Tag Archives: Reggae

Sweet Unreleased Reggae Sounds Score On Ethiopian’s Return Of Jack Sparrow

I admit to being something of a novice when it comes to truly deep knowledge of reggae and ska music. Once I get outside of the basic sphere of Bob Marley & The Wailers, Burning Spear, Jimmy Cliff, Toots & The Maytals, Delroy Wilson, U-roy and some others, my knowledge falls off dramatically. Then there are the English artists that emerged in the wake of the punk and new wave movements such as The English Beat, The Specials, The Selector, Linton Kwesi Johnson, etc. That said, I’ll add a heartfelt “mea culpa” ahead of time if I make any glaring errors here!

I first became aware of a group of artists from a label called Nighthawk Records just a couple of years ago when the good folks at Omnivore Recordings sent me a handy and quite wonderful sampler of the label’s work. There is an interesting back story there so you should click here to jump to my earlier review to read about its genesis. Recently, the label sent me a previously unreleased album by one of these artists, Ethiopian — aka Leonard Dillon — and from the first listen toThe Return Of Jack Sparrow I’m finding this music immediately welcoming.  

If you aren’t familiar with Ethiopian, some information from Omnivore’s website may prove enlightening:

Reggae legend, Leonard Dillon, known as the Ethiopian, was the founder of one of Jamaica’s premier ska, rocksteady, and early reggae sensations The Ethiopians, but got his start under the name Jack Sparrow. His early solo Jack Sparrow single efforts, some backed by The Wailers, didn’t yield any hits and prompted him to form a group, The Ethiopians, where he found his first success. So popular was their track “Train To Skaville,” that The Ethiopians were able to tour beyond Jamaica and they headed to the U.K. in 1968. “Train To Skaville” sold over 50,000 copies in Jamaica and made a slight appearance on the U.K. charts where it left a lasting impression. So much so, it was later covered by The Selector during the ska revival during the early ’80s.”

Even though The Return Of Jack Sparrow was recorded in the mid-80s, what I love about this is that the production aesthetics are not pinned to that time (a phenomenon which ruined my taste for “new” (if you will) reggae of the period. So this is a welcome treat. Also, many of the song arrangements have happy surprises of not only vocal harmony but fresh compositional leaps which keep the tunes from sounding same-y (an issue with some reggae artists, I must say)

Ethiopian’s vocal approach reminds me of what might have happened had Richie Havens made a record backed by The Wailers.  No gated snare drum sounds here folks — just classic reggae vibes revolving around strong melodies and arrangements. 

The black vinyl pressing on this two LP set is real nice, dark and well centered.  The sound on some of the album is perhaps my only nit in that it has some tell-tale artifacts on some tracks, leaving a bit of fuzzy crunchiness around the vocals in particular. It is not awful so once you get used to the sound its not a problem, but do be aware of what to expect. The phenomenon seems to be less prominent on the second disc so perhaps my copy has a pressing anomaly, I’m not sure. Either way, this is not a huge deal breaker for me. 

Ultimately, the joy of The Return Of Jack Sparrow is about the songs and there are many gems here such as the fun “Train To Skaville” (obviously a remake of the early hit) and the hopeful “I’m Gonna Take Over.”  Its a shame this album wasn’t released back in the day (apparently the label ran out of money so it sat on the shelf after  completion).  I love how the slow slinky groove of “Flirty Flirty Guys” envelops the sweet melody and storytelling like a glove. A love song of lighthearted jealousy, this song could easily be turned into a Hank Williams-esque country classic, so strong is the simple structure of the tune.

And then you’ll hear things like “Lets Together Again” with its badass opening riff this side of The Grateful Dead’s version of “Hard To Handle.” The a-cappella version of “Heavenly Father” — just before the album-closing full band version of the song — is a stunner. 

And so it goes on The Return Of Jack Sparrow by Ethiopian & His All Stars. If you love classic sounding reggae and rich ska grooves, this may be a good jam for you to check out. In my book, this one’s a keeper. 

Original Resource is Audiophile Review

Island Records’ Vinyl Series Volume One Delivers Hits & Perspective

To many of you who are fairly deep into music, Island Records is a label that brought you music by Bob Marley & The Wailers, U2 and Traffic.  But before that, Island was formed by Chris Blackwell with a specific intent.  This is celebrated on a new series of vinyl compilations which aim to tell the label’s story and put it in some context.

And perspective is exactly what Mr. Blackwell offers us in the liner notes to The Vinyl Series Volume One:

”When I moved Island Records’ base from Kingston to London in 1962, all I wanted to do at first was just release the really great music that was coming out of Jamaica,” writes Blackwell in the collection’s liner notes. “But then I got caught up in all the music that I was hearing in London, much of it from America. Clearly, the culture was moving in a new direction and I wanted Island Records to mirror that shift and be in this new world.”

There have been plenty of other collections of Island Records catalog, but the appeal of this one is in its focus and conciseness

In this tight and punchy 14 song set you get seminal tracks from Desmond Dekker (“Israelites”) to Millie Small’s groundbreaking ska-pop hit “My Boy Lollipop.”  Within the span of two LP sides the listener travels remarkably from early reggae sides by Toots & The Maytals to mod soul rockers by The Spencer Davis Group (featuring a young Steve Winwood on organ and vocals).  

Given that Island was ultimately based in the UK, the label brought out influential American titles overseas, thus you also get to hear classics like like “Mockingbird” by Charlie and Inez Foxx and “Harlem Shuffle” by Bob and Earl. 

Somehow, it all works well together. As I said, context is everything, folks. 

The pressing of The Vinyl Series Volume Oneis thick (probably 180-gram), dark, quiet and well centered. Do remember that these are early 1960s tracks, many of which sound like original singles mixes which is a great thing — just don’t go into this expecting some high end audiophile experience! This album is all about the songs and the changing face of music at that fertile point in time. That said, this album does sound quite good and consistent from track to track.

Detailed liner notes by noted author and longtime Island Records chronicler Chis Salewicz are rounded out by Blackwell’s own perspectives.

Future volumes of The Vinyl Series will explore Island’s role in the folk, hard rock, singer-songwriter, glam, and progressive movements. And, of course, the music of Bob Marley, Jimmy Cliff that shaped the sound of reggae will be touched on.

The Vinyl Series a cool and handy album series. If you have been looking to learn more about the music of the 60s and how certain pieces of that puzzle came together, The Vinyl Series Volume One may be just the ticket you are seeking. 

Original Resource is Audiophile Review

Goldfinger Gets Nostalgic with Never Look Back

John “Feldy” Feldmann likes to stay busy. Over a three-decade career, he’s done just that, fronting bands, holding down A&R positions, co-founding a record label, and producing and writing for a list of artists as long as your arm.

Then came the pandemic. Feldmann, Grammy-nominated for his work with Blink-182 and Fever 333, got down to business in the studio at his home in Calabasas, CA, re-recreating back catalog hits by Goldfinger, his seminal California ska-punk band. The other far-flung band members contributed their tracks, with video, and Goldfinger’s Quarantine Video series was born.

Inspired, Feldmann sat down to write and produce a new Goldfinger album, the band’s ninth studio full-length since forming in 1994. Never Look Back was released Dec. 4 on his label, Big Noise.

Over Zoom, Feldmann gave PSN a virtual tour of his studio, where he’s currently working with Avril Lavigne, and talked about his pandemic productions.

On the Quarantine Videos:

The idea came out of me knowing my own brain and knowing that an idle mind is the devil’s playground. I have got to be busy, and at the time, we didn’t know what COVID-19 was, or if it was a straight killer. I came up with this idea to record my parts and see if the guys could do their own parts in their respective houses.

The first song was “Here in Your Bedroom,” which was apropos. I just ripped it off YouTube and put it in a Pro Tools session. We set up a click template and I sang and played along to the original. All these videos are one take of me playing guitar and singing. Everyone else would send me their takes and I’d put them in the session. I wanted it to sound like a live show, so our live mix engineer, Jon Graber, mixed all of them.

On Producing Never Look Back:

I wrote most of it in quarantine by myself. The whole album was recorded in quarantine. It’s a fun, nostalgic Goldfinger album. We’ve got ska, punk, reggae—all the flavors.

Mike Herrera, our bass player, lives in Bremerton, WA, and did all his parts at his studio. Moon [Valjean], the guitar player, lives in St. Louis; he did all his stuff on a little Pro Tools “light” system. Jon Graber has a studio and recorded [guitarist] Charlie Paulson there. Everything else was done here.

A lot of people want to sing their lead vocals to the vibe and hear the finished music to get the energy of the song, but I couldn’t do it that way. I would record my final vocals, all the doubles and all the harmonies, and all my guitars. I’m definitely a fan of Rupert Neve; I have the Brent Averil 1073s, the Vintech 1073s, I use the Slate Dragon as my 1176 modeler—I love that thing.

I sent everyone my finished parts with a click track. A lot of times I would program the drums; EZ Drummer has all my samples in their Pop Punk EZX. Travis Barker [of Blink-182] played a lot of the drums on the record; he lives in Calabasas. Nick Gross [Big Noise co-founder] also played some of the drums. I’ve got a great drum room and a great drum kit, so we cut all of the drums at my studio. They were one of the last things I did on this album.

Music, Etc.: M.A.G.S. Moves Forward

Music Etc. – Back in the Cups with Ace Of Cups

Music Etc. – Jackson Browne Lets the Rhythm Lead

 

On Remote Production:

I had Mike [Herrera] sing a bunch of stuff. He’d write a verse, send me the lyrics, and I’d say yes or no: “Maybe you can give it another shot.”

Monique Powell from Save Ferris sang on one song. I said, “Could you give me more ad libs? I don’t feel your presence.” She did four different takes. She was in an apartment in London on a laptop, screaming into an SM58, so I used [Antares] Mic Mod [software] and changed it to a Manley Reference Gold.

Every album I’ve ever made, I’m in the room with the musicians and I’m saying, “Let’s try that again.” But this time, I got the parts and had to make use of whatever they sent me. Thank God I’ve got such great musicians!

Original Resource is ProSoundNetwork.com

New Age Steppers Box Set Announced

On March 19, On-U Sound will release archival material from New Age Steppers, the reggae-punk group formerly fronted by Ari Up of the Slits. The label will reissue four of the band’s studio LPs and also a collection of outtakes and rarities called Avant Gardening. In addition, there’ll be a box set, …

Original Resource is Vinyl Records

Barry O’Hare, Legendary Jamaican Engineer, Dead at 56

Barry O’Hare, mixing at the CarnRiv Festival in Lagos, Nigeria in 2013.
Barry O’Hare, mixing at the CarnRiv Festival in Lagos, Nigeria in 2013. PreSonus

New York, NY (September 23, 2020)—A mainstay of Jamaica’s recording and live sound scene for decades, engineer Barry O’Hare died from COVID-19 on Saturday, September 19, at the University Hospital of the West Indies in Kingston, Jamaica. Over the years, O’Hare worked with the likes of Burning Spear, Third World, Lee “Scratch” Perry, Morgan Heritage, Sean Paul, Beres Hammond, Toots and the Maytals and Shaggy. O’Hare was 56.

A Kingston native, O’Hare became interested in music at an early age and played piano in his father’s church by age 9. In the late 1980s, he began working as an apprentice studio engineer at Grove Recording Studio, where in time he would become a full-fledged producer/engineer who also composed music and worked as an occasional background vocalist. As the studio was a subsidiary of Ocho Rios radio station IRIE FM, O’Hare eventually became an on-air DJ at the station as well.

Producer Robert “Bobby Digital” Dixon, Dead at 59

O’Hare began producing for reggae act Morgan Heritage in 1992, contributing to albums like Don’t Haffi Dread, Caught Into A Trap and Reggae Road Block. Gramps Morgan, a member of the group, told the Jamaican Gleaner, “Barry was more than just a colleague in the music industry; to our family, he was a brother. After meeting him for the very first time in 1992, we realized how far and above he was at that time as an engineer. His personality was calm, and also his spirit and his  professionalism were far and beyond. He will truly be missed. To his family and all who are left behind, this is another big loss for our genre.”

Among his career highlights was engineering Burning Spear’s 1999 album, Calling Rastafari, at Grove; the record won the 2000 Grammy Award for Best Reggae Album.

As time went on, O’Hare added live sound engineering to his resume, engineering large-scale events such as the Jamaica International Kite Festival and Summer Sizzle. He eventually became a go-to FOH engineer for internationally touring reggae acts, including Sean Paul, Third World and Beres Hammond, though most notably, he worked as Shaggy’s touring engineer for a decade. The “It Wasn’t Me” singer noted on Instagram, “Lost our dear brother @barry_ohare_jamaica. Barry was my engineer and a great guy; he was instrumental in helping to establish Shaggy and Friends, especially on the technical side, and engineered a lot of the shows. We toured together for years; he made us sound great night after night. Thank you for your friendship, your talent and love! Rest well, my brother, R.I.P. – condolences to his family.”

The Jamaica Reggae Industry Association (JaRIA) recognized O’Hare for his contribution to the growth and development of reggae music in 2018.

Original Resource is ProSoundNetwork.com