Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Album of the Day 4/12/11

Every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Tuesday’s album is #658:

The Congos – Heart of the Congos

Considered to be dub producer genius Lee “Scratch” Perry’s finest hour, this 1977 roots reggae classic was reissued as a double cd in 1993 along with a handful of rare, consistently excellent, absolutely psychedelic dub versions of original album tracks. The harmony trio’s lead singer Cedric Myton’s falsetto soars over the oldschool backing unit, including Boris Gardiner on bass and Ernie Ranglin on guitar, as Perry moves one instrument and then another through the mix, twisting and turning them inside out, sometimes breaking it down to just the drums or the bass, everything drenched in reverb. The songs run the gamut: from the remake of the old mento song Fisherman (complete with a basso profundo shout-out to a local herb dealer); the hypnotic chant Congoman; the gospel-influenced Open Up the Gate, Sodom and Gomorrow and Can’t Come In; the sufferahs’ anthems La La Bam Bam (Jamaican patwa for “clusterfuck”) and Children Crying; and the Rasta anthems Ark of the Covenant, Solid Foundation and At the Feast. Here’s a random torrent.

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April 11, 2011 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

CD Review: The Spy from Cairo – Secretly Famous

The audio equivalent of good hashish. Ridiculously catchy, danceable and psychedelic, The Spy from Cairo has put together an upbeat album that spans practically every style of pop music to come out of the Arab world over the last fifty years. The production is typical of what you get these days in Middle Eastern pop, somewhat slick and artificial with synthesizer and percussion loops in addition to the layers of real drums and percussion here. The “secretly famous” artist here also plays soulfully and intensely on the oud, saz (the gorgeously plinky Turkish lute), ney flute and a small army of percussion instruments, all of which happily get long, extended solos over the throb of the beat. What’s new and innovative is the dubwise feel he brings to much of this – for example, he turns the Farid Al Atrache oud classic Ala Shan into Egyptian reggae as someone like Mad Professor or Niney the Observer might do, instruments fading up into the mix and then out just as quickly when you least expect them.

The originals are just as good. The opening track, cleverly titled Nayphony works a catchy ney flute hook over a slinky trip-hop beat and a gorgeous, classically-inflected Arab melody, cifteli (an Albanian version of the saz) clinking beautifully as the string synthesizer climbs and then fades above it all. The second track is a Jordanian wedding tune given a snakecharmer feel with drum-n-bass production. With vocals and lyrics by guest chaneuse Ghalia Benali, Ana Arabi defiantly evokes Arab pride – and pride in denouncing terrorism – over a hypnotic, atmospheric dance-pop tune.

The single most gorgeous song here is Leila, a tribute to the great Mohamed Abdel Wahab with a long, exhilarating, pointillistic kanun solo. There’s also Kembe, which is trip-hop with oud playing variations on a hypnotic two-chord vamp; Jennaty, a particularly psychedelic, slightly funky number with oud played through a wah pedal; and Saidi the Man, a classic bellydance tune redone first as dancefloor pop, morphing back in time to a mesmerizing jam out with saz and percussion. Plus a resoundingly successful, woozily Rachid Taha-esque venture into rai-reggae. This is first and foremost a headphone album (those ipod earbuds don’t do justice to the fatness of the bass here); it also ought to make a great party-starter (or finisher: crank this at 4 AM if you’re in a space where either your neighbors can’t hear it, or if they’re cool and they might come over and wind down the night with you).

January 29, 2010 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: Alpha Blondy at Central Park Summerstage, NYC 7/19/09

Tuesday, July 14, 2009, sometime during the night: a massive computer crash at Lucid Culture HQ cuts off all electronic communication with the outside world, eliminating any possibility of contacting the show organizers for press list to assure access.

Sunday, July 19, 6:30 AM: system finally up and running again. Drink lots of water, contemplate a last-minute attempt to find out who the organizers are and contact them, decide this would only be an exercise in futility. Do some writing, back to bed at 9:30 AM, exhausted.

1:30 PM: awake again. Time to head to the concert!

2:07 PM: no uptown trains. What to do?

2:23 PM: Finally an uptown train, running express on the local track. Thank you Jah!

3:04 PM: The rent-a-pigs at the space are only letting people in one at a time. The line of potential concertgoers extends a quarter mile beyond the arena, and the opening band hasn’t even gone on yet. People standing listlessly with their ipods and their books – a woman reads Proust. Tolstoy would make more sense – she’s going to be here awhile. Time to find a drink – a bar? After Saturday night, no way. Maybe there’s a cheap deli somewhere? Not in this neighborhood. A leisurely stroll east ends at the Duane Reade over on First Avenue and 66th St. who have big cans of lousy, sweet iced tea for a dollar.

4:06 PM: Back at the arena where Lee “Scratch” Perry has taken the stage. Have seen him before. He’s insane. He’s also a genius. He invented dub reggae, then burned down his famous Black Ark studio where he made all those classic recordings. Now in his seventies, supposedly he lives in Switzerland with a much younger wife and still tours regularly: roast fish and collie weed obviously have a sustaining power for him. He’s not that good live, muttering gnomic Rasta “reasonings” over a live band. He worships marijuana – the plant isn’t just a sacrament to him, it’s the embodiment of the deity itself.  Meanwhile, the line remains exactly where it was an hour before. Perry isn’t the insane one here, it’s the people in line! Do they really think they have a prayer of getting inside the show? The woman reading Proust is gone, maybe home to get her copy of War & Peace. Time to take a stroll down to the plaza past the arena.

4:45 PM: Perry’s band is ok. A couple of times they do a little dub, some swirling, echoey organ, some piano but mostly it’s just one long vamp after another. From down the hill, most of Perry’s vocals are inaudible and those that aren’t don’t make any sense. Not that they’d make any more sense if they were. It would be nice to be able to see something but it’s also nice to be outside under the trees with plenty of space.

5:20 PM: The line has mostly disappeared, but the place is clearly sold out. Ivory Coast reggae legend Alpha Blondy has taken the stage, barely visible from beyond the wooden fence just short of the press tent outside. He’s got a couple of women singing harmony, a horn section, a couple of guitars and keyboards. He looks resplendent in his gold robe. The sound is all highs and lows with not much midrange, screechy guitar opening the show with a long, note-for-note Zeppelin riff, bass booming, hypnotic and comforting. Just down the hill behind the back wall of the arena, people have brought their blankets, their picnics, their beer. The sound is great back here, and it’s a lot more comfortable than having to stand inside. Scratch Perry’s deity is everywhere, in the air, in peoples’ lungs, in their red eyes. Time to find a tree that hasn’t been taken, get some back support. One with the earth, yes I! Alpha Blondy plays a greatest-hits show. Despite rumors of ill health, he sounds relaxed and invigorated, at least as invigorated as one can be over such a slinky, relaxed groove. Unity is his central theme: the unity of people, religions, ethnicities and nationalities. They play the big anthem Jerusalem and later the catchy title track from his landmark 1984 album Cocody Rock, recorded with the Wailers. Alpha Blondy sings in French, his native Dioula and in English on a particularly fiery, upbeat version of Staring Straight, later a rocking version of Life Is a Sacrifice with a seemingly endless, pointless metal guitar solo and then Yitzhak Rabin, his tribute to the assassinated Israeli peace crusader. Eventually they do band intros over the chorus of Bob Marley’s The Heathen and then an actually very moving reggae version of Wish You Were Here. He takes one of Roger Waters’ most poignant lyrics – “We’re just two lost souls swimming in a fishbowl year after year/Running over the same old ground/How we found the same old fear/Wish you were here” – and makes a chorus out of them, coming back to them again and again. The old guys in classic rock tour t-shirts leaning against the wire fence sway to the bassline; the crowd of enthusiastic Ivoirians at the top of the bleachers in the back of the arena wave their flags in time with the music. Suddenly it’s 1994 again.

July 22, 2009 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

CD Review: Easy Star’s Lonely Hearts Dub Band

This is the third classic album playfully covered by the all-star New York-based roots reggae crew the Easy Star All-Stars, after Dub Side of the Moon and Radiodread. Basically, what they discovered is you can take pretty much anything and make reggae out of it and it’ll sound good. Consider: Shinehead took the odious Seals & Crofts hit Summer Breeze, changed the lyrics, retitled it Collie Weed and…a classic! Thankfully, this album demonstrates far more craftsmanship and subtlety. In fact, in a lot of ways it’s actually better than the original. The band is vastly tighter and the production is far more focused yet brimming with little touches that are often laugh-out-loud funny, much in the same vein as Brian Jonestown Massacre or XTC’s lovingly spot-on parodies of 60s psychedelia, issued under the Dukes of Stratosphear pseudonym a little over 20 years ago.

 

At the end of the opening theme, in lieu of McCartney’s satirical voiceover, a toaster delivers a brief Rasta benediction. From there, the producers have completely mixed up the tracks, but it’s still a fun ride. Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds has bright, melismatic Frankie Paul loverman vocals with ringing guitar that pays homage to the original. Getting Better features the Mighty Diamonds on vocals, sounding as good as ever, slowing it down from the original’s farcical stomp. The only drawback is that the original’s silliness was its selling point: rearranged this way, it’s a nice poppy reggae song, nothing more.

 

Fixing a Hole features none other than Max Romeo on vocals, a hilariously apt choice considering his notoriously disingenuous claim that his big hit Wet Dream was actually about a leaky roof! This one gets deliciously spacy echoes of vintage Scratch Perry. She’s Leaving Home gets a soulful, rather sultry vocal treatment by a newcomer, Kirsty Rock over a fast rocksteady beat. Without missing a beat, the bass drops out and the reverb kicks in when you least expect it. For the Benefit of Mr. Kite has the English Beat’s Ranking Roger on lead vocals, bringing it up doublespeed from the spacy dub first verse and then back again just as fast.

 

Within You Without You has a sitar and Matisyahu doing his best cantorial impression, and he actually doesn’t embarrass himself, with a vivid string section playing much of the original sitar part. When I’m Sixty-Four begins with a trombone call and goes on for over five minutes, Sugar Minott on vox, a showcase for the excellent horn section featuring the nucleus of the Burning Brass, baritone sax virtuoso Jenny Hill and trumpet goddess Pam Fleming, with an understatedly woozy dub breakdown.

 

Lovely Rita has Bunny Rugs and U-Roy, the latter taking it back to 1972 or so with his best Dread in a Babylon-style off-the-cuff nonsense. Good Morning Good Morning is the weakest track here, Steel Pulse sounding slick and uninspired like they were on their studio albums from the 80s rather than mining the classic, dark, heavy sound they’ve recently rediscovered with a vengeance. Surprisingly, the Sgt. Pepper reprise is next, followed by A Day in the Life. Done with an insistent Ras Michael style riddim, it has Michael Rose of Black Uhuru and Menny More sharing vocals, the band holding perfectly steady as the orchestra rises to a crescendo, the final piano note oscillating dubwise for just as long as George Martin’s fist-on-the-strings. A Little Help from My Friends has Luciano on lead vocals, and it might be the best song he’s ever done, thanks to the band’s inspired performance. Right now the whole album is available for streaming at imeem. Caveat: after the first song, don’t forget to refresh the page, otherwise you’ll be assaulted by a loud audio ad. And make sure your popup blocker is working.

 

Since this crew seem to have dedicated themselves to covering one iconic artist after another, we’d like to suggest a few ideas. Dread at the Apollo would be James Brown covers, preferably recorded live, uptown at the same place – hey, it would be a short train ride for most of the musicians. The Man in Red, Gold and Green would be Johnny Cash songs. And to give the lady performers a chance to flex, how about Fox Confessor Bring de Herb? That would be Neko Case, yeah mon!  

April 14, 2009 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment