Tuesday, 30 April 2019

Bread - Baby I'm A Want You (1972)

  

Released January 1972

For many, this was Bread's best album, containing two of their biggest hits and successfully merging sensitive ballads with some deceptively hard rocking cuts. It shows that they were more than just slushy pop balladeers, despite the perfection of their tracks that fit that particular bill. This is an eminently listenable example of early seventies Californian rock.

TRACK LISTING

1. Mother Freedom
2. Baby I'm A Want You
3. Down On My Knees
4. Everything I Own
5. Nobody Like You
6. Diary
7. Dream Lady
8. Daughter
9. Games Of Magic
10. This Isn't What The Governmeant
11. Just Like Yesterday
12. I Don't Love You

"Mother Freedom" is a powerful rocker with some killer buzzsaw guitar. "Baby I'm A Want You" is known to many, it's great. Lovely vocal, lovely atmosphere, lovely bass line. Just a perfect easy rock song. So wonderfully early seventies. A Byrds-esque jangly guitar riff introduces "Down On My Knees". The track rocks from beginning to end in a seventies-era Fleetwood Mac style. "Everything I Own" is, of course, beautiful. As a reggae fan, I always associate this song with the Ken Boothe 1974 cover that hit number one in the UK, but this is the original. It is moving, sensitive and timeless. When that chorus kicks in - oh yes.

"Nobody Like You" is an Elton John-esque piano-driven rock/blues rousing rocker. Yes, Bread could do bar-room rock too and sing about "having a fight" without sounding strange. "Diary" is thoughtful and moving. "Dream Lady" has some of Bread's regular prog-rock influences as a swirling organ, heavy guitar and drums interplay dramatically. "Daughter" is another deceptively heavy rock ballad, with power chords and pounding piano, together with a convincingly strong, harmonious set of vocals.

"Games Of Magic" is a gentle, acoustic, sleepy and sensitive number. Now, up next Bread get all political, for the first time, on "This Isn't What The Governmeant", a rousing country style questioning of the rule-makers of the time. "Just Like Yesterday" is a lovely, stately and inspiring song. The gruff, mid-pace rock of "I Don't Love You" is a surprisingly acidic end to the album. There is more Elton John about this, for me.

If you like West Coast early seventies rock mixed with some classic rock ballads played with seriously good musicianship then you can't go far wrong with this. A classic of its genre.

B+

Bread - Manna (1971)

  

Released March 1971

It is popularly thought that Bread were a slow, acoustic-based band that delivered slushy romantic songs. Sure, they did a few of those, but it is often forgotten that they could actually rock quite hard. Their brand of country-ish rock packed a harder punch than their notable contemporaries CSN, CSNY, The Byrds and America. There was a fair amount of solid riffing, and muscular drums around on many of their tracks. In my opinion, Bread have always been a bit unfairly maligned and pigeonholed. This is largely an upbeat album of quite strident country-influenced, typically early seventies rock. It is quality easy listening rock.

TRACK LISTING

1. Let Your Love Go
2. Take Comfort
3. Too Much Love
4. If
5. Be Kind To Me
6. He's A Good Lad
7. She Was My Lady
8. Live In Your Love
9. What A Change
10. I Say Again
11. Come Again
12. Truckin'

"Let Your Love Go" is an upfront, rocking number to begin with, while "Take Comfort" starts with some solid guitar riffing and thumping drums. It moves into a dreamy, hippy-ish slow part in the middle, before returning to the buzzy guitar. Like much of their material at the time, there are vague proggy aspects to it. "Too Much Love" is a laid-back country-ish rocker with a delicious bass line and a distinct Beatles influence in places.

"If" is the archetypal Bread track that many know them for - a gentle melody, a sensitive lyric and David Gates' melodic, almost angelic voice soaring high above it. Rhythmic rock is back for the next one, however, with the appealing, bluesy groove of "Be Kind To Me". "He's A Good Lad" is a very CSNY-esque plaintive number. "She Was My Lady" rocks gently, tunefully and captivatingly. It features some excellent guitar soloing. Unfortunately it ends too soon. "Live In Your Love" is a McCartney-esque rock ballad that just reminds me of Wings.

"What A Change" has those airy, sweet uplifting CSNY harmonies once more. "I Say Again" is another one in that style too. The Ringo Starr-influenced drums and their interplay with the bass is lovely. "Come Again" continues the sensitive, thoughtful balladry. It has some beautiful piano and strings in its backing, underpinned by some subtle electric guitar. Just at the tempo had slowed down a bit we end the album with the roadhouse rollicking of "Truckin'", as Bread go all Doobie Brothers/early Eagles.

This is a beautifully even-tempered warm wind of an album that cannot help but relax you while lifting your spirits at the same time.

B

Jacob Miller - Who Say Jah No Dread (1975)

   

Made up of recordings from 1974-1975

This is a wonderful compilation of dubby, roots reggae from the years 1974-1975 from the young Jacob Miller and dub instrumentalist Augustus Pablo. Miller's later, poppier roots material and subsequent "crossover" covers of big hits from other genres often tends to find some people overlooking the fact that here, at the beginning of his career, he put out some seriously heavy, deep  roots/dub stuff. The original "Who Say Jah No Dread" was a twelve track album, but this collection is expanded to twenty-two tracks and includes dub versions of all the tracks. They all cook, big time, full of rumbling, deep bass, sonorous echoey horns and Pablo's trademark melodica sound.

While I like the roots pop of Miller & Inner Circle's "Reggae Greats" collection, released on the Island label, I cannot deny that his best work, his most "crucial", is to be found here. It is roots reggae of the highest quality and there is an argument for it certainly going into a top twenty reggae albums of all time list. Checkout "False Rasta", "Keep On Knocking" and, of course, the catchy "Baby I Love You So" and its iconic dub version "King Tubby Meets Rockers Uptown". Many claim the latter to be the best dub cut ever produced. Listening to those big bass lines and mysterious Pablo sounds you can see why. For me, "132 Version" is even better. "Hungry Town Skank" is just so evocative and atmospheric too. Oh, that crystal clear rhythm. You can't beat the roots skank of "Who Say Jah No Dread" either.

Miller always had a mellifluous, lilting voice and it is on some of the cuts on here that he first starts to use the hiccuping vibrato that he would use for the rest of his career. A most essential album if you want to build a credible roots reggae collection. It has excellent, booming, deep sound quality too. Get those speakers shaking.

TRACK LISTING

1. Keep On Knocking - Jacob Miller
2. Knocking Version - Rockers All Stars
3. Black Gunn - Augustus Pablo
4. Brown Jim - Augustus Pablo
5. False Rasta - Jacob Miller
6. Commercial Rasta - Jah Butty
7. Hungry Town Skank - Rockers All Stars
8. 555 Crown Street - Augustus Pablo
9. 1 Rutland Close - Pablo All Stars
10. Baby I Love You So - Jacob Miller
11. King Tubby Meets Rockers Uptown - Augustus Pablo
12. 132 Version - Pablo All Stars
13. Who Say Jah No Dread - Jacob Miller
14. Jah Dread - Rockers All Stars
15. Stop Them Jah - Pablo All Stars
16. Each One Teach One - Jacob Miller
17. Each One Teach One Version - Pablo All Stars
18. Girl Name Pat
19. Girl Name Pat Version - Augustus Pablo
20. Some of Them Say Them A Rasta - Jacob Miller
21. Some Dub Plate - Augustus Pablo
22. Lightning Flash - Augustus Pablo

B+

Jacob Miller & Inner Circle - Reggae Greats


  

Jacob Miller was an artist who arrived at the beginning of the roots reggae scene around 1975-76. His material is, although rootsy, also quite poppy. He was one of only a few roots reggae artists to release as much light, poppy material as deeper "conscious" Rasta devotional stuff. Miller's singing voice had a lightness of tone and a strange vibrato styling that he would use regularly, but all the time. Most of his material skanks in a pleasant, breezy and highly melodic fashion. Miller was a really popular singer in Jamaica in the late seventies and before his untimely death at only twenty seven in a car accident he had become part of the reggae "crossover" scene, performing reggae-fied cover versions of  popular rock and easy listening songs. There are many who would argue that his best material was his early roots work with Augustus Pablo and the songs included on here, which highlight his rootsiness with his ear for a lilting melody perfectly.

The sound quality on this Island compilation is excellent too. Nice and bassy and a clear stereo separation.

TRACK LISTING

1. Shaky Girl
2. Tenement Yard
3. Suzy Wong
4. Sinners
5. Healing Of The Nation
6. 80,000 Careless Ethiopians
7. I've Got The Handle
8. Tired Fe Lick Weed Ina Bush
9. Roman Soldiers Of Babylon
10. Standing Firm
11. All Night Till Daylight
12. Forward Jah Jah Children

The poppy side of Miller can be found on the catchy "Shaky Girl", the singalong "Suzy Wong" and the cool saxophone of "Sinners", which defies its devout lyrics with a thoroughly captivating, commercial rhythm. The irresitible "All Night Till Daylight" has you clapping along too. "I've Got The Handle" is a brassy, sweet groove with a lovely vocal and bass line.

"Tenement Yard", while a Rasta number also uses the stuttering, quirky voice on another lively number. A more rootsy sound can be found on "Healing Of The Nation" extols the virtue of the sacred weed, again over a deep, but heavily skanking and appealing beat. "80,000 Careless Ethiopians" cooks even more, with a thumping roots backing. "Tired Fe lick Weed Ina Bush" is a glorious piece of poppy roots, complete with shaking, tremulous vocal.

"Roman Soldiers Of Babylon" is a lively, horn-driven upbeat slice of roots. There are echoes of Bob Marley & The Wailers but also hints of Aswad and Burning Spear, for me. "Standing Firm" is another in the same mould - pounding, conscious roots but with a definite ear for a melody. "Forward Jah Jah Children" is a superb roots track. Check out that infectious percussion sound.

This excellent compilation gives the listener an uplifting forty minutes or so of poppy roots reggae, Mix tracks from here with some of the heavier, dubbier material from the same period and you have a  good representation of the reggae scene from 1976-79. I really like this collection. Great stuff.

B-

Candy McKenzie - Lee "Scratch" Perry Presents Candy McKenzie (1977)

  

Released in 1977

This is a slightly different reggae album from Lee "Scratch" Perry's Black Ark Studio. 1976-1977 had given us Max Romeo's "War Ina Babylon", Junior Murvin's "Police And Thieves"and The Heptones' "Party Time" - all classic roots reggae albums. Here we had Perry "presenting" previously unknown London singer Candy McKenzie. It is nowhere near as "conscious" or "roots" as those afore-mentioned works and is quite a unique (for the time) reggae album, mixing disco, soul, lovers rock and pop reggae together with Perry's trademark, slightly murky sound production. It had apparently been "lost" in the vaults for years. It had been rejected by Island Records at the time.

Re-released here by the Trojan label, the sound is not as impressive as on those other albums, sounding a tiny bit muffled, less crystal clear and actually I am pretty sure it is a mono recording. It just doesn't have that percussion clarity of many of Perry's other productions strangely. I suspect that the only source Trojan had of the album was the original vinyl. This may well be a "needle drop", albeit a pretty good one.

TRACK LISTING

1. Disco Fit
2. Someone To Love Me
3. Breakfast In Bed
4. Walking In The Sun
5. Jah Knows
6. Ice Cream
7. Sky At Night
8. Keep Him Strong
9. Tell Me A Lie
10. When The Big Day

"Disco Fit" is a first - an example of disco reggae. The beat is an insistent soulful groove and McKenzie's powerful voice soars all over it in the manner of a soul diva as opposed to a reggae singer. "Someone To Love Me" has a more regular upbeat, lilting reggae skank and a "lovers rock" feel to both the beat and McKenzie's airy, light voice. "Breakfast In Bed" is the reggae original of the appealing, mid-pace Eddie Hinton song made famous by Dusty Springfield and UB40/Chrissie Hynde.

"Walking In The Sun" has a strong, bassy skank and another loaded vocal packed full of soul. "Jah Knows" is the album's one seemingly Rasta conscious track and has a suitably deep, chunky "riddim". McKenzie's female vocal gives it a bit of an air of Althea and Donna's material from the same era, although her voice is far more versatile and less deadpan. The song is unusual, though, in that it isn't a typical Rasta devotional song at all, despite the title. It is sung from a woman's point of view and is questioning of a male-dominated society.

"Ice Cream" is a seductive but thumping soul-style number with a sumptuous big bass line. It goes without saying that the voice is superb. "Sky At Night" is a dreamy groove with a fetching "one-drop" backing rhythm. One of the best beats on the album. "Keep Him Strong" is a Sade-style number six years before "Diamond Life". Once again, reggae meets sweet soul on a beguiling number. "Tell Me A Lie" is another prototype lovers rock song. "When The Big Day" has a deeper, denser beat, but is a bit muffled in its reproduction. The vocal once more owes more to soul stylings than traditional reggae ones, particularly in the "shoo-wop, shoowop" bit.

This is definitely an unusual addition to my reggae collection, showing that late seventies reggae was not all about righteous Rasta and deep dub. Also, that female reggae singers were not just light, pop singers. Sadly this would prove to be Candy McKenzie's only album. I am unable to find out too much about her but I believe she passed away tragically early.

C+

Monday, 29 April 2019

Bad Manners - Ska 'N' B (1980)

  

Released April 1980

After Madness introduced the good-time fun of the "nutty sound" to the ska revival/"two tone" boom of 1979-1981, Bad Manners took it to extreme levels with their upbeat, infectious but lightweight ska-inspired sound. They were a nine-piece with saxophones, trumpet and harmonica integral parts of their sound. The singer was the charismatic, baldheaded and overweight "Buster Bloodvessel" (Doug Trendle) who strutted and gyrated around the stage often looking like some sort of grotesque big baby. I saw them live a couple of times in the early eighties and they put on a great show. Sure, they were not really "credible" like The Specials, The Beat and Madness, far from it, but they were great fun and released some eminently singalong hits.

The highlights from this, their debut album were the "nutty"-inspired "Ne-Ne-Na-Na-Na-Na-Nu-Nu",   their cover of Clancy Eccles' ska hit "Fatty Fatty", a rousing cover of the theme from "The Magnificent Seven", a jazzy, swing number in "Caledonia", the totally addictive ska romp of "Lip Up Fatty" and the bizarrely appealing "Special Brew". What is often forgotten is that, in amongst all the fun, Bad Manners also produced a couple of credible numbers in the lively but atmospheric "Inner London Violence" and the instrumental "Night Bus To Dalston".

TRACK LISTING

1. Ne-Ne-Na-Na-Na-Na-Nu-Nu
2. Here Comes The Major
3. Fatty Fatty
4. King Ska/Fa
5. Monster Mash
6. Caledonia
7. Magnificent 7
8. Wooly Bully
9. Lip Up Fatty
10. Special Brew
11. Inner London Violence
12. Scruffy, The Huffy Chuffy Tugboat
13. Holidays
14. Night Bus To Dalston

C+

Judge Dread - The Best Of Judge Dread (Trojan)

  

Possibly the most strange of all reggae artists in the UK commercial boom of the early seventies was Judge Dread, a white man from Snodland, Kent called Alex Hughes. He specialised in singing double entendre, risqué lyrics over and authentic reggae beat in a cod-Jamaican accent (which was actually reasonably convincing). He followed in the tradition of lewd songs such as Max Romeo's "Wet Dream". He had several hit singles in the UK during the early seventies, making him the biggest-selling reggae artist in the UK apart from Bob Marley, incredibly. What was also notable that his naughty nursery rhyme reggae hits were all banned by the BBC and many other radio stations.

Hughes had been an employee of Trojan Records in London as a debt collector. Somehow he managed to convince them to let him do some recordings. The backing on all his songs was played by bona fide Jamaican musicians, a lot of them recorded in Jamaica.

For me, as a schoolboy, Dread's often puerile songs were tailor-made and, also, they provided some of my earliest reggae memories. Along with Desmond Dekker, The Pioneers, Greyhound, Nicky Thomas, Bob & Marcia, Dave & Ansil Collins and Jimmy Cliff I was listening enthusiastically to Judge Dread. Listening to this is one big nostalgia trip for me. I used to play these songs to my mother, hoping to shock her. She thought they were hilarious, which is another fond memory for me.

The songs don't require too much analysis. The hits were "Big Six", "Big Seven" and "Big Eight". "Big Nine" didn't chart, but "Big Ten" did. A favourite of mine was always Dread's cover of Lord Kitchener's bawdy ska number, "Dr. Kitch", a medical song about a girl who didn't want to receive her injection. Hmmm. He also covers Elton John's "Jamaica Jerk Off", adding some new, naughtier lyrics. His cover of Mike Sarne's sixties hit "Come Outside" is as you would expect it to be and a similar tale of failed seduction is told on the childish but amusing for an overgrown schoolboy such as myself "Will I What?". Doris Day's "Move Over Darling" is also given the Dread treatment, along with Serge Gainsbourg/Jane Birkin's "Je T'Aime..(Moi Non Plus)". "Bring Back The Skins" is a strangely nostalgic song about the glory days of the skinhead sub-culture that latched on to reggae.

The music is largely in the "early reggae" style of the early seventies with some ska influences. You have to say that the influence Judge Dread had on eighties two tone ska band Bad Manners is obvious. There is also a music hall rudeness to Dread's delivery that Ian Dury would use on his own "Razzle In My Pocket" and "You're More Than Fair" in 1978.

Judge Dread unfortunately passed away at only 52. Here's to you, you dirty old whatever.

TRACK LISTING

1. Big Seven
2. Je T'Aime...(Moi Non Plus)
3. Big Eight
4. Grandad's Flannelette Nightshirt
5. Y Viva Suspenders
6. Big Ten
7. Oh She's A Big Girl Now
8. The Winkle Man
9. What Kung Fu Dat
10. Dread Rock
11. End Of The World
12. Confessions Of A Bouncer
13. Come Outside
14. Dance Of The Snods
15. Mind The Doors
16. My Ding-A-Ling
17. Dread's Law
18. Lover's Rock
19. Fatty Dread
20. Bring Back The Skins
21. Bix Six
22. Up With The Cock!
23. Jamaica Jerk-Off
24. Molly
25. Big Nine
26. Look A Pussy
27. Big One
28. The Blues Cross Code
29. Dr. Kitch
30. Move Over Darling
31. Big Punk
32. Rudeness Train
33. Take Off Your Clothes
34. The Six Wives Of Dread
35. This Little Piece Of Dinkle
36. Big Everything
37. Dread's Almanack
38. Worker's Lament
39. The Belle Of Snodland Town
40. Will I What?

C+

Sunday, 28 April 2019

Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers - The Best Of Everything 1976-2016


  

Yes, this is another Tom Petty compilation. As others have pertinently said - "do we need one?". Possibly not. Possibly yes. The previous one, "American Treasure" was an excellent collection of outtakes, alternative versions and live cuts interspersed with some superb remasters of early tracks. This set is more of the "well known" tracks type of release, but it still has a few rarities, a really good Stevie Nicks collaboration track and some impressive tracks from Mudcrutch (the name The Heartbreakers first called themselves from 1970-1975). The important thing, for me, is the outstanding remastered sound, which has still, incredibly frustratingly, not been applied to the first two Heartbreakers albums and "Southern Accents" and Tom Petty solo albums like "Full Moon Fever" and "Wildflowers". Although you don't get more than one or two tracks from each album, it is great to hear those that are included in superb big, full, bassy sound - at last.

The "Anthology" set also has a good sound quality too, as does "American Treasure". So, do we need another collection? For me, yes - to add to those two and get as much Petty remastered material as possible. It really gives a new life to the songs.

Personal highlights are - "You Wreck Me", Mudcrutch's "Scare Easy", the previously unreleased "For Real", the Springsteen-esque "I Need To Know", the pounding rock of "Runnin' Down A Dream""Even The Losers", "You Got Lucky", "Learning To Fly", the riffy, Stonesy "Jammin' Me" and the Stevie Nicks song "Stop Draggin' My Heart Around". Of course, there are many more, including the more famous ones. There is not really a duff track on here, let's be honest.

TRACK LISTING * by Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers unless stated otherwise

1. Free Fallin' - Tom Petty
2. Mary Jane's Last Dance
3. You Wreck Me - Tom Petty
4. I Won't Back Down - Tom Petty
5. Saving Grace - Tom Petty
6. You Don't Know How It Feels - Tom Petty
7. Don't Do Me Like That
8. Listen To Her Heart
9. Breakdown
10. Walls (Ciircus)
11. The Waiting
12. Don't Come Around Here No More
13. Southern Accents
14. Angel Dream (No. 2)
15. Dreamville
16. I Should Have Known It
17. Refugee
18. American Girl
19. The Best Of Everything (Alternate Version)
20. Wildflowers - Tom Petty
21. Learning To Fly
22. Here Comes My Girl
23. The Last DJ
24. I Need To Know
25. Scare Easy - Mudcrutch
26. You Got Lucky
27. Runnin' Down A Dream - Tom Petty
28. American Dream Plan B - Tom Petty
29. Stop Draggin' My Heart Around - Stevie Nicks
30. Trailer - Mudcrutch
31. Into The Great Wide Open
32. Room At The Top
33. Square One - Tom Petty
34. Jammin' Me
35. Even The Losers
36. Hungry No More - Mudcrutch
37. I Forgive It All - Mudcrutch
38. For Real

B+

Saturday, 27 April 2019

UB40 - Bagariddim (1985)

  

Released on 2 September 1985

This was one of UB40's heaviest and most authentic albums. However, it is in no way a typical UB40 album. They play contemporary (in 1985) dancehall/ragga "riddims" over some of their previous material, and invited several guest singers to "toast" (Jamaican reggae rap) the vocals. The results are certainly an acquired taste and would not appeal to those attracted by the group's many accessible covers of classic reggae songs and indeed their own, often commercially appealing material. It has never particularly appealed to me, because my own reggae tastes are from the earlier periods of ska, rock steady, early pop reggae, roots, rockers, dub and lovers rock. I can tolerate bits of dancehall and ragga but not too much, to be honest, therefore I can dip into this album for an occasional blast, but half an hour or more is a bit like too much stodgy food.

Now, that is not to say that there isn't a lot of atmosphere or indeed quality on here. The sound quality is big, bassy and resonant and, if you like the genre you will very much enjoy this. As I said earlier, it is very authentic stuff.

TRACK LISTING (stating guest vocalists and original source songs)

1. The King Step Mk. 1 (Feat. Pato Banton and If It Happens Again)
2. The Buzz Feeling (Feat. Gunslinger and Cherry Oh Baby)
3. Lyric Officer Mk. 2 (Feat. Dillinger and If It Happens Again)
4. Demonstrate (Feat. Admiral Jerry and As Always You Were Wrong Again)
5. Two In A One Mk.1 (Feat. Pablo & Gunslinger and The Pillow)
6. Hold Your Position Mk. 3 (Feat. Stones and If It Happens Again)
7. Hip Hop Lyrical Robot (Feat. Pato Banton and Your Eyes Were Open)
8. Style Mk. 4 (Feat. Pablo and If It Happens Again)
9. Fight Fe Come In Mk. 2 (Feat. James Bon & General CP and The Pillow)
10. V's Version (Feat. Sister V and Version Girl)
11. Don't Break My Heart
12. I Got You Babe (Feat. Chrissie Hynde)
13. Mi Spliff

I am not the best person to advise on dancehall/ragga grooves, but both "The King Step Mk. 1" featuring Pato Banton's lilting voice and Gunslinger's "The Buzz Feeling" have a certain loose, dubby infectiousness about them. I can certainly take small doses of this. However, the toasting on "Lyric Officer Mk. 2" just isn't for me. "Demonstrate" has a quirky appeal, but to be honest I prefer the toasting of the seventies DJs such as Prince Far I, U-Roy, I-Roy and Big Youth. Admiral Jerry's lyrics make me smile on occasions, but I don't want to listen to the track too many times. The backing is good though.

Pablo and Gunslinger's vocals on "Two In A One Mk. 1" are amusing and provide a bit of light entertainment. One of my favourites is "Hold Your Position Mk. 3" which has Stones sounding quite a lot like Prince Far I, in that gruff, throaty way. Even better is "Hip Hop Lyrical Robot" which is the most musically appealing. I really like the lighter skank of  "V's Version" as well. Sister V's female vocal is a pleasant change from all the previous male vocalists too.

Strangely, at the end of this mix of dancehall/ragga toasting are included two commercial, poppy singles in the evocative, more typical UB40 of "Don't Break My Heart" and the laconic, slightly underwhelming cover of Sonny & Cher's "I Got You Babe", which was a duet between Ali Campbell and The Pretenders' Chrissie Hynde. These were originally released as an EP, and the EP has been tagged on after the album's original ten tracks, hence the slightly incongruous feel.

Just to reiterate the point I made at the beginning, this is a dancehall/ragga album and not what the uninitiated would expect from a UB40 album.

C

John Holt - The Best Of John Holt (Trojan)

  

John Holt was best known for covering mainstream soul and easy-listening chart hits and reggae-fying them with a melodic, lilting reggae beat and often lush string backing. However, he also released some reasonable material that was his own, or were authentic reggae songs from other writers. He also wrote songs for his pre-solo career group, The Paragons. He was not a stranger to early, prototype rootsy material either. Happily, this excellent compilation from the legendary Trojan label takes these points into account and covers Holt's career pretty comprehensively. It is not simply an album of covers.

Most people are familiar with the catchy cover of "Help Me Make It Through The Night" (made famous by Gladys Knight & The Pips and its totally delicious brass backing. "Stick By Me" will be well known to UB40 fans, as they covered it on "Labour Of Love II", that also applies to "Wear You To The Ball". The latter was also covered by the roots DJ "toaster" U-Roy. Holt's original, with The Paragons, is the vocal only version, no toasting. The Paragons' "The Tide Is High" was, of course, taken to the top of the charts over a decade later by Blondie.

"You Will Never Find Another Love Like Mine", a Lou Rawls soul cover, may have a romantic lyric, but it has a deep, rootsy skank to it. "Sweetie Come Brush Me" has a sumptuous, mid-pace, brassy but dubby irresistible rhythm. It has that dubby reverb sound to it and those high-pitched synth-drum sound effects that don't have an onomatopoeic word. You will know the sound when you hear it. It was used a lot on Janet Kay's "Silly Games" as well. Holt re-makes Jean Knight's "Mr. Big Stuff" as "Sister Big Stuff" in an effective rock steady style.

Joya Landis's "I'll Be Lonely" was a duet with Holt. "Let's Build A Dream" was a duet with Leroy Sibbles. Both of these are early recordings and the sound quality isn't so great on them. Most of The Paragons' recordings are also not as good, sound-wise as Holt's later solo stuff.

Holt was there at the beginning of certain reggae sub-genres and that is evidenced on some tracks here. We get an early example of Dancehall/DJ reggae in Tommy McCook's "Ali Baba", which has been sampled and re-recorded endless times by roots and dub artists. That distinctive bass break on repeat and nonsense-style lyrics would come to categorise so much later dancehall material. "Ghetto Queen" also has an early roots feel to it. Yes, it is not the roots stuff that categorised the mid-late seventies, but there were hints in the sound of the grooves that were to come.

Of the several Trojan "best of" compilations, there are others I prefer more, quite a few, in fact. That is not to say there are not good tracks scattered around on here, but not enough of them to stop me from cherry-picking them.

TRACK LISTING * all by John Holt, unless stated otherwise.

1. Help Me Make It Through The Night
2. Stick By Me
3. I've Got To Get Away - The Paragons
4. Again
5. My Heart Is Gone
6. You Baby
7. You Will Never Find Another Love Like Mine
8. Left With A Broken Heart - The Paragons
9. Sweetie Come Brush Me
10. It May Sound Silly
11. I'll Take A Melody
12. Pledging My Love
13. Talking Love - The Paragons
14. Strange Things
15. Time Is The Master
16. The Further You Look (The Less You See)
17. Sometimes
18. Memories By The Score
19. Up Park Camp
20. Ghetto Queen
21. The Tide Is High - The Paragons
22. Ali Baba - Tommy McCook
23. On The Beach - The Paragons
24. I'll Be Lonely - Joya Landis & John Holt
25. Wear You To The Ball - The Paragons
26. Sister Big Stuff
27. Happy Go Lucky Girl - The Paragons
28. Stealing Stealing (Thief In The Night)
29. Silver Bird - The Paragons
30. Tonight
31. Only A Smile - The Paragons
32. Let's Build Our Dreams - Leroy Sibbles
33. Mercy, Mercy, Mercy - The Paragons
34. What You Gonna Do Now
35. The Same Song - The Paragons
36. Time And The River
37. My Best Girl - The Paragons
38. Riding High On A Windy Day - The Paragons
39. Have You Ever Been To Heaven
40. Land Of Sea And Sun - The Paragons

C

Friday, 26 April 2019

Linton Kwesi Johnson - Forces Of Victry (1979)

  

Released in 1979

This was a crucial, contemporaneously relevant reggae release that featured "dread beat poet" Linton Kwesi Johnson reciting his lyrics concerning life in late seventies London as a West Indian over a superb roots reggae beat. The music, played by Dennis Bovell and Rico Rodriguez, amongst others is just excellent, providing a top notch quality backing for Johnson's hard-hitting, often moving urban tales. Johnson largely speaks his lyrics, occasionally slightly breaking into an appealing half-singing. He delivers his verses in Jamaican patois, but it is generally comprehensible. If not, you get the meaning pretty easily. Johnson's semi-spoken delivery is not really different to that of the DJ/"toasters" like Prince Far I, Big Youth, U-Roy, I-Roy or King Stitt, all of whom did not break into song.

TRACK LISTING

1. Want Fi Goh Rave
2. It Noh Funny
3. Sonny's Lettah (Anti-Sus Poem)
4. Independant Intavenshan
5. Fite Dem Back
6. Reality Poem
7. Forces Of Victry
8. Time Come

"Want Fi Goh Rave" is a lilting, semi-spoken recitation over a delicious bassy, rootsy beat enhanced with horns and skanking electric guitar. It has a great dubby bit at the end too. "It Noh Funny" has a pounding, bassy riddim, with some Rastafarian-style bongo drum backing. Linton almost starts singing at some points.  The saddest tale is "Sonny's Lettah (Anti-Sus Poem)" which takes the form of a letter from a young man from prison to his mother telling of his ill-treatment at the hands of the Metropolitan Police, who, at the time, were nowhere near as accountable as they are today.

"Independent Intavenshan" despairs at the British politics of the time. Trombonist Rico Rodriguez delivers a great solo on here. Some infectious, rhythmic backing introduces the militant "Fite Dem Back", which has Johnson uncompromisingly advocating fighting back against fascists by "smashing their brains in, 'cos they ain't got nothin' in 'em...". Menacing stuff, but life was pretty awful in inner city London in the late seventies as a West Indian or Asian immigrant. Until you have walked a mile in his shoes is an apt quote, I believe.

"Reality Poem" talks about the age science and technology we are in and bemoans that we still have no light, no clarity, no visions of how to live. The backing is once again excellent too. "Forces Of Victry" is a huge thumper of a "conscious" track, as relevant as any authentic Jamaican Max Romeo, Junior Murvin or Lee "Scratch" Perry track. Yes, Johnson was of Jamaican origin, of course, but this was not reggae from "the yard" in Trenchtown, it was London-inspired reggae. The track features more impressive trombone. "Time Come" is an intoxicating warning from Johnson, chock full of rhythm and atmosphere.

There is a definite argument for this album having a place in the upper reaches of reggae's "best ever" albums lists. Without question. Not only are the lyrics culturally vital, but the music is irresistible too. Highly recommended.

B+

The Doors - Morrison Hotel (1970)

  

Released February 1970

After their stunning, innovative and atmospheric debut album, The Doors released three increasingly experimental and quirky albums, all of which were impressive, but are slightly more of an acquired taste than this often regarded as a "back to basics" rock album. To an extent. There are still quite a lot of instantly recognisable Door-isms all over the album. The swirling organ sound, the haunting vocals, the Germanic, Brechtian influences. The bizarre, mystical lyrics. They are all still there.

TRACK LISTING

1. Roadhouse Blues
2. Waiting For The Sun
3. You Make Me Real
4. Peace Frog
5. Blue Sunday
6. Ship Of Fools
7. Land Ho!
8. The Spy
9. Queen Of The Highway
10. Indian Summer
11. Maggie M'Gill

"Roadhouse Blues" is a superb, pounding slice of proper blues bar-room rock, full of killer guitar, harmonica, drums and a strong vocal from Jim Morrison. Great stuff. Don't be misled, though, into thinking this is a blues rock album, though, just as "L.A. Woman" didn't mean the album that bore the same name was one either. The track is substantially different from most of the subsequent material.

 "Waiting For The Sun" takes the title from the band's 1968 album and evokes a bit of the spirit of those times with a mysterious, brooding number that, although it had some heavy rock sounds, particularly on the drums, harked back to those heady psychedelic days. The glammy "You Make Me Real" surely was listened to by those who became The New York Dolls. It was in-your-face upbeat glam rock before anything like it had been thought of.

"Peace Frog" has a sumptuous funky wah-wah guitar, organ and drum intro and a moody, soulfully funky vocal from Morrison. This was a sound the group had not really produced before, although there are still some trademark organ breaks. The mid-song guitar solo is superb and Morrison's spoken part half way through must have inspired a young Patti Smith. The song suddenly morphs into the sleepy, sonorous Teutonic "Blue Sunday", with its Velvet Underground overtones. A strange contrast.

"Ship Of Fools" evokes "Break On Through" with its rhythmic intro. "Land Ho!" is lyrically perplexing, but it has a lot of atmosphere and some sublime bass and cymbal backing. "The Spy" is a bluesily thumping and menacing slow-burning paranoid number. "Queen Of The Highway" is a blues, evocative groover that once again is packed full or portent, but musically doesn't quite seem to know where its going, chopping and changing slightly too much for my liking. The dreamy "Indian Summer" was actually recorded in 1966 for the debut album and has hints of "The End" in there. The blues rock that was given to us on the album's opener returns on its final track, the chugging, industrially riffy rock of "Maggie M'Gill".

A good album, as all The Doors albums are - interesting and intriguing. The sound quality on the remaster taken from "The Complete Studio Albums" box set is excellent.

B-

Bread



Bread (1969)
On The Waters (1970)
Manna (1971)
Baby I'm A Want You (1972)
Guitar Man (1972)
Lost Without Your Love (1977)

The Best Of Bread

Bread - On The Waters (1970)

  

Released July 1970

Bread became instantly more well-known with this, their second album, due to the huge hit "Make It With You", although this album is one that provides many different sounding tracks to that one. It is quite a rock album, in its hippy Californian warm but airy sound and vague psychedelic influences appearing here and there. It is very Crosby, Stills and Nash-influenced and laid foundations for groups like America to follow. I should imagine many who bought the album on the back of "Make It With You" may have been slightly disappointed in its hippy rock earnestness and, at times, quite heavy passages. Not me, though, I think it's great. A most underrated gem. It is, though, quite a dense,  serious album, despite its West Coast inherent sunny disposition. Personally, I prefer the group's debut album. It is Bread's equivalent of The Doors' "Waiting For The Sun", quite experimental and uncommercial in places. Of course, this is not a full-on rock record, but it is certainly not an album of slushy, acoustic ballads. Far from it.

TRACK LISTING

1. Why Do You Keep Me Waiting
2. Make It With You
3. Blue Satin Pillow
4. Look What You've Done
5. I Am That I Am
6. Been Too Long On The Road
7. I Want You With Me
8. Coming Apart
9. Easy Love
10. In The Afterglow
11. Call On Me
12. The Other Side Of Life

"Why Do You Keep Me Waiting" is an upbeat, rocking number to begin with, with hints of Neil Diamond's early material in its vaguely Latin strummed riff. Its changes of pace and rock rhythms are redolent of Crosby, Stills and Nash. "Make It With You" is, of course, the song that really made it big for Bread and tended to make people pigeonhole them. You can't deny its laid-back, hot Californian summery sound is completely intoxicating. A classic of its type. "Blue Satin Pillow" has a big, heavy rock riff and a typically early seventies rock feel, with airs of Cat Stevens in its vocal, for me. Bearles harmonies are in there too.

"Look What You've Done" had a riff that sounded like a prototype of the later "Guitar Man" at the beginning. When it breaks out into its "rock" passages, its is truly uplifting. It almost goes a bit proggy in its organ sound. "I Am That I Am" also continues that proggy, pace-changing sound. It reminds me slightly of Ringo Starr's "It Don't Come Easy" at times.

"Been Too Long On The Road" has that "Marrakesh Express" breezy, harmonious feel to it and features some killer electric guitar over a quirky, staccato beat. "I Want You With Me" has a haunting air to its beguiling, gentle vocal, over its gently melodic bass line. This is something approaching what The Beach Boys were trying to achieve during the same period, and sometimes coming up short. This album gets it right, in my opinion, anyway.

"Coming Apart" is a very CSN-style appealing, tuneful rocker. Like lots of the material it is very typical of its era. "Easy Love" begins with a Byrds-style jangly guitar and has a lovely vocal and drum sound. "In The Afterglow" is a very McCartney-esque song, with those Beatles drums again. "Call On Me" has Bread going a little blues rock-ish. It has hints of The Beatles' "Come Together" and is very Lennon-influenced. The album ends with the low-key, gentle "The Other Side Of Life". This is an album that deserves more than a few listens. It has hidden depths.

B-

Bread - Bread (1969)


  

Released September 1969

This album was a real surprise to me, as, for many years, I had (misguidedly) viewed Bread as a somewhat wishy-washy student bedroom band, full of gentle melodies and earnest, lovelorn lyrics. This album, from the very late sixties, sort of contradicts that, showing first of all that they could certainly play (the musicianship and sound quality is uniformly excellent), and secondly that they had considerable rock sensibilities in there. The album was a veritable pioneer in Californian country/folk-ish soft rock. The Byrds were heading this way, and Crosby, Stills and Nash too, of course. In the wake of these artists would come the excellent America and the genre would spread out to include some aspects of the music of The Doobie Brothers and the early Eagles.

Bread also were quite Beatles-influenced, in their McCartney-ish lyrics and melodies at times and in the Ringo Starr-esque drumming. Their vocals are wonderfully harmonious, often falsetto from David Gates, and the acoustic guitars clear and sharp. The electric guitar is subtly riffy and the bass beautifully subtle.

There are no well-known Bread songs on here in the "Baby I'm A Want You"/"I Want To Make It With You" category, but there is some beautiful, laid-back material and some deceptively rocking fare too, admittedly very much in a breezy late sixties style.

TRACK LISTING

1. Dismal Day
2. London Bridge
3. Could I
4. Look At Me
5. The Last Time
6. Any Way You Want Me
7. Move Over
8. Don't Shut Me Out
9. You Can't Measure The Cost
10. Family Doctor
11. It Don't Matter To Me
12. Friends And Lovers

"Dismal Day" features a strange high-pitched vocal from David Gates, but is also an appealing, lively hippy-ish track. "London Bridge" is very Beatles-esque, with that instantly recognisable Ringo Starr-style drumming. "Could I" has a great piano and percussion intro and a very late sixties vocal feel to it. It sounds very representative of its era. The electric guitar on it is superb. "Look At Me" is a very hippy, dreamy acoustic number. This was very much the period of the "serious", contemplative song. This is a fine example of it.

The rocky "The Last Time" shows a distinct sixties inventiveness borrowed from psychedelia, slightly. "Anyway You Want Me" is pleasantly driven by its electric guitar riffs and upbeat drums. Its vocal is stronger, more direct, too. Lovely guitar/drum interplay in the middle as well. "Move Over" is one of the album's rockiest, powerful numbers, driven along by some great drums and fuzzy electric guitar. Great stuff. Most underrated and misjudged. Turn this up and you can feel the band's power. This is Bread, remember. The rock continues on the cowbell-driven rhythm of the catchy "Don't Shut Me Out".

"You Can't Measure The Cost" is an airy, acoustic and harmonious America-style ballad that moves on to include a deliciously heavy bass line. "Family Doctor" has strong echoes of The Band all over it, and Crosby, Stills & Nash too. Check out those harmonies on "It Don't Matter To Me". Beautiful. Add to those the freaky, buzzy electric guitar interjections and you have a great song. "Friends And Lovers" is a pleasantly enigmatic and infectiously catchy folky rock number. There is no way that this album should be dismissed as romantic, drippy pop (Bread were, it seems, very unfairly labelled in that respect). This is a highly credible, truly worthy late sixties album full of songs and musicianship of the highest quality. I really like this album.

B+

Thursday, 25 April 2019

Bread - The Sound Of Bread


  

In the seventies I was never into Bread like many were (usually girls). I saw this as very much wishy-washy student (usually members of the Christian Union) bedroom fare. As many, many years have passed by, my attitudes have matured, thankfully, and I view their music in a totally different light.

It is all very typically early seventies stuff - clear, airy, breezy vocals (in the style of America and many other country rock groups), razor sharp, melodic acoustic guitars, gentle bass rhythms, tuneful lead guitar and rhythmic but understated drums. The sound quality on this atmospheric, nostalgic collection does the group's excellent musicianship justice. There are hints of CSNY swirling around and some Beatles influence also. Many of the tracks are surprisingly upbeat and rhythmic, gently rocking. It is not all contemplative romantic material. The cover is pretty uninspiring, though, isn't it?

TRACK LISTING

1. Make It With You
2. Dismal Day
3. London Bridge
4. Anyway You Want Me
5. Look What You've Done
6. It Don't Matter To Me
7. The Last Time
8. Let Your Love Go
9. Truckin'
10. If
11. Baby I'm A Want You
12. Everything I Own
13. Down On My Knees
14. Just Like Yesterday
15. Diary
16. Sweet Surrender
17. Guitar Man
18. Fancy Dancer
19. She's The Only One
20. Lost Without Your Love

Everyone knows the beguiling opener, "Make It With You", with its entrancing, evocative vocal. It is a timeless classic. "Dismal Day" features a strange high-pitched vocal from David Gates, but is also an appealing, lively hippy-ish track. "London Bridge" is very Beatles-esque, with Ringo Starr-style drumming. "Anyway You Want Me" is pleasantly driven by its electric guitar riffs and upbeat drums. Its vocal is stronger, more direct, too. Lovely guitar/drum interplay in the middle as well. The bass on "Look What You've Done" is just beautiful and when the song breaks out into the "rock" bit, it is quite gloriously uplifting. Check out those harmonies on "It Don't Matter To Me". Beautiful.

There are so many (for me) undiscovered gems on here, apart from the well-known hits. Another one is the harmonious and rocky "The Last Time". "Let Your Love Go" rocks more than I ever thought Bread could. It is sort of Doobie Brothers meets America with even a touch of Status Quo in the riff and the vocals. The percussion is absolutely sublime. The rock continues on the infectious country rock of "Truckin'". I love this one. These have been some surprising rockers.

"If" is a plaintive track most people know. This is the original, not the awful version Telly Savalas took to number one in the mid seventies. The America-esque and totally gorgeous "Baby I'm A Want You" was as big a hit as it totally deserved to be. Then we get the sublime "Everything I Own", although as a long-time reggae fan, I always associate it with Ken Boothe. It is a true classic, either way. Time to rock again, with the Fleetwood Mac-ish "Down On My Knees". "Just Like Yesterday" has some excellent instrumentation. Bread could play, something that is often forgotten. This may sound completely bonkers, but this has all the ingredients of an Ian Hunter/Mott The Hoople ballad. No? Just one of my strange ideas. It also reminds me of Clifford T. Ward's "Wherewithal". Is that more like it?

"Diary" is a gentle, acoustic, bedsit-ish sensitive number, in a sort of Al Stewart (early seventies era) ay. "Sweet Surrender" is a lovely mid-tempo laid-back number with some great guitar. "Guitar Man" was another huge hit, again quite rightly, it is packed with both instrumental and vocal hooks. "Fancy Dancer" is a surprisingly funky-ish groover. "She's The Only One" is a delightful country-ish number with an Eagles feel to it. "Lost Without Your Love" is what I imagined an archetypal Bread song was, actually, listening to this, I realise I was completely wrong. I really enjoyed this. Who would have thought it?

B+

Ras Michael And The Sons Of Negus - Rastafari (1975)

  

Released in 1975

This underrated, little-known album is one of the pioneering roots reggae album. It is different from the deep, dubby, heavy rhythms of some of the subsequent roots recordings from 1976 onwards. It is a completely Rastafarian devotional album, and is based fundamentally around the intoxicating "Nyabinghi" chanting style of vocal, backed by addictive bongo drumming. However, several more "mainstream" (in that they were not from the strict Rastafarian discipline) reggae musicians were also employed such as Robbie Shakespeare on bass, Earl "Chinna" Smith on guitar, keyboard player Robbie Lyn and Peter Tosh also on guitar. It has to be said, though, that Ras Michael's groany, unexpressive voice is not the best around. Despite that, though, the music is top notch and the album is full of atmosphere. Incidentally, the front cover is an image of a young Emperor Haile Selassie.

TRACK LISTING

1. None A Jah Jah Children (No Cry)
2. Glory Dawn
3. Give Love
4. It Is No Secret
5. Sufferation
6. Mr. Brown
7. Birds In The Treetop
8. Truth And Right

"None A Jah Jah Children (No Cry)" is a rumbling, insistent Rastafarian devotional song, with some suitably "chanty" monotone vocals from Ras Michael. The sombre rhythm continues on the brooding "Glory Dawn". "Give Love" has a traditional Rastafarian-style bongo drum backing, but its also employs some sumptuous saxophone, which was pretty unusual for a roots reggae recording. It has an infectious piano underpinning it too. Michael's vocals are deadpan and devout. It has an almost soulful groove to it that washes over you like a warm bath. It is the album's most catchy number.

"It Is No Secret" has a delicious bass introduction and continues with an almost funky wah-wah guitar. "Sufferation" uses the same guitar sound as well and the rhythm is once again just so good. as with the other tracks, though, it is the vocals that let it down. Imagine what a voice like Junior Murvin, Max Romeo or the harmonies of The Gladiators, The Mighty Diamonds or The Abyssinians could do with these songs.

"Mr. Brown" gives us the bass line of the album, a big rumbling monster. The beat is a trance-like hypnotic one and the vocal is one of the better ones, far more lively, animated and confident, showing a real fervent commitment. "Birds In The Treetop" is a melodic, pleasant workout. "Truth And Right" is a horn-driven insistent chunky number. Ok, we've had eight tracks now and I have enjoyed my forty minutes or so, but that is probably my fill of Ras Michael for any one sitting. Add a track or two to a roots reggae playlist, though, I would recommend "Give Love" or "None A Jah Jah Children (No Cry)", or maybe "Mr. Brown".

C+

Lee "Scratch" Perry




Super Ape (1976)
The Best Of Lee "Scratch" Perry (Trojan)
Arkology

Lee "Scratch" Perry - Super Ape (1976)


  

Released August 1976

TRACK LISTING

1. Zion's Blood
2. Croaking Lizard
3. Black Vest
4. Underground
5. Curly Dub
6. Dread Lion
7. Three In One
8. Patience
9. Dub Along
10. Super Ape

As well as producing Max Romeo's iconic roots reggae album "War Ina Babylon" in 1976, already legendary producer Lee "Scratch" Perry recycled some of the "riddims" and ones from other productions of his for this solo album, credited to him. It is largely a dub album, the tracks containing only occasional vocals, all sort of sound effects, repeated horn breaks, melodica, infectious, deep bass lines and that archetypal Perry percussion sound. It was, like his other classic recordings from the period, recorded at Black Ark Studios in Jamaica and has that trademark heavy and murky, slightly mysterious sound - check out "Underground" as a prime example.

As you listen to it, all sorts of other musical refrains from various Perry-produced songs will pop into your head. Some you will recognise, like the bass line to "War Ina Babylon" that underpins "Black Vest". Others will frustrate you, like the beguiling "Croaking Lizard" does for me. For ages, I could not place it, then I found out it was a re-imagining of Max Romeo's "Chase The Devil". Then it all started to fit into place. Max Romeo's vocals are replaced by some DJ-style "toasting". "Curly Dub", if you ask me, has echoes of The Beatles' "The Things We Said Today" in its horn breaks. Maybe that's just how I hear it though. The album's only really fully vocal track is "Zion's Blood", I am not sure who it is on vocals. The track, despite its deep dub riddims has a cool feel of Third World about it in its melodic vocal. "Three In One" , to be fair has a fair amount of vocals too, and is packed full of roots atmosphere. The instrumental "Patience" brings to mind another song's backing but I can't place it.

"Dread Lion" is a marvellous piece of deep, melodica-drenched dub. It positively drips with addictive dub heaviness."Dub Along" has some beguiling female vocals giving it an infectious irresistibility. The title track has flute lines swirling all around it, highlighting just how inventive Perry could be. This is a short album, only just over half an hour or so, but it is up there as one of the best dub albums, particularly as it is not a compilation, as many dub releases are. This was part of the soundtrack to the "punky reggae crossover" years of 1977-79.

B+

Eddy Grant - The Greatest Hits

  

Eddy Grant made his name in the late sixties as the singer in the ground-breaking multi-racial band The Equals, best known for their huge chart hits "Baby Come Back" in 1968 and "Viva Bobby Joe" in 1969. early a decade later he resurfaced as a difficult to categorise artist who combined reggae rhythm and consciousness with rock riffs, funky breaks and a singalong pop sensibility.

TRACK LISTING

1. Electric Avenue (Ringbang Remix)
2. I Don't Wanna Dance
3. Killer On The Rampage
4. Can't Get Enough Of You
5. Living On The Frontline
6. Hello Africa
7. Gimme Hope Jo'Anna
8. Another Revolutionary
9. Latin Love Affair
10. Do You Feel My Love
11. Baby Come Back
12. War Party
13. Walking On Sunshine
14. Nobody's Got Time
15. Electric Avenue
16. Ten Out Of Ten

This is a very listenable quick slice of quality chart material. The hits are many, beginning with "Electric Avenue", which unfortunately is included here first up as a dance music "remix" which loses a lot of its original roots reggae and rock-merged atmosphere. Grant's biggest hit was the catchy summery number one "I Don't Wanna Dance", while both "Killer On The Rampage" and "Can't Get Enough Of You" used poppy synthesiser breaks with denser rock drums and roots reggae bass. The latter has a vague reggae-ness about it, but not much, really. It is more of a bassy pop song. The almost proggy synthesiser takes most of the roots from it, although Grant does have a Marley-esque voice in it.

"Living On The Frontline" has a "conscious" message to it and definite roots undertones, but again, the dominant riff is a keyboard one. It is a powerful song, though, one I would have loved to have heard given a true roots makeover. I remember at the time that quite a few people (non-reggae fans) bought Eddy Grant material and thought they were getting into roots reggae, which was most certainly not the case. Although I am unfortunately verging close to "roots snobbery" here, I cannot and will not deny that this is undoubtedly a great record. It has some killer electric guitar in it too.

Grant was always concerned about South African issues, and the next two tracks highlight that. The lengthy groove of "Hello Africa" has a thumping "township jive" beat to it and an intoxicating rhythmic. I love South African music, so I am guaranteed to like this. The irresistibly poppy and anthemic "Gimme Hope Jo'Anna" is just great. Yes it is lightweight and singalong, but I have always loved it. Play it on a hot summer's day. Guaranteed to lift you even higher.

"Another Revolutionary" evokes the spirit of Bob Marley's "Redemption Song" on a slow, acoustic guitar and keyboard-driven meaningful song. "Latin Love Affair" sees Grant going all Latin-sounding with a syncopated, samba-style rhythm. "Do You Feel My Love" has one of the album's most authentic upbeat reggae rhythms, mixed with the obligatory synthesisers, rock guitar and rock drums. What Grant had on all these hits, though, was an instinct for a hook, hence the resultant chart success. "Baby Come Back", that afore-mentioned lively sixties hit, is included. It sounds a bit incongruous alongside the other material, but it one hell of a stomper and went down a storm in 1968. As a ten year-old, I remember loving it, thinking what "serious" musical taste I had. I was right, it is still a corker of a track.

"War Party" is another one with a convincing reggae backing, with echoes of deep dub in places. It is one of the album's bassiest, rootsy numbers. "Walking On Sunshine" is a lively, slightly funky "Soca"-influenced groove with an eminently danceable beat. It features some funky wah-wah guitar. It was also taken into the charts by Rockers Revenge. "Nobody's Got Time" is a dance-y, thumping number with some excellent blues harmonica. Thankfully, the original "Electric Avenue" is up next, and it is much better than the remix, full of the punch and guitar riffs that made it a unique single. The final track is the soulful dance of "Ten Out Of Ten". Listening to this album again makes me realise not only how many hits Eddy Grant had in a comparatively short period of time, but what an inventive quality there was to his music.

B-

Wednesday, 24 April 2019

The Story Of Trojan Records Box Set

  

This is a wonderful box set that encompasses the remarkable output of the legendary Trojan label, that, in many ways WAS reggae. Of course, that would do a disservice to Island and Virgin/Front line, but certainly Trojan was the label that laid the foundations and was responsible for so much great Jamaican reggae music, particularly that material that was became so successful in the UK from the late sixties onwards.

There are five CDs included in this set and this is how they basically pan out.

CD ONE

This CD includes a lot of the "usual suspects" - big, commercial hits that really put reggae on the map in the UK. "Red Red Wine" by Tony Tribe, "Young, Gifted And Black" by Bob And Marcia, Nicky Thomas's "Love Of The Common People", Desmond Dekker's "You Can Get It If You Really Want", "Double Barrel" by Dave & Ansil Collins and "Moon River" by Greyhound. These were all tracks that I listened to as a twelve-thirteen year-old and they inspired a lifetime's love of reggae. I always loved John Holt's brassy, melodic cover of "Help Me Make It Through The Night" too.

CD TWO

That is the end of the well-known material, though. Now we get some rarities, often from familiar artists, such as Jimmy Cliff's "A Little Bit Of Soap" and Desmond Dekker's "Sentimental Reasons". We are also introduced to "conscious" roots reggae too in U-Roy's "Black Heart" and DJ "toasting" in Big Youth's "Natty No Jester". Also, dub appears in the shape of Augustus Pablo's "The Great Pablo".

CD THREE

This CD starts with a fair bit of early ska and rock steady lively material and early skanking cuts from later roots artists like Niney's "Skankey Baby". There are also inventive tracks like Joe White's "Expression In Dub" and Ken Boothe's funky-ish "Got To Get Away".

CD FOUR

This is also pretty much a rock steady/early roots disc and features quite a lot of rarities like "Bongo Jah" by The Immortals, "Black Panther" by Sir Collins & The Black Diamonds and "She Caught The Train" by Roy Martell & Joe's All-Stars (later covered by UB40 on 1983's "Labour Of Love" album).

CD FIVE

There are some real rarities on here, including several female vocalists such as the underrated Candy McKenzie with the sensual "Sky At Night" and Nora Dean's "Mama". There is also a CD SIX available to download via a link included in the box. This also contains even rarer stuff, like "Amapola" by The Islanders and "Wreck It Up" by JJ All-Stars.

Overall, this is an excellent set, with rarities liberally included and covering an awful lot of reggae and its sub-genres that Trojan released. I do feel a bit more dub and roots could have been included and also DJ/toaster artists like Prince Far I, I-Roy and Big Youth could have been better represented. By the way, I do not have a problem with the intentionally "shabby chic" artwork of the outer box and inner booklet. I actually quite like it. Anyway, for me, it is always about the music, man - and that is great.

B+

Freedom Sounds Box Set (2012)


  

This is a box set released by the Trojan record label in 2012 to mark the 50th anniversary of Jamaican  independence and covers a lot of the development of reggae music and its numerous sub-genres, highlighting just what an incredible contribution to music this one (comparatively) small Caribbean island has made.

The five CDS in the box mainly follow these lines:-

CD ONE

This CD mainly concentrates on the devout and the militant, political side of reggae music, with several notable "roots" cuts from artists like Culture, Burning Spear, The Heptones and Black Uhuru. There are also several songs concerning "freedom" and pride, such as "(This Is) My Country" by Cornell Campbell, Third World's "Freedom Song" and Judy Mowatt's "My My People". A song worthy of mention is The Heptones' roots cover of Bob Dylan's "I Shall Be Released", which showed that reggae could successfully cover music from other genres. Also, Lloyd Charmers' cover of Curtis Mayfield's "(We The People Who Are) Darker Than Blue".

CD TWO

This CD includes some of Jamaica's biggest hits over the years. Yes, there are several of the "usual suspects" here, such as Desmond Dekker's iconic "Israelites", Jimmy Cliff's "The Harder They Come", roots cuts like Culture's "Two Sevens Clash" and Gregory Isaacs' sensual groove in "Night Nurse". There are also a few lesser-known gems, however, like Dennis Brown's "Your Love's Gotta Hold On Me", Marcia Griffiths' "Steppin' Out Of Babylon" and Justin Hinds & The Dominoes' "Carry Go Bring Come". Some have questioned the need for Trojan to include this "hits" CD, but I disagree, some of these huge tracks simply can't be ignored in what is a celebration of Jamaican music, and it is not all full-on hits anyway. Many big hits are not included at the expense of less popular cuts.

CD THREE

This includes quite a lot of rock steady material such as Ken Boothe's "Love And Unity" and the early Bob Marley & The Wailers cut, "Bus Dem Shut". There is some of the reggae that struck big in the UK charts in the early seventies - "skinhead reggae" like Nicky Thomas' "Love Of The Common People" (included here in its Jamaican mix without strings) and "Tye Tye (Fatty Fatty)" by The Chuckles. Also present is some deep, heavy roots stuff in the crucial "Blood And Fire" by Niney & Big Youth and "Freedom Train" from The Gladiators.

CD FOUR

This CD gets seriously roots. Johnny Clarke's devout "None Shall Escape The Judgement", The Heptones' "Brothers", "Weep And Mourn" by Israel Vibration and Dillinger's "Bionic Dread" provide excellent examples of "conscious" reggae, while The Mighty Diamonds' "Your Heart's Desire" exemplifies how a roots "riddim" could be combined with a romantic feel and lighter, harmonious vocals. It is a cool, laid-back, beautiful track. Dub makes an appearance in Augustus Pablo's "Last Of The Jestering".

CD FIVE

This CD contains mainly rare and unreleased stuff, a lot of which wasn't familiar even to me. Quite a bit of ska and rock steady, plus some early seventies gems like the original Jamaican mix of The Pioneers' "Let Your Yeah Be Yeah" and "Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa (Sad Song)" from Toots & The Maytals. More rarities can be found on CD SIX, which can be downloaded via link contained in the box.

Overall, it is an excellent and often interesting box set. There are a lot of rarities included. The sound quality is really good. Personally, I feel it could have included some dub from the likes of King Tubby and Lee "Scratch" Perry and Peter Tosh is sadly missing (of course, Tosh didn't record on Trojan!). These are minor things though, and should not remotely put anyone off getting hold of this treasure trove.

B+

The Heptones - Party Time (1977)

  

Released in 1977

The third in the "holy trinity" of Lee "Scratch" Perry-produced roots reggae albums from his legendary Black Ark studios (the other two are Max Romeo's "War Ina Babylon" and Junior Murvin's "Police And Thieves"). Although containing the same mid-pace bassy backing that characterised all Perry's productions, and that distinctive jangly percussion sound, this is a far lighter album than the booming, denser beats of the other two. Although it is still very much a roots reggae album in its overall sound, there is less of a "conscious" Rastafarian message to it and more love songs. It has the lightness of vocal touch of say an Abyssinians, Mighty Diamonds or Gladiators album. The Heptones were known for their vocal harmonies, and this was not lost on Perry, who merged it successfully with a roots "riddim" to great effect.

TRACK LISTING

1. Party Time
2. Crying Over You
3. Now Generation
4. Mr. President
5. Serious Time
6. I Shall Be Released
7. Storm Cloud
8. Road Of Life
9. Why Music I
10. Sufferer's Time

"Party Time" is a cool, catchy groove with a soulful vocal and chilled-out good-time feel. "Crying Over You" is a lovelorn lament, with a breezy, harmonious feel of Third World about it. "Now Generation" is a horn-driven number with another soul-style harmonised vocal. "Mr. President" is the first overtly political track so far that sees the group beseeching the President to do something about poverty over a typical Black Ark beat.

"Serious Time" is a rootsy but melodic number, while "I Shall Be Released", a cover of Bob Dylan & The Band's song, shows how convincingly roots reggae could be used to cover music from other genres. This is an excellent, moving and evocative cut that gained The Heptones considerable "cross over" attention in the "punky reggae party" years of 1977-79.

"Storm Cloud" is one of the album's deepest roots numbers. "Road Of Life", on the other hand, is a lively, melodious Third World-esque delicious laid-back skank. "Why Music I" is very much in the same vein, with a lovely bass line underpinning it. The album's jewel in the crown is the glorious, uplifting gospel-influenced anthem that is "Sufferer's Time". The vocals are superb, the rhythm infectious and it is a real high note on which to end this slightly different roots reggae album. By the way, the only way to seemingly get hold of the album at present is as part of the "Nightfood Ina Party Time" compilation.

B-

Junior Murvin - Police And Thieves (1977)


 

Released in 1977

This is one of the legendary Black Ark studio's "holy trinity", along with Max Romeo's "War Ina Babylon" and The Heptones' "Party Time" (which is very difficult to source these days). Produced, of course, by the prodigious, inventive Lee "Scratch" Perry, it is a classic of the roots reggae genre that was so popular in the mid-late seventies. It is full of righteous Rastafarian messages, as you would expect, but it is also notable for its killer melodies. It is also dominated by Junior Murvin's uplifting falsetto vocal. As you would expect, Perry's production is archetypal Black Ark. You know it when you hear it, but it is difficult to describe. Sort of dense and murky, but with crystal clear, clashy percussion.

TRACK LISTING

1. Roots Train
2. Police And Thieves
3. Solomon
4. Rescue Jah Children
5. Tedious
6. False Teachin'
7. Easy Task
8. Lucifer
9. Working In The Cornfield
10. I Was Appointed

"Roots Train" is an absolutely infectious, punchy thumper of an opener, with a huge rumbling bass, tasty horns and that distinctive Perry jangling percussion sound. The title track, of course, is now iconic, not only because of The Clash's guitar-driven cover of it, but because of its sheer captivating atmosphere and Murvin's sublime falsetto vocals. Also, it is full of hooks, both musically and lyrically. "Solomon" again features that percussion groove, together with more excellent horn backing and another impressive Murvin vocal.

"Rescue Jah Children" is a slow tempo, insistent piece of Rasta preaching, delivered over an appetising heavy bass line. "Tedious" is a mysterious, evocative roots skank with a totally speaker-shaking bass. It has some nice dubby parts near the end. "False Teachin'" carries a strong Rasta message about the ills of Babylon. As with a lot of this material, the "legalise it" message just washes over you, as the riddim and addictive vocals soothe you as much as any herb. "Easy Task" is slightly livelier in its approach, with a catchy refrain. It still tells us that being a devout Rastafarian is no easy task, despite its fetching lightness of sound.

"Lucifer" continues to plough the same furrow. Perry keeps the material here pretty much in the same style. He can be more inventive at times, but here he sticks to the tried and tested regular beat, percussion and backing. Murvin indulges in some nice vocal harmonising at one point, improvising a little, however. There is something of Bob Marley's "Exodus" in the beat of this one. "Working In The Cornfield" has a heavy but equally laid-back feeling, if that doesn't sound too oxymoronic. Murvin's vocal is once again quite entrancing. "I Was Appointed" is a very typically rootsy number with some I-Threes-style "woo-woo" backing vocals and those vibrant horns again.

Along with "War Ina Babylon", this album will make many "reggae top ten albums" lists, and with good reason. It is very representative of Perry's sound from the 1975-78 period. It never got better than this for Junior Murvin, however. This was his one classic album. Everything just came together.

** It is also worth getting hold of the deluxe edition which includes, among other things, the excellent alternative versions of the title track - Perry's "Grumblin' Dub", Jah Lion's toasting "Soldier And Police War" and Glen DaCosta's saxophone instrumental version of it, entitled "Magic Touch".

B+