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Soundclash 1.29

Tommy McCook & his Orchestra
Treasure Isle 7" (1965)

Monster ska cuts are a hallowed fraternity, with entry given to a particular set of brooding and menacing criteria being met. One is a distinct and almost foreboding riff must be in effect from ground zero - witness the sparse but gripping three-note entry point on this tune. Then the killer motif via horns on fire, followed by a solo equally incendiary (McCook). Add any James Bond reference point - King Sporty obliges throughout - and you've started a ska-blaze, a wildfire on Bond Street. Incidentally, a new consensus is that it is NOT Don Drummond's trombone we're hearing, but it hardly keeps this his rare and blistering cut from providing the intended kiss of death.

-The Kaiser

Sweeny & the Wailers Band
“Won't Come Easy"
Various: Randy's 17 North Parade
Pressure Sounds (1997) (1975)

Backed by the Wailers, Sweeny, aka The Man X, delivers a sturdy roots outing at Randy’s during Clive Chin’s run at the studio (a golden age, if you ask me). The Barrett Brothers and co. keep it understated — and man, that piano lick… This track has made the revive rounds, but the comp we pulled it from is top shelf, featuring a mix of hits and obscurities by the biggest names in the game. Own it? Give it a spin. Ain’t got it? Go der now.

-Sammy Gong

Ras Michael & Sons of Negus Churchical Host
“All Ye Saints”
Zion King 7" (1968)

In October of last year, Michael George Henry, aka Ras Michael, received Jamaica's Order of Distinction award. He was up there with producer Niney the Observer, among others, and one wonders what he thought of the long path it took to arrive at such national recognition. During the mid-sixties, having spent much time with Mortimer Planno and no doubt been further boosted by Count Ossie's forays into the studios, Michael found his way into Studio One and started to self-produce a few recordings for his new Zion King label. I'm going to posit that we're hearing Jackie Mittoo's distinct keyboard styling on this track, since Michael played on several Soul Vendors recordings and likely established a connection. The label indicates "chanted and played by the Sons of Negus". This was an early marker for Rastas in the studio under their own direction, and a high-water one at that.

-The Kaiser

Carlton Manning
“Live and Love”
Gayfeet pre 7" (1967)

The playing of minor chords in Jamaican music frequently gets linked to Don Drummond's ska arrangements, but the singing portion is perhaps less defined. Arguably, Carlton Manning was the key figure in that. He developed a hint of those "far East" harmonies with his Carlton & the Shoes vocal group, before then definitively teaching those techniques to his brothers, who put them to memorable effect on the earliest Abyssinians recordings. You can hear elements of those vocal stylings in this beguiling rocksteady track from late 1967, which features an understated Lynn Taitt arrangement over a walking bass line. Paired with those driving congo drums, the mood of this living and loving credo already hints at a more complicated take on Jamaican popular music. File in the top drawer.

-The Kaiser

Monty Morris & the Maples
"No More Teardrops"
Ketal 7" (1969)

Monty Morris has been around since early in the Jamaican music scene, but isn’t really considered a first tier singer when compared to his compatriots. His voice is not powerful or particularly sweet, but it does have that honesty that we reggae followers require. I gotta believe you, doesn’t matter if you’re singing about social injustices or a broken heart. He at least checks that box. This song comes on an Alvin “GG” Ranglin pre-release blank, with a deadly horn break that is understated but mega catchy. I could listen to that all day. The lyric is a simple enough lovers plaint with Monty stating his total devotion. After all, he’s asking her to love him “only” to the end of time. Not asking much, come on, gal.

-Rice & Peas

Prince Allah
“Red Hot"
Flames 7" (1975)

While walking the streets of Kingston, down Orange Street to be exact, I bucked up on Prince Alla, the great rootsman singer. I had asked Mitchie at Rockers International record shop to phone him, as I’d heard Alla checks in at the store daily and I looked forward to clapping his hand and chatting. But as the afternoon wore on we had to make a move, without the dread showing. I was bummed, but understood. “So it go,” as they say. But as we were walking back downtown to the car, here he comes striding past. A great moment, as he obviously could tell that I was the one who was checking for him. We held up on the sidewalk for a good little while chatting about all matter of things, and he was affable and chatty. He in fact came across as the elderly man he is now becoming, the way he freely gave away hugs and smiles, seemingly soaking up the recognition as much as I was absorbing up the moment. It’s in honor of this meeting that I wanted to present an Alla tune in a Clash mix.  So much of his catalog is already available on CD, however, I was having difficulty thinking of something to share in this space. Then I remembered this track. Produced by one Glen Lee in 1975, it slots before his momentous sojourn with the Freedom Sounds outfit in Greenwich Farm, and must have been right at the beginning of his time with Tappa Zukie, which yielded equally sky scrapping results. It’s a bopping little skank, with the Prince taking a break in the shade and verbalizing his observations on how Babylon things a gwaan. As true now as it was then, he’s right to say it’s red hot out there.

-Rice & Peas

Junior Peterkin & Idrins
“Babylon Take I Down"
Idrins Records 7" (1977)

So much of reggae music comes from Jamaica, but there was a huge reggae scene in New York as well. Lloyd “Bullwackie” Barnes left Jamaica in 1967 for New York City, and by the early seventies he had set up a studio on White Plains Road in the Bronx. Bullwackie recorded with well-known Jamaican artists like Horace Andy and Johnny Osbourne, as well as many one-off singers. In doing so he developed his own distinctive New York sound, backed by a collective of Jamaican musicians who happened to live in New York, or who were simply passing through. This tune on Barnes’ Idrins label—one of many he used—featured Junior Peterkins on a hard roots rhythm. The single —perhaps the only one he ever recorded — is notoriously hard to find, and one of the best examples of New York roots, with its distinctive organ sound opening the affair, before settling into an infectious groove over which Junior preaches against Babylon. Don't miss, especially since there's now a mint reissue out there.

-David Gans

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