MUSIC OF JAMAICA, part 5

JOHNNY CLARKE
CREATION REBEL (North Parade VP4220)

Twenty years ago, in the late nineties, the Blood & Fire label in the UK put out a great series of CDs by King Tubby, Big Youth, Yabby You, Max Romeo, the Congos and many other top shelf Jamaican artists. These sets were beautifully packaged and lovingly curated with thorough liner notes by Steve Barrow. One that escaped me at the time was Johnny Clarke's Dreader Dread which collected singles cut for Bunny Lee in the mid-70s. The VP Music group had a great idea: not merely to reissue the Blood & Fire selections but to expand on them by adding a whole additional CDs worth of material from the same sessions. More is more, and in this case, it's all great stuff. The Aggrovators were the studio band which meant anyone who happened to be free got the gig. Just the list of drummers sounds like a pirate ship's crew: "Tin Leg" Adams, "Carlie" Barrett, Brother Benbow, Santa, and of course Sly Dunbar. Sly came up with the "flying cymbal," a sound unique to Bunny Lee productions which requires both hands to hit and dampen the cymbal. Johnny acquired the nickname "Studio Idler" because he seemed to be always hanging around, but this paid off when he was to record a song with Earl Zero. Lee was not happy with the result and went to Tubby's studio with the rhythm track; since Clarke had come along he sang the vocals to "None shall escape the judgment." Tubby added what Lee asked for, an outer space sound, by running the track through a high pass filter. He cut an acetate which caught fire on his sound system and soon Tubby was making acetates for other sound systems. Clarke began writing his own conscious songs and with his everyman vibe became a hitmaker on the appropriately named Jackpot label. "I was born and raised in the ghetto with the blood of African roots," he sang. Until the advent of dancehall in 1979 and the ascendancy of artists like Barrington Levy, Frankie Paul & Sugar Minott, Clarke put out dozens of singles on Striker Lee's labels, most of them chart toppers or at least dance hall scorchers. Ultimately the "flying cymbal" became a liability in Bunny Lee's recordings. By the time you get to the final track, Clarke's 1975 cover of Marley's "I'm gonna put it on" which has "Ring of Fire" horns (an Alpha Boys School favorite), the flying cymbal has become a tiresome distraction.

MARCIA GRIFFITHS
SWEET AND NICE (Bewithrecords BEWITH056LP)

A double LP due 9 August 2019 recreates the debut album of this Jamaican singer and adds a bonus disc of 14 more pop gems. This is in fact the vinyl recreation of a Trojan CD that came out in 2006 with the same added material. In the 50s, AM radio from New Orleans began to be heard all over the Caribbean and artists like Dave Bartholomew, Smiley Lewis and Fats Domino achieved a wider fan base among English-speaking islanders. Hearing this music led directly to the creation of ska and, during the 60s when Jamaican music evolved into the slower Rocksteady, a greater range of influences from English pop to American soul found echoes in Jamaica. From 1964 to 1974 Griffiths worked in a duo with Bob Andy, scoring her first solo hit with "Feel like jumping," a perennial favorite which is not included here. In 1974 she joined Bob Marley and the Wailers as a backing vocalist on their world tours, at the same time as her first solo album appeared. While there is a reggae feeling this is more of an R&B and soul outing; it even has hints of Country music. There are covers of Roberta Flack, Curtis Mayfield, the Beatles, Bread's "Everything I own," Al Green's "Here I am baby," Neil Diamond's "Play me." In fact I don't think there are any original compositions here: part of the magic of Jamaican music was their designation of "Copyright Control" on records they were simply adapting from American hits. It would be curious to know if anyone enforced artists' rights because if someone had a hit with a cover, say Norma Fraser's cover of Cat Stevens's "First cut is the deepest," others, including Griffiths, quickly cut their own version. Her debut album was recorded at Federal and produced by Lloyd Charmers, who also played keyboards and percussion. Lloyd Parks on bass and Willie Lindo on guitar were accompanied by unidentified horn players, and sometimes a string section. The original disc is a long-sought-after collector's item and has a great consistency and mellow mood. Her biggest hits are here, including "When will I see you again" by Gamble & Huff which has been anthologized scores of times and lesser-known cuts such as "Children at play," a tasty loping slice of funk where you can hear the germ of Massive Attack in her sound.

CULTURE
THE NIGHTHAWK RECORDINGS (OVCD-332)

This half-hour long CD collects three tracks from the 1982 Nighthawk compilation Calling Rastafari and two unreleased songs plus versions of them. In 2007 Culture redid "Calling Rastafari" for Two Sevens Clash (Shanachie), but added a lot of unnecessary stuff (electronic whoops) and basically ruined it, so it is great to hear the clear original version with the mighty Roots Radics backing the vocal trio, led by the soulful Joseph Hill, who sounds a bit like Winston Rodney. In the late 70s Hill & Culture recorded three albums for Joe Gibbs and three more for Sonia Pottinger. They were peaking by the time they laid down the three tracks for Calling Rastafari. The bonus tracks were taped at Tuff Gong in 1983, with the Wailers as the backing band. These are fine tracks and remind you of how the Wailers basically defined the sound of reggae. In addition there are some all-star sidemen: Gladdy Anderson, Bongo Herman, Scully Simms & the horn trio of Tommy McCook, Deadley Headley Bennett and Bobby Ellis. Given the strength of the original Calling Rastafari compilation, with the Gladiators, Mighty Diamonds, Itals and Wailing Souls, I would have preferred a remastered version of that, but perhaps the revitalized Nighthawk has future plans for those other artists' tracks (I'm holding my breath for more Wailing Souls). While it is brief, Culture's album is top quality and the two instrumental dubs that extend the bonus tracks are a good addition.

JUNIOR BYLES
RASTA NO PICKPOCKET (Omnivore OVCD-286)

I've always felt there are not enough Junior Byles tunes in the world, so was thrilled to receive the latest reissue of Nighthawk Records from Omnivore. Junior's final album, Rasta no pickpocket, from 1986, backed by the legendary Roots Radics and produced by Niney the Observer was sadly only 22 minutes long. It has come around again with enough bonus material to double the length. Byles must have been a fat kid, because he was known as "King Chubby" when he formed a vocal trio called The Versatiles with schoolmates. They had a series of hits with Joe Gibbs ("Someone to love," "Lu-lu Bell," "Push it in," "Time has come," "The thanks we get"-- need I go on, or can we just have the definitive compilation? Someone please prod Steve Barrow for me), working with Lee Perry, and then the Versatiles moved to Duke Reid's Treasure Isle. When Bob Marley left Perry's Black Ark, the legendary producer brought in Junior to fill the void as a Rastafarian front man for his sonic experiments with the Upsetters. Six years of this work was distilled into the essential Curly Locks compilation on Heartbeat. From the liner notes it seems the present album was cut in one night in 1986 under difficult circumstances -- in an overcrowded studio with onlookers (rude bwoy gwan mash up da place) creating massive fumes and disruptions. "I don't know" is, to me, the standout track on here. Technology has great potential to take us to space but others are using it to wipe out the human race, he says, getting it off his chest. "Demonstration and protest are pitting brother against brother. I don't know what the world is coming to." Despite my avowed Atheism I appreciate religious sentiments such as "What doth it profit a man to gain the whole world and lose his soul?" Homilies such as this inform the lyrics of Byles. After that there was nearly a decade of relative silence when Byles was homeless or institutionalized. Two of the bonus tracks are songs which Junior fans will have already: "Bur-o-Boy" and "Weeping" appeared on the Trojan compilation When will better come, however there they were shortened by 30 seconds each, so that's a bonus minute. Then there's "This feeling" a welcome new addition to the Byles canon, with conscious lyrics and a solid groove. By the way the two new version sides also show off the talents of the band, comprising Style Scott on drums and Flabba Holt on bass; Bingy Bunny, Chinna and Dwight Pinkney strum the guitars; Steelie and Bubbler pump the keyboards; Bongo Herman, Scully & Sticky ply the percussion, and that leaves the fabulous hornsmen, Tommy McCook, Bobby Ellis & Deadly Headly, to fill any gaps. Classic, Extra Classic even.

ETHIOPIAN & GLADIATORS
DREAD PROPHECY (Omnivore OVCD-285)

Leonard Dillon (1942-2011), better known as the Ethiopian, had a long musical career, starting as a choirboy. As a hungry teen he went to Kingston to sing for Peter Touch (Tosh) who took him to Marley and then to Coxsone Dodd who recorded him with vocal backing by the Wailers. In 1963 he teamed up with another singer, Steven Taylor, and they scored a couple of ska hits as the Ethiopians. Dillon's day job was as a mason and he met Albert Griffiths on a building site. Griffiths had his own band, the Gladiators and together they recorded "Train to Skaville" with backing by the Gladiators and "You are the girl" by the Gladiators with vocal harmony from the Ethiopians. From then, until Taylor's accidental death in 1975, the Ethiopians were always on the charts. In 1977 Dillon made a beautiful lyrical solo album Everything Crash for Coxsone Dodd, but then was out of the picture for a while. In 1986 the original team of Ethiopian and Gladiators reunited to cut this mellow album for Nighthawk. It's another example of Nighthawk's Bob Schoenfeld having impeccable timing, catching a neglected artist who still has a lot to give -- and is eager to show it. The Gladiators are augmented by four top horn players, and percussionist Scully. Each song is followed by a dub cut: these were mixed hot by Sylvan Morris, who rewound the tapes at the successful conclusion of each take and then demonstrated his skills with a live board, causing amazement among the musicians.

WINSTON JARRETT & THE RIGHTEOUS FLAMES
JONESTOWN (Omnivore OVCD-289)

Hope you left room for dessert. Yet another classic album from the Nighthawk catalogue resurfaces on Omnivore, this one without bonus tracks, but a solid LP full of the talented Winston Jarrett. Another young Rastafarian who moved close to Trench Town in search of a musical identity, Jarrett's neighborhood was called Jonestown, and he shared a yard with Alton Ellis as a youth. So his debut recording was part of Alton & the Flames and they had a string of Rocksteady hits on Treasure Isle, like "Cry tough," "Dance crasher," and "Girl, I've got a date." Alton went solo and moved to London, and Jarrett reformed the group as the Righteous Flames, singing lead himself, and recorded for Prince Buster and Coxsone Dodd. Then in the 1970s he made a string of records, using various pseudonyms, in conjunction with Family Man and others known as the Hippie Boys who soon became the Wailers, for Lee Perry, Sonia Pottinger, Duke Reid and so on. A wonderful career retrospective can be found on Survival is the Game (Young Tree Records). This album, Jonestown (not a reference to the Kool-Aid-suicide cult of Jim Jones in Guyana), was made in 1983 when reggae had changed: there is more of a disco beat to the drums and the creeping forebodings of synth and syndrums. It could be that the fans had switched from ganja to coke and needed something a bit more spirited and speedy, but that is just my speculation. I have the feeling that many of the tracks on here were already in the Righteous Flames' repertoire -- one of them was included on one of my favorite LPs Rite Sound Reggae Story: there "Spanish Town Road" has massed horns and nyabinghi repeater drums, giving it a stately tone; here it has farty horns and whiny keyboards (Winston Wright). "Run to the rock" was a single in 1971, and is reprised with funky continuo by Gladdy Anderson on Hohner Clavinet, but again Santa's snare snap is a bit overpowering; "Hold on to this feeling" was a Marley tune, here it is given quite an excessive disco workout. My sense is the producers were trying to create a more current sound to broaden the appeal as, by 1983, Reggae was an established genre, so they were trying to hook the rock audience. Beyond that (the in-your-face production) there are gems on here like "Babylon broke dung me house" and the catchy "Conference Hall."


GLADIATORS
SYMBOL OF REALITY
SERIOUS THING (Omnivore Recordings OVCD-273/274)

The Gladiators hit for Studio One with "Hello Carol" in 1968, and followed up with "Bongo Red." By the 80s they were internationally acclaimed as a roots reggae band. They closely followed Bob Marley & the Wailers, even covering some BMW songs such as "Small Axe" and "Stand Alone." In 1982 St Louis-based Nighthawk label's Robert Shoenfeld & Leroy Pierson got them into the studio to record Symbol of Reality. The title comes from Griffiths' notion that the Gladiator is always struggling and fighting, hence a symbol of reality. They revisited their catalogue (little-known outside Jamaica at the time), including classics such as "Dreadlocks the Time is Now," "Watch out," and "Big Boo Boo Deh." (The best of their early material was collected by Virgin on Vital Selection in 1981 & more recently 4 of their Virgin albums reappeared on a double CD.) The influence of Marley is notable on this album, even to the sound of Lee Perry's production, though the engineer was Sylvan Morris at Harry J Studios. In 1984 the Gladiators recorded Serious Thing, again for Nighthawk. Cultural consciousness comes up on tracks like "Freedom Train," and in quotes from "We shall overcome" in the melody. Now with the acquisition of Nighthawk by Omnivore Records we are treated to some gems from their back catalogue, each time remastered with a load of bonus material, sometimes doubling the length of the album. The new tracks are mainly dubs and versions, but occasionally another song, that was left in the can because of the 45 minute limit of the LP format, surfaces. These include the excellent "Bless our soul" and "New song" on Serious Thing. And, as for dubs and versions, the more the merrier, I say. The vocal trio of Albert Griffiths, Clinton Fearon and Gallimore Sutherland (who also played guitars and bass) were augmented in the studio by Pablov Black on keyboards, Scully & Bongo Herman on percussion, Nambo on trombone, Deadly Headley, Dean Frazier & Glen DeCosta on saxes and Bobby Ellis & Dave Madden on trumpets. (I assume this was after Dave's stint as manager of the Partridge Family.) The Gladiators' own band included Clinton Rufus on lead guitar, Audley Taylor on keys, and Barnabas (who replaced "Horsemouth") on drums. The three singers were accomplished musicians too, unlike most harmony trios of the time who just vocalized with studio bands. The Gladiators were consummate professionals which is probably why their catalogue shows them working with many other artists, like Richard Ace, who showed up and contributed keyboards to three cuts on Serious Thing, or The Ethiopian who asked them to back him.


JUSTIN HINDS & THE DOMINOES
TRAVEL WITH LOVE (Omnivore Records OVCD-259)
KNOW JAH BETTER (Omnivore Records OVCD-260)

Justin Hinds hit big with "Carry go bring come" in 1964 and went on to release something like seventy singles on Treasure Island records. These would be rushed out for sound system clashes between Duke Reid and Coxone Dodd and guaranteed Hinds' place in the top ten for weeks at a time. By the mid-80s Rocksteady had given way to reggae but the Dominoes (named for Fats Domino as well as the game) kept up with the evolving sounds of their island and went into Tuff Gong studios in 1984 to record Travel with Love, for Nighthawk Records, with the Wailers' rhythm section of Carlton Barrett on drums and Aston "Family Man" Barrett on bass, and with their keyboard players "Wya" Lindo and Tyrone Downie. Yet another Wailer, Earl "Chinna" Smith, joined on lead guitar and the studio was filled out with the top session men from Kingston, including Bingy Bunny on guitar, Gladdy Anderson on piano, Skully and Sky Juice on percussion, and the best horn section East of Memphis: Tommy McCook, Deadley Headley and Bobby Ellis. Throw in Pablo Black on melodica and you have a recipe for magic. Hinds (whose background was in the church and singing for tourists) has a sweet soft voice backed by the unobtrusive Dominoes. Steve Barrow remarked on the timeless quality of the original 8-cut LP issued by Nighthawk. Now since the the take-over of Nighthawk's archive by Omnivore we are treated to a remastered album with an insane TEN bonus tracks. Three are newly added to the compilation and the other seven are versions, some of which surfaced over the years. The spacing of the instruments in these is very nice, with Skully on top of the mix and the others dropping in and out selectively. Flashes of vocals show these were separate takes and not simply created off the master tape, and the entire band is having fun in the version sides.

The later album Know Jah Better was Hinds' attempt to enter the Dancehall scene in 1990. He avoided the Kingston music scene, preferring to stay in the country where he would play Nyahbingi drums in his yard, sometimes his neighbor Keith Richards would join in on guitar and even produced an album from these casual sessions called Wingless Angels. For Know Jah Better Nighthawk felt the disc needed more punch (despite syndrums and squelchy synth) so brought in Earl "Chinna" Smith and Skully Simms again to overdub guitar and percussion. Other than Dean Fraser on sax, the musicians are not household names and dont inject the air of excitement you get from the Tuff Gong sound on the first disc.

GLADIATORS
FULL TIME (Omnivore Recordings)

Nighthawk Records started in the 1970s as a Blues reissue label, specializing in postwar Delta and Chicago blues. They also published some fine New Orleans albums. In 1981 they discovered reggae and issued the classic Wiser Dread compilation (An LP with two back covers and no front). Now Nighthawk has been taken over by the ominously named Omnivore Records, and the new owners are exploring their back catalogue, starting with a reissue of one of their classic releases, Albert Griffiths & the Gladiators' 1992 Full Time. It seems to me an accident of circumstance that Chris Blackwell picked Bob Marley and promoted him to superstardom as the voice of reggae, when you consider the other talents available then, including Albert Griffiths here, or Winston Jarrett or the other Winston known as Burning Spear -- it's a shame only Marley got the limelight. This occurs to me because of the similarity between Griffith's and Marley's voices and even the general sound of their backing bands. In a random audition many listeners would say this IS the Wailers. Griffiths issued a few singles early in his career such as "The Train is coming back," "Live wire" and "Hello Carol," sometimes alongside the Ethiopian. In the 70s his band, The Gladiators, worked with Prince Tony and then in the 80s produced four albums for Nighthawk. In true reggae style this album, recorded at Harry J Studios, includes a couple of version sides run back to back with the hits, "Bongo red," "Fussing and fighting" (written by Marley), and "Rocking vibration." The band which featured Clinton Fearon on bass and vocals, was supplemented by Scully & Bongo Herman on percussion, along with some particularly effective horn men: Bobby Ellis (trumpet), Dean Frazier, Deadly Headley (saxes) & Nambo on trombone. Legends, all.

ETHIOPIAN
THE RETURN OF JACK SPARROW (Omnivore Recordings)

I honestly thought Jack Sparrow was invented for the Johnny Depp character in the Pirate movies, but that was also the pseudonym under which Coxsone Dodd released the first four songs by Leonard Dillon, who later became known as the Ethiopian. It's also the local name for the Greater Antillean Bullfinch, a songbird found in James Bond's "Birds of the West Indies," as pointed out to me by Joe Eaton. I don't know if I am projecting but Leonard Dillon always strikes me as having a sad voice. He was part of a great harmony duo the Ethiopians who had scores of hits in Jamaica, and England, in the 70s (such as "Train to Ska-ville" and "Everything Crash"), but his partner Steven Taylor was hit and killed by a car in 1975. It was a long time before Dillon was ready to return to recording, and though he had sung with Justin Hinds and Albert Griffiths and the Gladiators previously, he decided to go solo. And from then on (like Carlton Manning) he sang his own harmony parts in the studio. In 1987 Dillon toured the United States with the Gladiators. Bob Schoenfeld, the owner of Nighthawk, was hanging out with the band when Winston Grennan, the drummer, started regaling him with tales of the Beverley's All Stars who had backed such 60s acts as the Maytals, Derrick Morgan and Desmond Dekker. Schoenfeld conceived the idea of a super-session in New York, reuniting the Beverley's All Stars with a great vocalist, and asked Dillon to sing his classics plus some new songs. He flew in the band from Toronto, Miami and Kingston and gathered Lyn Taitt & Hux Brown on guitars and Winston Wright on keyboards, with the other Bevvies. Schoenfeld then took the tapes to Jamaica to have horns overdubbed by Sylvan Morris at Dynamic Sound, but financial problems meant he couldn't release the album and so it languished in the Nighthawk archives. There were also rumors that the album was sabotaged because of a financial problem between Schoenfeld and Morris. But it sounds fine to me, in fact, I enjoyed it. Interest in the Ethiopian's music has continued since his 2011 death and this 1992 album, now issued for the first time, is a great addition to his deep catalogue of music.

LEE SCRATCH PERRY & SUBATOMIC SOUND SYSTEM
SUPER APE RETURNS TO CONQUER (Subatomicsound.com)

You can't count out the octogenarian Lee Perry yet. The man who pioneered dub at his Black Art studio in Kingston, Jamaica has issued a retrospective CD, reworking his songs ("Curly Locks," "Super Ape") and several others he produced with artists like Junior Byles and Max Romeo in the 1970s. He is something of a performer, certainly not a singer, more a mumbling stand-up act, nevertheless songs like "Disco Devil" toasted over "Chase the Devil" or "Dread Lion," might appeal to version completists. The Black Ark sound is unmistakable though one critic noted how it changed as the ganja smoke residue on the tape heads muffled it as the years went by. In the studio Perry's band the Upsetters jammed for hours while he selectively dropped instruments in and out of the mix on his 8-track board. He would patch mikes through a Maestro Echoplex or a Roland Space Echo, which run continuous magnetic tape over several heads. This causes the sound to multiply; pots can then by applied to give echo, sustain or reverb. If you twist all the inputs to the max (the proverbial "11") the agglomerated sound quickly charges to a sonic throb, which you can kill by turning off the main switch, then turning it back on and adjusting the pots allows you to build from the start. This requires skill, dexterity and of course intuition, so that Perry was playing the mixing board like Mickey Mouse conducting the kitchen implements in Fantasia. He was even known to thump the Space Echo to create a clap of thunder (Perry, not Mickey). Today there are simple computer tools that mimic these effects once carefully & ingeniously engineered by Perry and his followers (think of Gaudi's Nusrat album). At the press of a button you can have spooky melodica, guitar with flanger effect, thudding bass, drums with echo and so on. So the Subatomic Sound System is in essence one guy with a laptop cranking out some pounding drum n bass that is a simulacrum of the Black Art sound. Added to this is a barely audible live conga player (Larry McDonald formerly of Tommy McCook's Supersonics, the Crystalites and Gil Scott Heron) and a live sax player (Troy Simms) on echo. In concert it's an unholy racket, everyone is overamplified and all the mikes are on "stun" with reverb and echo, so you only hear Perry intermittently muttering about "No nuclear war ... Trump ... hump ... dump" or singing the praises of "Coconut water" instead of Jah Lion or Curly Locks. The album has nostalgic appeal, though you may prefer to go back to the originals to hear why Perry's career was so important to the development of Jamaican music.


Lee Perry in concert January 2018 Photo copyright by the Duchess #Marinsowhite

INNA DE YARD: THE SOUL OF JAMAICA (Chapter Two/Wagram 3342736)

A decade ago the Viceroys' Inna de Yard blew me away. A band I remembered chiefly for the novelty number "Ya Ho" had survived the years and, a little worse for wear, got together in Earl "Chinna" Smith's yard in Half-Way-Tree, Kingston to record an acoustic album of what they remembered from their heyday in the late 60s. A whole series of "Inna de Yard" albums appeared but none quite had the same impact as the Viceroys working through "Heart made of stone," and "My mission is impossible." However the idea was worth pursuing and now here's a compilation, newly recorded with stripped-down acoustic versions of a few oldies and some new material, all caught live and unedited. The old-timers returning are Ken Boothe, Cedric Myton (of the Congos), Lloyd Parks, and of course the Viceroys, formerly known as the Voiceroys. "Chinna" Smith is not present but there are plenty of talented musicians such as Nambo on trombone and a plethora of drummers slapping the skins. On "Jah Power, Jah Glory" by Kiddus I we hear an organ and an accordion, but it is still propelled by the Nyabinghi beat. Lee Perry's favorite singer Cedric Myton's unearthly etherial voice floats on a tide of hand drums and a lyrical trombone. "Love is the Key" by the Viceroys is outstanding but then Ken Boothe also shows he has not lost it, and on his remake of "Let the Water run dry" the Viceroys sing backup. Boothe's "Artibella" is also a gem with that accordion hanging around to give a cafe ambiance. New to me Derajah is great on "Stone" and he is only one of several fine singers on here, including two Scots descendants, Winston McAnuff and Kush McAnuff. Winston "Bo-Pee" Bowen, best known as session guitarist in the mighty Roots Radics takes us home with "Thanks & Praises" and a little bit of night sounds, crickets, birdies and cool breeze.

KEITH & TEX
SAME OLD STORY (Liquidator LQ097)

I have been catching up with recent reggae and rocksteady releases from Jamaica. That island's musical heritage has been well-served by revivalists who have sought out obscure gems from the last half century and restored them for our enjoyment. The Iberian peninsula, which gave us the Jamaica Gold label, turns up a classic Rocksteady duo, whose "Stop that Train," was featured in the "The Harder they Come," the film that brought reggae to an international audience. Keith & Tex began singing for Derrick Harriott in the late 60s, with songs like "Stop that Train," "Tonight," "Hypnotizing Eyes," and their Temptations cover "Don't Look Back." But by 1970 the duo had broken apart when Keith moved to the USA and Tex went to Canada. Keith Rowe had a later career with Lee Perry and hit with "Groovy Situation," but their earlier more innocent sound was prized by fans. Now Spanish producer Roberto Sánchez has reunited them in the studio with mostly Spanish musicians (including organ, trumpet, trombone and tenor sax) to create a new album of originals. (The cover is crafted to look like a Jamaican album from the 1970s, but look again: they are no longer kids!) The band, particularly drummer Iñigo Elexpuru, are a good fit with the rocksteady groove; on "Party night" they hit the ska beat hard with Sánchez on acoustic double bass, Rueben "Ras" Telford on piano, and double-tracked mouth percussion from the singers. Titles like "Queen majesty" signal new works, not covers though like the Techniques and the Uniques they borrowed the lyrics from Curtis Mayfield for this. They deliver the familiar sweet tones on songs like "Soulmate," but for "Refugees," they sing about the poor Syrians and how we need to take a stand to help our fellow man.

STUDIO ONE RADIO SHOW (Yep Roc Records SOR003)

Studio One's latest deal is with Yep Roc Music Group. Back in May they reissued the Wailers' debut album on vinyl along with Money Maker, a hard-to-find compilation with Heptones, Burning Spear, Wailing Souls and John Holt. I saw this at the record store and bought it on sight. It's two 23-minute radio shows and I thought it might include live in-the-studio performances. But the live quotient is only the deejay, the highly animated Winston "The Whip" Williams in the first segment, who raps comically over the intro and outtro of each song in the first half. Otherwise it's a promotional vehicle for Studio One featuring snatches of new releases from the week of 16 July 1977 and, as the second track, 13 May 1978 (during the 8.30 to nine a.m. shift!) Airplay was often hard to come by in the early days of Jamaican music, the broadcasters opting for American soul and R&B; and often Jamaican songs were banned for being too rude. To remedy this, labels would buy blocks of air time to promote their releases. And to help poor listeners, speakers tuned to the local radio station were hung from trees: the only drawback was they couldn't be turned off! Horace Andy is just getting going when the DJ exclaims "Big bad sounds of the SOUNDS of Young Jamaica!" and fades into "It is because I am black?" "--Lloyd Williams, That feeling makes you taller than the ceiling!" interjects Mister Whip, switching to Burning Spear. It's fun as a podcast, "Masters of the trade, that's why we have it made," he says, plugging Studio One... but it's over too fast. While the DJ patter is delightful, it's a slim excuse for a CD: I think putting it online for free would have helped promote their sales, but then my marketing ideas are notable for their lack of success. The second deejay (Satch Lee?) brings on Ken Booth and the Heptones -- "Old gold, Heptones in your bones" -- doing "Dock of the Bay" in the slightest snatch of a 12-inch disco mix. I do think they should have given this away. Some labels promote their stuff successfully on line. Here, for example, is a British show promoting a Swiss reissue label called Reggae Fever; here's another slice of free reggae. Hardcore Studio One fans will probably buy it, then forget it on the shelf.


MR PERRY I PRESUME (Pressure Sounds 89)

You know old-fartdom has set in when you have the following sequence of thoughts. I am in line at the record store and the guy ahead of me is buying a $200 box set of the Rolling Stones (I think that's what it is: just a plain black cardboard box) and I am smugly thinking, what a chump. He's spending all that money to try to get back something he never had: he wants to think he's a cool teenager again, digging Mick's imitation blues vocals and some Nanker Phelge rave-ups. What a waste of time and energy. When you can recognize a tune from the very first chord you probably don't need to hear it again. Then it's my turn and I plunk down the "new" Lee Perry CD with promises of a dozen previously unreleased tracks, but it's the very familiarity I am looking for: the sound of the Upsetters inside the cinder-block walls of the Black Ark with Scratch at the controls. Now, I can tell you who played bass and drums for the Rolling Stones but I couldn't say the same for the Upsetters; nevertheless, I am ready for the bass 'n drums to blow out the speakers on this new mix of "Police and dub" (I don't have to tell you what the rhythm is!). And there's that cheesy wheezy bubbling organ I know and love. No vocals but some swampy guitar is in the mix. Actually if you put your head inside the speaker you can hear a dimly echoing whisper of the verse bleeding through on the rhythm tracks "Hear what I say, hey hey hey hey uh....." Lee Perry is the Paul Cezanne of music. He paints the same views over and over -- the same trees the same mountains -- but every time it comes out different and they are all equally fascinating and slightly crooked and beautiful. But lest the message escape you, the unpainted part of this canvas is the telling lyric which goes unsung: "All the crimes committed, day by day / No-one tries to stop it in any way / All the peace makers turned war officers..." Junior Murvin's song may be one of the most-versioned and most-covered reggae singles but its message is perennial. Wailers fans will dig the two new mixes of "Sun is shining" and "Keep on moving" -- the former has Peter Tosh imitating Augustus Pablo with Melodica on reverb and echo; the later has Augustus himself. "Ethiopia Land" has the "cow" sound you will remember from other versions: Cedric Myton told me it is Watty Burnett! The hits keep coming (and I don't mean Scratch hitting the top of the Roland SpaceEcho with his fist for added ooommph): Max Romeo's classic "Chase the Devil" is versioned here as "Devils dub plate," with that crack percussion from Skully & Sticky. Perry visited London in 1974 to make some record deals and also to appear at a sound system clash. For these events producers prepared unique ten-inch dub plates that were only heard on the night. Unfortunately the word "clash" is a bit too graphic because of course the police showed up, chasing a thief, and waded into the crowded club with their truncheons. By pure coincidence, Jeremy Collingwood tells us in the booklet, at that moment Johnny Clarke's new single "Move outta Babylon" was playing. And after the felon was apprehended 70 more police showed up to arrest a few more "suspects." Dennis Bovell was charged with being "about to commit a crime" and held for 6 months. Perry and Bunny Lee were used to seeing police breaking up sound systems in Kingston so made a quick exit through the back way and the next day the papers crowed "42 Held After Club Battle" -- another milestone in tension between the British authorities and West Indian youth, many of whom were merely guilty of being in possession of "curly hair, big lips and wearing a loud shirt," as Rowan Atkinson put it in 1980. There are many familiar Upsetter grooves on here, in new and surprising versions, recorded in the mid-70s. And, for the record, in addition to Sly n Robbie on drum n bass, you might hear Boris Gardiner holding the bottom and Benbow or Mikey Boo lickin' the skins.


STUDIO ONE DANCEHALL
SIR COXSONE IN THE DANCE: THE FOUNDATION SOUND (SoulJazz SJRCD281)

Jamaican DanceHall style is a unique blend of karaoke and improv. In the 70s a new generation of artists emerged and used the B-sides -- instrumentals and dub plates -- of well-known Studio One rhythms from the sixties to express themselves. When some of these artists started to gain popularity & rerecord Studio One rhythms with other bands, Coxsone Dodd took an unusual step: instead of suing them for copyright infringement, he brought them aboard and promoted them. Additionally he revamped his back catalog with a new group of talents, like Sugar Minott, Lone Ranger, Eastwood & Saint, Johnny Osbourne, Freddy McGregor, and let them loose over "Rockford Rock" and other tracks. The best part was, while other labels were hiring bands to recreate the Studio One rhythms, Coxsone could give his new artists the original tapes to play with, creating version upon version. When Sugar Minott released "Vanity" over a rhythm that had hit for Alton Ellis as "I'm just a guy," he threw in the nursery rhyme: "Mary Mary quite contrary, how does your garden grow?" Michigan & Smiley versioned it as "Mary Mary quite contrary, how does your rub-a-dub flow?" While there may seem to have been an endless supply of great music coming out of Jamaica in the heyday of reggae we surely have heard the best of it by now. Still, anyone with a soft spot for "name that tune" or who likes to hear new takes on old faves will bask in aura of this disc. "Nice up the dance" only begins to suggest the fun in store, however it belies the reality of the times as violence wracked the island and the lyrics took a more sinister turn as even the escapism of sound system nights gave way to economic bad times and fear in the air. But the moment can always be suspended in time via music: one of the joys of finding a compilation like this, that flows beautifully. And since it begins and ends with Ernest Wilson (half of the Clarendonians), you can easily put it on repeat and it becomes seamless. Known as "Soul," Wilson has a quaver in his voice, a bit akin to Horace Andy. You've probably never heard of Windel Haye, who delivers two cuts here, "Flood victim" and "Haunted house." The latter reuses Cornell Campbell's "Conversation"; the former versions the omnipresent "Real Rock," both in extended mixes. Although Sugar Minott soon left to form his own label, Coxsone had enough material in the can to release three albums of the talented lad's performances over classic Studio One rhythms. "Real Rock" is also the basis of Johnny Osbourne's smash "Lend me the Sixteen" (i.e. 16-track mixing console) which features here, along with his "Time a Run Out." The great trombone could be Don Drummond, unless it was rerecorded, then it has to be Vin Gordon. To update the music, overdubs were done by keyboard player Pablove Black, alongside bassist Bagga Walker and guitarist Eric Frater. Osbourne had spent ten years in Toronto and returned in 1979 full of ideas and cut a series of smash hits for Coxsone, leading to his Truths and Rights album. But in 1980 the mounting violence caused Dodd to quit Kingston and relocate to Brooklyn, New York. "Peace and Love" is the message of Lone Ranger on his classic "Noah in the Ark," the lead cut on his album The Other Side of Dub. Doreen Schaffer (who now lives in New York) was originally a vocalist with the Skatalites. Here she gives us "I don't know why" which for my money is as great as anything that came out of Motown. Sugar Minott delivers "Peace Treaty Style" and, in a clever twist, we get a new version of "Uptown Top Ranking," the brilliant smash hit of British teenagers Althea and Donna, called "Peace Truce Thing." Here was Coxsone taking back what was rightfully his. The Joe Gibbs-produced "Uptown Top Ranking" used Alton Ellis' "I'm Still in Love with You," which was a Studio One rhythm, so Coxsone had the Brentford Road Disco set update it and "adapt" the lyrics. It's a really great re-adaptation and a better approach than a tired attack like "Straight to Joe Gibbs' Head." (Incidentally, Top Rank was a chain of ballrooms in Britain so they turned it into a verb, like Hoovering.) You'll hear echoes of "Picture on the Wall," but most curiously "Rebel Disco," by the Brentford Disco Set (another name for the house band), uses the hook from an old Scottish folksong, "The Campbells are Coming." Was this something taught in the Alpha Boys School by their bandmasters? Another possible link for future scholars of Jamaican musical roots to ponder. After the death of Bob Marley in 1981 the cultural life of Jamaica went down the chute as cocaine replaced ganja, and guns and gangstas took over. Lewd lyrics became the norm as slackness possessed the singers. Here, in the late 70s, the Disco Set give us instrumentals and dubs and the riddim stretches out while we relive the last of the good times.


RASTAFARI: THE DREADS ENTER BABYLON 1955-83 (SoulJazz Records CD 312)

As an evangelical atheist I spend a lot of time studying comparative religion. Zen koans keep me up at night; the King James Bible has some lovely passages (e.g. "The Sermon on the Mount," "Psalm 23"), but it it mostly fantasy and revenge literature; I have little patience with those sons of Abraham (the three-headed demon of Zion, Islam and Xtianity) who are at each other's throats, and less for the fundamentalist assho*es (to use a redundant term) who dominate the political discourse in the USA. In the past I have been unduly harsh on the philosophy of Rastamen, based on their belief in being a Lost tribe of Israel (nigh impossible) and paying spiritual allegiance to Haile Selassie (a crackpot tinpot ruler). Nevertheless I find a lot of pleasure in Nyabinghi, Burro drumming and Grounation, to use the terms that describe their music. This new rather choppy compilation seeks to define the various styles associated with the movement and includes an excellent, elegant 40-page companion booklet that covers the story. If you know anything about the history of Jamaica, Marcus Garvey's Back to Africa movement and the rule of Selassie I, then you probably have the gist of the story. What is not mentioned is the role of Islam in Jamaican music though SoulJazz do include the wonderful "Salaam" by Bongo Herman and Les. This is a favorite track by the Crystalites' rhythm section; I am still trying to figure out the opening greeting, Ambassada Oudah? Their other cut here, "African drums," is a true gem. Other highlights include Ashanti Roy's "Hail the Words of Jah," and "Zion I" by Ansell & Winston with the attendant version (over "My mission is impossible") by the Techniques All Stars. Count Ossie & the Mystic Revelation of Rastafari's music is excerpted and jumps about quite a bit, when it needs to be experienced at full length. Though often compared to Coltrane, Sun Ra or Albert Ayler, Count Ossie (with Leslie Butler) here turns in a bizarre organ-driven cover of Sinatra's "It was a very good year" called "Soul drums." This is a case of the CD needing the booklet to explain it and the booklet needing the CD for musical exposition. However it is a bit didactic and once you have heard the Ras Michael and Mutabaruka tracks once you probably wont need to listen to them again, same goes for Count Ossie's monologues "Tales of Mozambique" and "Narration." It's not chronological so the weaker early tracks are buried in the middle. It's curious more than spiritual; and may be instructive for neophytes or those with a passion for Caribbean history, otherwise not one you will put in heavy rotation.

BUNNY 'STRIKER' LEE
FULL UP: EARLY REGGAE PRODUCTIONS (Pressure Sounds 85)

I have not checked in with the Pressure Sounds label for a while, so decided to give this a whirl. I have a load of Bunny Lee compilations and he never lets you down, unlike Mad Professor, Lee Perry and some other producers who produced some rubbish in their vast careers. But Jamaica seems to be a bottomless well of musical treasures, especially from the years of transition from rocksteady into reggae and this disc is right in that sweet spot of 68-72. From the get-go you see what the competition was. Lee's house band were called the Hippy Boys (and later the Bunny Lee Allstars) and consisted of Aston Barrett on bass, Carlton Barrett on drums, Glen Adams on organ and Alva Lewis on guitar. The same group would later become the Upsetters, the Aggrovators and also the Wailers. Guests like trombonist Rico Rodriguez or saxophonist Tommy McCook might also feature (here on "Going West"). While these bands were clearly mutable there is one outfit you can tell they were chasing, and that is Derrick Harriott's house band The Crystalites. Harriott's band were rock-solid on instrumentals but when they decided to add some patter on their albums it was a smash, Bongo Herman and Bongo Les (the Davis Brothers) added hilarity to "Sic Him, Rover," "Salaam" and other hits. Here at the start there is a blatant imitation of the Crystalites' studio patter and you can sense their presence in the instrumentals too (pianist Gladdy Anderson was in both bands), even in their choice of titles like "Death Rides a Horse," reminiscent of "Undertaker's Burial." Nevertheless this is an instructive disc for anyone interested in how the rocksteady beat mutated into reggae, as both styles are presented side by side. One of Bunny Lee's great innovations was the version: he was short of material, and couldn't afford to pay musicians, so would reuse the same tracks and invite others to sing or toast over an already recorded rhythm. For these the instrumental solos were omitted and these riddim tracks became the forerunner of dub plates. The toasters on here are not the best, there's no I Roy or Big Youth, but instead Dave Barker whose rudimentary style sometimes grates on me and a few others you've probably never heard of (unless you are Mark Gorney). Winston Williams does an imitation of Lord Comic over a Pat Kelly ballad. The other down side is the addition of harmonica solo by Roy Richards which is crap and horrendous Moog synthesizer solos on "Joe Lewis" and U Roy's "Wet Vision," played by Ken Elliott (over Max Romeo's "Wet Dream"). But don't let that deter you. There are 21 cuts on here, all rarities, quite a few back to back versions of familiar rhythms, which make a pleasant set. Delroy Wilson's "Drink Wine" and Stranger Cole's "When I get my freedom" are included. I will probably mute the two or three irritating tracks so I can enjoy it without wincing, and really dig the organ work by Glen Adams and Jackie Mittoo, the snarly snappy drumming of Santa and Carlie Barrett and Fully or Family Man's bass curling like a lizard on a tree branch.


ERNEST RANGLIN & AVILA
BLESS UP (Avilastreetrecords.com)

There's not a lot of info on this CD, apart from song titles. From those we figure that Ernie or his crew have been listening to Abdullah Ibrahim, since they start out with "Bra Joe from Kilimanjaro." There's also a cover of Ibrahim's "Blues for a Hip King" (though less successful), so I suspect the keyboard player Jonathan Korty (or is it Eric Levy?) has been practicing his big walking left hand for some time. On the title cut the sax player (Michael Pelloquin) steps up, so you don't really notice that it is a guitar album. In fact it is a mellow jazz-inflected album, and Ranglin is just a member of the band which, considering his advanced age, is a nice way to hear him rather than the pressure that would result if you expected all guitar all the time. He comes out riffing on track 6, "Joan's Pen," and shows he has not slowed down. Overall the feel is of a very accomplished Jamaican jazz session, but better recorded! Musically too it recalls the pre-Skatalites era, back when the Alpha Boys School grads were a jazz group recording Jazz Jamaica from the Workshop. That album was an early release of Studio One records (August 1962, issued especially for Independence) and featured young Ernie Ranglin "regarded as the most exciting player outside the United States today," according to Sonny Bradshaw. Since then Ranglin went on to appear on countless Jamaican music dates (including Millie Small's "My Boy Lollipop" which exploded Ska onto the British scene in 1964, sessions for Bob Marley, Jimmy Cliff, the Maytals, etc), and more recently a notable tour and album (In Search of the Lost Riddim) with Senegalese star Baaba Maal. This is not a repeat of Below the Bassline, his triumphant 1996 return, because that was based on some well-known Jamaican tunes ("Satta," "54-46" and his instrumental hit "Surfin") and featured legendary sidemen, including Monty Alexander on piano and Roland Alphonso on sax. That summit of giants is a landmark album. This is him in a relatively new setting. I am always wary of pickup bands, because I have suffered through plenty of reggae shows where a headliner just came to town alone and called the tunes while a bunch of local kids thought they could skank it in de bock yaad. But Ranglin has nevertheless put together a creditable band here, with tough horns and the requisite thudding bass (Yossi Fine, producer of Hassan Hakmoun) and (uncredited) Sly-Style drums. There's a tango! "El Mescalero," with harmonica, muted trumpet, Hammond B3 and some dribbling runs on guitar. Yes Ernie, the high octane octogenarian, is still tip top.


STUDIO ONE ROCKSTEADY (Soul Jazz SJRCD277)

When Soul Jazz issued a Roots album of Studio One in 2001 I had some doubts: I don't associate Coxsone's label with Rastafarianism or drum and chant music, but it was an impressive set nonetheless (They dug deep, even finding Count Ossie in the vaults). The latest foray is in safe territory: Rocksteady, a moment between ska and reggae that gave birth to wonderful harmony groups like the Paragons, the Eternals, Carlton & His Shoes, and many others. The album comes out on CD or double LP later this month but I thought I would preview it via the tracklist, since I have most of this material already, assuming their selection is made from 12-inch singles or 45s (& not unreleased tapes; I don't think Coxsone kept many of those). It makes a really nice set with extended instrumental parts that are not dub so much as a coasting-on of the rhythm by the Soul Vendors while you enjoy dreamspace. Ken Boothe's "Home, home, home" is a wonderful instance of a "here it comes again" rhythm, something so simple and cyclically insistent you wonder how you missed it. Dennis Alcapone and Mad Roy both versioned this rhythm. Solo artists include Ken Boothe (one of the giants of the Rocksteady era, with three entries), Alton Ellis, and John Holt (who fronted the Paragons). The album opens with "Stars" by the Eternals which was a Cornell Campbell hit. The Gaylads, backed by the Brentford [Road] Disco Set, give us their uncharacteristically dubby hit "Joy in the Morning." Wailing Soul, one of the most Rootical of the Studio One bands, give us a smoking dub mix of "Row Fisherman," one of their many outstanding early recordings for this label. Organist Jackie Mittoo pops up with "Our thing," while someone encourages us to "Sock it to me," over and over. The soulful trombone soloist on here is probably Don Drummond. This takes us back to Ken Boothe doing "When I fall in love," with Sound Dimension's backing suitably off-kilter. Boothe is followed by the rumbustious "Throw me corn," by Larry Marshall. The bass guitar lead and haunting lyrics of this song have entranced me for decades. This one demands an extended mix, however, as it is frustratingly short rather than succinct. There were six pretty obscure versions on this rhythm; it would be nice if someone turned them up and I would gladly have sacrificed the next cut, "Lick it back" by Duke Morgan (which is definitely NOT Rocksteady), to hear one of them. Then we are graced with the sublime harmonies of Carlton Manning & His Shoes on "Me and You" (from the Love Me Forever album); Carlton told me that he overdubbed all the harmony parts himself! (This one was versioned as "Incessantly" by the Ethiopian.) Most of these are upbeat tracks, though Rocksteady is generally slow and lends itself to mournful ballads Years ago a friend asked me to mix a Rocksteady tape for his wedding: I could only find songs of heartbreak! Alton Ellis' "Hurting me" is one of the latter; Dennis Brown gives us "Easy take it easy," a complaint about someone who is too rough. I couldn't find "Pack up" by the Classics in my archives, until I discovered it's another name for the Wailing Soul, and the song is on their Studio One debut album SOLP1126, hiding in plain sight. The set ends with another "Lover's Rock" single from Ken Boothe, "Moving away," one of the definitive ballads of the Rocksteady era. So turn the light down low and bask in the rocksteady glow.


ROCKSTEADY: THE ROOTS OF REGGAE
(Switzerland, Filmswelike, 2009; Dir: Stascha Bader)

In the mid-sixties Ska transformed into Rocksteady and that sweet laid-back sound never really left, continuing to influence artists such as Massive Attack and the recently departed Amy Winehouse. True, Bob Marley came along in 1970 and Reggae took over the airwaves but the Heptones and others continued to make sweet mellow music. Hopeton Lewis recalls, "I couldn't follow the beat it was just too fast for me." He asked Gladdy Anderson to slow it down, and they recorded "Take it easy" in 1966. Newly independent Jamaica was bursting with musical energy and a staggering number (100,000) of recordings were produced in those halcyon days, when you could walk the streets at night unmolested. If you've ever played in a band you know that most times the rehearsal is better than the gig, and so it is with this film which is about a Rocksteady reunion concert in Kingston in 2009. We only get glimpses of the actual show but the singers are loud and off key and the instruments muffled. However the majority of the film consists of interviews and studio sessions as the legendary figures rehearse their hits with an equally legendary bunch of session men: Ernie Ranglin on guitar, Hux Brown on rhythm guitar, Deadly Headley on sax, Gladstone Anderson on piano, Sly Dunbar on drums, Lloyd Parkes on bass and the percussion trio of Sticky, Skully and Bongo Herman. Among the survivors it's sad to see Derrick Morgan having gone blind but he has had a good life: his wife looks a bit skeptical when he talks about their happy marriage. They were apart for 11 years while she worked as a nurse in Florida, and he mentions the 14 children he fathered with other women. He does an impromptu "Tougher than tough" with Skully on bongo and Hux on acoustic guitar in an old trashed out-door theatre. But the old guys look good and still play superbly. Deadly Headley takes us back to Alpha Boys School where the bemused students accompany Stranger and Gladdy on a strained "Love me today." There is a bit of a landrush to grab others' (not present) tunes: Marcia Griffiths lays claim to the Paragons' "The Tide is High"; "Shanty Town (007)," the Desmond Dekker classic, is dusted off by Ken Boothe. He bridles at the engineer's suggestion they listen to the original, no, he wants a fresh interpretation. Dawn Penn, now a social worker in London, wonders what's in her song that people like? It's just two verses and a chorus... Her 1967 smash hit "(You don't love me) No, no, no" was sampled by scores of others (Rihanna, WuTang Clan, Sean Paul) & is one highlight of this well-filmed and edited movie. Another is the appearance of U-Roy, the father of toasting which, he points out, predates rap music by many years. And the Jamaicans are quick to point out the content of rap -- drugs and guns -- has a negative impact on the culture. Music today does not uplift people's minds, says Ken Boothe. Consciousness-raising is also on the mind of Leroy Sibbles, who sings "Equal Rights." Though the Heptones were mostly known for love songs, other cuts like "Soul Power" or "Fight it to the top" reflected the suffering they saw around them. The guest appearance of a mumbling Rita Marley is the low-point of the documentary. The tour of the kitchen where she and Bob Marley first had sex should have been edited out. But there are plenty of high points, including Ken Boothe's "Freedom Street," showing he still has the vocal chops. The final ten minutes are devoted to a medley of the actual concert, then Stranger Cole comes in for the last word. He has been working in a Tonka Toy factory in Toronto, still struggling all his life, but he stresses that despite the poverty of their beginnings, they were not discouraged but created music that continues to inspire and uplift.


LEE PERRY
RETURN OF SOUND SYSTEM SCRATCH (Pressure Sounds PS70)

Subtitled "More Lee Perry Dub Plate Mixes and Rarities 1972 to 1979," this is a truly great set of little-known material by one of the most original musicians, producers and artists anywhere. I first heard of Perry when I attended a lecture by Brian Eno on "the recording studio as a creative tool" in the 1970s. I knew a bit about dub but nothing really about the enigmatic Jamaican whose eccentricities soon became legendary. According to Eno, Perry was extremely superstitious & had come to distrust certain letters of the alphabet, including E and P -- so now he was known as L. Rry! His Black Ark studio (& his house band the Upsetters) had a productive decade and created some genuine musical masterpieces like Heart of the Congos, and Max Romeo's War ina Babylon. This new disc is full of surprises, treats and revelations. Junior Murvin's "Get Ready" is presented in a bongo mix, that is sweet and light, but then we are swept away by the full force of Bob Marley's "Natural Mystic" in deep and twisted version, with horns, bongos, and Perry torquing the sound, manipulating it like he's kneading dough. There are other familiar tunes, but each has been reconfigured, leaving you guessing which George Faith or Leo Graham tune is being turned on its ear. Indeed George Faith's "I've got the Groove," reimagined as "I've got the Dub," is sinister, with a sinuous bass riding a haunted "Rising Sun" organ (which is almost entirely absent after the intro). There are lyrical moments too, like "Rejoice Jah Jah Children," by the Silvertones, with a toast by Scratch himself & Candy Mackenzie's "Long enough."


LEE PERRY
SIPPLE OUT DEH - THE BLACK ARK YEARS: THE JAMAICAN 7 INCHES (Trojan)

More Lee Perry: the question here is, would you rather have a double CD set of Lee Perry that duplicates a lot of stuff you already have, or a single disc that is all new? I guess there are things to be said for both. In the case of the Trojan double-disc, it's budget priced so maybe you don't mind. Sure, there's "Curly Locks" which everyone has, but then there's a version with Scratch himself doing the toast as he twiddles the knobs. The addition of Junior Byles and the Heptones make this a strong set and a desirable package. Heartbeat (last release 2008) and Blood&Fire (last release 2007) seem to be in eclipse, and I thought Trojan had flat-lined also, but they seem to be reinvigorating their backlist now & issuing some budget CDs. This is a remake of a 2002 package called Lee Perry The Singles Collection. Trojan put out OPEN THE GATE & the UPSETTER BOX SET in 1985 and 1989 and they were great building blocks for a Lee Perry collection (though I have at least 2 dozen of his albums and don't feel any are superfluous). It's great to be reminded of Susan Cadogan's "Do it Baby (a.k.a. Nice and Easy)," but the second half of disc one is all well-known and oft-heard tracks: "Roast Fish and Corn bread," "War ina Babylon," "Ital Corner," "Police & Thieves," Sufferer's time," etc. If for some reason you do not own Arkology or another Lee Perry compilation, then this is a great place to start. Disc Two, likewise, is a mix of old favourites and novelties. "Vibrate onnnn" by Augustus Pablo kicks it off. This has one of Perry's weirdest effects -- the "cow." We get both "Mystery Babylon" and "Babylon Falling" from the Heptones, a real double-header (no baldies). "My little Sandra" by Leo Graham is another old friend, but this second disc has some unknown tracks, which rather than discoveries, go in the "filler" bracket (Junior Ainsworth, Eric Donaldson). Nevertheless, Lord Sassafras' "Green Bay Incident" is an interesting new take on "Dreadlocks in Moonlight," as is the more familiar "Dread at the control" by Mikey Dread. "Have some fun, in this island in the sun!"


JOLLY BOYS
GREAT EXPECTATION (EOne Music)

Remember the Jolly Boys? You might think they were some golden oldies due for the old folks home, after all they used to play house parties for Errol Flynn who gave them their name, according to the Mento music blog. Lead singer Albert Minott is 72, and he sounds like someone who has led a full life and not bothered to take care of his vocal pipes, like Joe Cocker, Rod Stewart or Amy Winehouse. In fact it's an Amy Winehouse hit, "Rehab," that drew me to this band. My brother told me to check it out on Youtube. Minott rasps out the tunes with a stuttering delivery, as if he is about to forget the lyrics. He is backed by banjo and marímbula (known in Jamaica as a marumba box), which perfectly fit the bill in place of guitar and bass. The marumba box is so powerful it does sound like electric bass. For percussion there's maracas, congas and a drum kit played by Dale "Dizzle" Virgo (not seen on the video, but a crucial element since it has a flanger on the snare that gives it an extra sting & sizzle). After playing it ten times in a row, I sought out the album. Purists complain that the playlist is all pop covers and not the Mento repertoire, but it's a really inspired selection, far from the predictable stuff you find on say, Playing for Change. They remember the Jolly Boys as a Mento band, playing "Big Bamboo" & "Wheel & Turn Me" for tourists in a resort hotel in Jamaica, but at a conservative estimate, they have played those tunes 25,000 times, how much new nuance can they find in them? Here they have cut loose with a wild set of tunes by Iggy Pop, New Order, Steely Dan, Johnny Cash, Lou Reed, the Doors, the Stones, Blondie, and the Stranglers, but the songs sound hipper and oddly younger once the mento beat takes over. Iggy's "The Passenger" sounds like it was written for the Jolly Boys, with the jerky banjo line & Minott's deadpan delivery. I wouldn't be surprised to see him dive shirtless into the crowd. Minott also brings incredible pathos to Lou Reed's "Perfect Day," which is lacking in the tentative & bombastic original. Other highlights include "I fought the law," originally recorded by The Crickets. They wind up the album with a smashing reggaeton-inspired take on "You can't always get what you want." Again the laconic delivery of the croaky singer imbues the song with a new layer of meaning & the dubby playing of the ensemble takes it out with class.


THE UNIQUES
ABSOLUTELY ROCKSTEADY (Pressure Sounds 69)

I guess retrenching can be good which is why I dont feel bad about cruising the reggae section and ending up buying old friends, The Uniques, in a new package from Pressure Sounds. As a Slim Smith fan, I know I have some of this, but then there is the additional material that takes you back and makes you linger longer in that state when you first discovered the magic sound of Rocksteady. Slim Smith is the closest thing to Curtis Mayfield as a singer and composer in Jamaican music. According to Jimmy Riley, Smith stole the show wherever he went, leading to a memorable encounter with Bob Marley when they eclipsed the Wailers. He started with the Techniques, then the Uniques, then Smith went solo before a tragedy ended his life at age 24: Locked out of his house, he broke a window to get in, and severed an artery in his arm.

There is so little of this group that it is all precious and Pressure Sounds make quite a few discoveries. They avoid repeating hits (see Pressure Sounds 21), apart from the Studio One smash "You don't care" (also released by The Techniques; but a track I can listen to endlessly), so there's no "Watch this sound," or "My Conversation." The opening cut here, "Give me a love," was on an obscure album called Dance Hall Connection; "Blinded by Love," was on the Clocktower release Just a Dream, and only two cuts are duplicated from the Trojan double-disc CD Keep that lovelight shining, which I already reviewed. They are "People Rocksteady," (a reworking of "People get ready," though the sax player seems to think it's "Blue moon"!) and "Let me go girl." This means that essentially this is 75% new material, including "Facts of life," "This feeling," & "Love & devotion." Actually, the Uniques' sound evolved as they had two backing bands: Lynn Taitt and the Jets and then Bobby Aitken and the Carib Beats, plus a revolving roster of 8 singers (at first it was just Slim Smith and Lloyd Charmers). The Carib Beats' drummer Winston Grennan, who played the distinctive "twinkle-dink" piano on "My Conversation," has never been credited with the creation of the "one drop": the heavy bass drum kick that comes unexpectedly on the third beat of the bar. Bunny Lee says at first they called it "the cow splat!" Now there's a piece of reggae history for ya! These tracks were licensed from Bunny Lee and only one appeared on the Bunny Lee Story box set: their early hit "Let me go girl," which is again followed by the Dawn Penn reply song "I'll let you go." The disc ends with take two of "The Beatitude" (Yes, Slim Smith set a passage of the Bible to music). A great addition to the collection & a rare treat for fans of the Uniques' sound.


ROCKSTEADY: THE ROOTS OF REGGAE (Moll Selekta LC05298)

I love Rocksteady and Mento, the forerunners of reggae. As time goes by and more and more of it is uncovered, we discover what a treasury of sweet melodies and lilting rhythms were delivered in a few years, 1966-68. Now there's a documentary film called Rocksteady -- the Roots of Reggae and this CD is the soundtrack. I haven't seen the film but the album is pleasant and evokes happy memories. Sadly some of the new versions lack the spark of the originals. Not surprising since the artists who survive are well up in years and teetering on the brink of extinction themselves. Guitarist Lynn Tait was brought in to do the arrangements but due to ill health could not complete the project and Ernest Ranglin took over. The musicians -- including Derrick Morgan, Ken Boothe and Leroy Sibbles -- got together for the film's premiere in Montreal to perform. The press release mentions the dread Buena Vista juggernaut: clearly the hope of the producers is to do the same for reggae veterans, but they should know that this is the kiss of death. Not for marketing, but for the musicians! The great U Roy does a lively take of "Stop that Train" (created by Keith & Tex). That song made the soundtrack to The Harder they Come and Westerners got their first taste of DJ toasting with the classic Scotty version "Draw your brakes." Ken Boothe's "Freedom Street" sounds as powerful now as when he wrote it as part of the Gaylads. He is in fine voice (the song is not about Gay liberation), as is Stranger Cole who shows up with his old sidekick Gladdy Anderson tickling the ivories. Dawn Penn redoes "No no no," in the original slow rocksteady version which is OK, but the disco remix is one of the great 12-inch dance party singles. Though many of the great voices, such as Slim Smith and Desmond Dekker, are silent, Jimmy Cliff, Toots & the Maytals and the Paragons are still alive and it's a shame the producers weren't able to get them and had others cover their songs. We also get "Rivers of Babylon" and "Shanty Town" (surely a Ska song) from the Harder they Come soundtrack in cover versions. Selection-wise it's mostly an introduction to the genre: serious fans will want something more substantial like Duke Reid's Treasure Chest on Heartbeat, the 3-disc Bunny Lee set on Jamaica Gold or the 4-disc Bunny Lee set from Jet Star. It's odd that the Harder they Come should be the touchstone for this project, as that was essentially a reggae film. But as far as a soundtrack compilation goes, it will be curious to see how much music actually makes it onto the film and doesn't just fade out under talking.


DELROY WILSON
DUB PLATE STYLE (pressure sounds 64)

If you've looked around this website, you might have noticed my "Desert Island Discs" where I include Delroy Wilson's song "Rain from the Skies," with Don Drummond's trombone solo. Delroy has a heartfelt voice, and imbues his lyrics with great poignancy. He adapted his style from American soul and R&B singers, and covered many Memphis hits in his career (like his classic take on "This old heart of mine" by the Isleys), but for me the off-kilter reggae beat imbues them with a groove lacking in the originals. So you can imagine I am always on the lookout for a fresh shot of Delroy (who drank himself to death in his forties). But I was really disappointed when I got this CD home and found that the title, DUB PLATE STYLE, bears no relation to the contents. I thought a "dub plate" was a version where they flipped the single and gave you an extended mix ... anyway this is just another Delroy Wilson greatest hits compilation. It duplicates the following tracks from his previous 22 Magnificent Hits compilation on Graylan Records: "I'm still waiting," "Can I change my mind," "Living in the footsteps of another man," "Better must come," "Rain from the skies," "She is just a play girl," "Here come the heartaches," "Mash it up," "Stick by me," "Trying to conquer me," & "Everyone must be judged." That leaves 9 tracks that are not on the previous Delroy Wilson collection. It's nice enough -- I enjoy the Bunny Lee sound, the familiar flying cymbal and the wound-up tight sound of The Aggrovators (a name that covers every available session musician in Kingston in the late 70s) -- but I hate it when they do this. The publicity for the label claims these are different mixes, but they are indistinguishable from the previous disc. There's a volume two in the works: I will probably fall for that one also.


JUNIOR MURVIN
INNA DE YARD (Makasound/InnaDeYard 2007)

Unfortunately I was spoiled by hearing the Viceroys disc in this series first, so all the others have paled in comparison, but Junior Murvin's entry cannot be written off. While it's true that Murvin is a bit of a one-hit wonder, I was curious to hear how he would hold up in the unplugged context. His massive hit, "Police and Thieves," just wont quit, even though it relies on studio effects for its full impact. A combination of his falsetto and the great Lee Perry's studio magic made it one of the enduring anthems from the Black Ark, first issued in 1976. It's the centrepiece of the essential ARKOLOGY box set (Island), and is surrounded by instrumentals, versions and Jah Lion's toast. Eight years later, in 1984 Murvin was still trying to recover the moment when he made a sequel called "Muggers in the street," that was the same song. He also hit with "Roots Train," and covered American soul songs, particularly those of Curtis Mayfield ("People get ready," "Closer together"), though he never had the vocal range of Slim Smith, Freddie McKay, Cornell Campbell or Horace Andy. In fact his Black Ark success may lie in the similarity of his vocal style to Cedric Myton of the Congos. Like the other discs in this series, Earl "Chinna" Smith's guitar anchors it, and various guests float in and out, notably some relaxed but persistent nyabinghi drummers. Though Murvin's falsetto is stretched to the limit & he loses it on the Mayfield impressions, there is overall a mellow relaxed quality to the set. But he feels his true milieu is on ballads like "Closer," and if you can forgive the occasionally tortured tonsils, it works really well, mainly because of the simple setting. Chinna is superb on this, playing with a deft jazz touch. Then a fuller band emerges for "Roots Train," with bass, organ and percussion, and it wells up into a small epiphany. "Soloman" by Derek Harriott is up next. Murvin's voice sounds strained by the time we get to "World Inflation," but his message is on the money. The short set ends with Bill Withers' "Aint no sunshine," and you can almost hear the reverb and echo delay on the chorus. Sweet.


THE ROYALS
PICK UP THE PIECES (Pressure Sounds 36)

I am always in need of a good reggae/rocksteady fix. Papa Freddy, my old musical mentor, recommended this disc on the ever-reliable Pressure Sounds label, but at first I thought it was an imitation of the Techniques or the 'Eptones. Then I played it in the background and started to get into the familiar rhythms, the lulling strains of Tommy McCook and Bobby Ellis' horns. The Royals was the band of Roy Cousins and flourished from 68 to 79, a golden age for Jamaican music that equalled the tremendous output of the USA with Mussel Shoals, Detroit and Bourbon Street. The Drifters and the Temptations were in the air as young Roy went to primary school in Kingston. And, incredibly, in his infants class were future musicians Ansel Collins, Wire Lindo, Fish Clarke, and singers Bernard Collins (The Abyssinians), Naggo Morris (Heptones) and Lloyd Parks of the Termites. Roy tried out at Studio One with various sets of mates and was repeatedly turned down. On his third try Coxsone recorded a session but never released any tunes until Larry Marshall found "Pick up the pieces" on an old tape and versioned it. Lee Perry, who had been Coxsone's ears, hired Cousins' group to sing backup at his Black Ark, but they still could not get records out other than one-shots at Federal or Treasure Isle. Finally Cousins started his own Wambesi label and paid the musicians himself from his wages at the post office. He would often come out of work on a Friday to find musicians waiting for payment for a past session. It's surprising, given the quality of the songs, but he had a vision and pursued it. These few sides are up there with the best of the Tennors, the Pioneers, or the Heptones. Cousins' lyrics are strong and heartfelt. A decade after "Pick up the pieces" it was picked up by an English label and in 2002 Pressure Sounds put together this great compilation. Once I get it broken in & familiarized, I will spring for the companion version and dub sides which Pressure Sounds has also considerately assembled.


MICRON MUSIC: EVERY MOUTH MUST BE FED 1973 to 1976
(Pressure Sounds 59; also on LP)

Pressure Sounds rarely misses a beat. (They are also on thin ice as we seem to be at the end of the CD era: hang onto those Blood & Fire discs which are now out of print as the label is defunct.) There are several styles of reggae here and while there are familiar rhythms with versions and toasts they seemed, on first listening, disjointed. Then I read the liner notes (the bits that are not in red type on green paper which cannot be read) and listened a few more times and it made sense. Micron Music was the label of Pete Weston, a bit of a chancer who had a knack for picking hits. Without production facilities the Micron team would rent studio space and use the various producers in Kingston which is why some tracks sound like Bunny Lee and others sound like Lee Perry or King Tubby. I first heard it on Rob Walsh's radio show on Sunday (it's one of the amazing things of the Net that you can find kindred spirits in other parts of the globe, so I regularly tune into Bradford Community Radio on Sunday afternoon to hear Rob's show), and Rob of course played the best cut, Junior Byles' "Aint too proud to beg." So I walked the 5 blocks to Amoeba and bought it as soon as the show was over and listened to it once, then put on a Jr Byles disc instead. But the mix grew on me, especially the appearances of I Roy & the other Jr Byles tracks. His cut "Lorna Banana" is a smoker and includes a chorus of "I wish it would rain." The version, "Revolution is for the Chinaman" by Pete Weston & The Flames, has groovy bongo. Then we get one of those payback versions, "Straight to Scratch Head." (Does Lee Perry have a brother called Sniff?) "Ska Baby" by Bobby Ellis is darn catchy. Sleepers like The Defenders are followed by a toast from U Roy called "Right to Live," which pops up over a mix of Cornell Campbell's "Keep on moving." I would like to hear the Cornell Campbell track for reference (I don't think I have it unless it's on another compilation; I need an intern to catalogue my music), and there's another instrumental which sounds like one of his tunes, so why were they omitted, other than the obvious reason to save time? Similarly there's a Tommy McCook instrumental called "Tribute to Muhammad Ali," which sounds like "Forgot to be your lover," but there's no "A" side to ground it. Maybe they are planning a second disc if this one does well, so buy it, & encourage Pressure Sounds, the bearers of the reggae flame.