On-U Sound hinted, teased, at this collaboration, a few years ago, when in 2019, a dub of Mr. Bassie appeared on Pay It All Back Volume 7. A full album`s worth of work with Horace Andy has now, finally, arrived. Itself serving as a sort of teaser for the legendary label`s forthcoming 40th anniversary shows.
The LP, Midnight Rocker, released last Friday, contains a total of 10 tracks, half of which are new, while the others revisit the veteran vocalist`s illustrious past. Spotlighting, and updating, differing points in his more than 5 decade-spanning career. Mr. Bassie, for example, is a slice of history that travels right back to the start. Taken under the tutelage of Clement “Coxsone” Dodd, at Studio 1, in 1969, I think that this was one of the first songs Andy penned himself. It`s a piece that he’s frequently versioned, for a variety of producers – perhaps most famously for Everton Da Silva, in Queens, New York, for the Hungry Town label, in 1978. It is a definite, definitive, Andy “signature tune”. Adrian Sherwood drops the tempo to a slow, steady, stomp, while adding a fine phased and filtered finale. The melodica strains perhaps a reference to Augustus Pablo`s own 1978 take.
Rock To Sleep was first recorded in 1976, and issued on Yard, an off-shoot of Augustus` Rockers imprint. The 21st Century rendition is a lullaby of seductive whispers and great guitar microtones, complimented by Ivan “Celloman” Hussey`s sweeping, weeping, melancholy strings – which bring to mind Dub Syndicate`s 1998 classic, God Is A Man / Not A Word. Horace cut Materialist with Niney The Observer, in 1977. Here, it`s accompanied by Alan “Stone Fox Chase” Glen on harmonica. This Must Be Hell dates from 1979, and Horace`s time with Tappa Zukie, and Tappa`s label, Stars. The new recording is ruled by the Ital Horns – of Richard Doswell, Dave Fulwood, and Chris Petter – and, of course, Andy’s voice. Those perfect pipes now perhaps forever synonymous with Bristol band, Massive Attack, where Horace often sweetened, lit up, their ground-breaking soundclash of hip hop culture and reggae’s Babylon-bashing dread. For those of a certain generation it will be hard to separate him from those seminal early `90s sides.
In a knowing nod, Horace covers the outfit`s Safe From Harm, a hit that originally showcased another long-standing ON-U co-conspirator / collaborator, Shara Nelson. Taking its cues from Massive Attack`s LP, Mezzanine, the vibe is dark, and moody, with cold wave keys, and touches of edgy post-punk guitar. At its heart a love song, an ominous, menacing, bottom-end rumble emphasizes the lyrics thinly veiled threats. One of the albums highlights, it`s crying out for a no-holds-barred Sherwood dub. The ON-U head honcho’s production in the main is restrained, respectful of the singer and the song, but he’s not averse to leaving the odd echo ringing, or let the odder sound-effect fly. The bass is also seriously woofer-worrying throughout.
Of the new songs, the playfully paced Careful is a standout. A subversive pop sing-along that warns of fake news and false prophets, co-written by Sherwood and LSK. My personal favourite, though, is Watch Over Them, also composed by LSK, this time in cahoots with Italian dub maestro, Gaudi. Its rimshots, reverb, and synth-y wig-outs are highly reminiscent of Gregory Isaacs` tropical, chilled out, early-80s Island adventures, such as, for example, Cool Down The Pace. The music, lovers rocking, dancehall wallpaper whine & grine scrubbing, while the words are strictly conscious roots.
Horace Andy’s Midnight Rocker is out now, care of ON-U Sound.