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JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Album of the Day 11/16/10

Every day our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Tuesday’s album is #805:

Steel Pulse – Handsworth Revolution

The most musically sophisticated of all the classic roots reggae bands of the 70s, Steel Pulse’s career began with a string of brilliant albums that lasted into the early 80s. After a struggle with one producer after another who tried to dumb down their sound and turn them into a pop band, they returned to their roots like they’d never left and never looked back. Over thirty years after they started, they’re still an extraordinary live band (the single most popular concert review we’ve published to date concerns a 2008 Steel Pulse show). Since all their early and their most recent material is so consistently strong, we picked this album, their major label debut, from 1978. Frontman David Hinds’ jazzy chords, serpentine song structures and politically charged lyrics are as intense as ever: the title track captures the struggle of West Indians in racist England at the time; Ku Klux Klan, one of their biggest hits, works powerfully on several levels. There’s also the antiwar Soldiers; the snide Bad Man; the echoey, metaphorically driven Prodigal Son; the big dub-flavored concert hit Sound Check; and the ganja-fueled Rasta anthem Macka Splaff. Everything the band recorded through 1982’s True Democracy is worth a spin, as is their elaborate 1992 live concert album, Rastafari Centennial and pretty much everything they’ve done after that. Here’s a random torrent.

November 16, 2010 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, reggae music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album of the Day 11/13/10

Every day our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Saturday’s mission is to get out of France, and out of classical music for bit. So instead we go to South Africa for some roots reggae and album #808:

Lucky Dube – Captured Live

Reggae triumphantly made its way home to Africa: some of the greatest roots artists have come out of that continent. Arguably the finest artist singing in English was Lucky Dube, who was already a mbaqanga star in his native South Africa when, inspired by Peter Tosh, he decided to switch to reggae in 1984. Dube, a talented keyboardist, built his signature sound with swooping, pitch-bending organ and synthesizer lines over a traditional roots rhythm section and horns. Released stateside in 1991, this towering, majestic live set was the band’s international breakthrough, capturing them at the peak of their trance-inducing power. It doesn’t have Dube’s biggest hit, the wrenchingly poignant Victims, but the set is still first-rate. Many of these songs clock in at close to ten minutes or more: the insistent Going Back to My Roots; the bouncy, swaying Together As One; the gospel-infused Born to Suffer and the catchy, anthemic The Hand That Giveth. Dube’s defiant anti-apartheid message comes across powerfully in Slave and Prisoner; the album ends with a sixteen-minute, dub-infused version of the anthem Truth in the World. He would live to see apartheid dismantled, go on to tour with Peter Gabriel and Midnight Oil before being murdered in a carjacking in 2007. Here’s a random torrent.

November 13, 2010 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, reggae music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album of the Day 10/27/10

Every day our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Wednesday’s album is #825:

Gregory Isaacs – Reggae Greats Live

The Cool Ruler has left Babylon: we’ve lost one of the great voices in reggae music. Gregory Isaacs died on Monday, at 59, leaving a legacy of literally hundreds of albums and many broken hearts. In the last few years, if you wanted to meet Jamaican women of a certain age, you could find them swaying to Night Nurse at a Gregory Isaacs show. This live album from 1983, probably recorded about a year earlier, doesn’t have that one but it does have a bunch of hits from the late 70s/early 80s when he was one of the biggest stars in Jamaica. As with the rest of his catalog, it’s a mix of sly come-ons (Isaacs was sort of the Jamaican Jimmy Reed) and righteous Rasta anthems. His biggest hit before Night Nurse was Number One (as in, “If you wanna be my number one…) and he opens with that, backed by a terrific oldschool roots band with lead guitar, electric piano and percussion. Stylistically, the songs run the gamut from oldschool rocksteady like Tune In (check out the vintage video from Rockers TV), Substitute or Mr. Brown to straight-up pop (Ooh What a Feeling). Other big Jamaican hits in the set include Soon Forward, Sunday Morning (not the Lou Reed song), Top Ten and Front Door. The politically-charged immigrant’s tale The Border closes the album on an epic note, a throwback to his early days as Rasta rebel. As reggae went more digital, so did Isaacs’ recordings, with predictable results, although pretty much anything he did before, say, this album, is usually worth a listen. And there’s a lot of it. Here’s a random torrent.

October 26, 2010 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, reggae music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album of the Day 10/25/10

Every day our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Monday’s album is #827:

Black Uhuru – Sinsemilla

For a brief period after Bob Marley’s untimely death, Black Uhuru was the biggest reggae band in the world. Touring with the Police (who they routinely blew off the stage, night after night on the Spirits in the Material World tour) didn’t hurt. It’s safe to say that everything they did with the original lineup (Mykal Rose, Puma Jones and Duckie Simpson on vocals, plus the incomparable rhythm section of Sly Dunbar on drums and Robbie Shakespeare on bass) is worth owning, if you’re into this stuff. We picked this 1980 album over their debut and the pretty sensational Live 1981 album because the tracks here are more diverse and arguably stronger than the tunes on on the first album, and because the live one has an anti-choice song on it. It’s nice to see how well it’s aged, with the band’s biggest hit, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, along with the reliably smile-inducing title track, the anthemic Push Push, Fire, and Endurance, the genuinely anguished Happiness, and the bitter, confrontational Vampire. They also celebrate their roots (and, ultimately, everybody’s roots) with World Is Africa: at the time this came out, being socially aware was a necessity if you wanted to get anywhere in reggae music. The harmonies soar and the band pulse along without any help from computers or drum machines. Here’s a random torrent.

October 25, 2010 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, reggae music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Toussaint’s Black Gold Evokes the Classics of Roots Reggae

Toussaint’s new album Black Gold is meticulously produced, stylistically diverse roots reggae that recalls what Burning Spear or Israel Vibration were doing in the late 80s and early 90s, although it’s more eclectic. The production may necessarily lean toward a digital feel, but the songs and playing are strictly roots. It’s amazing how much time and care went into this cd: there’s a real horn section, bass and drums, lead guitar and organ, no cheesy synthesizers or lame electronic drums. Toussaint brings gravitas and charisma to his songs, alternating between fervent, laid-back and thoughtful while his band provides an aptly hypnotic, lush groove. The conflict between the spiritual and the material, a classic roots dilemma, arises frequently: “Why you want tv flash in your eyes?” Toussaint challenges on the album’s opening cut, Nobody Knows. That question takes centerstage on the swaying, determined Roots in a Modern Time, which wouldn’t be out of place in the Burning Spear songbook. The same could be said for the darkly slinky Rise and Fall. Many of these tracks echo the more hit-oriented side of Bob Marley, but as inspiration rather than a ripoff, like the catchy, pulsing This Song, another positive, spiritually-charged number, and the bouncy Look Up. A couple of others remind of classic 70s-era Steel Pulse: the evocative reminiscence Rise and Fall, and the sufferah’s anthem Marching, right down to its martial drumbeat.

A couple of the tracks veer off on a pleasant detour into vintage 60s-style soul music; another blends dark art-rock with gospel piano, not something ordinarily found on a roots reggae album, but it’s welcome just the same. The album winds up with the optimistic Changing, looking forward to the future now that the Bush regime is out of office, and the absolutely gorgeous Rain Again. Toussaint obviously takes his cue here from Marley’s Redemption Song, but in place of the acoustic guitar he substitutes Youssoupha Sidibe’s kora, his inspired rivulets on the African harp adding an extra shimmery texture. For anyone who misses the days when you could tune in to Earl “Rootsman” Chin and see this kind of stuff on Rockers TV, Toussaint will bring back some fond memories with his unique, tuneful and smartly conscious styles. It’s out now on I Grade Records.

October 14, 2010 Posted by | Music, music, concert, reggae music, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Album of the Day 9/29/10

Every day our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Wednesday’s album is #853:

Israel Vibration – Vibes Alive

There are few more heartwarming music success stories than Israel Vibration. The vocal trio of Wiss (Lascelle Bulgin), Skelly (Cecil Spence) and Apple (Albert Craig), all crippled by polio in early childhood, met in their early teens in a Jamaican orphanage. They discovered Rastafari, left for the bush and the rest is history, as documented in the film Israel Vibration: Reggae in the Holy Land. Over the course of their 35-year career, they’ve released over a dozen albums and all of them are worth owning, if you like classic reggae. Their harmonies may be wobbly, but their songwriting, even by roots reggae standards, is firmly entrenched in the here and now, whether attacking the inequalities of the system, standing up for the sufferahs or simply celebrating a good time. They’ve also released two first-rate live albums, this one from their 1992 US tour being the first, including a good, inspired mix of their many styles: the confrontational Vultures and Racial Discrimination; a defiantly careening version of the ganja-smoking anthem Red Eyes; a raw, guitar-fueled take of the prisoner’s lament On the Rock; and a lusciously jangly, redemptive, practically rock version of Pay Day, which might be their best song. Behind them, bassist Flabba Holt leads the Roots Radics band through one joyous vamp after another as the audience enthusiastically eggs them on to stop the song and start it all over again. Craig left the band in the early zeros; Bulgin and Spence carry on under the same name and continue to tour worldwide. Here’s a random torrent.

September 29, 2010 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, reggae music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album of the Day 9/19/10

Every day our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Sunday’s album is #863:

Peter Tosh – Live at the One Love Peace Concert

This is the famous 1978 concert where Bob Marley, in an effort to quell sectarian violence in Jamaica, forced Presidential candidates Michael Manley and his right-wing opponent Edward Seaga to shake hands onstage. Marley’s set that night was filmed, most of it included in the documentary Heartland Reggae. Tosh’s wasn’t, but the audio was recorded and issued thirteen years after his 1987 murder on the small Jad label. With the legendary rhythm section of Sly Dunbar on drums and Robbie Shakespeare on bass, Tosh and his band deliver a long, psychedelic, absolutely incendiary set punctuated by long, foul-mouthed, stream-of-consciousness rants. “We don’t want peace, we want justice,” Tosh declared right at the start, blowing smoke from his giant spliff in the direction of the candidates. He kicks off the show with the Rasta benediction Igziabeher and then launches into one scathing number after another, starting with 400 Years, which memorializes the Middle Passage while reminding that de facto slavery is still very much alive in the third world. He opens Burial with a withering critique of globalization, follows that with Equal Rights and then a long, rambling demand for marijuana legalization that eventually leads into a ten-minute version of Legalize It and then his signature song (which Tosh actually co-wrote with Marley in the days when he was the Wailers’ bassist), Get Up, Stand Up. Tosh would be beaten within an inch of his life by thugs after the show as retaliation. No freedom of speech in Jamaica in those days. Pretty much everything Tosh ever recorded is worth owning; he may not have had his bandmate’s gift for pop melody, but his vision of liberation continues to inspire new generations around the world. Here’s a random torrent.

September 19, 2010 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, reggae music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review from the Archives: Jimmy Cliff and Burning Spear at the New Ritz, NYC 8/25/92

[Editor’s note – this is what we do when we’re on vacation: raid our archive of over a thousand, mostly unpublished accounts of New York concerts for some blasts from the past. In the old days, August was reggae month – here’s a classic example]

Majek Fashek opened with his innocuous, percussive blend of reggae and afropop, surrounded by an entourage that included a midget percussionist and undulating female backup singers. Surprisingly, the Man from the Hills was next on the bill instead of headlining, playing mainly new and unfamiliar tracks from his just-released Jah Kingdom album (including the title track, a bouncy number, the only recognizable one of the new songs). He also did a handful of similarly pop-oriented, upbeat cuts like The Youth, from his Live in Paris album. Peering through slits of eyes, he delivered his signature loose extended jams on give-thanks-and-praise lyrical motifs. His hot band included a three-piece horn section, and a guitarist whose effects boxes provided organ and Stevie Wonder harmonica sounds. Jimmy Cliff followed with a driven and inspired performance: he’s political, pissed as hell, getting inspiration from all over the place and it shows. He told the crowd that the UN had made him a “spiritual ambassador.” He opened with War A Africa. Another new one, a slow, lush keyboard ballad, How Can There Be Peace attacked the Rodney King verdict. A surprisingly fresh version of The Harder They Come appeared as well as an even more surprisingly inspired, sweepingly majestic, powerfully rendered Many Rivers to Cross. His excellent band included three percussionists (four if you count Cliff) and two keyboardists, not to mention Cliff’s kids wandering the stage and toying with all the drums. The show ended with Cliff solo on acoustic guitar (he’s a lefty, as it turns out), playing A Higher and Deeper Love, the band finally joining him on the last chorus. An uplifting, redemptive note to end the night.

August 25, 2010 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, reggae music, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Song of the Day 8/15/10

Every day, we count down the 1000 best albums of all time all the way to #1. Sunday’s album is #898:

Jacob Miller – Reggae Greats

Jacob Miller was the frontman and main songwriter of Inner Circle, the roots reggae group unfortunately best known today for their mid-80s hit Bad Boys, which was appropriated as the theme for the Fox TV show Police Brutality Against Black and Latino People, a.k.a Cops. This collection from the early 80s has all of his big 70s Jamaican hits, many of them backed by studio stars like Robbie Shakespeare, Sly Dunbar and Chinna Smith. Miller mixed ganja-smoking anthems like Tired Fe Lick Weed in a Bush, Tenement Yard and The Healing of the Nation with sly, sensual pop like I’ve Got the Handle and the somewhat bizarre orthodox rasta anthem 8000 Careless Ethiopians. As with the rest of his brethren from that era, there’s a lot of his stuff out there: some is choice (like his posthumous live 1979 album with Inner Circle); some is lo-fi and dodgy. Miller was killed in a car accident in 1980. Here’s a random torrent of the album.

August 15, 2010 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, reggae music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

El Pueblo Take You to the Islands

The cover image of El Pueblo’s new cd, a map of the Caribbean, pretty much says it all: they play just about every style of reggae ever invented, including some they can take credit for coming up with themselves. And they do it well: if their new album, Isla, is any indication, they could stretch pretty much all of these tracks out into mind-warping psychedelic dub. It’s a mix of instrumentals and vocal numbers in both Spanish and English, featuring Robert Julian’s skanking reverb guitar, Lucas Leto’s shuffling drums, Kevin Sherman’s tasteful bass and Jeremy Danneman’s warmly balmy alto sax along with guest Danny LoPresti’s bubbling organ on two tracks. For the instrumentals, the obvious comparison is the Augustus Pablo classic East of the River Nile, if you substitute sax for the melodica and take the energy level up about a hundred degrees. The songs are a strikingly original blend of roots reggae with edgy rock en Español tinges, frontman Chino Sing’s casual, laid-back presence a perfect match with the band.

The album opens with its most dub-flavored track, Babylon Is a Chain Gang, textures rising and falling out of the mix Lee “Scratch” Perry style – and then they suddenly come out of the smoky cloud with sunny sax. They follow it with the first of two chorus box-driven reggae-pop tunes and then Dejate Llevar, which is catchy and Marleyesque, like something off the Kaya album, with a sly wah-wah guitar solo. Cabarete sounds like a vintage Skatalites instrumental gone halfspeed, with Danneman’s low, sultry clarinet taking the lead. One of the best songs here is the workingman’s anthem Babylon System Slave: “Don’t talk to me about freedom,” Sing asserts, not with 40 hours of misery looming in the week ahead. The other is the absolutely gorgeous El Capata, a swinging, hypnotic, Americana-tinged ballad rich with jangly, clinking acoustic guitar textures. There’s also the title cut, a big, guitar-fueled reggae anthem, a couple of playful, fun dub-tinged instrumentals, the lively ska jam Tatica’s Town and the closing track, The Ocean, a thoughtful reggae-rock ballad with gentle waves of reverb guitar. What a fun summertime album. El Pueblo play Shrine uptown on 8/27 at 9 PM.

August 7, 2010 Posted by | latin music, Music, reggae music, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment