Saturday, 30 June 2018

Prince Far I - Message From The King (1978)

  

Released in 1978

Prince Far I was one of the “toaster” DJs, who chanted/spoke/half sung lyrics over deep, dubby “riddims” in the mid to late seventies and early eighties. His style was that of a righteous preacher, railing in his deep, gravelly tones about Rastafarian ideology and dispensing warnings of damnation. Where he differed from other DJs was that instead of toasting over existing backing tracks from previous well-known recordings, the rhythms here were created by Far I and his team themselves.  Far I also preferred to label himself as a "chanter" as opposed to the more rhythmic "toasters".

TRACK LISTING

1. Message From The King
2. The Dream
3. Commandment Of Drugs
4. Moses Moses
5. Black Man Land
6. Concrete Column
7. Dry Bone
8. Foggy Road
9. Wisdom
10. Armageddon                                        

“Message From The King” has an infectious refrain, “black reggae music” sung over a mid-paced rhythm. “The Dream” has Far I croaking about righteousness over not much of a beat at all, to be honest. “Commandment Of Drugs” has a stark, almost indiscernible beat at times, just some quiet rim shots, while the Prince lectures almost incomprehensibly about drugs before some dubby guitar chops cut in. “Moses Moses” is more melodic in its backing, although, as with many of the tracks, the music comes and goes, alternating between quiet and loud, in a typical dub style. Prince Far I’s sermon is mournful and sad on this one. The thing about this material is that it doesn’t have half the melodic appeal of much of the roots reggae from the same period. It is far more slowed-down, far heavier in its beat and often one-paced in its rhythm. To be honest, I prefer the roots albums of The Gladiators, Burning Spear, Bunny Wailer, Peter Tosh and Third World and, when it comes to toasting/DJs, I prefer Big Youth, whose material was far more varied and inventive. Or U-Roy and I-Roy for that matter.


That said, “Black Man Land”, is a haunting, evocative cut, probably Prince Far I’s best, and in “Concrete Column”, Far I starts to almost sing, more than he has done in other tracks. Despite some preferences for other artists and other genre variations, there is something very atmospheric about these big, thumping, dread-inducing, mysterious creations. It reminds me of Notting Hill carnivals in the early eighties just as it was getting dark and it all got a little menacing.

Tracks from this are something that appears as part of a random mix of my music in isolation every now and again or as part of a roots reggae playlist. When they do, I enjoy them, but more than half an hour is a bit heavy going.

Actually, my favourite way of listening to Prince Far I is on the “Dubwise” compilation of his work, produced by Virgin’s “Front Line” series, which is far more accessible, musically, with some attractive brass breaks and more upbeat, melodic parts. Far I’s vocal comes in every now and again, which is fine, because that is what it does anyway, but the backing is more intricate, less sparse and less one-paced.

C


Misty In Roots - Roots Controller (2002)

  

Released in 2002

Misty In Roots were a multi-member “collective” founded in London in 1979 and had a few albums released with a moderate amount of success. Unfortunately, these albums seem to be pretty impossible to get hold of these days. The band seemed to be more of a live band than a studio one for many years, preferring to just play their music live. This album was a “comeback album” from 2002 - twelve years after their previous outing.

TRACK LISTING

1. True Rasta
2. Judgement Day
3. Cover Up
4. Jah How Long
5. Almighty (The Way)
6. Dance Hall Babylon
7. On The Road
8. Follow Fashion
9. Ireation
10. New Day
11. Dreadful Dread
12. Musi-O-Tunya
13. Man Kind
14. Ghetto Of The City                  

“True Rasta” starts the album as it is to continue - rootsy rhythms, vibrant horns, swirling organ, toe-tapping drums and percussion and a light, harmonious lead vocal. The usual roots Rasta conceits are all here - grave warnings of “Judgement Day” and the like. Roots albums all carry the same message, to be honest, but it doesn’t really matter, it is just the groove that carries it along. “Cover Up” is an anti-racist number, referencing the murder of Stephen Lawrence. It has meaningful lyrics and a vaguely James Bond Theme-ish brass riff. The whole track has a hypnotic vibe of superb percussion, “riddim”, punchy horns and exceptionally tuneful vocals. Great stuff. It is like a throwback to the glory days of roots reggae of 1975-1976 but with a contemporary vitality and instrumental experimentation - electric guitar, saxophone and sound effects. “Jah How Long” is a regulation devotional song but, as with the whole album, it is lifted by an immaculate instrumental and vocal delivery. “Almighty (The Way)” follows the same holy path. This really is a very devout album.

“Dance Hall Babylon” has a cool, laid-back light, airy but rootsy groove with some nice horn riffs and an attractive vocal. It finishes with a wonderful bit of saxophone. Despite its chilled out rhythm, it is a condemnation of the posturing, macho dancehall culture. “On The Road” is another deliciously relaxing summery groove. “Follow Fashion” is a lengthy nonchalantly carefree number that just sort of washes over you. Perfect for a summer’s evening. Some sumptuous saxophone on here. “Ireation” is a shuffling, danceable (in a slow way) Rasta slow skank. Once again, mesmerising reggae drums abound. Great stereo separation on the mastering as well. “New Day” has an upbeat, punchy brass intro and some muffled, mournful vocals. The musicianship is magnificent. Who are they? They are so good, yet there is such a dearth of recorded material from them.

The last few tracks are more of the same. The quality doesn’t let up, really. The last two tracks are impressive live cuts. This is a quite remarkable album considering it is pretty much the only release around. If you like melodic roots reggae you will love this.

B-

Third World - 96º In The Shade (1977)

 

Released in 1977

After an impressive, inventive and often inspirational debut album, the intriguing Third World returned in 1977 with this equally notable album.

TRACK LISTING

1. Jah Glory
2. Tribal War
3. Dreamland
4. Feel A Little Better
5. Human Market Place
6. Third World Man
7. 1865 (96º In The Shade)
8. Rhythm Of Life                                

Theirs was a mesmerising mix of roots reggae, soulful vocals, disco stylings on occasions and many “world music” sounds. The opening track, “Jah Glory”, is a perfect example of this - great, airy, tuneful vocals and all sorts of tropical sounds in the backing. Just perfect music for a hot summer’s day. There is, of course, a rasta consciousness to the band’s lyrics but it never overwhelms the music, that washes over you like a cool Caribbean breeze.

“Tribal War” is a Rasta-drum rhythm backed intoxicating groover, backed by some seriously “crucial” lead guitar and some deep, urgent lyrics. This is one of the most “roots” tracks on the album, suitable for any “punky reggae party” playlist. The mood changes now for the truly beautiful “Dreamland”, a cover of Bunny Wailer’s track from his “Blackheart Man” album of the previous year. This is a light, airy version that sweeps into your room like opening the window on a sunny day. “Feel A Little Better” has that thumping disco groove that the band used so successfully on their hit single “Now That We’ve Found Love” - harmonious vocals, rhythmic drums and some cutting, razor-sharp guitar interjections. The beat is hypnotic on cuts like this. Third World at their very best.

“Human Market Place” is the most melodic condemnation of slavery there is. The song has a tragic, serious message over an insistent, solid, dubby rhythm, with a great vibes solo bit in the middle and some excellent bongos. It also features some sampled “sound effects” market place hubbub noises that add to the atmosphere. Great bass on it too. “Third World Man" features some top class vocals and some almost electronic backing in places. Some stunning guitar in the middle passage. Like Peter Tosh, Third World were afraid to utilise rock guitar. “96º In The Shade” just exudes heat. It is simply one of the best hot day songs ever. An exhilarating backing, one used so much by UB40 on their “Signing Off” album three years later. Some Spanish guitar adds even more to the hot, summery feel. This is not an album to play in the winter.

“Rhythm Of Life” has an almost rock-style drum intro and is a potent but incredibly catchy number, with a singalong chorus refrain. It also has a sort of jazzy drum solo piece in the middle. It is a positive, upbeat end to a highly pleasurable album. The band’s debut album was good, but this one is even better.

As always, an excellent cover, too.

B

Gregory Isaacs - Night Nurse (1982)


  

Released in 1982

Recorded at Tuff Gong Studios, Kingston, Jamaica

Reggae had changed somewhat by the early eighties. That essential, clear bass, cymbals and “One drop” drum sound that so characterised Bob Marley & The Wailers, Peter Tosh, Steel Pulse and the many roots groups of the mid to late seventies had been replaced by a heavier, synth drum -dominated sound and more dance floor-oriented sounds. “Ragga” was on its way. Groups like Black Uhuru still expressed black consciousness and Rasta devotion, but against a less tuneful, less musically diverse backing.

Gregory Isaacs bucked this trend, however. Firstly, although a dreadlocks, he was not one for singing out his religious fervour, praising Jah or warning of damnation. He was the self-styled “Cool Ruler”, the “lonely lover”. He was not a political man, either, at least not in his songs. He was a lover, interested in women, and, seemingly, little else. This is not to the detriment of his material - it was a kind of roots rhythms meets the burgeoning “lovers rock” genre of light, romantic tuneful songs. It was, to be honest, a breath of fresh air, after all that consciousness, Armagideon and crucial, speaker-pounding dub.

TRACK LISTING

1. Night Nurse
2. Stranger In Town
3. Objection Overruled
4. Hot Stepper
5. Cool Down The Pace
6. Material Man
7. Not The Way
8. Sad To Know                                                

The title track is very well known. An insistent, synth drum but appealing backing and a sensual, pleading vocal for Gregory’s nurse to treat him - “there’s a patient by the name of Gregory…”.  “Stranger In Town” is an entrancing introduction to the “lonely lover” persona. Beautifully sung and gentle, lilting rhythms washing over you. “Objection Overruled” is one of my all time reggae favourites. Gregory’s voice is timeless, mournful yet hopeful, classic in its delivery. The backing is proper reggae and a melodious keyboard sound pushing the song along. Just a masterpiece of “ain’t to proud to beg” plaintive, pleading from a rejected lover. The quality continues with the impossibly melodic laid back skank of “Hot Stepper”.  Again, this is lovers rock material but with a seriously crucial, bassy “riddim”. Such a wonderful, summery album. You just can’t play this in November, really. I am playing it now on a sunny Saturday morning at the end of June. All is one with the world. The song has a lovely piano part at the end too.

The old “side two” opened with the wryly amusing “Cool Down The Pace”, a slowly danceable request from Gregory to “cool down the pace for me little woman" and then we get “Material Man”, probably the most “roots” track on the album, that sees Isaacs ruminating on material goods and religious devotion. It has an almost perfect, subtle, underplayed rhythm. It goes without saying that the sound on this remaster is pretty near perfect. The backing is supplied by the excellent rhythm section, The Roots Radics.


“Not The Way” is another “lovers” style upbeat, vibrant skank. More great vocals and a totally captivating rhythm. Gregory touchingly urges us to treat our women well - “she’s your sister, so don’t mistreat her…”. “Sad To Know” is also a magnificent groove, just wonderful. Lovely backing with some intriguing percussion noises that sound like the call of some tropical bird and a constant, catchy piano line. Sad to get to the end of this album, Gregory.

Overall, I have to say that everything about this album is pretty damn perfect.

(The dub versions that come from the "deluxe" edition are excellent, particularly the saxophone-dominated "Unhappy Departure Dub", which sounds as if it has come straight from the South African townships).

B+

Peter Tosh - Equal Rights (1977)


  

Released in 1977

Recorded at Randy's Studio, Kingston, Jamaica

Peter Tosh’s 1977 “Equal Rights” was something of a breakthrough album, commercially. It was his second album and he was attempting to match old mate Bob Marley’s incredible global success (1977 was the year of Marley’s massively successful “Exodus” album). “Equal Rights” did pretty well, and Tosh became more well-known as a result, but despite his best efforts, he never quite made it.

Tosh was an “issues” kind of guy. The album was very political. For more so than religiously devotional. Political matters were far more to the fore than the common Rasta “give thanks and praise” roots fare. He didn’t have the ability that Marley did to mix political awareness with an instinct for a commercial tune, neither did he feel the need to occasionally leave the politics and go down the “Three Little Birds” or “Is This Love” route. There lies the explanation for his never being as big as Marley. Peter was too political, Bunny Wailer maybe too Rasta, Marley was both, and much more. Marley could always ensure his political utterances never overwhelmed his material by releasing a “Kaya” after every “Rastaman Vibration”, or releasing “ Jamming” as a single, or “One Love”.

TRACK LISTING

1. Get Up Stand Up
2. Downpressor Man
3. I Am That I Am
4. Stepping Razor
5. Equal Rights
6. African
7. Jah Guide
8. Apartheid
9. 400 years
10. Hammer                                                      

The albums starts, ironically, with a cover of “Get Up Stand Up”, one of Tosh’s contributions to Marley’s “Burnin’” album. While having an excellent, upbeat rootsy backing, Tosh’s vocal delivery is strangely staccato and sort of stuttering. Hard to describe, but it just sounds right, somehow. “Downpressor Man” is a funky-ish, powerful roots number. Tosh had a very melodious, emotive voice, however, which lifts even the heaviest politically motivated roots number to something appealing and lighter. This may be a heavy album, ideologically, but it has many light musical touches. “I Am That I Am” is a vibrant, slightly clunky number, while “Stepping Razor” has some excellent light guitar licks over a heavy, bassy backing and Tosh’s voice once again has that yearning quality. It has a real soul to it. The remastered sound on the album is excellent throughout, emphasising all parts of the music equally - bass and treble are perfectly aligned. “Stepping Razor” also has some searing rock guitar in it. Tosh was never afraid to use rock guitar to enhance a track.

The title track has a captivating, affecting melodious intro and Tosh’s voice just sounds marvellously sad and pleading on here. This quality is something almost unique to Tosh, although South Africa’s Lucky Dube got very close to it, on the same type of material. The song is, obviously, a plea for equal rights, yet is delivered almost beautifully and in such a laid-back manner so as to diffuse all militant anger. Tosh is an angry singer, but his voice just never sounds angry, just intuitive, instinctive and soulful. “African” is another aware song. I love it. Very catchy and some great lyrics about all black people being African, inside. Tosh has managed here to merge both political consciousness and his impeccable ear for a melody.

“Jah Guide” is the album’s one concession to Jah and religious matter. It has a funky, clavinet backing and some authentic roots rhythm, with some laid-back horns adding to the general relaxed feel of the song. Not really a song of fervour. Tosh sounds lazily accepting. “Apartheid” is an excellent, rousing number with obviously admirable sentiments that were completely relevant at the time. It was a fine way to end an earnest album. Personally, I do not find the political message as overwhelming as some reviewers I have read have done. Musically, it is very appealing and, for me, the message in the songs is fine, and necessary.

B

Friday, 29 June 2018

Black Uhuru - Sinsemilla (1980)

  

Released July 1980

Recorded at Channel One Studio, Kingston, Jamaica

Black Uhuru released this album in 1980, and reggae was beginning to change direction slightly after the roots boom of 1975-1979. What would eventually morph into “ragga” rhythms was beginning to make itself known - a harder, less melodic, more stripped down and instrumentally basic sound. Thumping synth drums, synthesised percussion, rumbling reduced bass notes, keyboard loop samples and the occasional bit of guitar. Personally, I prefer the lighter, more inventive sounds of The Gladiators, Bunny Wailer, Aswad and Burning Spear. For me, the great years for reggae were from 1969 to 1979.

Black Uhuru had a great vocal sound though, and their vibrant, insistent rhythm is certainly intoxicating. Their lyrical preoccupations are mainly oppression, racial awareness and lots of references to the joys of marijuana, as opposed to religious devotion.

TRACK LISTING

1. Happiness
2. World Is Africa
3. Push Push
4. There Is Fire
5. No Loafing (Sit And Wonder)
6. Sinsemilla
7. Endurance
8. Vampire                                                      

“Happiness” is a shuffling, staccato piece of heavy-ish roots with dance-ish style drums and a big, pounding bass. Black Uhuru are definitely more dance and rhythm-influenced than some of the lighter, more instantly accessible roots artists. “World Is Africa” is upbeat and catchy and a great vocal and guitar parts behind the thumping drum beat. “Push Push” is a slow groove, with that electric sort of synth “boop” percussion sound. “No Loafing” and “There Is Fire” follow the same musical path, with the former condemning apartheid in its lyrics. “Sensimilla” speaks for itself - a ganja song. It has a hypnotic, mesmerising groove, however, and it the best cut on the album.

“Every Dreadlocks” is a lively concession to Rasta concerns and has a great beat to it, up there with ‘Sensimilla”. It again features that funny percussion noise, but to great effect. It is probably the most naturally reggae song on the album. “Vampire” isn’t bad either, rhythmic, with a nice drum sound on it, proper drums and a rousing vocal. This is very much an album of reggae as it was in 1980, facing considerable changes.

C+

Bunny Wailer - Blackheart Man (1976)

  

Released September 1976

Recorded at Aquarius Studios, Kingston Jamaica

This album from Bunny Wailer, his debut solo work, from 1976, has many overtones of his work with Bob Marley & The Wailers (“Catch A Fire” and “Burnin’”). Although the music’s foundations are roots, Rastafari and black consciousness, its rhythms are light, airy and melodic. It was very much in step with work of other artists from the roots reggae boom of 1975-1979, including The Gladiators, The Mighty Diamonds, Aswad and Burning Spear.

TRACK LISTING

1. Blackheart Man
2. Fighting Against Conviction
3. The Oppressed Song
4. Fig Tree
5. Dream Land
6. Rastaman
7. Reincarnated Souls
8. Armagideon
9. Bide Up
10. This Train                                                      

Wailer’s voice is medium high in pitch and he has a fine instinct regarding carrying a melody. The backing is largely easy skanking, with horn backing, as was very much the trend at the time.
The opener, the lengthy “Blackheart Man” is a mid-paced, intuitive skank telling of a mythical evil man feared by Wailer in his childhood. Apparently this man was a rastaman, and Wailer was warned to keep away from him by his mother. Basically, warning him not to become a Rasta. “Fighting Against Conviction” has an emotive, soulful vocal from Wailer, a catchy refrain and a lovely brass backing. A flute appears near the end, to great effect. The issues on this album are pretty clear - social oppression, hope for a better future and a religious devotion. Themes pretty common to most roots reggae albums. This album, though, is one of the most commercial, almost poppy at times, of most of them. “The Oppressed Song” is a slowed-down number, with an acoustic guitar opening that kicks into a captivating song, with some impressive guitar licks. It is more than a bit bluesy in places. there are several musical diversifications here, away from straight reggae.


“Fig Tree” uses some saxophone effectively as well, reinforcing that this is no regular roots album. “Dream Land” takes one right back to the Bob Marley & The Wailers material from the early seventies, with a delicious vocal from Bunny that sounds almost like a rock ’n’ roll ballad at times. “Rastaman” is a homage to all Rastamen in history and I’m sure it greatly influenced “I’m In Love With A Rastaman” by South African township band Mahlathini & The Mahotella Queens.

“Reincarnated Souls” is another saxophone-enhanced number, while “Armagideon” is a more traditional roots, lyrically, but, that said, there is unique keyboard and also some melodica and what sounds like an accordion. Once again, considerable musical variety. “Bide Up” is almost soulful in its execution. The final track, as on so many other roots albums, is a devotional number, introduced by Rasta drumming. “This Train” is a holy piece of praise - “This train is bound to glory”, like a spiritual.

An influential and interesting roots album.

B-

Burning Spear - Marcus Garvey/Garvey's Ghost (1975)

  

Released December 1975

Burning Spear’s  “Marcus Garvey” was released at the end of 1975 and was at the forefront of the black consciousness movement within reggae. It was a veritable foundation stone of the whole roots reggae movement. It was tied in, of course, with Rastafarianism, and Jamaican Rasta hero prophet Marcus Garvey gives his name to the album’s title and, indeed its powerful, horn-driven title track that opens the album. This is very much a militant, issue-led album, with a dual attack of religious devotion and cultural awareness, as was so often the case with roots albums. As with the others, too, this does not detract from the appealing, tuneful sound of the album, however. This pretty much applies to all the roots reggae albums of the period. The mid to late seventies were fertile years for authentic roots reggae.

TRACK LISTING

1. Marcus Garvey
2. Slavery Days
3. The Invasion
4. Live Good
5. Give Me
6. Old Marcus Garvey
7. Tradition
8. Jordan River
9. Red Gold and Green
10. Resting Place
11. The Ghost
12. I And I Survive
13. Black Wa-Da-Da
14. John Burns Skank
15. Brain Food
16. Farther East Of Jack
17. 2000 Years
18. Dread River
19. Workshop
20. Reggaelation                                  

“Slavery Days” is an iconic song with clear references - “Do you remember the days of slavery?”. It was also successfully covered by Third World in the following year. The rhythmic, grinding insistence of “The Invasion” calls out “Where is your love, Jamaica?” in another plea for political and social unity and equality. A beautiful bass and and brass intro, with some nice flute passages also, leads us melodically into “Live Good” which sees vocalist and band leader Winston Rodney’s voice at its most mournful and yearning. It is also a bit of a misconception that reggae from this period was primitively recorded in a shack in a tenement yard in Kingston. The sound on this album, and on albums by The Gladiators, Big Youth and Aswad is superb. The bass is nice and warm and not incredibly “thumpy”, the horns (used throughout this album) and percussion are crystal clear and sharp.


“Give Me” is another brassy groove, while “Old Marcus Garvey” is a catchy lament for Garvey in his old age. All these albums are so, to coin a phrase, crucial, in summoning up the spirit of roots reggae in those vibrant, vital “punk crossover” years of 1976-1979, particularly in London. It went hand in hand with bands like The Clash and DJs like Don Letts, who promoted that whole “rocker and the ras” thing.

“Tradition” has an exhilarating, punchy horn backing and a trilling “duh-rrrooop-doo” backing vocal refrain. Great pounding drum sound on this track. The album comes to its close with three devotional tracks. “Jordan River” is just magnificent - great lilting guitar, sumptuous horns and Rodney garbling away in his “non-singing” voice about Jah people and the Jordan River. “Red, Gold And Green” introduces the iconic Rasta colours to an audience who may not have been familiar with them at the time. Again, there is such an intoxicating bass line on this, and all the songs.

As with so many roots albums, it ends with a Rasta-drum sound influenced pounding groove and a devotional, chant-like vocal.

Apparently, an original, far more raw, rootsier version was the one originally recorded, but the label, Mango, wanted the sound diluted to win over the American market. I am not sure mid-70s Americans were ever won over by Rastafarian-inspired music, not in the way UK music fans were. Punks lapped it up. The eventual album is still, for me, rootsy enough anyway. Its message and sound is still a potent and powerful one. A little of that rootsier sound can be fond however, in the ten “dub” versions of the album, that are included in the double header “Marcus Garvey/Garvey’s Ghost”. These are some copper-bottomed, seriously good slices of dub. Check out the bass on “I And I Survive”, the dub version of “Days Of Slavery”. High quality dub.

This was integral roots sound, roots voice and roots message.

B-

Aswad - Aswad (1976)

  

Released in 1976

Aswad’s debut album, from 1976, saw them in their initial incarnation as a roots reggae band. In later years they exploited soul and pop influences to achieve a modicum of chart success. Here they are very much in a roots mould, similar to sort of material put out by Bob Marley on “Rastaman Vibration” - rootsy but with an ear for a tune and a use of lilting, melodic guitars as opposed to a bassy, dub-heavy sound.

TRACK LISTING

1. I A Rebel Soul
2. Can't Stand The Pressure
3. Ethiopian Rhapsody
4. Natural Progression
5. Back To Africa
6. Red Up
7. Ire Woman
8. Concrete Slaveship                                    

“I A Rebel Soul” is an upbeat, catchy opener, with Brinsley Forde’s emotive, throaty voice on good form and some very Marley-esque skanking guitar backing. Rather like The Gladiators, early Aswad blended a Rasta devotion with the recording of some attractive, appealing material. “Can’t Stand The Pressure” is in the same groove - sumptuous rhythm, harmonious vocals, that rimshot drum bit on the backbeat that The Wailers used such a lot. A quirky organ break in the middle too. “Ethiopian Rhapsody” is a laid-back instrumental of the highest quality. The instrumentation, sound quality and execution on this album is excellent for a debut outing.

“Natural Progression” is an insistent, militant mid-paced number with some blues harmonica lending a real atmosphere to it. Once again, the guitar work is outstanding - used in the way that both Marley and Peter Tosh enhanced their recordings. “Back To Africa” is a laid-back Third World-esque summery vibe with more conscious lyrics.

“Red Up” is another captivating instrumental, with keyboard and guitar solos. This was not speaker-shaking dub booms and little else. There was some musical showing off being done here. Impressive stuff. “Ire Woman” is a little lightweight, and probably the weakest track on the album. The album’s lengthy closer, “Concrete Slaveship” is a very Marley-influenced number in the “Catch A Fire” “Slave Driver” vein with a meaningful lyrical content, convincing vocal and a general feel of competent professionalism. This was a very impressive debut album indeed.

One small drawback, however, is that it is too short, just four tracks on each side.

B-

The Gladiators - Dreadlocks The Time Is Now (1976-1980)

  

Material from 1976-1980

TRACK LISTING

1. Mix Up
2. Bellyful
3. Looks Is Deceiving
4. Chatty Chatty Mouth
5. Soul Rebel
6. Eli Eli
7. Hearsay
8. Rude Boy Ska
9. Dreadlocks The Time Is Now
10. Jah Works
11. Pocket Money
12. Get Ready
13. Stick A Bush
14. Write To Me
15. Naturality
16. Struggle
17. A Day We Go
18. Sweet So Till
19. Hello Carol                                                

The Gladiators, were, along with The Mighty Diamonds and The Wailing Souls, one of those roots reggae groups from the mid seventies that combined a devotional Rasta consciousness with some melodic, mid-pace reggae “riddims”. Their brand of roots was, on the whole, upbeat, gently singalong and while having a full bass line, was certainly not in the realms of heavy dub. “Bellyfull” and “Mix Up” are classic examples of that sound. The sound quality on this album is excellent too, crystal clear on the trebly percussion and rich and warm on the ubiquitous bass lines.

A favourite of mine is the subtly melodious “Looks Is Deceiving” - a delicious slice of lilting reggae, rumbling guitars and some “stream of Rasta consciousness” lyrics about Babylon and parables and the like. “Chatty Chatty Mouth” has an irresistible piano intro and a booming, steady beat, just perfect seventies roots-inspired reggae. The Gladiators were probably my favourites of this particular arm of the genre. The vocals were the lightest and the most tunefully affecting. The backing is top notch throughout - crystal clear, rhythmic and toe-tapping. Their cover of Bob Marley’s “Soul Rebel” is superb, as good as the original, to be honest, and that is saying something. Lovely clear backing, great vocal, great backing vocals and that omnipresent rumbling bass. Great stuff. Nice semi-dubby part two thirds of the way through.


“Eli Eli” is a very Rasta-inspired song and very uplifting with yet more soaring vocals. This really is seventies reggae of the highest quality. “Hearsay” is a warning type of song, as if delivered from a pulpit. There is lot of religious meaning in the lyrics to these songs, but it doesn’t really matter because the backing is so good. There is some lovely light guitar skanking parts on this one. “Rude Boy Ska” is suitably vibrant and joyful, with a thoroughly addictive singalong refrain. Another favourite is the rumbling “Dreadlocks The Time Is Now”, with an intoxicating skank. It is a militant, “culture conscious” song and should be on any “punky reggae party” playlist. It is just so 78-79 West London. Some excellent instrumental parts in it and a yearning vocal.

The percussion and bass at the beginning of “Jah Works” is just stunning. I love the clarity of reggae sounds like this. “Pocket Money” has another captivating riddim and bass line. Check out that big pounding thump of a bass on “Get Ready” and the cymbal work. Marvellous stuff. I could wax lyrical about all the songs on this excellent album. Needless to say they are all good. Just a breath of fresh summer air. Somehow this album suits a sunny summer’s morning.

B-

Big Youth - Screaming Target (1972)

  

Released in 1972

TRACK LISTING

1. Screaming Target
2. Pride & Joy Rock
3. Be Careful
4. Tipper Tone Rock
5. One Of These Fine Days
6. The Killer
7. Solomon A Gunday
8. Honesty
9. I Am Alright
10. Lee A Low
11. KG's (Half Way Tree)
12. Origan Style                                            

This was Big Youth's debut album, released as early as 1972, surprisingly. Big Youth was one of the first reggae “toasters” - DJs who “toasted” i.e. semi-sung vocals over an often recognisable beat from another familiar song, such as “No, No, No” on the title track of this album. U-Roy was one of the first exponents, closely followed by Big Youth.

I find it very difficult to review this particular “DJ” genre in the track by track style that I apply to say, rock, soul or folk albums. The tracks are relatively similar - drum shot kick start, a thumping, heavy dubby skanking beat and Big Youth’s assorted “toasts” over the top of the “riddim”. They just sort of envelop you in a bassy, floor-shaking cocoon for half an hour, which is enough to satisfy my need for some of the DJ vibe. Many of his utterances have been used by subsequent reggae/two tone bands, notably The Beat, who used "good God" and "well, look at dat" regularly.

In his toasts, Big Youth ruminates on various issues - cultural consciousness, Rastafarian devotion, social problems, girls, the usual stuff. A favourite is the relative nursery-rhyme inspired nonsense of “Solomon A Gunday”, with its captivating trombone riffs and gentle, melodious riddim. This is a perfect example of the DJ/Roots genre. Incomprehensible chatter over a subtle beat. A lot of the backing tracks the Youth used are relatively tuneful and light in texture (the same applied to U-Roy’s material) as opposed to a heavier, dubbier backing. A lot of the tracks are derived from early seventies almost rock steady mid-paced beats - lightly skanking guitars and swirling organ parts, such as featured heavily on “Honesty”. “I Am Alright”, however, does have an impressive big, booming bass line, but it is also melodious. I love the bass line on this one. Youth’s vocal over the often solitary bass line is addictive. “Lee A Low" ploughs the same furrow as well. “One Of These Days” has a haunting vocal and an insistent melody.

“KG’s Halfway Tree” is an interesting track, with an odd violin-like sound at the beginning before some seriously floor-shaking bass. The violin samples are rather catchy and continue throughout what is an instrumental with no toasting. Dubby reggae meets classical music. Well, well, well.
“Pride And Ambition” is a lovely cut, and features a great vocal from Leroy Smart (what Big Youth’s contribution was is to that track is unclear). Smart’s voice is higher and more melodic. “One One Coco” features a Gregory Isaacs track and a mournful, instantly recognisable vocal from Isaacs. “Their Own Way Version” features a Big Youth vocal, singing properly here as opposed to toasting. “Be Careful” has Dennis Brown on sampled vocals and Big Youth on toasting.

Considering this was released in 1972, several years before the roots explosion that came with the punk crossover of 76-79, it really was very ground-breaking. Bob Marley & The Wailers had yet to release “Catch A Fire” and most other reggae that was being released and listened to was of the commercial, upbeat style of Desmond Dekker, Jimmy Cliff and Dandy Livingstone. The world would not be ready for Big Youth for another four or five years.

B-


Thursday, 28 June 2018

Donald Fagen - The Nightfly (1982)

  

Released October 1982

Donald Fagen’s 1982 album, “The Nightfly, let’s be honest, sounds just like Steely Dan. Tuneful, deliciously melodic, immaculately played jazzy influenced laid back rock. It was one of those albums which became sort of "trendy" to own and declare as being wonderful, like "Astral Weeks", Sade's "Diamond Life", Television's "Marquee Moon" or indeed any of the Steely Dan albums.

TRACK LISTING

1. I.G.Y.
2. Green Flower Street
3. Ruby Baby
4. Maxine
5. New Frontier
6. The Nightfly
7. The Goodbye Look
8. Walk Between Raindrops                          

“I.G.Y.” is a wonderful, rhythmic piece of laid-back jazz rock, featuring some lovely guitar, percussion and brass parts and, of course Fagen’s instantly recognisable Steely Dan vocals. Some excellent, harmonious backing vocals too. Just a pleasure to listen to. There is an effortless funk groove to “Green Flower Street”. This was one of the first totally digitally recorded albums, and you an tell, the sound is truly superb. Fagen’s legendary perfectionism bore a sweet fruit here. The jazzy feel suits the excellent sound. This is just such a great late night album too, sitting there with just a dim light on and letting this wash all over you, settling you down for the night. It is probably jazzier than the Dan albums, apart from “Aja”. This ambience was continued on the gently grooving “Ruby Baby”. Just check out the piano/drums/saxophone instrumental passage in the song’s middle - just beautiful.


“Maxine” is an impossibly laid-back bass, piano and vocal easy listening delight. “New Frontier” just has a wonderful, late night feeling, as indeed, does the soft soul of “The Nightfly”, which, instrumentally is almost jazz-funk-ish with some more Steely Dan-style acerbic, often cryptic lyrics. The playing on this album is incredibly good. If you look at the details of who played what, there is a whole raft of musicians, no wonder it is so good.

“The Goodbye Look” has a sort of bossa-nova meets Paul Simon’s “Late In The Evening” groove before Fagen’s voice kicks in with some very Simon-esque lyrics, thinking about it. Quite a lot of similarities - the wry comments, the acute observations. “Walk Between Raindrops” keeps up the jaunty jazz thing and ends the album on a high. You can’t really go wrong with this. A pleasure from beginning to end.

B-

Bonnie Raitt - Give It Up (1972)

  

Released September 1972

Recorded at Bearsville Studio, New York City

TRACK LISTING

1. Give It Up Or Let Me Go
2. Nothing Seems To Matter
3. I Know
4. If You Gotta Make A Fool Of Somebody
5. Love Me Like A Man
6. Too Long At The Fair
7. Under The Falling Sky
8. You Got To Know How
9. You Told Me Baby
10. Love Has No Pride                                    

“Give It Up” is a far more full-sounding album than the downhome , farm-recorded eponymous first one. From the first track, the rousing horn-driven fun of “Give It Up Or Let Me Go” we get an artist who is growing up, album by album. “Nothing Seems To Matter” is a soft, tender ballad backed by acoustic guitar, basic bongo percussion and a wailing saxophone. Bonnie got earthier as she got older, although she could always be sexy. Here she is still comparatively young and romantic, as opposed to hard-bitten and world-weary. “I Know” is a funky, bluesy groove with some New Orleans-style trumpet and a down ’n’ dirty vocal from Bonnie. “If You Gotta Make A Fool Of Somebody” is a lovely, rich, bassy number with some more sumptuous saxophone and a sort of fresh, innocent sounding vocal, together with some clunky piano.


“Love Me Like A Man” is a slide guitar-led bluesy cornerstone of the album, with young Bonnie developing that blues lady voice and attitude. “Love me like a man” she pleads - ok , Bonnie, if you insist…Top notch guitar work on this one and a full, confident sound. After the slightly scratchy sound of the debut album, things have improved for this album. “Too Long At The Fair” is a nicely bass heavy slowie, with a sensual vocal and mysterious atmosphere. A convincing, rocking cover of Jackson Browne’s “Under The Falling Sky” shows how Bonnie can make a cover version sound as if it has always been her own song. This song suits her immensely. it turns into a roadhouse knees-up by the end of it - harmonica and keyboards giving it their all.

“You Got To Know How” is a jazzy, upbeat piece of bluesy fun, with some lovely saxophone and and a knowingly sexy vocal. “You Told Me Baby” is an upbeat slice of country rock in a sort of Fleetwood Mac style but coming years before their Stevie Nicks era. There is a real touch of Nicks in Bonnie’s voice here. “Love Has No Pride” is a plaintive, end of the evening, crying into your Budweiser, heartbreaker.

A bit like the early Jackson Browne albums, this is a good album, but it is still somewhat raw around the edges, and now, in retrospect, we know that better was to come.

B-



https://www.bonnieraitt.com/