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Tag: dub reggae

A Brilliant Live Album From Reggae Road Warrors Tribal Seeds

Roots reggae band Tribal Seeds were a big draw on the summer festival circuit until the lockdown. All that time on the road obviously inspired their latest album, Live 2020, streaming at Bandcamp. It’s one of the few records made in a studio during that time to surface so far, and even though there was (presumably) no audience there giving the band energy to feed off, their set really nails the outside-the-box sensibility of their live show.

This is a long album, fourteen tracks. The template seems to be Burning Spear’s immortal 1988 Live in Paris record: prominent lead guitar, brassy horn breaks, a kaleidoscope of keyboard textures and many breakdowns into dub. They don’t waste time hitting a dubwise, echoey theme as the opening number, Down Bad Vibes gathers steam, part Burning Spear’s We Are Going and Exodus-era Bob Marley. 

With echoey guitar, swirly organ and balmy horns, Rude Girl has more of a 21st century, post-pop vibe, reverbtoned sax and more dubby echoes bursting up from individual instruments. This time out the group – frontman/guitarist Steven Jacobo, guitarist Ryan Gonzo, bassist Victor Navarro, keyboardists Louie Castle and drummer Jamey “Zeb” Dekofsky – are joined by the brass of trombonist Josh Molle, saxophonist Warren Huang and trumpeter plus a string  quartet of violinists Hannah Yim, Joe Sanders and Taichiroh Kanauchi, and cellist Jay Hemphill.

They pick up the pace with Guerra, a bubbling, minor-key antiwar anthem in Spanish. Then they slow things down again for Tempest, first bringing to mind Jah Spear and then hitting a catchy Marleyesque four-chord groove with crackling clavinova and spacy organ.

Taking a cue from Peter Tosh for inspiration, the band lash out at “illuminati” in Blood Clot, picking up with an ominous vortex and a snarling, metalish guitar solo out: total Spear, 1988. Fallen Kings has a stark, echoey string section on the intro and a wry detour into J.S. Bach before the band pulse and swoosh their way the rest of the way: the orchestration is a really cool touch.

Dark Angel is even more orchestral: the idea of a reggae suspense movie theme might seem pretty insane, but this works insanely well. Then the band completely flip the script with Lift, a bright, bouncy love song.

Lushness returns along with the bubbling organ and bass and sunbaked guitar in Surrender. The band kick off Sekkle and Cool, their signature anthem, with a big, crescendoing sax solo, loosen into a dubby thicket and then pull back onto the rails. Then the band go back to vintage Marley catchiness with Moonlight, spiced with classical-flavored piano and shivery strings.

They stay in Marley mode with In Your Eyes, but with all kinds of neat touches: squiggly clavinet and a little surf drums. The defiant, blazing Spear ambience returns in Gunsmoke with sunburst horns and a jagged, slashing guitar break. The band wind up the set, pulling out all the eerie stops with the strings and guitars and keys in Vampire “Corruption spread like a virus.” No joke.

There hasn’t been a new roots reggae album this long, and this strong from beginning to end in years.

A Deep Roots Reggae Hanukkah Record From the Temple Rockers

Tommy Benedetti’s simple one-two nyabinghi drumbeat echoes over sparse jungle bird noise as the new Temple Rockers album Festival of Lights – streaming at Bandcamp – gets underway. Is this a throwback to the golden age of roots reggae and dub, in the spirit of Ras Michael and Lee Scratch Perry?

Kind of. If you’ve ever lit your spliff from the menorah, this is your jam. While the festival of lights and gambling has officially passed, this album of Hanukkah-themed reggae songs, many of them familiar themes reinvented with a one-drop beat, will keep the spirit alive if you’re in the mood.

The production values are spot-on: a wah effect on the organ, chicken-scratch guitar, clouds of grey noise wafting in the distance, ample reverb on pretty much everything except bandleader David Gould’s bass and the spicy brass flourishes that punctuate the high points. All this makes even more sense considering that Gould’s main gig is with perennial tour favorites John Brown’s Body.

While there have been Hanukkah reggae songs over the years, this one of a very small handful of albums celebrating the holiday Which is surprising, considering how well the Jewish diaspora has been represented on the jamband circuit over the years, and that a disproportionate number of white dreads are Jews.

Roots reggae vets Linval Thompson, Wayne Jarrett and Ansel Meditations share vocals with the group’s regular frontman, Craig Akira Fujita, giving the music immense Jamdown cred. The first track is the brisk, bouncy Days Long Ago, with its tasty organ and tradeoffs between trumpet and trombone. Not to rain on your parade, dudes…but the hora is a wedding dance, not something people typically do after lighting the menorah. But maybe it’s time to revisit that tradition.

The rest of the album touches on the Hanukkah story without belaboring it. Rock of Ages is more rocksteady-tinged, like something the Melodians might have done in the 70s. Do You Know Why, a famous holiday theme, has deliciously bluesy lead guitar and smoky baritone sax. The klezmer reggae fire keeps burning with the instrumental Pour Some Oil, Gould’s bass carrying the tune as the horns get a little crazy

Spin Dem is a slinky reminder of how Rasta and Jewish iconography are so often interchangeable. Festival Song is an irresistibly coy, punchy rocksteady remake of Dreydl, Dreydl, Dreydl. Who Can Retell, with its wobbly vocals, celebrates a global unity theme: it’s practically a dead ringer for a Congos classic. Much the same could be said for Almighty Light, with its brooding horns

About the Miracles, a return to Hebrew reggae, is the album’s catchiest number. The album winds up with its dubbiest track, Lickle Jug and then the glistening rocksteady vamp I Have a Candle, with bracing mutitracked vocals by Gould’s sister Lisa. Not only is this destined to become a classic of Jewish holiday music: there’s also a dub version available.

Purist Roots Reggae Band John Brown’s Body Make a Long-Awaited Manhattan Return

John Brown’s Body have been touring for longer than Bob Marley & the Wailers were together.

Think about that for a second.

If you count the point in the mid-60s where ska slowed down to rocksteady, and Toots & the Maytals had a hit with Do the Reggay, roots reggae has been around for half a century. And it’s been a long time since reggae was CNN for Rastafarians and the Jamaican pro-democracy underground.

And it seems like almost as long since John Brown’s Body played a good New York venue. These road warriors’ most recent album, Fireflies – streaming at Soundcloud – has been sitting on the hard drive here waiting for the moment that they’d say boom bye bye to Williamsburg bowling alley Babylon. Good news: they’re playing Bowery Ballroom on Dec 1 at 10ish; cover is $20.

The album’s brassy, minor-key first track is Badman. The song was recorded before the 2016 Presidential election, and it alludes to exploitation of immigrants and working people rather than the tweeting twit in the Oval Office. Still:

Created a master fool
Pay what is natural
Won’t be your slave
Don’t want to obey

Reggae wasn’t always just about getting stoned and chilling.

Realistically, not many people other than musicians are going to listen to this album for every single lyric or nuance. But you have to hand it to this band for nailing every oldschool trope from the rocksteady era to the early 80s, right before the Sleng Teng riddim changed the game.

Tour enough and you can afford the equipment and the studio time to do this like legends. Some highlights: keyboardist JP Petronzio’s subtle organ flickers on the album’s title track, and his growly sub-bass clavinova on the aptly titled Mystery; drummer Tommy Benedetti’s straight-to-dub snare hits; the spot-on evocation of early Maytals rocksteady in Hard Man Fe Dead; trumpeter Sam Dechenne’s horn chart from High Grade, straight out of a blazing Burning Spear anthem circa 1975.

The three-part harmonies on Mash Them Down, another pro-immigrant anthem that would make the Mighty Diamonds proud. That sneaky Aswad reference in the Steel Pulse soundalike New Fashion. The dubwise production, especially with the layers of echo effects in Pure Fire. Singer Elliot Martin’s vengeful “You never look me in the eye” on the closing cut, Who Paid Them Off. Amazing how much you can do with two chords if you have the imagination, isn’t it? Is it time for all the new jacks to do a John Brown’s Body tribute album?

A Second Sick, Reverb-Drenched Disc of Holiday Dub from Super Hi-Fi

Super Hi-Fi play live dub reggae. Their signature sound blends the twin-trombone frontline of Rick Parker and Curtis Fowlkes (of Lounge Lizards/Jazz Passengers fame) into a moodier, sometimes noir-tinged take on vintage Lee Scratch Perry or what the Skatalites were doing in their quieter moments during the golden age of Jamaican ska. When the band started, they had more of an Afrobeat feel, no surprise since bassist/bandleader Ezra Gale led first-rate, second-wave Bay Area Afrobeat band Aphrodesia. These days, they’re a lot slinkier and more low key. From their doomy and seriously excellent debut album, Dub to the Bone, you’d have no idea just how funny this band can be…unless you also know the follow-up to that, Yule Analog Vol. 1, a snarky collection of dub versions of Christmas carols. Sure enough, when the band went into the studio, they did enough of those to fill not one but two cds  – four album sides, considering that the band is known for their vinyl releases – of this shit. And they’re back, with Yule Analog, Vol. 2 – streaming at Bandcamp – and a show in the front window at the intimate, laid-back Bar Chord in Ditmas Park on December 19 at 9.

The previous collection opened with a theme that Jethro Tull was known for pilfering – are you laughing yet? This time it’s Simon & Garfunkel. OK, not a Simon & Garfunkel original, and not with the samples or the antiwar message. What it does have is tons of reverb on the guitar, gently oscillating organ, a rhythm section that sways rather than skanks along and meanderingly goodnatured ska-jazz trombone solos. It sets the stage: the most recurring joke here is the cat-and-mouse game about what song they’re playing and how far they go with it.

O Come All Ye Faithfull (with the double L in “faithfull” – oldschool 90s stoner humor?) doesn’t do that as much, and after awhile the carol has you reaching for the fast-forward. The Christmas Song takes a very, very, very familiar Irving Berlin theme toward swing, with a wry Mitch Marcus tenor sax solo that fades just when it seems like there’s a serious punchline on deck. But the Tschaikovsky theme is killer: who else would have thought to wring Jamdown noir and ambient noise from the Nutcracker?

Gale and drummer Madhu Siddappa keep What Child Is This very close to the ground for a bit until the screams from Jon Lipscomb’s guitar signal another chorus: it’s not hard to imagine this epically delicious plate emanating from the Black Ark in a cloud of ganja smoke circa 1976. They follow that with a funny ska song, Please Santa Bring Me an Echoplex, the album’s only vocal number.

The rest of the tracks are versions of the early songs, and each is an improvement. O Come All Ye etc. gets a black-hole spin through the Echoplex. The Tschaikovsky grows into a mind-altering blend of the baroque, King Tubby and postbop jazz. There’s also the noisy What Version Is This?  [memo to self – isn’t there a carol called It Came Upon a  Midnight Clear?] and a brief Echoplex Reprise. The joke works better before or after December: as heavy disguises as these songs wear, it’s hard to avoid reaching holiday smarm saturation point this time of year. Unless you do your grocery shopping and other retail stuff where this blog travels – in that case, that means salsa, bachata, reggaeton and Polish hip-hop. All of which have never sounded better than they have this month.

Trippy, Creepy Surf Rock from France’s La Femme

If there was a surf band in Blade Runner, or in Jabba the Hut’s lounge, it would be La Femme. The French group sound like no other band on the planet – or maybe the universe. While many of the tracks on their latest album, Psycho Tropical Berlin – streaming at Youtube – are instrumentals, the band’s latest shtick is to have a mystery woman guest as vocalist on many of the tracks, appropriate enough considering what the band call themselves. They’re at Glasslands on March 23 at 11ish for $12.

Their basic m.o. is to surround their often creepily Lynchian, twangy surf guitar with all kinds of layers of synths, some of them weirdly offcenter and adding to the uneasy ambience, some of them pretty cheesy. Their French lyrics often aim for humor, with mixed results: the music is the point here. The album’s opening track, Antitaxi, sets the stage: noir sci-fi keys speed up to a motorik spy movie theme of sorts, which gives way to shivery faux organ and eventually the Ventures-in-space guitar kicks in. Amour Dans le Motu makes a creepier cousin to that number, an organ-fueled baroque surf number with an unexpectedly atmospheric mellotron interlude midway through.

The band’s titular song is funk-pop with tremolo-bar guitar: on one level, it’s totally 80s, on another it’s completely original to this band. A slow Lynchian tone poem simply titled Interlude is next, followed by the equally Lynchian reggae of Hypsoline and Sur la Planche 2013, which takes early Ventures noir forward fifty years in time with synth bass and a big shuffling drum crescendo.

They go back to reggae, with some scary dialogue (in French) seemingly from a Chernobyl documentary, and then some bizarre but good boogie-woogie piano, in From Tchernobyl With Love. They mix up spy surf with cheesy dancefloor electronics in Packshot, then shift to a moody minor-key reggae/trip-hop mashup with Saisis La Corde. Le Blues de Francoise drifts along on a swooshy organ grove, a tale about a girl with problems.

With a grand total of twenty tracks, the album thins out as it goes along. The good stuff includes some more baroque spacerock and then a hypnotically murky dub version, some ominous trip-hop and a stab at Orbison noir through the warped, synthesized prism of new wave. On the downside, there’s one song that nicks the Modern Lovers’ Roadrunner, another that’s an overlong attempt to remake New Order’s Temptation, along with ripoffs of Blondie’s Heart of Glass and Berlin’s The Metro, a Missing Persons soundalike, some halfhearted Chuck Berry gone hi-tech plus a considerably more techy, purposeless remake of one of the songs on their previous release, Le Podium. Still, when this band is on their game, the ambience they create is as genuinely as it is offhandedly sinister.

It Takes a Lot of Nerve to Call Your Band 10 Foot Ganja Plant

Oldschool dub reggae connoisseurs 10 Foot Ganja Plant celebrate the release of their thirteenth album, Skycatcher, with a rare live show at the Sinclair in Boston on Sept 20. The band plans to have the record “in all good record stores” by Sept 24. One thing that distinguishes 10 Foot Ganja Plant from the other dub groups is that they encompass the entire world of classic dub, from the tail end of the rocksteady era through Lee “Scratch” Perry, on forward to King Tubby and then their own main group, John Brown’s Body. The other is the songwriting: the tracks here are all actual songs, not just two-chord vamps where everything drops down to just the bass, or the keyboard, or the drums…you know the drill. Unless you’re high, that stuff gets old fast. This draws you in and keeps you there all the way through, an eclectic mix of oldschool Jamaican riddims and riffs, instrumentals and vocal numbers.

The first two tracks set the stage: instead of doing the song and then the version, they open with the version and then follow with the fully fleshed-out song so you can see the whole thing coming together. It’s a cool idea. As with the best dub, it’s the little touches that keep it interesting: wisps of melodica, a rattle, reverby conga hits and even wah synth like in the old days of John Brown’s Body back in the 90s. Jay Champany, whose raspy voice has sung many of this group’s songs over the years, carries the song, which doesn’t neglect crafty little elements like the echoey snare riffage in the background, and a fat bass break.

The anthemic Collect the Trophy sounds like Harry Chapin Cat’s in the Cradle done as dub reggae – and is this about the Cannabis Cup? Like most of the tracks here, Sounding Zone is anchored by a wicked bass hook, set against a casual, emphatic sax vamp, punchy brass in and out against woozy synth. State of Man has JBB founder emeritus Kevin Kinsella’s falsetto channeling the Congo’s Cedric Myton all the way through. The title track makes a stark contrast with its ominous minor-key harmonica and distantly austere, spacious vibe, then gets fleshed out with Kinsella on the mic.

Champany sings the angry, biting, minor-key Hypocrites in Town , “a warning to all deceivers,” the full band nimbly weaving in and out. The poppiest track here, Sometimes We Play reminds of vintage Marley, circa Kaya – again, it’s the bass hook that drives it. Champany returns to take the album out on a high note on the lively rocksteady of Sing and Dance. As is this band’s custom, there are no musician credits: these guys like mystery, in the real world as well as the musical sense.

Sly and Robbie Bring It Down to the Roots

Sly and Robbie played a deep, purist set of roots reggae grooves at Metrotech Park in downtown Brooklyn yesterday, arguably the highlight of an otherwise lacklustre, ostensibly “R&B” themed weekly summer series booked by BAM. What kind of axe does legendary roots reggae bassist Robbie Shakespeare play? A standard issue Fender Jazz model. He stuck to the hooks he’s famous for, holding down the low end, a couple of times reaching down for boomy chords during one dub interlude. No slapping, no Jaco-style showboating, just soul. Behind his drum kit, Dunbar was much the same. He kept the one-drop going, having fun during the dub sections firing off hypnotic, steady volleys of eighth notes rather than any kind of gratuitous showmanship. No wonder these guys are considered one of the greatest rhythm sections ever.

They opened with a long series of instrumentals, backing a simple, direct, rock-solid trio of musicians: a trombonist who doubled on vocals and dancehall toasting, harmonizing with the keyboardist and edgy guitarist who contributed a single aching, searing, sustain-driven solo early in the set. They went down into dub a lot, oldschool style, dropping instruments out of the mix and back in again, pushing the echo fader up and down again, the keyboardist adding the occasionally blippy flourish. The band stuck mostly with minor keys, enhancing the dark, hypnotic ambience. The best of the early grooves first sounded like a dub of Burning Spear’s Old Marcus Garvey but then turned out to be On Broadway: it’s amazing how far you can get with just two chords. The biggest hit with the crowd was a long, murky jam on Dawn Penn’s reggae noir hit No, No, No. The high point of the show, with its gorgeous bassline, was a dub take on Freddie McGregor’s Revolution.

Third World’s 66-year-old frontman Bunny Rugs, who spent five years driving a cab in Brooklyn before joining that band, came up to sing for the remainder of the show. Third World were in the studio with Gregory Isaacs during his last session, so they played Night Nurse as a tribute to the late crooner. Rumors of War morphed into a scattering of bits and pieces from Third World hits like Reggae Ambassadors, Now That We’ve Found Love and Committed. Surreal moments abounded.

Bunny Rugs told the crowd that since he’d forgotten the lyrics to a number from his solo album, he was going to make some up on the spot, but that didn’t matter, he explained, since “Di riddim wicked!” The second he sang the line “this chair is empty now,” a concertgoer abruptly stood up from his and left it for someone else – thanks, guy! In the middle of a long, dissociative cover of Randy Newman’s Baltimore, Bunny Rugs turned “hooker on the corner” into “cop around the corner” and then went off on a long, rambling shout-out to Jamaica, where he, Sly and Robbie were when all this stuff gained critical mass. His comment about the music reaching a global audience without any help from big corporations was wrong. Columbia Records spent a fortune promoting Bob Marley, just not when he was alive. The crowd reflected how far reggae has come since it was the first world’s favorite esoterica: daycamp kids and their caretakers in the back, a sleepy lunchtime office crowd nodding their heads and swaying in unison, with the hippies and a small but vocal Jamdown posse up front. For a country of 144 square miles, at least for a couple of decades, they turned out more great musicians per capita than anywhere else in the world.

How Many Times Can You Hear the Same Reggae Song Before You Go Insane?

When Romanian gypsy band Mahala Rai Banda recorded their hit Balkan Reggae a few years back, it was an appreciative shout-out from one hot ghetto band to the thousands of others in another time zone who may have inspired it. Now the song’s come full circle with the Balkan Reggae Remixed compilation, a bunch of Jamaicans (and Jamaican soundalikes) doing their own  thing with the song. From a 2013 perspective, the original seems a lot less surreal: a brooding roots reggae groove with a cimbalom? Why the hell not?

By that standard, the new mixes are even trippier – a New Yorker would call this “Mehanata music.” What’s coolest is that most of them are so different that you forget that underneath, they’re all the same song. La Cherga’s version has a vocal cameo from Adisa Zvekic that starts out pretty cliched but then gets reprocessed with a weird, ghostly tone-bending effect. Nick Manasseh’s version has Gregory Fabulous’ skibbitty-doo skanking and constant call to “soundboy” for no real reason at all. Jstar does a fabulously trippy job of stripping the song to its accordion roots and then back, adding silly stoner synth bass and video game-style EFX along the way. Mad Professor starts very subtly and then gets very unsubtle with the echo and the sequencer. G-Vibes gives newschool crooner Errol Linton a bit of funky wah guitar but otherwise pretty much leaves the song alone.

The Vibronics pretty much phone in their take; Koby Israelite add singer Annique’s jaunty, jazz-tinged vocal track. Kanka go for a wickedly echoey oldschool Scratch Perry vibe. By the time the last track, which doesn’t add anything, comes around, it’s time for the original, which ironically isn’t on this mix. Who is the audience for this, other than the limited number of people who plug their phones into a sound system and call themselves DJ’s? Probably anyone who’s in the house listening to those playlists.

Jah Wobble and Keith Levene Revisit New Wave History with Their First Full-Length Album Together Since 1979

The musical core of classic-era Public Image Ltd., bassist Jah Wobble and guitarist Keith Levene, reunited memorably last year, touring and then releasing then their Metal Box in Dub ep. Today marks the release of Yin & Yang, Levene’s triumphant full-length comeback album with Wobble, drummer Marc Layton-Bennett, trumpeter Sean Corby and a handful of guests. As a paradigm-shifter, Levene’s influence cannot be underestimated: echoes of his overtone-drenched style extend from the noiserock of the 80s through dreampop. It is impossible to imagine Sonic Youth, or for that matter, My Bloody Valentine, existing without him. This new album is a mixed bag – not all the songs stand up to repeated listening – but those that do are a fond reminder that Wobble and Levene can still conjure up the magic and menace of their corruscatingly iconic work together thirty-plus years ago.

Wobble remains one of the most brilliant, incisive, adventurous bassists around: here he leaves the Middle Eastern and Asian sounds he’s become so adept at in exchange for a tersely murky pulse over brontosaurus drums. As with the songs on the iconic 1979 PiL Metal Box album, most of the new tunes are long and slow, Wobble’s deep dub drive anchoring Levene’s paint-peeling, incendiary, achingly acidic washes of sustain, distortion and overtones. He’s the rare guitar god who relies more on space than speed, minute timbral shifts more than rapidfire riffage. And yet, his sonic assault remains one of the most brutal in any style of music.

It’s ironic that for all its bleeding upper midrange guitar and some wry quotes from PiL’s Memories, the title track – a one-chord jam, basically – evokes the stadium-rock PiL as much as it does that band’s classic new wave era incarnation. Over a dirty, distorted reggae bassline, Strut layers Levene in terse acoustic mode, adding darkly Brazilian-tinged lines, muted strings radiating feedback – this guy basically invented skronk. A long and completely unsarcastic tribute to British racing green, Jags and Staffs has the feel of a good outtake from Metal Box or Commercial Zone with swirly dub production, Levene unleashing poisonous, rising and falling waves of sound behind Wobble’s geezer-rap vocals.

Until the song’s almost over, you’d never know that Mississippi was these guys – the vintage soul-infused southern travelogue could be the great lost sarcastic track from White Light/White Heat until Levene finally starts squeaking and skronking over a shuffling vamp. They brilliantly reinvent the Beatles’ Within You Without You as twisted raga rock in 7/4 time, Wobble wryly referencing And Your Bird Can Sing on the bass as Levene eases his way in and then careens around with the drums. The album’s most intense track is Back on the Block, a slow, tense, impatient, distantly menacing reggae groove that owes as much to Angelo Badalamenti soundtrack noir as it does early 80s Jamaican dubsters like Niney the Observer, Levene’s wailing, spark-shedding riffage contrasting with swoopy synth ambience.

The heavy-handed fake funk of Fluid reaches for an electric Miles Davis vibe, unconvincingly, followed by Vampires, a brief dub interlude featuring a marvelously deadpan vocal cameo from noir cabaret legend/dub diva Little Annie. The album ends with the Metal Box reggae of Understand, with a lame vocal cameo from one of the guests; the dub version, which closes the album, is far more enjoyable, if closer to one of the dubs from the Clash’s Sandinista than anything that ever came out of Jamaica. The album’s out from Cherry Red in the UK.

Haunting, Original, Rootsy Ethiopian Sounds from Dub Colossus

Dub Colossus’ 2008 debut In a Town Called Addis was one of that year’s most original and enjoyable albums, a trippy blend of roots reggae and bracing 70s Ethiopian sounds. This blog didn’t yet exist at that point…and slept on the band’s follow-up, Addis Through the Looking Glass, when that one came out at the end of last year. So it’s good to see that it’s been reissued. Where its predecessor was more heavily produced, with a vintage dub feel, this one juxtaposes rootsy reggae grooves with edgy, modal Ethiopiques vamps, often fleshed out with a rich, jazzy complexity by a polyglot cast of Ethiopian and British musicians. As with a lot of this stuff, the shadow of pioneering Ethiopian jazz composer Mulatu Astatke towers over this music. While this might be the last project you might expect to be spearheaded by Transglobal Underground founder Nick Page, he absolutely excels with it, not only as a reggae bassist but also as jazz guitarist and impressively dubwise producer. In case you’re wondering, this is about as far from dubstep as Lee “Scratch” Perry is.

The title cut sets the stage as it grows out of a pensive Samuel Yirga piano line to a swaying, intertwined Nerses Nalbandian style brass arrangement featuring the Horns of Negus. Much of the best Ethiopian music utilizes otherwordly, overtone-packed minor-key modes and this is a good example. The second track, Dub Will Tear Us Apart, is no relation to Joy Division – although Ian Curtis probably would have liked it, being a big reggae fan. This one blends noir tremolo guitars, Farfisa organ, melismatic vocals and swirly keys into a vortex of dub, then leaves it there.

Tringo Dub starts out with a brisk sway as the singer leads a call-and-response over a thinly disguised reggae beat that eventually hits a high with a trippy, staccato Joanna Popowicz piano solo. Yirga’s waterfalling, jazz-tinged piano lights up a slow, bolero-esque ballad sung plaintively by Tsedenia Gebremarkos Woldesilassie. The track after that blends Farfisa, loud rock guitar and a jaunty brass arrangement over a hypnotically circular triplet rhythm. They follow that with a darkly insistent funk tune and then a slow, bluestery noir groove that might be the album’s strongest track. The album winds up with a rustic song for krar harp spiced with light electronic dub flourishes, a haunting, slow reggae jam and then a lush, lively Ethiopian swing jazz piece.

There are also two covers here. The first is a faithful version of the Abyssinians’ Satta Massagana, where the irony of hearing an Ethiopian woman trade verses with crooner Mykaell S. Riley,  in a song written by Jamaicans who’d never left the island, manages not to get in the way. The other is an amusing Ethio dub version of Althea & Donna’s Uptown Top Ranking which is a lot rootsier than the original. As with this crew’s first album, there’s a spontaneity and intensity here that’s often missing from more reverential or derivative cross-cultural collaborations. Here’s hoping they keep this alive and make another album somewhere down the line.