by: Jarret Lovell
The Reggae Bubblers – “Oh Yabba Yabba” - (Reggae Bubblers)
From St. Croix, Virgin Islands – the Reggae Bubblers is a roots reggae band that plays, well, roots reggae. This means that the sound is organic and the lyrics are politically-conscious – telling the story of the African/Jamaican people. While this may not seem like anything new, at a time when so much reggae music sounds gimmicky, incorporating auto-tune and other effects to bend reggae toward the radio-friendly R&B format, the Bubblers keep it authentic. “Shackles & Chains” starts off the album with a strong sound, think the Mighty Threes with nice vocal harmonies. “Struggle Continue” (#4) has a wonderful bassline and great guitar. The intro is reminiscent of Motown. The title track “Oh Yabba Yabba” (#6) has an upbeat rhythm. “Don’t Be Shy” (#8) has a haunting melody. Overall, the Reggae Bubblers offer a nice roots reggae album to end out the year. Enjoy.
Roots By Nature – Cry No More - (RBN)
From Sweden/Ghana, “Cry No More” is a 6 song e.p. that sets a nice vibe instantly, with wonderful bass, great backing vocals, and a slow rhythm. “Borrowed Time” (#3) is a warning that Babylon’s days are numbered. “Strength of a Woman” (#4) starts with great keyboard, then immediately gives way to a female vocalist – a rarity in reggae. Horns open “We Need a Change” (#5), along with lyrics outlining an agenda for political and social change in the coming years. While the vocals are not always melodic, the overall sound of this e.p. is nice. Expect more from this nice outfit.
Patko - Maroon - (/dibyz/Musicat)
Patko leads the pack this week with a strong, entertaining full-length featuring great music, insightful lyrics, and many guest vocalists adding their talent to a great album. Originally from Suriname (South America), Patko has lived in France since 2001, and many of the songs on this - his second - release are indeed sung in French. The album opens with a strong, wonderful track "Tears." Heavy bass and horns drive this track. Track 2 - sung in French and English - has beautiful acoustic guitar along with guest vocals from Fantan Mojah and Joggo. The title track (#3, which refers to the African slaves sent to Jamaica who freed themselves and fled to the hills) features an array of instrumentation. "Kingdom of Ashes" comes in halfway through the album, and its dramatic opening gives way to a killer sound of heavy bass and politically powerful lyrics. While even the English lyrics are sometimes hard to ascertain, it is undeniable that Patko has important things to say (e.g., "I know... this world is in trouble/situation is out of control), and even picking up a verse here and a chorus there makes paying attention worthwhile. This is no more true than on "Solid as a Rock" ("if you know that you're racist...even my closest friends make racist jokes... I love the color of my skin.") The production on this release is also top notch, with very interesting sounds and "effects" (not gimmicks) peppered throughout. A very strong release from an artist who deserves attention.
Blue Riddim Band Meets Rougher All Stars - Enter the Riddim - (Rougher Records)
According to the website numberonemusic.com, "The Blue Riddim Band is a Kansas City, Missouri-based reggae band and the first US-based group to play at Jamaica’s Reggae Sunsplash festival, which they did in August 1982 and August 1983." Impressive. Indeed, the live recording of that performance was even nominated for a Grammy. After some band member departures and re-groupings, the band reunited in 1997 and has had various lineups. In 2007 the band was inducted into the Kansas Music Hall of Fame. This release, which is part ska, part reggae, was recorded in 2013 and is a collaboration with the Rougher All Stars. Fun!
Supa Squad - Supa Squad - (self-release)
According to the band's bandcamp site, this Cape Verdean (archipelago - Northwest Africa) dancehall act "are about to take over the world." Hyperbole notwithstanding, this duo of Zacky Man and Mr. Marley (aka Marley Rosario) have a sound that is part Major Lazer (in fact, track #7 is a Major Lazer production), part Collie Buddz, part roots reggae (with an electronic vibe.) Tracks 1, 4 & 6 are dancehall to be sure - nothing wrong with that - which makes them ideal for the club scene or rpm show. Tracks 2, 3 and 5 are more straightforward reggae. Track #6 is simply wicked good dancehall. Try to keep up with the lyrics is you can. "Don't forget where you come from/your friends, your family/uptown." Play track #6.
Brain Damage - Walk the Walk - (Jarring Effects)
Brain Damage is Anathaneil Walters from Kingston, Jamaica. After releasing a series of popular singles throughout the early oughts, "Walk the Walk" is - I believe - the first l.p. from the artist. It features a series of big name guest vocalists. Ras Michael appears on the title track #1, though it admittedly is a rather slow way to begin an album, and #10. Track 2 and #9 have Kiddus I on vocals. #3 features Winston McAuff. Horace Andy provides the vocals on track #4 ("Mama Words") and #7 and - as always - sounds wonderful; Willi Williams appears on tracks #5 and #6 ("Fyah Bun" - #6 is a standout track). With so many superstars featured on this album, it is a shame that the music is so safe - almost generic reggae. Whereas other artists have used guest vocals to push boundaries (Dub Terror, Dubmatix), the music of Brain Damage does little to stretch the mind. Still, for straightforward reggae, it delivers.