Toxic featuring Aphrodite Delacrux Horus Records – 7” & digital download
Cover versions in music are an emotive subject, particularly if you are really passionate about music. Hearing one of your favourite songs, by one of your favourite artists, mangled in an attempt to ‘reinterpret’ the song is extremely annoying! The one that grates most for me is Annie Lennox butchering Bob Marley’s ‘Waiting in Vain’. It’s horrible!!!
But it can work, I do love Sheila Hylton’s cover of the Police song ‘Bed’s Too Big Without You’. Another one that clicks is this version of Britney Spears’ ‘Toxic’, just released by London based label Horus Records. Admittedly I am not a Spears fan, but Toxic is a cracking song, it’s all emotion and sensuality and really lends itself to being ‘reggaefied’.
SHEILA HYLTON - Bed's Too Big Without You 12" extended 1980 Reggae Soul - YouTube
I have featured Horus Records and main man Ben Bell before, you can read a little more here. They are one of those labels that add a bit of class to everything they do and I don’t think they have a mediocre release to their name. Toxic features the rather beautiful vocals of the ‘mysterious’ Aphrodite Delacrux, although if you ask me that name has the whiff of a pseudonym, but I could be wrong. They have kept the essence of the song but added a ruff and ready sheen to it. I do like that they recorded it live straight to tape, it does make the track feel more raw.
Taking a ska/rocksteady beat and combining it with a silky voiced soul singer is not a new thing, but these modern takes on the style seem to work perfectly. When you consider the development of Caribbean music and that time before the Islands found their own voice, it was American RnB drifting over the airwaves that provided early influences. So it’s no wonder that there is a natural fit between the genres.
This review features an interesting guy called Anthony Abbinanti and the Chicago based record label he runs called Happy As A Lark. His two new singles ‘Never Thought’ and ‘Think Again’ are now in the shops and are perfect examples of mixing together the best of each sound.
Renaldo Domino - Never Thought - YouTube
Happy As A Lark
I caught up with Anthony to find out a little more about the background of the label (I do like to know what motivates music lovers!). Growing up in Chicago, Anthony had to work to develop his love of Jamaican music. Although there some good reggae shops, like the long gone Studio 1 Records and Conquering Lion Records, as a young teenager they weren’t yet on his radar. I shall let him explain. “I got into reggae through the ska-craze of the 90s. I had just started high school when it had reached a level of ‘underground accessible’ but was still not mainstream.”
“I also fancied myself a jazz fan and so always gravitated more towards the ‘traditional’ ska, usually played by more musically accomplished artists. Most record shops I visited back then lumped all ‘ethnic’ music into the ‘international’ bin, so that’s where I would hunt for ska albums.”
“So mostly I would only turn up not-so-great releases from the 80s by The Skatalites and Toots, but every once in a while I would find albums by intriguing artists with names like ‘Yellowman’ and ‘Prince Far I’, or albums enigmatically titled ‘Night Food’ and ‘Two Sevens Clash’. Being a student of music, I would research these as best I could (pre-Google), but this is how my love affair with reggae music began.”
I find that the motivation behind starting a label tends to be a way that owners can showcase their musicianship or production skills. Anthony seems to have followed that path. “Happy As A Lark was a natural next-step in what I had been doing musically. Over the last 15 years I’ve been building up a studio to record my band(s) as well as friends’ bands and like-minded folks. Most of the groups I had been playing with are largely disbanded now, but I still have the bug to create and share music – so it just seemed logical to focus more on studio output and then construct a vehicle to get it out (basically, something that didn’t rely on touring).”
Labour of Love
Like most labels I feature in this blog, they are a labour of love, you certainly don’t go into it expecting to become a millionaire! One of the most difficult things is choosing what you think your audience may like. This is something Anthony obviously mulls over. “It’s a perpetual struggle to know what is going to sell, what is going to excite people. We’re doing niche music in an even niche-er format (7″ records). And if there’s one thing I’ve noticed it’s that the reggae vinyl community does not embrace new releases with the same fervour that the soul vinyl community does. New boogie/funk/soul 7″s are in hot demand, however there seems to be a distinction with reggae vinyl heads, that they only want vintage. There’s nothing wrong with that, it just means we have to search harder for our audience.”
Despite the uncertainty of what release is going click, Anthony I think has got it just right with these two singles. Both are built from the same tune, but they offer enough variation to make them both must haves. The main track ‘Never Thought’ is pure liquid gold. Chicago soul legend Renaldo Domino was recruited to voice this track and his falsetto vocals give the song a proper dreamy feel to it.
If you are going to succeed with this style then you have wear your heart on your sleeve and sing and play with convincing emotion. Never Thought does this and you would have to have a hard heart not to be swept along in its wake.
The second A side features a more deejay led version, courtesy of singer Lone Ranger. The production, courtesy of xRob Black, is more playful with some echoes and effects thrown in to give it a more boisterous edge. The B side ‘Lunar Report’ is also a cracking tune, different from the others in that it is a bouncy full on ska monster with a space feel to it. Think ‘Telstar’ by The Tornados given the ska treatment.
Dubateers – Excluded Limited CD & Digital download
I get sent a very wide range of reggae to review and it can be a very broad spectrum. At one end are the sanitised, light songs that I like to describe as the ‘sun, sea and everything is great’ poppy reggae. They have their place in the world, but they are not really my cup of tea. This moves through to more traditional ‘vintage’ ska, roots and dub. Yes brilliant stuff, they are the foundation of what we love about this music. Whilst at the other end you get albums like this new set from Dubateers called Excluded, which occupy the mysterious outer reaches. Once you get this far along the line, boundaries are pushed and they challenge what we think reggae or dub is.
I have a great respect for Nick, the man behind the Dubateers (I have featured his work before, check out my review of ‘Dubplate Attack’) He is not afraid to speak his mind and has no qualms about releasing the music he wants to release, he doesn’t follow the trends. I find that really refreshing. With any kind of art you sometimes need to do something different from the norm. You may ruffle a few feathers on the way, but I believe from confrontation comes innovation.
Moving Flute Mix 2
The album itself has dub at its core, but messes with the style, this is not the dub of King Tubby. I think the track ‘Moving Flute Mix 2’ (I do love the functional titles Nick uses, they do fit the no nonsense vibe) is one of my favourites and is a good barometer for the album. It mixes a metronomic beat with quite harsh industrial sounds. Add in some echoes and a menacing synth back line and you get a track that is more Berlin than Jamaica. Going back to my email inbox, this is different from what usually flows in and as an educated listener, it is what I want to hear.
I hope you like this brief review, blogging is all about opinions and if you would like to comment on anything please do. I would love to hear from you. Please share the article on social media if you can, it would be much appreciated. Let’s help Nick get his sounds far and wide.
Frenk Dublin ft. Clinton Sly – Good Vibes We Bring Dub Communications 7”
I am not sure if anyone has coined the term ‘winter reggae’ before. I am not thinking of snow, mince pies and Father Christmas, but reggae that has a darker, colder, edgier feel to it. This new release from Dutch label Dub Communications called ‘Good Vibes We Bring’, featuring the vocal talents of Clinton Sly, is an example of what I mean. Despite the jolly title it hides a very dark industrial vibe, which to me, makes it a perfect soundtrack for our bleak Northern European winters.
I can’t give you too much background on Dub Communications, apart from the fact that they seem to be one of those labels that excels in dropping heavyweight dub bombshells. The pattern is, the release causes a stir, it sells out and you wait in anticipation for their next one. If I had a record label (and if anyone fancies going into partnership, I am open to offers!) that’s how I would like to operate. Boom it’s here and then it’s gone, no repress, no fuss…
Frenk Dublin ft. Clinton Sly - Good Vibes We Bring (Original Mix)[7" Vinyl] - SoundCloud (366 secs long, 1885 plays)Play in SoundCloud
Have a listen to the SoundCloud link above, if you like your dubstep / steppas / reggae clashing together like a mid-winter storm then this will be for you. With Clinton Sly’s rugged vocals in the mix you have a couple of tracks that are a million miles away from Jamaican beaches. Definitely more North Sea than Caribbean Sea.
Don’t sleep on this one though, it will be gone before you know it, small runs of quality singles get snapped up quickly. Head to Juno or Unearthed if you need a copy. As we approach December put Good Vibes We Bring on your deck and think of it as a modern version of ‘In a bleak Midwinter’. This is truly essential winter reggae.
Thanks for reading, let me know in the comments if you have any tracks that suit these colder months. Reggae is not just for the summer! And of course social media shares would be very welcome as well.
Mahom – King Cat Flower Coast Records – LP, CD & free digital download
So Brexit D-day is drawing close, or maybe you could call it Bidet, as Britain’s harmonious relationship with Europe is about to be washed down the pan! But here at Reggae Roots Review we don’t want to leave Europe and such is the division it is causing this country, we are growing to hate those who do. As a side consequence, this whole sorry business does makes me even keener to help promote European reggae. This short piece on French outfit Mahom and their album ‘King Cat’ is my small way of saying, “some of us still love you Europe”.
Flower Coast Records
My blog in recent months has slipped into the background, nothing was firing any excitement. Lots of the releases I was hearing sounded so generic and very samey. Thankfully along came Moham to lift my mood. King Cat is out now as a free download or on CD and vinyl formats via Flower Coast Records. This is an album of contrasts, if you like your reggae dubby, heavier and more ‘on trend’ then this is for you. But if you prefer a more textured and cerebal sound, then you will also get plenty of enjoyment from it. Check out the SoundCloud box below to hear some tracks.
Who are Mahom?
These guys have been going since 2005 and have numerous releases and live appearances under their belt. The band was created by Joris with Mathias on drums. Antoine joined the band in 2008 as sound engineer, and since Mathias left the project in 2012, he is now the other creative half of the Mahom duo.
What really upped the anti for Mahom was the ‘Skankin ‘Cat’ album, released as a free download on the ODG platform in 2014. That set helped make Mahom one of the major in demand players of the French dub scene. Check out this link to their website where you can read more about them.
Jump forward to 2019 and we have their latest long player called King Cat. The album kicks off with a couple of heavier dub numbers, but for me it is on the forth track ‘Planéte’ that we really start to hear what these boys excel at. Being a fan of ambient sounds like Brian Eno, The Orb and Air, mixing chilled, layered waves with a reggae beat really chimes with me. It is beautiful stuff! Click forward to ‘Waves’ and this track turns up the dub knob, think Jean-Michel Jarre clashing with steppas reggae. Waves really highlights the full Moham production skills. I am always in awe of people who can meld those layers into a soundscape that plays with your emotions!
But this album is not just chillout stuff, I do love the couple of tracks featuring vocalist Luiza. They change the pace of the album and give it a human touch. A nice contrast to its electronic DNA. Luiza has a lovely voice, and her haunting take on Françoise Hardy’s ‘Le Temps de l’Armour’ helps emphasise the Gallic charm that this set has. There is a line in that track that sums up the album for me, (apologies for the dodgy translation) “For the time of love it fills your heart with so much warmth and happiness.” King Cat lifts the spirits and as I mentioned in my opening, it has helped restore some belief in what the modern reggae world is producing.
Mahom - Le Temps de l'Amour feat Luiza - YouTube
Support the band
The album is available now as a free download. Mahom attaches great importance to vinyl production which they feel is an integral part of dub culture. I do agree, you can hear so much more soul in those grooves! So if you like what you hear why not go one step further and order the CD or vinyl? It is the best way to support the band and to help them continue producing this rather beautiful dub. The download is available here. CD and vinyl can be picked up at the Flower Coast site.
Thanks for reading and I hope you enjoy the album.
If you have got this far please share this article on social media. Not only does it help promote the band, but it also give me the motivation to keep on blogging. Blogging can be a lonely existance!
Gentleman’s Dub Club, Stardust
my journey from Suffolk to outer space
Gentleman’s Dub Club are back with a new single and album on Easy Star Records, and I think it is high time I reacquainted myself with possibly the most dapper and coolest reggae band on the live circuit. I first came across Gentleman’s Dub Club at the Latitude Festival in 2010. Latitude is an annual English music festival and probably the poshest festival in the world. It is not without some truth that someone joked “You can keep your cannabis, Latitude’s drug of choice is definitely humus”! It is not known for its wild hedonism, although perhaps I was in the wrong part of the campsite?
It was late one summer evening, and together with about a hundred other bass heads, we crammed in front of a small stage in a leafy, wooded part of the festival site. What followed was the most energetic reggae performance I think I have ever seen. The movement, the noise, the energy blew any reservedness the audience may have had. For an hour or so genteel Suffolk became downtown Kingston.
Lost in Space
Eight years on and their new single ‘Stardust’ is out now, a prelude to the full album ‘Lost in Space’ which is out on January 25th next year. Gentleman’s Dub Club have of course not been idle in the intervening years, and listening to this track I am sorry that I have not kept up with their work. The single has all the confidence you would expect from a band that have been playing together for a decade or so. The big full sound is there, plenty of horns, plenty of bass, and a spacey feel which I imagine will run through the album. But I suppose with the title Lost in Space that is not a tricky one to deduce!
Have a listen for yourself to the video below and see what you think. Myself, I can hear outer space calling, Gentleman’s Dub Club to Paper Lion are you reading me?
You can pick up the single from all the usual outlets, maybe try Amazon for starters. The album Lost in Space can be pre-ordered if you follow this link. Let me know in the comments what you think of Stardust and whether you have had any brushes with the band. And of course a social media share would be much appreciated.
See you in space.
Gentleman's Dub Club - Stardust (Official Video) - YouTube
Little Harry – Youngest Veteron High Smile HiFi, LP and Digital Download
Thirty five years between your first and second albums is quite a gap, it certainly puts the likes of the Stone Roses in the shade. But thankfully for us reggae deejay Little Harry has persevered. Backed by Swiss digi marvels High Smile HiFi, Little Harry presents us with his second LP ‘Youngest Veteron’, a singular ruff n tuff collection of tunes.
Little Harry, deejay
It is fair to say Little Harry was an early starter in the reggae business. He began deejaying at the tender age of ten featuring on the Black Lion sound system. It was entering the J.C.D.J National D.J competition at the legendary Skateland that really kick started his career and also forged a friendship with the eventual competition winner Yellowman. The 1982 record ‘Live at the Aces; Feeding in the Dance Hall’ soon followed and also featured Yellowman, Fathead and Jah Rubaal. This was the first time Little Harry’s voice was heard on record.
The following year Little Harry started to deejay for Junjo’s legendary sound Volcano. He also recorded his debut album for Junjo, a clash between himself and fellow child deejay Billy Boyo. It was released by Greensleeves records as most of Junjo’s albums were at the time. After going on to record several songs for King Jammy, it was linking up with King Sturmars HiFi that produced his biggest hit, ‘Anorexal Body’.
Little Harry - Anorexal Body + Version - YouTube
High Smile Hi-Fi
The story then goes a little quiet on the recording front for Little Harry. It was teaming up with the Switzerland based production crew High Smile HiFi that kick started a second phase in his career as a deejay. High Smile consists of Icky Top, who is the musical backbone behind High Smile productions and Kebilli & Pappa Irie, the crew’s selectors who also run things at their label Top Smile Records. Check out this link for their previous appearance on my blog. This collaboration between Little Harry and High Smile resulted in two 7’s, ‘Hard Life’ in 2014 and ‘No Friend a Dem’ in 2015. Jump forward to 2018 and Little Harry’s second full length recording, Youngest Veteron hits the stores.
I mentioned ruff n tuff earlier and this phrase always springs to mind when I hear digi dancehall. The album kicks off with ‘Nah Lef Di Earth’ a track with short, sharp, urgent sounding beats. To me this is real street music, an incredibly influential sound with a lineage that runs right through hip-hop, ragga, jungle, grime and drill. But this album it is not one to be pigeonholed and has a few surprises up its sleeve. Listen to ‘Kingston City’ and you have something more rootsy, this is a slowed down dubby homage to one of the most musically creative cities on the planet. And there was me thinking I was starting to get a handle on what a digi album sounded like.
Little Harry - Kingston City [Official Video 2018] - YouTube
The production on the album sounds pure retro 80s and that is testament to the skills of Icky Top. Like the guys who can make reggae sound like 70s roots, I am so in awe of the skilled hands that make these records sound so authentic. Although as someone who’s ‘decade of life discovery’ was the 80s, it is slightly disconcerting that the music I grew up with is now described as retro! A good example of this 80s feel is the track ‘Gunshot’ with its squidgy synth effects, it certainly has a sound that takes me back to the party life. Not that a boy who hung out in Kingston, Surrey can justifiably draw any parallels to Little Harry’s life growing up in Kingston, Jamaica!
An album like this gives me two things to take away. Firstly it highlights how little I know about this reggae offshoot and secondly how much I do like it. I need a crash course in 80s digi reggae. Whenever I hear a High Smile HiFi release though I do feel in safe hands, they help guide me through this uncharted territory. This collection is no different, it is an excellent album and I so hope this new chapter for Little Harry sparks a long and successful recording life. I have the digi bug now and I need Little Harry to keep feeding it.
I hope you like what you have heard and read here, please do share via social media, it is all much appreciated. Give me some recommendations in the comments, what tracks should I check out to further my digi knowledge?
Jahguars Dubs from South American Jungle digital download & limited cassette
Records can be more than just words and music, it is the whole package that makes a truly special album. Good artwork has a big role to play and adds that special finishing touch. I bet you can think of plenty of examples of classic LPs that can’t be separated from their artwork, for many Sgt Pepper probably springs to mind first.
It was the artwork that caught my eye for this collection, what’s not to love about big cats and dub music? The graphic style looked familiar and once I delved deeper so did the music. It was a bit of an ‘aha’ moment when I discovered who was behind Jahguars (great name by the way). Ok it may not be The Beatles and Peter Blake but I love it nonetheless!
Nacho Flotta & Negritage
Recorded in Buenos Aires, Argentina, the creative force behind Dubs from South American Jungle is reggae collective Negritage and Nacho Flotta from Stepping Stone Records. You may well remember my review of the last Negritage album and its striking artwork. If you didn’t, check it out, believe me the pure dubs on that album are worth investigating. It is more of the same here, sixteen tracks of spacey dub reggae, all with a subtle South American feel, an exotic dash of pipes here and a pinch of flute there.
Stand out tracks for me are the four Arder mixes. I love the truly hypnotic bassline, it is one of those basslines that sounds so familiar but you can’t quite put your finger on it where you heard it. Arder (Version 1) is a good place to start, bizarrely it sounds like it was recorded in a cave. Imagine sitting in the dark, listening to the bass and hearing drips of water land around you. It is a thoroughly immersive track, put it on your headphones and your mind floats through the swirls of sound. This is solitary music…
Robert Dallas Prison Oval Rock – Roots Garden 7” Bearer of Bad News – Med Tone Records 7”
Wow… intense is not the word for what I have been going through this last three months. I am heading on a non-music tangent here and may lose a few of you who are not into football, but try and bear with me. After a hard fought series of matches culminating in a win at Wembley in the Championship play off final, Fulham Football Club are back in the Premiership after a four year absence.
Having been a big Fulham fan for over three decades this is a big thing for me. The point of this ramble is that football has been my emotional focus recently, and being a ‘bear with little brain’, I can only pour my heart and soul into one thing at a time. June is here now though, the English domestic football season is over (although we have the World Cup on the horizon woo-hoo) and now is the time to focus on my other interests. Step forward music, reggae and in this instance Robert Dallas!
Today I will look at two new Robert Dallas records, one released on Jon Jones’ Brighton based Roots Garden Records. The second is on the slightly more exotic Israeli based label Med Tone, run by brothers Asaf and Ilan Smilan. Robert is a very in demand vocalist, I think it is fair to say he is finding fame later in life. His excellent debut album ‘Tradition Man’ which you can read more about here was recorded in his late 50s.
Robert Dallas in action
From what I have seen, Robert seems a decent guy and good luck to him on now finding more success. I do believe that if you have talent it find appreciation sooner or later!
Prison Oval Rock
This track was originally voiced and cut as an exclusive Roots Garden dubplate a few years ago, after Robert Dallas dropped these lyrics freestyle over the mic at a Roots Garden dance in Brighton. Understandably the crowd went crazy and this track has been so popular at subsequent Roots Garden sessions that they have decided to make it available to everyone on a 7″ single. The lyrics take from Barrington Levy’s original Prison Oval Rock production and in true reggae re-cycling style, it is combined with producer Richie Phoe’s ‘Roll Like Lion’ rhythm. Roll Like Lion originally featured Josie Wales and released on Roots Garden back in 2013. Check out the video below, I think you will see why it went down so well at the Roots Garden dances. It has that sound that works so well with big speakers and big rooms.
Robert Dallas - Prison Oval Rock (Vocal Version) [Audio] (1 of 2) - YouTube
Bearer of Bad News
Bearer of Bad News is the first collaboration between Robert and Med Tone Records. This 7” is darker and more introspective than Prison Oval Rock. Robert’s voice takes on a more vulnerable tone, he sounds like a singer crying out for justice. This is a true roots reggae vocal in the style of say Bunny Wailer and is complemented by a very dark minor key riddim, with blazing horn lines by the Med Tone All Stars band. On the flip side you get a heavy dub version mixed by Asaf Smilan in the Med Tone recording studio in Tel Aviv. Again check out the video below.
What I find interesting is that you have two roots style singles here, but each has a very different feel. Reggae can be accused by the uneducated ear of being very samey, but these singles are good examples of reggae’s subtle tonal differences. It is also good to see Robert stretched and conveying different emotional moods. But I guess that is what marks out good singers, being able to take different songs and give them equal power and soul is a skill.
ROBERT DALLAS – BEARER OF BAD NEWS / MED TONE ALL STARS – BEARER OF DUB - YouTube
Roots Garden / Med Tone
Both singles are available to buy now from the respective Roots Garden and Med Tone websites. Don’t sit on your hands on these ones, the limited supplies will go. Last word for Robert, when I reviewed Tradition Man I thought yes, decent singer, good album. You can now see an upward trajectory in his career, with each new outing being better than the last. I think the reggae world is expecting big things from you… now where is that second album?
Thanks for reading, any comments would be appreciated whether it’s about these releases, football or life in general. Be sure to share please as social media doesn’t just help my blog, but also helps all involved with these releases.