On the reggae and dub front (line), this year was a stella one for ON-U Sound. The label building upon their extensive reissue program and releasing new music. All of which was critically acclaimed. Pay It All Back Vol. 7, just like its predecessors, rallied against inequality and injustice and showcased nearly a score of forthcoming projects. Proving they were still more than capable of “disturbing the comfortable, comforting the disturbed”. Standouts for me were Neyssatou & Likkle Mai`s pan-global take on Bob Marley`s War, and LSK`s dark Fake Days – which picked up the baton from Gary Clail`s classic End Of The Century Party.
ON-U also released a new album from long-time collaborator Lee Scratch Perry, Rainford, together with its dub counterpart, Heavy Rain. The former finding The Upsetter, at 83, reflective, heading like Sun Ra out to the stars, the latter containing a mind-blowing team-up with Brian Eno. More of that sort of thing please.
Lee Perry`s catalogue seems to be always being reissued by a variety of labels, and this year Belgium’s Roots Vibration put out one of my all time favourites, Lord Creator`s Such Is Life, out on a 12. Roots Vibration also did the honours for Ras Midas` Good Old Days – complete with I Roy`s “serious DJ lick”. A harking after simpler, more innocent times. A message shared by Mikey Dread`s Roots And Culture, which was repressed for Record Store Day on a gold vinyl 10”. Both calls to remember where you come from.
“Don`t you burn the bridges them behind you.”
Another super producer, Bunny “Striker” Lee, saw a lot of his work reproduced in 2019. Pressure Sounds put out the heavy with cowbell and rimshot shockwaves, Come To Me In Dub. Real Gone Music re-released The Vulcans` Star Trek. A set of Bunny Lee originals overdubbed back in 1972 with a, then, space-age ARP2600. Most weighty, most mighty, though was Sheila Rickards` Jamaican Fruit From African Roots – discovered by Chris Flanagan in a Toronto thrift store, and made available again care of his Shella Records (the label’s name lifted from Sheila’s stage name). A 1975 Aggrovators` rhythm, dubbed by King Tubby and Prince Philip Smart – itself large with echoed Bond Theme-like horns and flying cymbal attacks – now dominated by Sheila’s powerful and haunting conscious vocal. Chris has also produced a documentary about his attempts to track Sheila down.
Moving over to Coxsonne Dodd`s Studio One, Soul Jazz pressed Horace Andy’s 1973 landmark, Fever, onto a 12. There was also a boot of Horace`s Jah Shaka favourite, Praise Him, knocking about – featuring a fine DJ cut by Jah Mike. Still with Coxsonne Dodd, Be With Records released an expanded edition of Marcia Griffiths` 1974 set, , Sweet & Nice – full of soulful standards, such as her sublime reading of Ewan MacColl`s The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face – produced Dodd`s protege, Lloyd Charmers.
Another Shaka selection that got a legit reissue was Creation Stepper`s repatriation hymn, Homeward Bound, on Tribes Man, while more roots came from Stiffy Dread`s god-fearing Jah Dreadful – produced by the Twinkle Brothers.
A group I usually associate with roots, Earth & Stone, featured on a trio lovers rock 12s released late in the year by Athens Of The North. Albert Bailey and Clifford Howell`s That`s The Way You Feel – a tale of runaround heartbreak – was paired with Sonia Ferguson’s cover of Sister Sledge`s Easier To Love. Both originally released on UK label Cha Cha in 1980. Trevor Walters and Jean Adebambo`s blinding 1988 version of Back Together Again (a Tee Scott-mixed hit for Roberta Flack and Donny Hathaway in 1979), and Al Charles` take on The Gap Band`s Outstanding completed the three – in my opinion – essentials.
More lovers could be found on Sound Metaphors` Miss You, and Backatcha. Both releases again being classy covers. From the Berlin-based imprint you got Lorna Bennett doing Diana Ross` Ashford & Simpson-penned, It`s My House. Licensed from High Note, Jamaica. From the UK soul experts there was Mystic Harmony’s rendition of The Jones Girls` Philadelphia International smash, Nights Over Egypt – recorded in 1983 for UK label, Clouds. On the instrumental side, with a lovers feel, was Booker Gee & Lone Ark`s Jackie Mittoo-esque, Rootikal Showcase, for HMV Japan.
Somewhere in between the roots and the lovers was Vincent Roswell`s Going To A Dance. Righteous UK reggae from 1984. France`s Hornin` Sounds doing the business, in collaboration with original label, Water Mount. Restoring two effects-laden productions – mixed by the Mad Professor – alongside their even more out there dubs.
Mystic Harmony – Nights Over Egypt – Backatcha
Jean & Trevor – Back Together Again – Athens Of The North
Booker Gee & Lone Ark – Axumites – HMV Japan
Lorna Bennett – It`s My House – Miss You
Earth & Stone – The Way You Feel – Athens Of The North
Vincent Roswell & Mystic Roots – Going To A Dance
Horace Andy – Fever – Soul Jazz / Studio One
Marcia Griffiths – First Time Ever I Saw Your Face – Be With Records
Creation Stepper – Homeward Bound – Tribesman
Ras Midas – Good Old Days – Roots Vibration
Mikey Dread – Roots And Culture – Dread At The Controls
Stiffy Dread – Jah Dreadful – Twinkle
Sheila Rickards – Jamaican Fruit Of African Roots – Shella Records