Music Reviews

Doctor Dread – “Theremin In Dub” – [Tsosume Records]

Thurston Hunger   1/1/2015   CD, Reggae

Gary Himelfarb aka Dr. Dubenstein aka Doctor Dread hands
at the invisible helm, guiding the theremin over some
tasty dub action. Liner notes talk about dub’s beginnings
and the desire for the space dubstination, and how the
theremin’s haunting, alien vibe fits in nicely by hand.
Or it can stand next to the melodica and sort of fly
above a bassline like on “Muchas Gracias”. On “Shotgun”
it adds some zip to a soul-flavored dub of Dave & Ansell
Collins “Double Barrel”. Police saucer siren moves over
the horns and bongos of “U Mad?” Don Carlos’ plea in
“Hear My Motion” has synth kinda nubbed on the low end
and wavering on the high, so the theremin just crests
over all of that. “Tief Dem a Tief” could roll into an
old 808 techno set, the theremin is pretty subdued in
that one. Bob Dylan’s “I and I” is served up on “I For
an Eye” (Dread produced the popular “Is It Rolling Bob”
collection KFJC added almost a decade ago). “Equality”
is another heavy hitter, well tripped out. Hard to go
wrong here, and how many CD’s come up with a pop-up
art inside and a geography test on the back?

-Thurston Hunger

Pablo, Augustus – “Let’s Get Started / Eastman Dub” – [Greensleeves Records Ltd.]

humana   10/25/2014   CD, Reggae

Two albums for the price of one! Both are projects of the late, great Jamaican Pablo, who made the melodica famous and gave a lot to the reggae world in his too-short lifetime. The first part of the CD features music from his band Tetrack, and it is all upbeat. How could it not be, with Pablo’s keyboards? The second CD features Pablo with his Rockers International Band. It is more dub-y, but equally worth listening to. Props to the producer/musician!

Tosh, Peter – “Equal Rights” – [Sony Music Distribution]

Naysayer   9/10/2014   CD, Reggae

Originally released in 1977, Peter Tosh’s “Equal Rights” is seen as his grand opus and one of the best records of its time. And it still holds up. Written and recorded during a time of extreme political turmoil in Jamaica as well as the rest of the world, Tosh’s original eight songs sang of the challenges and difficulties of living in the world and how pride in yourself, being African, was a thing to recognize and proclaim. Sly and Robbie held down the rhythm, with Bunny Wailer doing background vocals. This was a sure fire hit. Tosh’s vocals sore over the music, igniting his lyrics with emphasis and cause. This rerelease adds 22 cuts: outtakes, alternate versions, unreleased and/or limited release dub plates. These are solid tracks that add to the original giving the listener a fuller understanding of what Tosh was doing and trying to express.

Lee “Scratch” Perry – “Return of Pipecock Jackxon, The” – [Honest Jons Records]

Naysayer   7/9/2014   12-inch, Reggae

Lee “Scratch” Perry did it again, or in this case of “The Return of Pipecock Jackxon”, almost didn’t do it again but for the help of some very patient and persistent Englishmen who nurtured this release out of Perry. According to the extensive, informative and very interesting notes that go with this album, Perry was having some sort of conflict of ideas. You and I might call it a nervous breakdown or a schizophrenic break. Others call it a vision. Whatever, it made Perry stop trusting Rastafarians, made him destroy his studio, made him write extensive notes on the walls of his studio (see album cover photos), made him channel Pipecock Jackxon. From all of this and much more (I suggest you spend time with the notes: it’s a fascinating story) many were able to pull together this wonderful collection of stripped down buzzing dub and reggae that continues in the vein of the Super Ape and Roast Fish works. It’s got sex (“Bed Jammin”), politics (“Babylon Cookie Jar A Crumble” and “Some Have Fe Halla”), and Jah praise (“Give Thanx to Jah”). It has the solid dub and reggae feel he is known for besides hints of Central African jamming and blues touches. It is the music of a breakdown and a destructive personality that still was able to provide a stellar piece of music that should be listened to. READ THE NOTES AND UNDERSTAND.

Ba Ba Boom Duke Reid [coll] – [Trojan Records]

Naysayer   4/23/2014   12-inch, Reggae

“Ba Ba Boom Duke Reid” is a wonderful Trojan Records compilation release from 1988 showcasing the master producer Duke Reid and his classic rock steady and reggae works from 1967 to 1972. Starting in the 50’s in Jamaica, Reid had established himself as a producer of note, for a number of reasons. Seen as a perfectionist with a gun (literally), it took a certain personality to work with Reid. Those that did were able to come up with some of the classic representations of ska, rock steady and reggae of that time. The sixteen cuts on this compilation demonstrate the skill of Reid and the ability to pull stunning performances from the groups he worked with. With an emphasis on US soul, these cuts play out a smooth, solid, classic sound. Check out Phyllis Dillon’s version of “Midnight Confession”. Simple, to the point production, quality instrumentation without overkill, and Phyllis’ strong voice. Ummm Umm good. Justin Hinds and the Dominoes pull out two tracks, one being the classic “Carry Go Bring Home” which was brought to US fame by Selector back in the early ’80’s. This is a bit different take, but oh so strong. Each group/ singer on this collection puts forth a whole lotta rock steady fun. Play this and get ready to dance.

Upsetters, The – “Return of The Super Ape” – [Record Distributors, Ltd.]

Naysayer   3/18/2014   12-inch, Reggae

This is Lee Perry, better known as Lee “Scratch” Perry, and his illustrious Black Ark Studio house band, The Upsetters, doing it up all right with a 1978 sequel “Return of The Super Ape”, to the 1977 magical “Super Ape”. As sequels go it is really wonderful, with seasoned dub, superb production, and Perry’s vocals going form low to high. This album of one of the classics of the genre and for good reason. From the opening toe tapper “Dyon Anaswa”, with it’s recognizable rhythm and singable chorus, Perry and the Upsetters set up an album that is fun and revolutionary. The jangley metal objects and bells, the heavy base line, the strong thud thud of the drum— it all works so well. Do NOT pass up on the cover of Rufus/Chaka Khan’s “Tell Me Something Good”. It is a great surprise and the reason cover versions should keep on being attempted.

Culture Dem [coll] – [Lustre Kings Productions]

Naysayer   3/11/2014   CD, Reggae

There is this practice in the reggae music culture where a track is laid down and then various artists each interpret that track in their own style. It can be an evocative, inspirational practice or it can fall flat on its face. “Culture Dem”, a reggae collection, plays with this practice. And as it goes with collections, some tracks are inspired and fresh while others, though not falling flat, just seem average. Within 18 tracks showcased, the 13 artists approach the beats as they see fit, in their own singing and or toasting style. These cuts are filled with synth driven reggae beats, bass, dub sounds, etc. The lyrical topic is most obvious: Jah Jah Jah Selasie Jah. There are five rhythm tracks that are approached by 2 to 5 different artists who treat each track as his own, bringing in their own unique sound and style. Watch out for tracks 9 and 16 by SIZZLA. They are HOT! His raspy, nicotine filled vocals destroy his words and twist the beats. It is in your face good time. Worthy of our attention.

Roots Dancehall Party [coll] – [Silver Kamel Audio]

Naysayer   1/13/2014   CD, Reggae

Reggae producer Nkrumah Thomas has put together this unique compilation of, what else, reggae tunes but mixed in the showcase style (stylee). That means that two songs are mixed together, one after the other, with different singers but using the same rhythm recording. The drum beats are the same. The guitars are the same. The bass is the same. The vocals and lyrics are different. It all makes for great reggae roots dancehall partyin’ dance music. These are pretty standard party reggae songs about dancing, dancing, sexy girls, dancing, and a good Sunday meal. Plus the singers are top notch: Jah Thomas, Barrington Levy, Sugar Minott, Triston Palmer, etc. Get rub a dub.

Dekker, Desmond – “King of Ska” – [Trojan Records]

Naysayer   12/3/2013   12-inch, Reggae

When I first saw this album I thought,”oh oh” because this is a 1991 release of Desmond Dekker, the true King of ska, redoing a lot of his early songs from the early days. I most often like the original recordings. Like, why mess with a classic when it has already achieved greatness? But then I thought, why not. Many of the biggies like to go back and try again on their hits. Why shouldn’t Desmond? Hmmmm…… well what can I say? Keep it positive. He’s still got the voice, that super voice full of enthusiasm and bounce. And it is ever present on the ten tracks that Trojan Records choose to release. It’s great to hear him keep on singing at that point in his life. Yeah, those are good reasons. Exclude the flat production and kind of predictable instrumentation which weighs down the ska. Maybe it’s like, ska lite, or ska for the cocktail lounge. I could handle that. I mean I don’t want folks bouncin’ around while I’m trying to drink my Manhattan when I’m trying to listen to the guy on stage. But I digress. Remember, he has a SUPER voice.

Captain Sinbad – “Reggae Music Will Mad Unu!” – [Maximum Sound]

Naysayer   12/3/2013   12-inch, Reggae

Heeeee’s back. After over 20 years of not recording, Frenchie, England’s reggae producer supreme, convinced Captain Sinbad to come out from behind the boards and work his dancehall magic for a new reggae recording. Remember “The Seven Voyages of Captain Sinbad”, that early ’80’s classic? Well, Captain Sinbad sounds like he just picked up where he left off. With a heavy hitter team of musicians (of course including Sly and Robbie), Sinbad sings of his life, honors the history of Jamaican reggae and gives reverence to THE favorite plant. His voice is solid, strong and commanding, grasping the listener on his first note and taking you through to the last heavy bass thump. Each song is followed by a bouncing dub version. The cover art will make you feel like it’s the summer of 1982 all over again.

Captain Sinbad – “Reggae Music Will Mad Unu!” – [Maximum Sound]

Naysayer   12/3/2013   12-inch, Reggae

Heeeee’s back. After over 20 years of not recording, Frenchie, England’s reggae producer supreme, convinced Captain Sinbad to come out from behind the boards and work his dancehall magic for a new reggae recording. Remember “The Seven Voyages of Captain Sinbad”, that early ’80’s classic? Well, Captain Sinbad sounds like he just picked up where he left off. With a heavy hitter team of musicians (of course including Sly and Robbie), Sinbad sings of his life, honors the history of Jamaican reggae and gives reverence to THE favorite plant. His voice is solid, strong and commanding, grasping the listener on his first note and taking you through to the last heavy bass thump. Each song is followed by a bouncing dub version. The cover art will make you feel like it’s the summer of 1982 all over again.

Palma, Tristan – “Settle Down Girl” – [Trojan Records]

Naysayer   12/1/2013   12-inch, Reggae

Tristan Palma, aka Triston Palma, aka Triston Palmer, born in Jamaica in 1962, has been making music since he was 8 and he seems to have no desire to stop. Name one of the big players on the Jamaican reggae scene and Tristan has probably worked with them. This 1983 release, “Settle Down Girl”, is in the Lover’s style, of which I was not aware, but one Palma mentions numerous times in interviews. In my dad’s time Palma would have been known as a “ladies man”. Decide for yourself what to call him but these nine tunes do present a fellow very interested in the ladies. He’s a smooth talker for sure. Song after song he tells the girl or woman why she needs to be with him even though he understands the circumstances may be difficult. His easy vocal styling lull the listener into his trap while the Roots Radics band fills out the sound with their distinctive bass and drums. This is laid back, romantic reggae and it sounds sooooo good.

Mojah, Fantan – “Hail The King” – [Greensleeves Records Ltd.]

Naysayer   11/19/2013   CD, Reggae

Initially reviewed by Mr. Lucky but somehow lost.
Here is his review: ” Fanton Mojah’s Hail the King is the debut album from this reggae sing-jay, and upon it’s initial release in 2005 he exploded on the scene. The reggae massive couldn’t help but be captivated by the voice and energy of the Bobo Ashanti rasta, and he immediately scored a hit with “Hungry”, a tune on the updated “Mr. DC” riddim. He has a voice that fluctuates from a mellow, hazy tenor to a rasping whiny explosion. He’s generally a singer, but his time working in sound systems in JA has prepared him for the tracks that require a harder edge. Fantan really feels the music, he’s not just going through the motions, and it makes for great listening. The music is generally in the new roots style, with a couple of tracks having a more digital sound (Feel the Pain, Love Grows) and others with more of a dancehall feel (Corruption, Hungry). I personally enjoy the slower songs where Fantan can really use the time and space to showcase the subtleties of his style and voice (Hail the King, Nuh Build Great Man, Kings of Kings). -Mr. Lucky”
What else can you say? I concur. Naysayer.

Prince Far I and The Arabs – “Dub to Africa” – [Pressure Sounds]

Naysayer   11/19/2013   12-inch, Reggae

Prince Far I. Really, what else needs to be said. Prince Far I.
Well, maybe a bit more. On this 1979 release the Prince, master percussionist and producer did both of those things plus introduced the songs in his distinctive low, gravel sounding voice. It hits you deep when you hear him speak. Not a lot of chances for his “chanting”, as he called it, rather than “toasting”, but it works so well. For this album the Prince hired new, younger musicians, rather than his studio regulars. These guys later became the foundation of the Roots Radics. The bass is strong and deep. There is a lot of guitar work. The effects may not be as twisted as one would expect but even more straight forward Prince Far I is more out there than most dub that comes out. Put your head between the speakers and feel the bass.

Sabebe – “Light of Saba, The” – [Kingston Connexion]

Thurston Hunger   11/11/2013   12-inch, Reggae

Originally out in 1978, reissued in 2008 by Jacques Golub. As much a
soul album made in Jamaica as a reggae album. The closing track,
“Africa” with its great driving hand-percussion, catches an
Afro-Beat stride, and other moments felt like the Art Ensemble
of Chicago trying to sneak onto Soul Train for a slow dance
number. “Caliweed” is a blend of herbs and Isley’s “Summer Breeze”
while the track before that seems like it came from the same
hydroponic high, “Music in My Brain.” That has some very 70’s
synth analog oogling. Some horn charts that have the football
highlight reel strength, the lead-off track has both congos
and a Congo-esque falsetto feel as the band summons their name
and strength. Voodoo too with the bonus of “Legba Praise” pure
heavy hitting percussion riffin’ (Check the fine liner notes
for tributes to the elders in an interview with Phillip Whyte
the man at the heart of Sabebe’s flame.) Mellow positive vibes.

-Thurston Hunger

Steel Pulse – “African Holocaust” – [Sanctuary]

Naysayer   10/14/2013   CD, Reggae

“African Holocaust” is Steel Pulse’s 11th studio album and marks a return to their militant roots. This is roots reggae style but with a British feel to it. The rhythm is a bit quicker, the horns soften out the top registers, and the bass keeps a steady beat throughout. It’s a very polished sound, as it should be, considering how long these guys have been around. They are one of the top reggae acts world wide and have that staying power like Black Uhuru and Burning Spear. David Hinds’ lead vocals set out to educate on a multitude of current world wide topics including global warming, police brutality, weapons of mass destruction and the deaths of political activists world wide. There is talk of Jah, of Haile Selassie, of Babylon. It’s what you would expect from a group like Steel Pulse: strong pop reggae that many will enjoy.

Fat Freddy’s Drop – “Based On a True Story” – [Drop]

Naysayer   10/6/2013   CD, Reggae

When I slid this in the CD player I had no idea what to expect, except there would be some reggae. From the first notes, I was caught off guard and fell whole hog into the world of Fat Freddy’s Drop. A little research showed that Fat Freddy’s Drop (FFD) come from Wellington, New Zealand (NZ) and are composed of seven musicians who have a lot of experience in playing with many bands. These guys came together to form what would become NZ’s most successful independently produced band, staying on the NZ charts for over a year, going several times platinum, winning a number of NZ Grammies, selling out shows in Europe, Australia and NZ, of course. I didn’t know that, though, when I listened to their CD “Based On a True Story”, several times in a row. And it shouldn’t make a difference to anyone. Here’s what you get: a wonderful melding of reggae, soul and jazz, skillfully played. The compositions are lush but not filled up. There is space between the notes. They are not afraid of a pause, a quiet moment. They are not afraid of mixing up instrumentation. Joe Dukie’s (Dallas Tamaira) vocals are some of the smoothest, most soulful to be heard in a long time. In fact, smooth is a word to sum up this group. Smooth. Soul. Sex. That’s what this group has. If most contemporary soul was as rich and hot as this I would listen all the time. Listen up and melt to their sound.

Tuff Lion – “Ten Strings” – [I Grade Records]

Naysayer   9/25/2013   CD, Reggae

Tuff Lion is a reggae guitarist of supreme order who has played on numerous albums with numerous groups. His album “Ten Strings” is a full instrumental album with guitar as the lead, taking the place of vocals. A solid reggae rhythm section starts off and carries through all the tracks while Tuff Lion plays both electric and acoustic guitar. At first I thought it sounded like jazz guitar similar to George Benson. There is a strong jazz guitar influence in the playing, that is for sure. Very smooth and laid back. And that describes the whole album. Very smooth and laid back. Really clean. Easy listening. It’s sort of odd for my untrained ear to hear this music with the complicated guitar lines flowing through the sound. Youtube has an interesting post of Tuff Lion explaining how to play reggae guitar with its stops and starts, downstroke power, rhythm guidance. That I was familiar with. Yet this album is so different. It feels like music you would hear at a spa, lying back waiting your turn for the masseuse. The beginning tracks are the strongest and will make for a nice change of pace in a set or for a bed. Great for a music bed. Stay away from the last five tracks, otherwise enjoy.

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