This is a fine collection of roots reggae artists, mainly from the mid-late seventies. They are, in order that I have covered them - Linval Thompson; The Mighty Diamonds; The Gladiators; The Abyssinians; Johnny Clarke; Culture; Jacob Miller; Aswad; Cocoa Tea; Althea & Donna; Ziggy Marley; Misty In Roots; Burning Spear; Zap Pow; Linton Kwesi Johnson; Steel Pulse; Cymande; Weapon Of Peace and Michael Prophet....
Linval Thompson - Ride On Dreadlocks (1975-1977)
Linval Thompson is up there with Johnny Clarke, The Abyssinians, The Gladiators, The Mighty Diamonds, Culture, The Congos, The Heptones, Jacob Miller, Max Romeo and Junior Murvin as one of the great roots reggae vocalists. His material was a few years in advance of some of the others, so his influence was considerable. He went on to be more of a producer than a singer, as indeed many of the roots artists did. This is an excellent Blood and Fire compilation of Linval Thompson's influential, ahead-of-the-game roots material from 1975-1977. Much of this material achieved cult popularity a few years later as part of the punk-roots reggae crossover, when it became part of the soundtrack for several Notting Hill Carnivals.
Most of the material was produced by the legendary Bunny Lee, and a lot of them either have extended dub sections or are very dubby anyway. The bass is huge, as you would expect, but melodic too and there is that razor sharp cymbal sound known as Lee's trademark "flying cymbal" sound. You instantly know it if you hear it. The lyrics are unsurprisingly Rasta-oriented, about devoutness and the glory of having dreadlocks.
Ride On Dreadlocks is an upbeat cut and one of Thompson's better known ones, full of great guitar and a lively beat. Thompson's voice is yearningly good on here too. Check out that oh-so-deep bass line too. Dub reggae heaven. I love this. Don't Cut Off Your Dreadlocks leaves the Rastaman in no doubt as to his course of action - don't visit that barber man. 12 Tribes Of Israel was one of the three tracks produced by Thompson, and, notably, it features a more catchy "one-drop" drum sound. The dub passage of this track is excellent. Check out that rumbling bass line.
is a dub-drenched slow groove, full of reverb and echo. Don't Try To Rob I is a lively and enjoyable number, one of the album's most catchy. Cool Down Your Temper is a return to massive, dubby vibrations, crystal clear flying cymbals and devout lyrics. A Big Big Girl passes by without registering particularly. The last two tracks, Jah Jah Is I Guiding Star and Can't Stop Natty Dread Again are the other two Thompson-produced tracks. The former is deep and rhythmic, the latter lighter and more breezy, with an excellent dub passage. Overall, this is a rich dubby compilation full of late seventies atmosphere. Time for some Red Stripe and curry goat. (The pic featured above is not Thompson, it just suits the music).
Sly Dunbar and Robbie Shakespeare. Impeccably, of course. One Brother Short is a Marley-esque "woy-oy" irrepressible skanker. The riddim is hypnotic. Just listen to those addictive drums and horns on Master Plan. You also get the jaunty, romantic Sweet Lady which has the Diamonds sounding like Aswad, all commercial as opposed to rootsy. I won't go into every track in detail, because they are all good, I am sure you have got the picture by now. If you want to dip into the roots reggae music that was so intrinsic to those wonderful "punky reggae party" years of 1976-1979 then you can't go wrong with this.
Johnny Clarke made his name in 1974, with Bunny Lee & The Aggrovators as his backing band on the now iconic, and much-sampled roots cut None Shall Escape The Judgement (not included on this collection). This Virgin Front Line compilation features material from 1975-1978. In 1975 and 1976 he became one of Jamaica's most popular singers and he mixed deep roots material and lovers-style romantic material. His light, lilting voice was suited to both reggae sub-genres. He was very much a "conscious" Rasta-themed artist, however, as tracks like the rootsy African Roots, Let's Give Jah Jah Praises and Ites Green And Gold exemplify. He could also introduce a pop sensibility to his roots material, though, such as on the catchy Rockers Time Now. There was always a melodic rhythm to his output, despite the often devout Rasta roots messages contained in the lyrics. Check out a track like Be Holy My Brothers And Sisters. It delivers a sermon, quoting Marcus Garvey but it does so over a delightful backing rhythm full of infectious guitar sounds. This is roots reggae at its most accessible.
Clarke also takes The Abyssinians' Satta Massa Gana and gives it his mellifluous treatment. Stop The Tribal War is impressive too, as is the poppy I Wish It Could Go Forever. Prophecy A Fulfilled skanks along with a Lee "Scratch" Perry-style backing, augmented by some Catch A Fire-style electric guitar.
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.
Cocoa Tea (Calvin Scott) is a reggae artist who came on the scene around 1986, but most of his successful work dates from the late eighties/early nineties. He was too late for the big roots boom of 1975-79 and he is very much associated with the Dancehall genre of reggae, which merged Jamaican patois rapping with digitally programmed riddims and, in the case of Cocoa Tea, employed the falsetto "sweet sing" vocal as opposed to the gruffer, DJ "toasting" style that continued from the roots era into some dancehall recordings. Cocoa Tea's material thankfully stays clear of the macho posturing and blatant homophobia of some of the genre's more hard-core exponents. Cocoa Tea is far more mainstream romantic and melodic. His music has influences from roots, dub and lovers rock and is actually a most pleasant listening experience. It is all pretty uplifting stuff. Rhythmic but still crucial and conscious.This release is a compilation covering tracks from several albums, in the Virgin Front Line series. The sound, as on all these releases is superb. Clear and defined but not ignoring the necessary bass depth that all reggae music needs.
Tracks like No More Fighting and Jah Rastafari are excellent, full of killer horn riffs, sublime percussion and rumbling bass. This is mid-pace roots reggae at its finest. Even the girls' notoriously monotone voices compliment the songs perfectly and make a refreshing change from the usual Rasta male voice. Make A Truce borrows its introductory bass line from The Temptations' Ball Of Confusion, I am sure, but it soon merges with the crucial horns and intoxicating riddims. A lot of people had a problem with the girls' voices, but personally, I have always found them quite fetching, and very evocative of that 1978 reggae-punk crossover period. I remember spending an evening in a Manchester poolhall in early 1978 and they played Uptown Top Ranking several times during the evening. This album did not sell well, which was a surprise. I guess the girls suddenly for got that their single success was due to its poppy appeal. They now tried to turn themselves overnight into cultural artists, committed to the whole Jah Rastafari thing, with lyrics to match.
consciousness is never far away, and We A Guh Some Weh supplies it, with another Bob-like vocal and some typical i-threes backing vocals. A Who A Say is in exactly the same mode. If it were not for the polished late eighties production, you would think it was from Kaya or Uprising. Have You Ever Been To Hell is an interesting song - some heavy rootsy rhythms, Rasta ranting against “blasphemers” and backing vocals but some weird electronic noises in amongst the skanking, courtesy of the producers, no doubt, and a mesmerising dance-ish beat. It is a good combination. One of the best tracks on the album. We Propose has some sweeping synth links and some militant African-consciousness lyrics, like the material on Bob’s Survival album. What's True is a vibrant, horn-driven rootsy but joyous song. The horns are very UB40-ish. Dreams Of Home merges Rasta-style drumming with South African township backing vocals sung (I think) in Xhosa or Zulu. A bit of Redemption Song acoustic guitar backing too. It is a fine, conscious, way to end an impressive, conscious 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.
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.
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.
is a very Cymande-style rhythmic, funky number, while Bubblin' sounds a lot like Third World, particularly vocally. The bass and drum beat on this is huge. Let's Live Together has another almost dubby bass groove to it but despite its "under heavy manners" dubby backing, it has a lightness in the vocals in places that provides the key to why Zap Pow were quite a unique band. Rock Your Bones is also soul-influenced with more punchy horn backing.
Excuse Me has a great, throaty vocal in between some sumptuous trumpet passages. The rhythm on this one is more conventionally upbeat reggae. Sun Shine People gets lightly soulful once more. I think you have got the picture by now of what Zap Pow were about - reggae with a soulful, funky touch and band members who could seriously play. Worth checking out.
talks about the age of 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.
Bass Culture is beautifully deep and bassy, rumbling away captivatingly, backed by those typical brass bits and a dubby, "flying cymbal" beat as LKJ growls his lyrics, castigating violence and corruption. There is such an atmosphere to this, bringing to mind 1979-81 immediately. Oh and grab a load of the dubby bit near the end - crucial, as they say, as indeed is the guitar, from John Kapiaye.
Street 66 starts with a brooding harmonica break that is almost bluesy and the obligatory throbbing, menacing bassline before LKJ arrives to describe a police raid on a party and the community's reaction to it - "any policeman that come 'ere will get some righteous raas claat licks...". Quite right too. "the mighty poet, I-Roy, was on the wire" too - it must have been quite a party before it all went sour. Reggae Fi Peach was a lament for the murder of white New Zealand teacher and activist Blair Peach at an Anti-Nazi League protest by the police's Special Patrol Group. A slightly different stance regarding race issues is taken on Black Petty Booshwah (meaning petit bourgeoisie) as LKJ lays into middle class blacks whom he sees as siding with the "Babylon" when the going gets tough. The song is played out over a melodious, almost South African-sounding backing in places, particularly on the guitar sound.
The album's cornerstone is the magnificent Inglan Is A Bitch, where LKJ narrates from the experience of a West Indian immigrant. It could have been Johnson himself, it could have been one of thousands of people who feel that "Inglan is a bitch, there's no escaping it...". It is a depressing indictment of so many immigrants' experiences in what could be, at times, a miserable, unwelcoming country. Middle class, educated white men like me carry the burden of shame and have done all our lives. Once again, the backing is deceptively melodic and breezy, featuring a lovely bass line. The Beat took a lot of inspiration for this on Stand Down Margaret, I think.
Surprisingly, LKJ then comes up with a love song in the laid-back, evocative Loraine which shows that the old firebrand had a tender side to him. Reggae Sounds, however, finds dubby roots return and the album ends on a slightly unusual note on Two Sounds Of Silence, as LKJ narrates his poetry over what sounds like a freeform jazz beat, dominated by some atonally swirling saxophone. This final track broke the bassy, roots mood, but overall it is a perfect serving of punky reggae party consciousness.
Possibly British roots reggae’s finest ever. This stunning 1978 debut album from Steel Pulse is remastered here to an exceptionally high quality. Bass heavy but not Sound System booming, it sounds just perfect.
By late 1978, the band had supported Bob Marley & The Wailers on a worldwide tour and were playing large outdoor gigs like "Rock Against Racism", as well as the small to medium size UK venue circuit. The band were at the forefront of the punk/roots reggae crossover that so dominated the UK music scene in the late 70s. Pretty much every punk gig would have roots reggae being played over the sound system before the band came on. Many punk compilations since have contained either Ku Klux Klan or Prodigal Son. They are so much sonic reminders of that time. They had a unique sound - rootsy but with catchy hooks and a melodic tone to the vocal delivery, and a rhythmic musicality as opposed to speaker-pounding heavy backing. Yes, there is a full bass sound, of course, but there is more to Steel Pulse than just that.
BBC session cuts, which show how good a live band they were. Just check out the wonderful sound and performance on Prediction. I was lucky enough to see them live in 1978. Great memories.
"....We learned a lot of discipline on that tour that rubbed off - rehearsal, execution on stage, how to tour, stability [...] that's when the doors really started to open for us. It has always been one of the most memorable moments of my career. To play as part of that package exposed Steel Pulse to audiences that literally were in awe of our message. Of course, being formally introduced through Bob Marley helped us tremendously. Playing for audiences, especially those in Paris who saw the force of Steel Pulse and the force of Bob Marley play on the same bill, enabled us to sell out shows every time since then...".
Steel Pulse - Tribute To The Martyrs (1979)
Following up on their excellent debut album, Steel Pulse returned with another collection of attractive but lyrically militant stepping rockers. They really were at the forefront of UK reggae, being by far the best to emerge from that scene. There was something instantly recognisable and quite unique about their sound. The album takes the theme of acknowledging the contributions of various black consciousness leaders.
Unseen Guest is more of the Handsworth Revolution vibe, with those gentle riddims backing a catchily harmonious Rasta devotional vocal. Sound System is classic, immediately accessible Steel Pulse and is the album's best known track with its "Dig the music Mr. DJ" first line. Their sound is actually quite difficult to describe, but there is something about the easy riddims and characterful vocals that I have always liked. They knew how to merge a rock electric guitar into their tunes too, and they do so most effectively here. It features a sumptuous dubby bit as well. Jah Pickney - R.A.R. is a rootsy, Marley-esque condemnation of the National Front - neo-fascists who were depressingly popular in the Uk in the late seventies. Steel Pulse let them know exactly what they think of them. Tribute To The Martyrs is a mid-pace rootsy skank and it morphs into a beautifully bassy, dubby tribute to Steve Biko, murdered in 1977 by South African police.
Babylon Makes The Rules-Devil's Disciples is seen minutes-plus of Steel Pulse faster than usual groove, backed by some fine brass. The final three minutes is just so deliciously dubby but melodious it hurts. Check out those bongos. Sublime. Uncle George is a punchy tribute to African-American civil rights civil rights leader George Jackson and Steve Biko is back for the appealing skank of Biko's Kindred Lament. This fine album ends with the insistent, brooding roots of Blasphemy. These first two Steel Pulse albums are their best and, if this is all you get to hear from them, it will more than suffice. They were a great band. Guidance!
Formed in the early 1970s (around 1971-72) by Patrick Paterson and Steve Scipio in London, this multi-member band never got the success their absolutely unique brand of soully funky reggae tinged music deserved. Even now there is nothing really that sounds like Cymande. They were-are totally impossible to categorise. The sound quality and playing on this, a compilation of all three of the band's seventies albums - Cymande, Second Time Around and Promised Heights - is top notch. Personal highlights are the infectious grooves of Rickshaw, Dove, Bra, Pon De Dungle and the marvellous Brothers On The Slide. Just listen the wonderful bass and percussion blend on One More. Apparently much of their music has been "sampled". I wouldn't know. Their music stands up well enough to be listened to in its own right. As I said, I find it impossible to quite describe Cymande's music. I would suggest listening to it online, realising how good it is, then buying it. No messing around.
Weapon Of Peace were a reggae group from Wolverhampton, West Midlands. They were heavily influenced by UB40, particularly in their use of the saxophone to drive many of the melodies. There is a laid-back feel to much of their material, with influences from Third World, Steel Pulse and Aswad too. They deserved more success than they had, releasing only two albums. I saw them live at Friars Club, Aylesbury, supporting Stiff Little Fingers in July 1980. The sound quality in this release is excellent as well. Back to the group, there was something different and appealing about the UK-based reggae bands. While they had considerable reggae authenticity, there was always something slightly different about their sound the made them unique.
Jah Love sounds as if it may be a slice of deep, pious roots but it is actually a lively, catchy and poppy number, probably the most so on the album. Feelin' Time is back to the UB40 meets Third World thing. I think we know what we are getting by now. Baby When I'm Gone has an upbeat, harmonious skank to it. Love ends this album on a sweet soul note, almost a soul song as opposed to a reggae one. Yes, Weapon Of Peace were pretty derivative, but they were still very good despite their obvious influences. Highly recommended if you can get hold of this. Downloading is probably the easiest-cheapest way.
This was one of the first albums from Michael Prophet. Released in 1980, it came slightly later than many of the "roots explosion" albums, the peak was 1975-78, but it was a very much in the None Shall Escape The Judgement roots style, featuring a robust, bassy, slow burning pace on most of the tracks and Prophet's distinctive "crying" tenor voice. The album contains a fair amount of pious Rastafarian devotion in its lyrics, although Prophet liked a love song too. Actually, five of its ten songs are love songs. Overall, although it is a credible, genuine slice of roots reggae, the love songs are all played out over a roots backing.
Prophet is a singer as opposed to a "toaster" as well, so the songs are all sung in a more traditional style, with no vocal improvisations. The cover would appear to have been inspired by some of the 1970's Nigerian "hi-life" albums, by Fela Kuti and Tony Allen. Steel Pulse's Handsworth Revolution used a similar style of artwork too.
Turn Them Round has a huge staccato gunshot-style drum beat that makes you jump out of your skin. Up Side Down features some nice brass and a catchy melody. Love And Unity is a yearning, sonorous, deeply bassy number. Never Leave Me Lonely is a fetching horns and bass-powered love song. Help Them Please is a return to asking Jah for help over a muscular, typical roots beat. The album ends with one of its poppiest cuts, the lovers rock-ish groove of Sweet Loving. It has an excellent saxophone interjection in it. This is a standard roots reggae album of its era sonically, however, lyrically it is a nice enough mix of love songs, warnings about crime and Rasta material. It is not totally dominated by "Jah and righteousness" lyrics, and has a variety of themes. It is perfectly ok, but not an album I turn to too often if I'm honest, I tend to have several Michael Prophet songs dotted around in "punky reggae party" and "roots reggae" playlists.