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  JAMAICAN RUNNINGS--by Papa Ray the Soul Selector JAMAICAN RUNNINGS -- Papa Ray the Soul Selector

A HAPPIER NEW YEAR, & BETTER MUST COME…yours truly the Soul Selector, Papa Ray, with his first of the year’s columns devoted to things musically Jamaican. Having just returned from 13 days on the island that included touching base in Kingston W/ both artists & members in the music business, I can tell you the vibe is as follows:

‘Business is down everywhere, but the music still mus’ play!’ Had a nice time meeting @ the Tuff Gong pressing plant Leroy ‘Horsemouth’ Wallace, ace drummer & star of the seminal film Rockers, who, while giving me a ride to my hotel, informed me that he is currently receiving no royalties from sale of video OR DVD copies of the movie----any lawyer who feels ready to represent Mr. Wallace, give me a call. I also spent a lovely nite at the roof-top club Pricilla’s, that’s uptown- Kingston- way, saying hello to Winston Blake, who, as head of the Merritone Sound System & proprietor of the legendary Turntable Club has been at the foundation roots of Jamaican music all his life. We both agreed that CD ing/downloading is helping to make sure more artists get paid less money, and that neither one of us really feels we ‘own’ a recording unless our hands are in possession of the vinyl 45, LP, or 12”!! Currently looking to re-open his Turntable establishment in a new locale, Winston literally is a DJ on international call, and it is always sweet to be in the room as he spins a vintage mix of Jamaican classics & American Soul---truly, a Boss DJ in every way.

Being in Kingston also gave me the chance to visit SOUNDSYSTEM Records artists U-ROY & bandleader/producer/studio owner/bassist FLABBA HOLT. I had a wonderful afternoon listening to Roy & Flabba discuss reggae history, the scene for touring outside of Jamaica, and their preferences when it comes to recording; as far as the latter, both men are Old School masters who proclaim that no digital technology can equal the sound studio recordings put to 4-track reel-to-reel tape. After a period of illness from 2001, U-Roy is in good physical health these days, and his current recordings reveal his voice & talents in top form. Long Live the Godfather of all DJS…

RECOMMENDATIONS: As always, Jamaican music is a singles/producer driven music. What does that mean? Well, a whole lot of the music is still released on 45 rpm records, and that for the most part the many producers who define the current sound hold more sway than any of the artists(with rare exception) you may know. As a music buyer, it means that for the most part you get the most for your buck when purchasing the compilations that spill out almost weekly. Currently the two top labels in this regard Are England’s Greensleeves Records, and the mighty VP label in New York. Both are at ground zero of whatever is being produced in the Kingston studios, choosing from the hottest music-makers & rhythms going around. Two solid senders I can verify:

The very excellent 1970-82: Biggest Dancehall Anthems: Birth of Dancehall(Greensleeves4101, CD&LP) . Oh yeah. Although you can argue that ALL Jamaican music is ‘dancehall’, going back to the early 50s, what is considered the ‘roots’ of modern dancehall pretty much can be seen in the works of producer Henry ‘Junjo’ Lawes, especially his VOLCANO label’s output in the early 80s. Featuring the stripped down and heavy sound of the Roots Radics studio band(led by one Flabba Holt), Volcano soon had a virtual lock on reggae’s international top-ten lists; only Sly & Robbie’s Taxi label gave any serious competition. Channel One was the studio; soon it was operating 24 hours around-the-clock, with the Radics becoming the absolute signature sound of the day. This two-cd set gives a generous outpouring of the most popular release of the period, with best-sellers by Barrington Levy, Eek-A-Mouse, Johnny Osbourne, Yellowman, Wailing Soul, Don Carlos, John Holt, Michigan & Smiley, among others. In many cases Volcano established a new artists’ career with a defining single,(say, Eek-A-Mouse) or, re-vitalized the fortunes of an older veteran(John Holt). What you get is a very nicely produced set of Volcano’s ‘greatest hits’ that must set your body moving. Highly Recommended, a four-out-of-four stars score.

Old To New: A Steely & Clevie Tribute to Joe Gibbs Classics(VP 1643, CD&LP) Very fine. The producing duo of Steely(one-time keyboardist of those Roots Radics)&Clevie have had their share of hits in Jamaican music(the most famous being the across-the-board smash of Sean Paul’s ‘No No No’) over the years, and this shows their skills in resurrecting the high points of the Joe Gibbs label from ’81-83, when Gibbs enjoyed the biggest hits of his years as a producer, stretching back to 1967. The approach is sure; take those old hits, often with the original artist re-voicing the song, and add a current vocalist/dj to nice up the sound. The success is predicated on the strengths of the artists and the excellent song-writing(not exactly a strong point in current dancehall sounds), and the 14 selections are all top-notch. You get seminal vocal trio The Mighty Diamonds re-visiting ‘Identity’, who’s great ‘cultural’ lyric is shared with the current Don of Dons, Luciano ; Beres Hammond w/ guest U-Roy sounding fantastic on an American soul standard that has always been beloved in Jamaica, ‘Ain’t That Loving You; Culture’s Joseph Hill on two of his most potent titles for Gibbs, ‘I’m Not Ashamed’ And ‘Two Sevens Clash’(w/ DJ sensation Anthony B); the ever-smooth Barrington Levy, Plus Jamaican fave singers George Nooks & Glenn Washington; current Billboard cross-over idol Sean Penn(“I’M Still In Love With You”; and finally female vocalist JC Lodge with her career’s biggest moment, a great re-working(w/ DJ Junior Kelly!) of the Crystal Gayle classic ‘Someone Loves You Honey(never underestimate Jamaica’s fondness for country music). All performed with real instruments, and not just drum machines& synthesizers, bringing out a warmth not always heard in contemporary Jamaican recordings. The excellence of the songs, both melodically as well as lyrics will have them playing in your head over and over. Old to New. So very sweet, y’know???

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