Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Rocksteady Rises

Rocksteady Rises
A wave of reggae producers and singers look to rocksteady for inspiration.

(New Rocksteady singer Alpheus)

Rocksteady, a transitional Jamaican music genre that followed ska and predated reggae between the years 1966 to 1970 created a lasting impression on successive generations of producers and singers. Labels such as Duke Ried’s Treasure Isle and Clement “Coxsone” Dodd’s Studio One label defined the easy, swinging melodic style of this time. Some consider the rocksteady period Jamaican music’s Golden Era -- and there’s some truth to that statement.

Different interpretations of the melodies from rocksteady era songs such as Alton Ellis’s “I’m Just A Guy,” Slim Smith’s “Rougher Yet” and the Heptones “Party Time” were frequently remade in reggae’s 1980s rub-a-dub period as well as intermittently up to the present day.

But a new trend has emerged, forged by equal parts nostalgia and respect for rocksteady’s simple instrumentation and beautiful musical arrangements. Call it a rocksteady revival, or simply a new chapter in Jamaican music; whatever the case, the original rocksteady sound is back, with a new crop of singers making it their own.

Two entities that have enabled the rocksteady revival include singer Bitty McLean and British record label Peckings. McLean’s 2004 lovers-rock hit “Walk Away From Love” (riding on Alton Ellis’s Treasure Isle smash “Get Ready -Rock Steady”) set the stage for artists and producers to use original rocksteady backing tracks rather than replayed or sampled versions. Similarly, British-born singer Roger Robin created a stir with his 2006 album Take It Slow (VP). The title track used Ellis’s “I Can’t Stand It.” Additionally, Peckings Old School, Young Blood compilation, and McLean’s On Bond Street albums are amazing sets featuring original musical arrangements by Tommy McCook & The Supersonics.

Since these two major releases, a groundswell of new rocksteady-backed tracks has emerged from singers old and new. The following releases represent some of the better recent singles in this joyous revival style:

Alpheus “Ultimate” (A Lone Productions) Riddim: Dirty Dozen
Glen Washington “In The Distance” (A Lone Productions) Riddim: Dirty Dozen
Alpheus “Keep The Faith” (A Lone Productions) Riddim: Family
Spanish label A Lone Productions has issued several great new rocksteady-style singles.

Shinehead “I Love You” (white label) Riddim: “Get Ready (Rock Steady)”
Matches Bitty McLean’s “Walk Away From Love.”

Richie Davis “Since We Broke Up” (Peckings) Riddim: Studio One
This Peckings production also features versions from love crooner John McLean and singer Lady Lex.

Peter Hunningale/John McLean “Game of Love” (Peckings) Riddim: Studio One
Nice Lloyd Brown track on the flipside.