Saturday, 28 May 2011

Swann Song

Steve Swann was one of the progenitors of Radical Dance Faction; providing bass sounds that along with Chris Bowsher's voice defined their ever so distinctive brew and amphetamine driven crusty reggae stylings.

During one of Bowsher's reshuffles - think Mark E Smith and his relationship with his musicians - Swann went off and started other projects; one of them being The Revolutionary Dub Warriors, who collaborated readily with our old friend Adrian Sherwood.

The result is something akin to a very well produced RDF (without Bowsher's stark utterances, of course).
Swann, as well as providing his obligatory lugubrious bass, also provides the voice; and he really is one of the most Jamaican sounding white singers you'll hear.

Unfortunately, Swann left us earlier this year; but this, along with his RDF recordings, is a good reason for him to be remembered.
Peace be upon him.

Revolutionary Dub Warriors - State of Evolution (1996)

Irie Warrior
Direct Address
Rough Dub
Sorrow Go
No Reservation
War Zone

CD rip to mp3s
Evolve here

Sunday, 22 May 2011


In the beginning, On U Sounds Studios turned out some very twisted and subversive noise indeed.
None more so than the early recordings of African Head Charge.

But if it is dub, it was a very twisted take on a genre suffering from severe stagnation and over familiarity.

Adrian Sherwood gave it a right good kick up the backside.
And rightly so.

African Head Charge - essentially master percussionist Bonjo Noah collaborating with On U regulars - were the perfect collaborators for Sherwood; beat and rhythm was central; the perfect palette for the hip young gunslinger of a producer to apply his idiosyncratic and often hyperbolic production techniques.

Sherwood was always the extra member of the band; no matter who he worked with.

This compilation goes back to those very early days, as it's a split between the best of Drastic Season (83) and the best of Off the Beaten Track (86), the two recordings many consider to be the best albums African Head Charge produced.

The sound readily reflects the way digitization had become the new tool for producers.
Sampling, syncing, looping and sequencing had become simple. No more razor blades and sticky tape; no more analogue tape loops; no more using equipment that demanded higher maintenance than Lady Macbeth.

Byrne and Eno's My Life in the Bush of Ghosts (81) has always been held responsible for so much digitized music concrete that followed in its wake; and without a doubt African Head Charge's first couple of albums do seem deeply influenced by that seminal album.

(In a way, you could say Byrne and Eno's recording pretty much influenced everything that followed; but this was the early days of digital sampling and voice sequencing, they just happened to utilise it first.
But then you could say Byrne and Eno were influenced by the music of Steve Reich... and so on and so on....
It's all derivative, right!)

By the time Off the Beaten Track was recorded, Sherwood had grown in confidence: outlandish, scary, truly psychedelic, hallucinogenic, even.

In places, this album is a lot more Edgar Varèse than it is Keith Hudson.

African Head Charge - Great Vintage (Volume 2) (1989)

Off the Beaten Track
Some Bizarre
Language and Mentality
Throw It
Release the Doctor
Down Under Again
Timbuktu Express
I want Water
African Hedge Hog
Depth Charge
Fruit Market
Snake in the Hole

Tracks 1-8 from Off the Beaten Track
Tracks 9-15 from Drastic Season

CD rip to mp3s.
ReCharge here

Monday, 16 May 2011

'erbal Medicine

I'm not sure what Dr. Alimantado is a doctor of exactly, but I'd guess it isn't horticulture.
You want to get some fertilizer on those plants, mate!
Take a tip from master herbaliser Peter Tosh; now there's a man who knew how to keep a garden.

But then, perhaps for Dr. Alimantado, Roots is really where it's at!

By 1979, the unlikely alliance between certain elements of Jamaican music and punk rock was reflected in many of the more roots' based musicians' recordings.
Darker, edgier sounds became the norm; heavier, deeper, bassier and louder became the expectation.
Artists like Alimantado met that expectation; but at the same time were able to retain common themes; many of Alimantado's lyrics are deeply spiritual; hymn-like, even; yet juxtaposed with the dub sounds, the effect is one that is far more down to earth.

This album isn't all heavy heavy monster sounds by any means, there are some lighter moments, although it never really goes rock steady; more typically Jamaican (and I don't mean that in a stereotypical way, it's just different to the U.K. or U.S. stuff: think more Culture than Aswad).
But whatever.
Crank it up, and push that bass right to the edge of the fart.

Dr. Alimantado - Kings Bread (1979)

Just Because a Bit of Bread
Marcus Garvey School
Babylon Let I Go
Jah Loving Feeling
Jah Love Forever
Mama Mama
Conscious Man
Zion Steppers
Find the One
Oh This World

Vinyl rip @320kbs
The recording quality is excellent throughout, but the beginning of track 1 has unfortunately suffered a little damage, causing several seconds of sibilance and a single jump. It lasts for about 3 seconds.
And apart from the expected crackle and pop, this album sounds beautiful.

It's dub vinyl, thirty-two years old. It ain't mint.
But believe me, this album is as elusive as Jamaican sensi; and [very nearly] as good.

Highly recommended to all who love traditional Jamaican dub.
Get doctored here

Wednesday, 11 May 2011

Space, Man

Here's another from our old friend Country Joe.
Bit of a rare one this; pretty certain it didn't get a CD release; vinyl copies seem to go for around sixty-quid.

Having dealt with his spiritualness somewhat (see previous past), and then creating an album suggesting he'd cheered himself up a bit (Goodbye Blues ('77)), Country Joe got around to making this: a far more upbeat, sort of getting back to his Fish roots sounding album.
(Don't know much about him? go get the wonderful Life and Times of Country Joe & The Fish. Essential listening!)
He's a great song writer is Country Joe: great tunes, great hooks, and even when he performs civil rights' songs, he often includes elements of humour, satire and witty self deprecation.
Okay, he can get a little sentimental at times; but he's never been a big one for pathos.
He can write a provocative lyric that makes you want to sing along; rather than one that makes you feel obliged to: 'Fixing tro Die Rag' being the perfect example.

I guess the song 'Bring Back the 60s, Man' confirms for some the stereotype that Country Joe kind of readily fits; and yes, it is romantic, indulgent; plain old hippy-shit, but you know, after you've listened to the track a few times; you realise, that maybe, just maybe, it might not be such a bad idea at all...

Country Joe McDonald - Rock and Roll Music From Planet Earth (1978)

Bring Back the 60s, Man
Sunshine at my Window
Rock and Roll Again
Dark Ship
Southern Cross
Space Patrol
Get It Together

Decent cassette rip @320kbs
Return to Planet Earth here

Monday, 2 May 2011

Rondo, Rondo, Hey, Blubber Joe, coconut, Blubber Joe, Hey, Blubber Joe!

While still attired in my cyber loons, thought I'd share some more Country Joe; seems apt.

Rather like others of his generation, Joe McDonald went through various diverse stages, adopting different styles, personas even, during his lengthy and ongoing career.
This album comes from what can only be considered Joe's "spiritual stage".

The opening track has a mighty sound; majestic, both in its delivery and in its slightly faux gospel style.
Track 2, 'Holy Roller', then goes on to tell, in the first person, a story of found redemption and liberty through the awakening to religion.
I'm really not sure as to how to take this song.
Firstly, the title, 'Holy Roller', hints somewhat at the derogatory; and secondly, the fact the song ends with the caveat: "God Damn", makes me suspicious of its intentions.

Well, I like to think so.
But I guess that's what I want it to be, right?
Let's just say, there seems to be a little less sincerity attached to the lyrics than heard in some of the songs of someone like... er, Cliff Richard.

The remainder of the album reverts to a style more akin to the sound of the excellent Paris Sessions (73), and benefits enormously as a consequence.

Joe's more common themes: anti-materialism, anti-capitalism and civil rights, are risen in the better of the tracks; after all, politics always has been his thing really.

The excellent 'Save the Whale' moves away from the more obvious cliches - I guess Whale Nation was yet to be conceived - and merely reveals a tale of how things are.

In true Ancient Mariner tradition, it's a tale that has to be told, and one that allows the beholder to form their own opinion about the industrialization of something that was once sustainable.
So yeah, a world away from Jon Anderson's hideous pathos soaked whinings.

The other standout track is the one associated with the album's title: 'Oh, Jamaica'.
An upbeat summery song; light and breezy with some punchy horn sounds and a great hooky chorus.
On a casual listen that's exactly what it is; it could even be said to be a paean for Jamaica and all its associated idealism.
But on a closer listen, amongst all the longing for frivolity and hedonism comes the lines:

But I don't want to disturb your reggae fantasies
About all of the dope and coconut trees
But all the people living in cardboard shacks

You know that ain't exactly where the good life's at

So the song, although it expresses a longing for a lifestyle stereotypically associated with the Caribbean island, knows that it's an aspiration that could never be fulfilled.
To take bourgeois and idealist values to such a place is never going to work.
(Unless of course you're some stuck-up tosser who really don't give a shit - right, Rich?)

So what can one do?
Well, get out of the city; create your own idyll; preferably in a place where you're not going to be too effectively oppressive to indigenous types - a concept I not only wholeheartedly agree with, but one I have very much gone along with.
And you know what? Who needs Jamaica anyway?

Smoking home grown
Drinking home brew

Sounds like paradise with an ocean view

Country Joe McDonald - Paradise With an Ocean View (1976)

Tear Down the Walls
Holy Roller
Lost My Connection
Save the Whales
Oh, Jamaica
Lonely on the Road
The Limit
Breakfast For Two

CD rip to mp3s
Find Paradise here