Prince Fatty: Supersized

PRINCE FATTY

SUPER SIZE

[MR BONGO]

Prince Fatty’s debut album, Survival Of The Fattest, was the kind of joyous, old school sounding reggae release that couldn’t fail to put a smile on the face of even the meanest screwface. Happily for us, these same qualities underpin every track on this follow-up, again produced by Mike “Fatty” Pelancoli at his Brighton hideaway.

Tracks by Horseman, he of mid-eighties’ Horseman Giddy-Up fame, inject a welcome element of fun into the mix, and especially when paying tribute to Notorious BIG on Shimmy Shimmy Ya, or cutting loose on a cut of Cypress Hill’s Insane In The Membrane that careers through several dizzying changes of tempo. Already a dancefloor favourite, that one’s balanced by a stirring reworking of Christopher Columbus by Little Roy [who’s also heard on Still I Wanna Love You] and a cut of Bruce Ruffin’s Dry Your Tears, courtesy of Winston Francis, that fair takes the breath away. The former Studio One veteran’s mellifluous vocals can also be heard on Ain’t Got It and Come On Girl – tracks that confirm Winston’s timeless appeal and reveal the depth of Fatty’s appreciation for dub and early eighties’ style dancehall.

Super Size has it all since in addition to vocal and deejay tracks, we’re treated to generous helpings of vintage style reggae drum and bass that uplift the spirits, rather than head down the brutal, minimalist route favoured by many UK crews. We’re not talking versions here but standalone dubs, and how long is it since anyone included anything like that on a commercial reggae release?

For proof of how refreshing this can sound in the hands of people who really know what they’re doing, check out Roof Over My Dub and Bedroom Eyes Dub, featuring Little Roy and Natty respectively. And whereas Roof revisits a rockers’ format, the mix of Come On Girl has much in common with those speakerbox-shaking tunes producers like Jah Thomas used to make at Channel One, when engineers like Scientist ruled the roost. There’s an even a touch of lovers’ rock heard on That Very Night In Dub, co-starring Hollie Cook and a revitalised Dennis Alcapone. If there’s a more sultry young singer in reggae than the Slits’ Ms Cook, I’ve yet to hear them. Fatty’s learnt his lessons well and where exciting new dubmixers are concerned, there’s no one to touch him right now.

 

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Bob Sinclar: Made In Jamaica

BOB SINCLAR WITH SLY & ROBBIE
MADE IN JAMAICA

[YELLOW PRODUCTIONS]

Made In Jamaica gathers up a dozen or so remixes of previous Bob Sinclar hits so don’t go mistaking these versions for the originals. Also, the music’s not Sinclar’s usual brand of dance / pop beats but Jamaican style reggae fit for an international audience, as typified by Shaggy & Sahara’s I Wanna. Mr. Boombastic’s catchy lyrics dovetail perfectly with Sahara’s girly vocals, which are brushed up with a touch of Autotune just to make DJs and r & b fans happy. It makes an obvious lead track, and yet it’s in good company.

One of the French DJ / producer’s biggest hits is Love Generation, featuring Gary “Nesta” Pines. He sings a bit like Marley, which is inevitable after his stint leading the Wailers. The eight-minute cut included here is mesmeric, just like so much sticky, old school reggae from the late seventies. This is hardly surprising. The Made In Jamaica sessions took place at Anchor studios last October and with the same group of session players Serge Gainsbourg used when recording Aux Armes Et Caetera back in 1978. For those unfamiliar with the French lothario’s work, we’re talking Sly & Robbie, Mikey Chung, Robbie Lyn and Sticky Thompson, plus Ronald “Nambo” Robinson and Dean Fraser from the Rass Brass horn section. You can’t get much better than that, and there are other guests you should know about too.

Tony Rebel pops up on Jamaican Avenue, sing-jaying like a master and borrowing from Eddy Grant’s Electric Avenue over a dubby rhythm with burbling keyboards and choral harmonies. What a track! Rarely has heavy dub sounded so sweet and clean. The bouncy Sound Of Freedom, again featuring Pine is a club track, and a match for Marley’s Could You Be Loved in its dance-floor appeal. Pines’ singer / deejay combination with Dollarman works like a dream on that one, whilst World Hold On features Steve Edwards, who sang Peace Song and People Of Tomorrow on Sinclar’s last album. This new version of Peace Song is part dub, whilst Kiss My Eyes finds Camille Lafert invoking the spirit and sound of Grace Jones. Mikey Chung’s lead guitar on this track is worthy of George Benson at his best and we haven’t even mentioned I Feel For You yet, starring Queen Ifrica.

Bob Sinclar may not be a name on every reggae fan’s lips, but on the strength of this album, it deserves to be.

Pablo Moses: Revolutionary Dream

PABLO MOSES

REVOLUTIONARY DREAM

[ACOUSTIC MUSIC]

PABLO MOSES

A SONG

[ACOUSTIC MUSIC]

Pablo Moses went on to record some fine music after the mid-to-late seventies’ sessions that yielded Revolutionary Dream and A Song, yet these two albums are rightfully considered to be his masterpieces.

The first contains his 1975 debut single A Man A Grasshopper – a humble Rastaman’s defence of ganja-smoking recorded at Lee “Scratch” Perry’s Black Ark and that British reggae lovers were quick to hail alongside Burning Spear’s work from the same period. Both artists favoured conscious, Biblically inspired lyrics and deep roots rhythms embellished by flurries of organ and lead guitar. Neither were especially good singers in the technical sense, except there’s an expressive quality to what they do that hypnotises listeners into believing their every utterance. “Who feels it knows it” indeed. When Revolutionary Dream finally appeared it immediately attained cult status on the strength of tracks like Blood Money, A Love I Bring, Corrupted Man, the call to arms that is We Should Be In Angola and Give I Fe I Name, on which he urges Jamaica’s African descendants to cast off their European slave names. Recorded at Joe Gibbs with a complement of star session players [most of them recruited from Now Generation], Revolutionary Dream deserves a place in all serious reggae collections.

By the time A Song was first released it was the beginning of the dancehall era. The Jamaican public’s interest in roots rock reggae had began to wane although Pablo – who’d made the trip from rural Manchester to Kingston in search of a musical career – wasn’t for turning, and continued to make the style of music that had taken reggae and Rastafari international less than a decade earlier, albeit with marked contrasts. Always open to improvement, he’d spent two years studying at Jamaica’s School Of Music since the release of Revolutionary Dream and you can hear the difference this made in every song from the follow-up, again produced by Geoffrey Chung. Highlights include Dubbing Is A Must, Revolutionary Step, Music Is My Desire and One People but every song’s first-rate, and both albums contain bonus dub tracks.

Kush I: Solid Ground

KUSH I

SOLID GROUND

[GLOVER MEDIA]

Looking for a modern-day roots reggae album that offers something fresh and different from the oft-times predictable music coming from yard? Errol “Kush I” Henry sounds a little like Garnett Silk, which is no bad thing except there’s a lighter feel to his vocals that would lend itself just as happily to soul or r & b. He’s a good songwriter too, whether delivering breezy reggae gospel on songs like Conference Table, Frankincense, Living Again and Seek Ye First, or shedding conscious light on everyday concerns, as heard on Be Yourself, Poor Man’s Love and Nothing But Dust, on which he implores us “never to lean upon our understanding” but always seek to widen our perspective.

Organise reveals a more uncompromising side to his oeuvre as urges black people to “organise, sit down, reason and talk, otherwise Babylon gonna kill you off…” Toxic Rain is another hard-hitting roots number – a flash of hard, cold steel in an otherwise unbroken outpouring of Rasta love and principles. Even his more romantic songs like Love Fool, Mother Of Eternity, Run Come Love You and Sweetest Affection never stray from this benign and all-embracing worldview.

By Kush I’s reasoning it’s time for people to prove themselves and he’s done exactly that on this impressive debut. Each and every element – vocals, writing, rhythms and production – is first-rate and borrowing Luciano’s backing singers, the Daffodils, as well as Dean Fraser, Paul “Lymie” Murray, members of the Firehouse Crew and other top-flight JA session musicians was a smart move too! Every track is finely crafted as a result, whilst recording took place at a variety of studios, including Anchor, Tuff Gong, Mixing Lab, Mafia & Fluxy’s and Star Trail.

 

 

Various: Hi Grade Ganja Anthems 3


 

VARIOUS ARTISTS

HI GRADE GANJA ANTHEMS 3

[GREENSLEEVES]

The strap-line screams “18 Blazing Classics!” but the packaging’s even more impressive than the track-listing as Greensleeves cleverly reproduce the Wailers’Catch A Fire Zippo lighter cover on the inside artwork and include a handy pack of king-size cigarette papers, all neatly kitted in marijuana leaf patterns. It’s a marvellous design – one that’s arresting in every sense, despite the selection itself running out of puff towards the end.

High on the most wanted list is Busy Signal’s Spliff Tail for Shane Brown’s Jukeboxx label, Capleton’s Acres, Alborosie’s Real Story on which he mimics Eek A Mouse and Collie Buddz’ former No. 1 hit Come Around – a veritable anthem that put Bermuda’s finest on the map and remains one of the most graphic descriptions of herb dealings ever committed to hard drive. Reggae connoisseurs will delight in Lukie D’s One Cup A Day and Sizzla’s Free Up The Herbs, both voiced over a Maximum Sounds’ cut of I Know Myself, whilst Tarrus Riley’s Herbs Promotionfeatures De Marco and Vybz Kartel and tells the story of surviving a police raid with their precious stash still intact. It’s unbelievable – and not to say an outright injustice – that people are still being harassed and imprisoned because of a plant, whilst more damaging substances like alcohol and tobacco are freely available. That’s why reggae artists like those assembled here continue to man the barricades and sing about marijuana. They are standing up for something they believe in, and calling for an end to the wilful ignorance and no doubt dirty-handed politricks that continue to make criminals of so many good people around the world.

With this in mind every track here’s a winner, no matter whether it’s Ziggi licking out against cocaine on a cut of Tristan Palmer’s Joker Smoker; Inner Circle saying pretty much the same thing in tandem with West Coast reggae rockers Slightly Stoopid, Bushman reviving Peter Tosh’s Legalise It or Morgan Heritage highlighting ganja’s healing qualities on Plant Up The Herbs, which is the kind of well reasoned defence no doubter could refuse.

 

UB40: Collectors Edition

UB40

SIGNING OFF: COLLECTORS’ EDITION

[VIRGIN]

 

It’s been thirty years since the release of UB40’s debut album and the band are celebrating by touring some of the smaller venues they first headlined back then, and also playing a two-part set that includes Signing Off in its entirety. That’s going to stir up a few memories. UB40 didn’t fit in easily with either Jamaican reggae or 2Tone and yet that first album, wrapped in an unemployment benefit form as if dressed for class war, was ubiquitous at the time.

A mix of reggae, dub and even a little jazz, it sounded unlike anything else from that period and left us in no doubt they were serious about both their music and political stance. Opening with a protest song about a black man imprisoned unfairly for murder in a Louisana state jail saw to that, and also the tribute to Dr. Martin Luther King that asked, “King. Where are your people now?” Other tracks like Food For Thought, which lambasted politicians for their cynical attempts to take advantage of Third World suffering and the class conscious Little By Little again reinforced this multi-racial band’s raison de entre.

Recorded during the initial stages of Thatcherism and then released just in time for the riots that erupted throughout Britain’s mainly black inner city communities, Signing Off was a rallying cry for everyone who knew or sensed that the country was in danger of becoming a police state. Civil liberties and workers’ rights were under siege, and the liberal advances of the sixties and seventies being attacked by an increasingly repressive right-wing rearguard action. Whilst it was King, Food For Thought and the Randy Newman cover I Think It’s Going To Rain Today that appeared on 45, it was Burden Of Shame that provided the album with its moody, atmospheric centerpiece. “I’m a British subject and not proud of it while I carry the burden of shame,” lead singer Ali Campbell laments, after announcing how “bloody deeds have been done in my name.” It was the National Front, not the BNP or EDL who were spouting race hate back in 1980 and the band’s opposition to such shameful ignorance remains undiminished to this day, as underlined by their support for Love Music, Hate Racism.

The remainder of the original album was taken up by instrumentals like 12 Bar, 25%, Adella and the title track. Whilst clearly inspired by Jamaican dub, these added something different to the genre. At no stage were UB40 trying to compete with or pass for their yardie peers. Right from the start they made it clear they had their own sound and like them or not, that’s still true all these years later. Just to make the package even more enticing, the bonus CD contains 12” versions of several tracks – including another 1980 single, The Earth Dies Screaming b/w Dream A Lie – additional material such as Reefer Madness, Madam Medusa and Strange Fruit, as well as live radio sessions recorded for John Peel and Kid Jensen.

 

 

Luciano: United States Of Africa

 

LUCIANO

UNITED STATES OF AFRICA

[VP RECORDS]

 

Dean Fraser’s best efforts aside, this is the most satisfying Luciano album in a long while. His singing is strong, soulful and committed, and his writing focussed throughout. In essence, United States Of Africa is a concept album, and driven by a vision of African unity that whilst rooted in awareness of colonial injustices, resolutely steers clear of blame, bitterness or self-pity.

“Ethiopia set the golden rule. I cannot chant my songs in a strange land,” he sings on Footstool, whilst Unite Africa opens with an extract from one of Emperor Haile Selassie I’s speeches and finds the Messenger pleading on behalf of the Motherland with the line, “Don’t let the system destroy our people.” Songs like these, King Of Kings and the title track leave us in no doubt of his broader cultural and spiritual remit. As a Rastaman, Luciano’s bond with Africa stretches back to the beginning of time and yet never once does he descend into empty rhetoric. That’s partially because he’s been touring the African continent for more than a decade now and therefore has plenty of actual experience to draw upon. Yet it’s also because in Frenchie of Maximum Sound, he has a producer capable of coaxing the best from him, and who knows what Luciano’s legions of fans want to hear.

Generally speaking, the singer hasn’t benefited from a cohesive “house” sound and style since leaving Xterminator in 1998. His output since then has suffered from sloppiness at times but the fact that these fifteen tracks could easily pass for Xterminator productions may explain why Luciano has again hit renewed heights both vocally and lyrically. Tracks like the autobiographical I Will Follow and Invasion [a cut of Ernest Wilson’s I Know Myself] would have sat well on any of his albums for Fatis Burrell, but the same attention to detail that distinguished his Xterminator productions can be heard here too, and especially in Frenchie’s choice of rhythms, his insistence on good song construction and impressive use of harmonies.

Highlights are plentiful, but include the tales of everyday struggle heard on Be Aware and Recession; also Welcome To Jamrock cut A No Like We No Like Them and Hosanna, which he’s voiced over Bunny Lee’s slice of Creation Rebel. Nor should we overlook Murder And Thief, with its references to “bad men shooting it out with the police.” If this song sounds especially heartfelt it’s no wonder, since a wanted man was gunned down at the singer’s home only months ago, after attempting to use two of his children as a human shield.

Life in Jamaica isn’t easy except you’d never know it listening to the tender Nubian Queen, or the gospel-infused Only Jah Can Save Us Now. That’s the magic of this particular artist though. He’s a joy-bringer, and United States Of Africa deserves a place among his very best work of the past decade.