New York Music Daily

No New Abnormal

Tag: vp records

A 420 Playlist

How did you spend your 4/20? Some of you probably can’t remember.That’s ok. How about this for a trip: walking through Harlem for 70+ blocks due to lack of trains. But it it’s cool, and kind of surreal to see places in daylight that you usually only see at night. The United Palace Theatre. for example – how refreshing to see that landmark hasn’t been demolished for yet another plastic-and-glass “luxury” condo.

Meanwhile, the folks over at VP Records – who’ve been putting out the Strictly the Best compilations since time forgot – sent over an aromatic promo called “Various Artists Celebrate 420.” Which is funny for all the obvious reasons, various being a relative word. The first artist they’re pitching is New Zealand Maori roots reggae band Katchafire, who have a new album due out – the track they sent over is Collie Herb Man, and although it’s a total rip of the Steel Pulse classic Sound System, it’s also got refreshingly organic production values – a digital production, obviously, but with real guitar, real bass and spare percussion which could be samples, or not. It draws you in – when this stuff hits you, you feel no pain.

The second one is No Cocaine, a collaboration between Slightly Stoopid (don’t laugh), Capleton and Inner Circle doing the riddims – once again, oldschool organic style. When Capleton¬† steps all over the smooth harmonies and rasps “It’s the healing of the nation,”¬† you just have to laugh.

A massive Yellowman career retrospective, Young Gifted & Yellow has been out for awhile (the file the label offered is too big to download, which explains why it hasn’t been covered here) – the track on the promo turned out to be the early 80s sleng teng hit Burn the Kutchie.

The 90s were represented by Sanchez and his track Chronic, a dancehall-flavored nod to west coast rap. To wrap it up, here’s the late great Sugar Minott doing Herb Man Hustling. All these links are youtube clips: as always, get your fingers ready to mute the ads in case one pops up (they didn’t the first time around, but with youtube, who knows).

Some Memorable, Surreal Barrington Levy Tracks from the Archives

Barringon Levy is one of the hardest working men in the reggae business, a familiar face on tour year in, year out. For those who know him as a teddybear crooner, that persona is some distance from Levy’s much more eclectic early years in Jamaica, right at the point where dancehall started to break away from roots and become its own style. The folks over at VP Records – who’ve been putting out Strictly the Best compilations since the 80s – have just released the mammoth 40-track compilation Barrington Levy: Sweet Reggae Music 1979-84. It’s good inspiration for anybody putting together a playlist, not to mention a fond look back at a time and place gone forever.

Ironic that the Roots Radics, who back Levy on most of these tracks, would be instrumemtal in the development of early dancehall to the point where they inadvertently put themselves and other bands like them out of business, more or less! A cynic might say that these tracks sound like they were thrown together on the fly, which they undoubtedly were. By the same token, it’s amazing how much imagination went into making them interesting, and giving them an individual flavor, especially considering how slapdash these singles were assembled.¬† If you want to hear a fifteen-year-old youthman from Kingston who sounds stoned out of his mind, crank up the opening track, Collie Weed: if the lyric is to be trusted, his mom sent him out to buy some. He’s a little older on the album’s last track, the early dancehall classic Under Mi Sensi: “Babylon yuh na like ganja much, but it bring foreign currency pon de island..”.

On the 38 tracks in between, the production and riddims are refreshingly organic: fat bass, echoey acoustic piano, biting skanky guitar, real drums and percussion. And it’s interesting to hear Levy’s singing style developing – as fine a crooner as he became, there’s a raw, hungry quality to many of the vocals here that’s absent in his more polished, mature material. And the songs are a microcosm of late 70s/early 80s Jamaican reggae history. Levy’s Bounty Hunter sounds like a prototype for Israel Vibration’s Mr. Consular Man, and is his song Sister Carol a shout-out to the Brooklyn dancehall sister…or did she take her name from it? On one of the relatively rare tracks, Soldier, did Bingy Bunny or whoever’s playing the guitar nick the exaggerated echo effect from the Clash,. or did Mick Jones steal it from him?

Levy and band take Black Uhuru’s brooding, bitter Shine Eyed Gal and transform it into a surrealistically sunny anthem. The rest of the collection alternates between gnomic Rasta rambles like Trod with Jah Jah and somewhat less mystical numbers like Mary Long Tongue, whose subtext remains amusing after all these years. The first of the two discs focuses more on songs, the second more on dub, although there aren’t any versions, per se, of any of the hits. Many of these songs are funny, many are pretty weird, and they show how many diverse directions Levy was willing to go in just to put himself on the reggae map. Thirty years later, he’s still here, testament to a rare brand of persistence.