Reggae and Dub

A.R. Kane “Up Home!” (Rough Trade, 1988)

Heads still ain’t ready for A.R. Kane. The British duo emerged in 1986 on One Little Indian, sounding like the black Jesus And Mary Chain on their debut single, “When You’re Sad.” Maybe too much. It was a nice homage, but it reflected little of A.R. Kane’s unique personality. That would soon come with 1987’s Lollita EP on 4AD and the Up Home! EP in 1988, followed closely by their debut full-length, 69 and the Love-Sick EP. These records revealed a group commingling dream pop, soul, ambient dub, and electric-era Miles Davis in a wholly distinctive manner. (Major footnote: A.R. Kane also contributed to M/A/R/R/S’s 1987 smash hit “Pump Up The Volume,” which you can still find in bargain bins with some regularity.)

Opener “Baby Milk Snatcher,” the track that became the highlight of 69, slowly arises from slumber into recumbent, refracted dub bliss. It revolves around irradiated guitar grind, cyclical bass pressure, and Rudy Tambala’s tranquilized soul croon. The chorus of “baby, so serene/slow slow slow slow/baby, suck my seed” summarizes the mood of casual, lush eroticism pervading the song. “W.O.G.S.” features lyrics about being sold down and floating down the river, which aptly mirrors the music’s aquatic, solemn dubgaze haze.

“One Way Mirror” is the EP’s zenith, a fractured, shimmering specimen of radiant psychedelic-rock/dub fusion that reifies your disorientation. Tambala sings in surrealistic puzzles, but the line “I’m going up till I lose my skin” sums up the general feeling of self-abnegating transcendence. The record concludes with “Up,” which is some kind of peak of weightless, amorphous rock. It’s about ascending a stairway to heaven on the Black Star Liner (the shipping line that Jamaican politician Marcus Garvey instituted in 1919 to transport goods and people to Africa), and it’s unbearably poignant.

A.R. Kane would go on to record the housier, astral-jazzier, and more accessible “i” double LP and the not-so-great New Clear Child, but Up Home! remains their most concentrated blast of brothers-from-another-planet rock sorcery. You can also find these tracks on the 2012 double-CD compilation Complete Singles Collection. -Buckley Mayfield

Cymande “Cymande” (Janus, 1972)

Here’s a stone-classic album that’s still not widely known enough—even with its uplifting funk track “Bra” being sampled by De La Soul on “Change In Speak” from 3 Feet High & Rising and appearing in Spike Lee’s 1994 film Crooklyn. (Hip-hop and electronic-music producers have sampled Cymande at least 77 times, according to Cymande put out three strong albums (I’ve not heard their fourth, Arrival), but their debut is the best, if only judging by how often I play tracks from it in DJ sets. It’s one of those rare funk full-lengths that you can play from start to finish without lifting the needle off a tepid ballad.

But to call Cymande merely a funk band is inadequate. The English nonet—who featured musicians from London, St. Vincent, Guyana, and Jamaica—also incorporated jazz, reggae, calypso, and progressive rock in their inspirational tracks, and such hybridization resulted in highly flavorful material that is bathed in a spiritual glow that can’t be faked. Cymande call it “nyah-rock,” which they describe in the liners as “the music of the man who finds in life a reason for living.” I’ll say.

Side 1 is largely mellow and meditative and marked by Patrick Patterson’s fluid guitar ruminations, Steve Scipio’s lithe bass lines, Mike Rose’s circuitous flute motifs, and Ray King’s soulful vocals that carry subtle hints of Caribbean patois. LP opener “Zion I” is the exception: a spiritual reggae tune with righteous massed vocals and a bass line on which you can trampoline.

Side 2 is where Cymande really shines. “Dove” (sampled by the Wu-Tang Clan in “Problems” and the Fugees in “The Score,” among many other places) is simply one of the greatest pieces of music ever waxed. It begins in great intrigue, Patrick Patterson’s guitar modulating a Santana-esque wail, setting the scene for Steve Scipio’s world-beating, sidewinder bass line to lift the track onto a higher, more libidinous level. Stealthy, undulant funk beats and blissed-out “la la la la-la”s contribute to making the 11-minute “Dove” one of the ultimate sex jams. The aforementioned “Bra” is simply one of the most joyous pieces of music ever waxed. The next time you’re really down, play it and feel your worries dissolve amid its levitational rhythms, percolating congas and bongos, and triumphant horn charts. “The Message” is more subdued, but no less seductive with its nocturnal funk strut. “Ras Tafarian Folk Song” is definitely the album’s weak link, but that could just be my bias against religious belief systems talking. Thankfully, it’s over in three minutes. Everything else on Cymande, though, deserves to be blazed into your memory banks till your last breath—especially “Dove.” -Buckley Mayfield

UB40 “Signing Off” (Graduate, 1980)

What a debut album by reggae outfit UB40. Not only was “Signing Off” daring in it’s choice of subject matter, with issues including the yet-named globalization, but this thing charted pretty mightily. It’s powerful message was subdued by dub production, like it’s companion single “The Earth Dies Screaming,” and that message, still key, wafted over air waves like a chilled wind.

Sax melodies lead the way while a reggae / two-tone rhythm section switches on a dime frequently mid-track. But the pace is still swingable, low, “heavy” in it’s slow plodding. Two of the these numbers are covers that fit well within their rep, including Randy Newman’s “I Think It’s Gonna Rain Today” and the ever topical “Strange Fruit,” which still (STILL, huff) resonates today.

Here we are at the end of 2015. Echoes (dubbing) of Thatcherism on the way? Political rhetoric of killers and businessmen are in full swing, and UB40’s quiet, cold and cavernous assessment of their time still rings true here and now. -Wade

Prince Jazzbo “Ital Corner” (Clocktower, 1977)

Apparently an “Ital Corner” refers to where people live good today. This later Black Ark dub release is about high life (with low end) or living on the bottom in equal parts, but either way Prince Jazzbo is the vocal guide for the job.

Lee “Scratch” Perry is house engineer here, backed up by his Upsetters, and Prince happens to be a great subject for his producer foil. “Ital Corner” opens with an expansive self-titled track, and it becomes clear that this won’t be another wacky trip through the Blackboard Jungle… These tracks are low and cool and keep that way, utilizing few of the jarring tricks that Lee is known for pulling (pop-goes-the-weasel-horns, police sirens, rough mixing).

A ray of sunshine at the end of side one describes what to do at the Ital Corner… “You gotta live good for today,” Prince says, “justice, equality, humanity ev-er-y-day.” Fans of Upsetters need apply, and those put off by his production in the past? Turn the corner, live good today. -Wade

Peter Tosh “Legalize It” (Virgin, 1976)

More than Bob Marley and Bunny Wailer, it was Peter Tosh who gave the Wailers their harder edge and roots credibility on famous tracks like “400 Years,” “One Foundation,” as well as his work on “Get Up, Stand Up.”

It should come as no surprise, then, that Tosh took on all comers in his solo career, as well, with “Legalize It” and “Equal Rights” being two of the most militant offerings this side of Burning Spear’s “Marcus Garvey.”

On “Legalize It,” Tosh’s roots sensibilities are sharp, with beautiful rastafarian numbers like “Let Jah Be Praised” mixed well with his all out assaults on the government’s anti-herb policies, (“Legalize It”) and self pity and fear (“Why Must I Cry,” “No Sympathy”).

The album’s tour de force is Tosh himself, and his voice- a rough and ready, gritty tenor that in no way weraks of complacency; it strikes a deep, resonant chord- that of fear- but can also at moments, like on “Let Jah Be Praised,” be almost soothing and re-assuring. This LP is a must have in any respectable reggae collection, and is one of reggae’s shining moments and brilliant debuts. -Sean