Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Rare Roots & New Riddims + Eddie Goes One-Drop

New Kingston
2014 was dominated by US and Pacific Rim-based reggae-rock artists. The Green, Rebelution, SOJA and the Dirty Heads were the among the groups that outpaced strong releases from Jamaican acts like Sly & Robbie, Shaggy, Chronixx, and Duane Stephenson. Meanwhile, international artists like London's Hollie Cook and Canada's Esco Levi and Magic also made significant inroads with global reggae audiences.

2015 may see more of the same but perhaps it will be tempered by stronger output from higher profile Jamaican talents. Time will tell. In the meantime, here's a peak at notable new titles coming soon or ready for your listening enjoyment now.

Out now: Dub Syndicate's Hard Food, from the UK/Jamaica outfit founded by On-U Sound producer Adrian Sherwood and the tragically murdered Style Scott, former drummer with the Roots Radics band. The album features heavy cameos from Bunny Wailer, U-Roy and Lee Scratch Perry. Reggaeville has a heartfelt review, aptly placing the release into the important context it deserves. For more on Style Scott's legacy, view The Guardian's respectful obit.

Also out nowMarlon Asher Illusions, the latest album from the popular Trinidadian singer, famous for his hit "Ganja Farmer." British lovers rock singer Lady Lex has teamed up with rocksteady-influenced producer Peckings for Is This Love, a genuine set of songs built from original Treasure Isle and other rocksteady riddims. Canada's excellent dub-electronica producer Dubmatix is offering a free download from his latest release Mysterium Dub. And if a quality one-drop riddim juggling is your thing, grab the new Reggae Island Riddim that features Serani, Khago, Bugle, Nature and Dexta Daps among others.

Singles-wise, there's some strong offerings out now, including Sevana Siren's sweet lovers rock track "A Bit Too Shy," produced by Winta James & Protoje for In.Digg.Nation Collective/Overstand Entertainment. On a similar tip is Germany's Sara Lugo featuring Protoje on "Really Like You," feel good reggae at it's best. Lugo's Hit Me With Music album is out now.

Phil Watkis has a sincere one-drop track in "Falling For You." His voice recalls smooth '90s/00s romantic crooners like Beres Hammond, Lloyd Brown, Sanchez or Tony Curtis. For something a little bit rougher, yet still harkening back to classic digital dancehall, Serocee's "Rude Boy Selection" has it all: A Tenor Saw sample, rude low-end bass and gruff, baritone-timbre lyrics.

January 20
Northern California's Jah Sun  has linked with top-flight Austrian band and production team House of Riddim for New Paradigm. You can hear a killer album preview on Soundcloud. The album features solidly build modern roots reggae and conscious lyrics from this rising young sing-jay. 

More established but always innovative, Italian/Jamaican artist Alborosie releases Sound The System Showcase, a dubby discomix rework of his most recent album. The new version features extended mixes and dubs.

January 27
Easy Star Records had a lot of big records and success in 2014, releasing new titles from Giant Panda Guerilla Dub Squad and Backbeat Soundsystem. Now the label has signed Brooklyn's New Kingston and will release Kingston City. This brother-led group bring an innovative new school approach to live roots reggae – a little like Morgan Heritage or Steel Pulse but definitely pushing their own aesthetic.

While he had a long and prolific comedy and movie career, Eddie Murphy is evolving into quite a legitimate reggae singer. "Oh Jah Jah" is his best song to date, a slow one-drop roots track that would sound right at home on a Midnite album. The single is out digitally January 27.

Premier UK label Pressure Sounds reissues a heavy album, Consider Yourself, by The Inturns on vinyl and digital formats. This vocal trio, produced by the great Phil Pratt, featured Viceroy's cofounder Wesley Tinglin on lead vocal. His passionate delivery was probably only bested at the time by Dennis Brown.

February 3
February 6 marks the celebration of what would have been Bob Marley's 70th birthday. The Marley Estate and Universal Music plan special releases throughout the year, commencing with Bob Marley & The Wailers Easy Skanking in Boston '78 (Tuff Gong/Universal), a previously unreleased live set with accompanying Blu-Ray DVD. The show includes classics like "The Heathen" and "War" with the Barrett brothers rhythm section and I-Threes on backing vocals. Classically Wailers, at their prime. 

African reggae has a long and fertile history with stars like Alpha Blondy and Lucky Dube garnering global acclaim. To this fold comes Ghana's Selasee Atiase & Fafa Family and their new release Time For Peace. My friend Garrett Baker summed it up nicely like this: "Ghana. A proud kingdom that’s flourished in the decades since independence. It’s the home of highlife, the musical style that spread all across Anglophone West Africa before taking a turn for the global. And highlife, sweetly blended with reggae and soul, is the root of Time for Peace, the new album by Selasee & Fafa Family."

February 17
Later in February Bay Area rocksteady soul crooner Rusty Zinn releases The Reggae Soul of Rusty Zinn. Zinn is a talented and experienced live musician and reggae fan to the core. The album should introduce his talents to many new ears. 

Turning back the clock to Jamaica's most fertile era of roots reggae, the Yabby You's retrospective Dread Prophecy is released on Shanachie. For those unfamiliar with Yabby You's legacy, he was a hugely influential singer and producer in the '70s who worked alongside King Tubby and produced great tracks by Big Youth, Trinity and Michael Prophet. Get to know this roots icon!

And speaking of rare roots music, a real gem drops on the 17th with the ultra-rare reissue Red by Bunny Lion (a alias of the DJ Puddy Roots of Killamanjaro & King Jammy$ sound systems. Produced by the great Linval Thompson (Johnny Clarke, Rod Taylor, Mystic Eyes) the album charts a crucial moment as roots reggae was transitioning to what would become rub-a-dub style dancehall. Check a preview below.

March 10
East London band The Skints mix reggae with other urban styles on their new album for Easy Star produced by Prince Fatty (Hollie Cook, Horseman etc). Infused with a punk and hip-hop attitude but solid reggae chops, the Skints unite myriad British sound system culture elements in a vibrant live presentation. Think The Clash mixed with Dizzy Rascal. Also in March Konshens' brother Delus releases a new album Public Relations.

Coming soon: A reissue of Black Symbol's absolutely killer self-titled Black Symbol on Reggae Archive Records, a division of the ever-active Bristol Archive label. Like fellow Brits Misty In Roots or Jamaica's Twinkle Brothers this band specialized in truly "dread" heavy roots reggae. The singer has just a touch of Burning Spear's inflection, while the band fills in the spaces with superb guitar, organ and percussion-driven reggae. Each track on the album features a dub version.

PS: For more news, check out Clash Magazine's latest reggae round-up featuring new releases, videos and Jamaican event reviews.