Sunday, 7 February 2021

Reggae miscellaneous

Dr. Alimantado - The Best Dressed Chicken In Town (1977)

Best Dressed Chicken In Town/Just The Other Day/Poison Flour/Gimme Mi Gun/I Killed The Barber/Unitone Skank/Can't Conquer Natty Dreadlocks/Ride On/Plead I Cause/I Shall Fear No Evil

This album is one that was beloved of the punk-reggae crossover crowd, with Don Letts, Johnny Rotten et al lauding it and its strains being heard on the Notting Hill carnival sound systems and before punk gigs. It is one that never fully appealed to me, however, for, despite its deep dubby riddims on the cuts (compiled from singles released from 1972-77), Alimantado’s strange, quirky vocal delivery never quite sat well with me, at times.

It is one of those albums that seems to have a credibility that is more mythological than deserved, featuring on the ‘best album’ lists from hipster critics who often feel they have to put a rootsy reggae album on there, along with Miles Davis’s A Kind Of Blue, Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On and Stevie Wonder’s Songs In The Key Of Life. These choices show off their supposed wide and cultured taste. Oh, and stick some rap on there too. 

The title track, and his most famous one, is The Best Dressed Chicken In Town, but it has never been one of my favourites, unfortunately. It has a killer, deep bass rumble but it falls short,  melodically, and vocally it is a mix of echoey noises and Rupie Edwards-style “skanga” enhancements. Look, it’s ok and has a nostalgic vibe to it, but it just isn’t a favourite of mine. 

Similar, but vocally better is the deliciously bassy Just The Other Day. It goes without saying that all these tracks have great bass sounds on them. A lot of the refrains on the songs are recognisable from other songs, such as on Poison Flour and the catchy brassy bit on I Killed The Barber. Get yourself a load of that bass line on Gimme Mi Gun too. 

Unitone Skank is very Prince Far-I influenced while the rhythmic Can’t Conquer Natty Dreadlocks is my favourite of the cuts collected here, along with the instrumental Ride In, with its weird keyboard noises. I Shall Fear No Evil is a good semi-instrumental as well.

Listening to this again, I have really enjoyed its bassy beauty and it brings back real nostalgic memories for the “punky reggae party” days of London in 1977-79 and it is absolutely chock full of rootsy, dubby atmosphere. I haven’t meant to put anyone off it - it is pretty much classic early era roots-toasting, it is just that there are other artists-albums that I preferred.

Dillinger - Marijuana In My Brain (1977)

Marijuana In My Brain/Addis-ababbaithiopia/Bouncing Ball/Step It In Ethiopia/Stop Stealing In The Name Of Jah/Come Praise Jah Jah/Hard Being Thomas/Rasta Vibration/African Roots Rock Reggae/Hidden

Dillinger, name checked on The Clash's White Man In Hammersmith Palais, was a successful "toasting" roots reggae artist but his albums are becoming increasingly difficult to get hold of. From 1977 came Marijuana In My Brain and it is the only one of his offerings that I own. There seems to be considerable confusion as to which releases were actual original ones and which were compilations. It doesn't really matter, though, as for many artists like this the 45 rpm single was the way they got their music out. As with all material like this it takes me right back to the music that was played over the sound systems before reggae gigs. 

He is perhaps best known for the single Cokane In My Brain, a song that has always irritated me, a bit like Dr. Alimantado's Best Dressed Chicken In Town. it is not included on this collection, however. 

Marijuana In My Brain is the better of the two drug-inspired numbers, full of deep bassy vibrations. Addisabbaithiopia contains bits that you will think you nave heard before, and you will be right, but I can’t be sure where, as the uses of the refrains are multiple. The same applies to the beautiful bassline business of Bouncing Ball. The quiet bass line in Come Praise Jah Jah is just marvellous. Hard Being Thomas is similarly infectious, this time in a deeper style.

All the tracks on here are perfect examples of “toasting”, semi-spoken often repetitive, sometimes ranting vocals delivered over seriously deep and dubby basslines. Listening to lots of it in one continuous sitting is possibly not the best idea, but putting the tracks in a playlist featuring all sorts of reggae can be most effective and enables them to one appreciated in full.  

Dillinger is in there with Big Youth, Prince Far-I, U-Roy, I-Roy, Tapper Zukie and Dr. Alimantado as the best exponents of DJ-toasting. His music was very influential, being adapted by many more mainstream reggae artists as samples. 

Buju Banton - ‘Til Shiloh (1995)


Shiloh/'Til I'm Laid To Rest/Murderer/Champion/Untold Stories/Not An Easy Road/Only Man/Complaint/Chuck It So/How Could You/Wanna Be Loved/It's All Over/Hush Baby Hush/What Ya Gonna Do?/Rampage

Buju Banton came along at the time when classic reggae and roots reggae had begun to morph, via Ragga, into the hip-hop influenced digital stuff that would see the new millennium in. It was here that my own reggae tastes changed as I stuck with the sounds from my youth, uninterested in the new sub-genres. The devout, roots consciousness of the seventies had given way to hip-hop style macho bragadocio, drug and gun culture, homophobia and sexism excused under the umbrella of “slackness”. Now, I’m certainly no prude, but this sort of ignorant posturing just isn’t my thing. I didn’t like the sound of the music either - I prefer my reggae traditional, played on “proper” instruments or, if it is programmed, done so in a dub style. This is an album, though, that I can enjoy - lyrically it is surprisingly sensitive and musically, it has several fine moments.

That was because, despite Banton’s earlier (and now disowned) unfortunate descent into homophobia (an easy target and one that offered no threat to his lifestyle), the recent Rastafari convert got all rootsy and came up with an album that contained one absolute, dog’s bollocks evocative classic in Untold Stories - a moving, acoustic-driven song totally different to anything else on the album  - lyrically sensitive and inspiring. It is an acutely aware conscious song and stands as Banton’s Redemption Song. “It’s a competitive world for low budget people...”. Great stuff.

In similar style is the thumping sound of ‘Til I’m Laid To Rest, although this one is not quite so melodic, as Buju’s unique gruff voice growls about African identity over a bass and bongos backing. Indeed , the whole album has superb riddims throughout. Check out the retro-sounding, saxophone-enhanced reggae of Not An Easy Road, which is another of my favourites. How Could You also has a melodic, old-style feel to it and the sheer joyous punch of Wanna Be Loved seriously shakes your speakers. “A virtuous woman is hard to find...” proclaims Buju, as he now searches for a different type of woman.

Hush Baby Hush has Buju going all Chaka Demus & Pliers on the album’s most commercial, poppy number, even sampling Maurice Williams & The Zodiacs’ Stay at one point. What You Gonna Do has an almost lovers’ rock vibe to it in places too. 

Murderer has a massive, grumbling bass line and a captivating slow beat that again blends beautifully with Buju’s strangely appealing voice. I really like this one, particularly if listened to in isolation. That’s the thing with this album, at an hour long, it suffers from CD bloat and becomes somewhat indigestible, but if you just dip into it, I find it carries more appeal.

My own personal memory of this album is being on holiday in Jamaica and sitting in the warm water of the Caribbean, holding my newly-invented mp3 player up out of the water and listening to Untold Stories, over and over. My goodness, I love that track.

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