first dub versions came about).

King Tubby released countless dubs in his own name over the years, but this collection concentrates on dubs which are credited the the music's original artists, but engineered into a dub with the help of Tubby. Only two of the album's impressive forty tracks are credited to Tubby alone. The artists involved are Rupie Edwards, Horace Andy, Dennis Brown, Augustus Pablo, Jackie Edwards, Lee "Scratch" Perry, The Crystalites, The Aggrovators, Johnny Clarke, Dillinger, The Upsetters, Max Romeo, Cornell Campbell, The Observers and Big Joe. Some veritable roots reggae names in there.

The sounds are all very atmospheric - Augustus Pablo's strange melodica sound hauntingly enhancing many of them, the typical "chicka chicka" guitar sounds very prevalent and the bass invariably thumping. Echo and reverb are all over them too. The cuts are not without melody, however, although, to be honest, more than half an hour or so of dub is probably pushing it a bit before you start to crave a bit of vocal. a good thing to do is stick several of these tracks in a playlist of roots reggae from artists such as The Congos, The Mighty Diamonds, The Gladiators, Israel Vibration, The Abyssinians, Prince Far I, Big Youth, U-Roy and I-Roy and you have a great playlist. Stick a few reggae-influenced track from The Clash, The Ruts and The Slits and you have one heck of a punky reggae party!

B-

The Best Of Lee "Scratch" Perry (Trojan)

  

This is quite an impressive compilation from Trojan Records covering the output of legendary, supposedly madcap, producer and studio knob twiddler Lee "Scratch" Perry, king of the Black Ark studios in Kingston, Jamaica. It differs from collections such as "Arkology" or "Sipple Out Deh", in that, good as those ones are, they only cover the deep dub roots years from 1975-79. This one, as well as obviously including lots of stuff from that period, also features Perry's pop reggae productions for artists such as Susan Cadogan ("Hurt So Good"), early ska-influenced fare from The Upsetters ("The Return Of Django", "Dollar In The Teeth") and lighter, skanking "sweet sing" reggae from Gregory Isaacs "(Mr. Cop)". Perry certainly knew a poppy tune as well as he did a roots one. Junior Byles certainly falls into a similar category too. His tracks here, exemplified by "The Long Way" are seductive skanks. Byles had a rootsiness beneath his melody as well, though.

It is dubby roots that Perry is best known for, though, and this is here by the bucketload in crucial cuts like the atmospheric "Bushweed Corntrash" from Third World's Bunny Rugs, Perry's own evocative "Roast Fish And Cornbread" and the conscious "Black Man Time". He could do lively roots too, like the upbeat, punchy "Stay Dread". The Heptones' "Mistry Babylon" is a cool, rhythmic but Rasta-motivated track. All of these differing styles within the same basic reggae format show just what a versatile producer Perry is. Check out the congas on The Meditations' intoxicating "Think So" or that typical Perry jangly percussion on his own "Big Neck Policeman". Then you have the original, irresistible ska of "Tighten Up" by The Inspirations. Cool roots are here too in The Gatherers' "Words Of My Mouth". Jazzy, soulful reggae too with Susan Cadogan's cover of "Fever". Neville Grant's "Sick And Tired" also has swing/jazz/rock'n'roll influences. No deep roots on this early and lively, good-time number.

Some of Perry's notable artists are obviously here too in Junior Murvin ("Bad Weed") and Max Romeo ("Sipple Out Deh/War Ina Babylon") . The Congos also appear with the typically harmonious but devout and Biblical "Neckodeemus". We also get the mysterious Augustus Pablo on the strangely spooky "Vibrate Onn (Jamaican Mix)". Perry's own "Soul Fire" is a superb, grinding piece of heavy roots too. Junior Byles' "Curly Locks" is just typical Perry in its backing but deliciously light in its vocal delivery. Byles really does have an appealing voice.

A track like "Ital Corner" by Prince Jazzbo and Max Romeo is probably archetypal roots Perry, but this collection is certainly not all material in that fashion. There are a whole host of different reggae styles present on here. It is the deep roots and infectious riddims that take most of the attention, however, unsurprisingly, but there are also some different, earlier tracks too, as mentioned, and this is what makes this one of the most truly career-covering Lee Perry compilations around.

B+

The Best Of Dandy Livingstone (Trojan)

  

Dandy Livingstone made his name as a ska and rock steady reggae singer in the mid-late sixties, when most of his recordings were credited to "Dandy" only. Some were credited to "Boy Friday" as well. Other tracks on this compilation are Livingstone productions, for artists such as Jackie Robinson, Tito Simon, Audrey Hall, The Superboys, The Israelites, Bobby Thompson and The Brother Dan All-Stars. In the early seventies he had some chart success with an easy-skanking, poppy reggae style. His voice was always soft and sweetly melodic.

I always had memories of pictures of Livingstone from the time, in his studious-looking glasses and flower-power round collared shirt not seeming anything much like a pop star.

Livingstone's biggest hit was the irresistibly catchy "Suzanne Beware Of The Devil" which did really well in the UK in 1972. He also recorded the original of "A Message To You Rudy", memorably covered by The Specials. Rico Rodriguez, who played on The Specials' version, also contributes a wonderful trombone backing on this original version. "Reggae In Your Jeggae" was a forerunner of the mid/late seventies' DJ toasting, with meaningless lyrics over a rootsy rhythm. It was one of the earliest examples of a reggae song that concentrated more on its rhythm as opposed to its lyrical content as a song. "Can't Get Used To Losing You", the cover of the Andy Williams easy-listening classic, was better-known in a reggae format by its cover by the Beat in 1980, but this was the original reggae makeover for the song. "Big City", with its distinctive synthesiser riffs, was another excellent Livingstone song too, which features his smooth voice at its best. The typical slice of Jimmy Cliff-esque early seventies reggae that was "Think About That" was another minor hit for Livingstone. "Same Old Fashioned Way" is also a very poppy number that summed up its era.

A lot of the material on this forty track compilation are cover versions - Motown in the case of Jimmy Ruffin's "Take A Letter, Maria", soul in Aretha Franklin's "People Get Ready" and James & Bobby Purify's "I'm Your Puppet" and even The Rolling Stones' "Salt Of The Earth". The Israelites give us a dubby, spacey, almost psychedelic cover of The Beatles' "Come Together". This is one of the album's hidden little gems.

There is also some excellent ska present in Tito Simon's "What A Life". Prototype toasting appears again the DJ-style talkover vocal and bassy skank of Boy Friday's "Version Girl" (famously covered by UB40 on 1983's "Labour Of Love" album). This is where they got it from. The track is a sort of early dancehall groove. "(People Get Ready) Let's Do Rock Steady" is a ska groove that was energetically covered in the late seventies by two-tone band The Bodysnatchers. Jackie Robinson's "Could It Be True (You're Jivin' Me)" is a lively, archetypal rock steady skinhead-syle skank. "Move Your Mule" is a delightful piece of saxophone-backed skanking ska fun. "Dr. Sure Shot" is one of those slightly saucy reggae tunes that abounded in the late sixties/early seventies. I'm sure you can imagine what it is hinting at. The Superboys' "East Of Suez" is an atmospheric instrumental and is the sort of thing Madness did a lot of ten years later. The same group's "Propagandist" is an easy example of roots reggae.

Another minor hit, "Build Your Love On A Solid Foundation" was surely more than just the inspiration for Bob Marley & The Wailers' "One Foundation", it sounds very similar.

There is probably not enough quality to fully justify a forty track collection, and there is definitely a bit of filler in reggae-fied versions of "What Do You Want To Make Those Eyes At Me For" and "Oh Dear What Can The Matter Be". Surprisingly, though, the latter has an authentic ska beat. It is a good album to put on random and dip into every now and again, however. Dandy Livingstone was definitely one of reggae's pioneers, helping to bring reggae into our lives in the early seventies, and for that alone he deserves a bit of one's time.

C

Sunday, 21 April 2019

The Best Of Ken Boothe (Trojan)


  

"Ken....Boothe.... UK pop reggae..." sang The Clash on "White Man In Hammersmith Palais", somewhat bemoaning the fact, between the lines, that when they wanted to hear some crucial roots reggae they would have to make do with Ken Boothe. Maybe that wasn't quite what they meant anyway (who nows what The Clash often meant...) but Ken Boothe was, although mainly known as a pop reggae act, someone with a few more surprising strings to his bow.

He began in the mid-sixties singing upbeat, "rock steady" numbers like the subsequently much-sampled "Moving Away" and the raw "You Left The Water Running" before moving on to some typically early seventies steady skanking on tracks like the catchy, soulful "Freedom Street". "Moving Away" in fact has a sound that belies its 1968 recording date. It has a melodic, solid skank to it and Boothe's voice is at its most expressive, his phrasing, as always, is very pronounced and distinct. He also had a soul quality to his voice too, almost Otis Redding-esque at times.

Then, of course, there was the brief big chart success in 1974-75 with the crossover number one, "Everything I Own", a sumptuous cover of the Bread track that brought success for Boothe with more than just reggae fans. The once more soulful "Crying Over You" was the follow-up, and, while not as big a hit, still charted, getting number 11. Boothe also exploited the easy listening/soul covers thing with Bill Withers' "Ain't No Sunshine", Marvin Gaye's "Let's Get It On" and Sam Cooke's "You Send Me". All of these are delivered via Boothe's throaty, slightly croaky but always melodious voice and backed by a steady skanking rhythm. The theme from "The Godfather", "Speak Softly Love" is also given the skanking treatment. Boothe was very much ploughing the same furrow as John Holt with material like this. Yes, it is relatively throwaway, but it is a nostalgic and pleasant listen, very typical of much reggae material in the early seventies - taking classic songs and "reggae-fying" them.

Just if you were thinking that Boothe was either a rock steady or a covers man he shows that he also had a "conscious" Rasta-influenced side to him with a solid, rootsy cover of The Abyssinians' "Satta Massagana" and a jazzy reggae cover of Syl Johnson's urban funk number, "Is It Because I'm Black?". Boothe liked a "message" song, and "Can't Fight Me Down", despite its lively beat, expressed an inner strength of character. "Live Good" has a preachy, religious intent. Again, Boothe is getting a little rootsy, as he also does on the funky "You're No Good".

This is a comprehensive collection in the excellent Trojan "best of" series and the sound quality is good, as always. Ken Boothe was certainly an interesting artist and this album is more than just "Everything I Own".

B-

The Best Of Desmond Dekker (Trojan)

  

"Get up in the morning, slavin' for bread, Sir...". Desmond Dekker was, for many, the first reggae artist they heard and his iconic hit, "Israelites" was probably their first experience of reggae. It was for me, as a ten year-old in 1968. I was captivated by its energy, rhythm, catchiness and intensity. I have loved it ever since. It brought this vibrant Jamaican musical genre into everyone's house. Yes, Britain in the late sixties and early seventies was certainly not a place known for racial tolerance, but the music of Desmond Dekker, Jimmy Cliff, Bob & Marcia, Nicky Thomas and Dandy Livingstone helped to break down barriers in its own way. Many white kids such as myself not only hero-worshipped Pelé and Eusebio but we also loved this effervescent music. That may sound appallingly simplistic, but it was true. I couldn't get enough of this. This was, along with soul music, my first exposure to black culture. I was a middle-class boy about to go off to Grammar School, but the music I listened to took me to the housing projects of Detroit and the tenement yards of Kingston, Jamaica. It was exciting stuff for me.

Dekker began in the early sixties singing "rock steady" poppy reggae before getting in on the "rude boy" sub-culture around 1967, although he wasn't as overtly rude boy as some. This music soon became, bizarrely, accepted as the music of choice of the UK skinhead subculture, which was delinquescent, violent and racist. It was certainly one of music's most surprising couplings. Dekker was right at the fore-front of this, and he was one of the skins' favourite artists.

This is an excellent, almost career-covering forty-track compilation from Trojan Records. The sound quality is very good and you get plenty of copper-bottomed stomping, skinhead classics, so get your cherry red boots on and your grandad shirt with braces and enjoy the big hits - "Israelites", "007 Shanty Town", "It Mek", "You Can Get It You Really Want" and "Sing A Little Song". There are also some early rock steady and ska numbers like the horn-driven "Get Up Adina", "This Woman" and "Mount Zion". We also get some impressive, lesser-known numbers like "Intensified '68 (Music Like Dirt)", the Ethiopians-influenced "It Pays" and the thumping skank of "Problems". The rude boy material is there with "Rude Boy Train" (another Ethiopians-inspired number) and "Rudy Got Soul". Don't forget the strange, mysterious "Fu Man Chu". You can dip in and out of this collection anywhere you want you want and the skanking will be energetic (check out "Live And Learn"), the beat catchy and uplifting and Dekker's voice always soaring and just so evocative of good times. Desmond Dekker - prince of the rude boys, king of the skins, high priest of late sixties/early seventies reggae, I salute you. One of the voices of the era.

B-

Cocoa Tea - 20 Tracks Of Cocoa Tea




Cocoa Tea (Calvin Scott) is a reggae artist who came on the scene around 1986, but most of his successful work dates from the late eighties/early nineties. He was too late for the big roots boom of 1975-79 and he is very much associated with the Dancehall genre of reggae, which merged Jamaican patois rapping with digitally programmed riddims and, in the case of Cocoa Tea, employed the falsetto "sweet sing" vocal as opposed to the gruffer, DJ "toasting" style that continued from the roots era into some dancehall recordings. Cocoa Tea's material thankfully stays clear of the macho posturing and blatant homophobia of some of the genre's more hard-core exponents. Cocoa Tea is far more mainstream romantic and melodic. His music has influences from roots, dub and lovers rock and is actually a most pleasant listening experience. It is all pretty uplifting stuff. Rhythmic but still crucial and conscious.

This release is a compilation covering tracks from several albums, in the Virgin Front Line series. The sound, as on all these releases is superb. Clear and defined but not ignoring the necessary bass depth that all reggae music needs.

TRACK LISTING

1. I Am Going Home
2. I Lost My Sonia
3. Sweet Cocoa Tea
4. Come Back
5. Wonderland Angel
6. I've Got To Love You
7. There Must Be A Time
8. Reggae Music
9. If Jah Is For Us
10. Too Much
11. Settle Down
12. Don't Be Shy
13. Rocking Dolly
14. Gather My Sheep
15. Everything I Do
16. Try A Thing
17. We Have To Leave
18. There's A Herb In My Garden
19. Jah Bless The I
20. Yes I Am Wanted

"I Am Going Home" is a perfect example of this melodic, mid-pace groove, with a gentle beat and Gregory Isaacs-style yearning vocals. Both "Sweet Cocoa Tea" and "Come Back" have bassy, roots-influenced beats and a very roots-style vocal. "Wonderland Angel" has a beautiful, deep, rumbling bass line and a romantic lyric that is almost "lovers rock". A lot of the material is based around traditional, love song lyrics, although, despite that, there are still several tracks on here that reflect a roots-style Rasta devoutness, such as on the deep Marley-esque roots of "If Jah Is For Us", "Gather My Sheep" and "Jah Bless The I". The link to the past roots era is still a strong one and even on the loved-up numbers, check out the totally delicious, deep, dubby bass line on "I've Got To Love You". It mixes laid-back, summery, melodic rhythms with a rootsy, dubby bass sound. The same applies to the rumbling, meaningful "There Must Be A Time". "Rocking Dolly" is also packed full of serious roots punch.

Cocoa can also rap in that DJ/dancehall style, such as on "Reggae Music" but as with all the album, there is a lilting melody underpinning it and the vocals are light and anything but threatening. It also has another totally irresistible bassline. He can also do brassy pop and mix it with a thumping bass such as on the catchy "Settle Down", with its South African-influenced brass parts. The rhythm on "Everything I Do" is simply sublime too. "Try A Thing" is a wonderfully lively, appealing number. "There Is A Herb In My Garden" is an odd but quirky reworking of Ben E. King's "Spanish Harlem" - no rose this time but the sacred "'erb".

If you enjoy upbeat, effervescent nineties reggae with a strong but infectious bass line and a light, poppy vocal, you will enjoy this. While there is a carefree aspect to the sound, there is still a solid conscious feeling to it too, far, far more so than on the more commercial reggae of say, Chaka Demus & Pliers and Bitty MacLean from the same era.

B-

Saturday, 20 April 2019

The Rolling Stones - Honk (2019)


  

Released April 2019

This is yet another Rolling Stones compilation, this time covering their post-1971 "colour TV" output. The tracks take in all their studio albums from 1971's "Sticky Fingers" to 2016's Blue and Lonesome". Of course, the tracks are superb, that goes without saying and there are some good choices but aficionados such as myself have all the tracks anyway, so the release has not too much appeal for me, apart from the ten live tracks that are included on the deluxe edition. So, forgive me, but they are all I am going to talk about.

Even then, though, there are not too many that have not been included on many previous live albums. It is great to hear a wonderful performance of "She's A Rainbow" on an official live album for the first time though. A barnstorming "Dancing with Mr. D" makes its only live appearance sine 1973's "Brussels Affair". We also get a loose, stirring "Get Off My Cloud" and a seriously good "Wild Horses" (featuring Florence Welch of Florence & The Machine). Her vocal makes for an interesting version. I really enjoyed this one.

Similarly, "Let's Spend The Night Together", full of female backing vocals, is given a slightly different, slightly slowed down and soulful makeover. Keith's guitar on "Dead Flowers" is superb and the song is delivered with conviction and enthusiasm the belies the fact they do this stuff year-in, year-out. I even found myself enjoying Jagger's silly cod-country voice for once. There is definitely a verve and vitality about these contemporary live performances that simply do confound the band's age. It is nice to hear an old favourite in the soul/rock of "Shine A Light" get an appearance. Lovely piano from Chuck Leavell on this one. "Under My Thumb" is played in the laid-back fashion that it was on 1982's "Still Life". I always love "Bitch" and it burns as brightly here as it always did, no going through the motions here. Dave Grohl of The Foo Fighters shares lead vocals, suitably energetically.

So, there you go, some great live tracks. as for the studio material, well you can't argue with it, but I and any others already have it. Personally, I would sooner have had a new live compilation with more quality contemporary live tracks such as we are given here.

B-