Despite being a big reggae fan, my listening is mostly restricted to stuff from the past. The Soul Jazz Studio 1 comps and the Dynamite! CDs are piling up in my collection, but I rarely touch modern stuff. Why not? Well I guess I haven’t liked what I heard that much. On one hand there’s the more famous artists like Beenie Man and Sean Paul who seem to be doing a Jamaican version of watery American R’n’B, and on the other there are people who are doing more interesting things musically, but I don’t care much for their lyrics, which seem to be full of sexism, homophobia and violence.
However in ignoring a few dullards and idiots, I’ve missed a rich seam of fine Jamaican music. And if, like me, you’re not up to speed with some of the really great current stuff, there’s no better place to start than this excellent new compilation from XL records.
It’s a new sound of Kingston from the last few years, and though there’s a distinct rootsy vibe throughout, that doesn’t mean it’s dated or worthy. It’s all thrillingly contemporary. And there’s an impressive range of styles too. The barnstorming opener – Turbulence’s Notorious – is all sizzling modern dancehall production, and the title track from Gyptian is reflective acoustic roots, but these, and all the other tunes which take in Lovers Rock, rocksteady and dub, fit together wonderfully into a truly exciting whole.
There are some well known artists like Sizzla and Morgan Heritage, but most are relatively unknown (one of them – QQ – is only 10 years old!), but their place on this compilation should surely mean some sort of deserved breakthrough for their music. The themes on the album take in traditional roots concerns like social injustice and political corruption, but there are also love songs and the inevitable paeans to the herb – three in a row in fact – Marajuana and two (different) songs called Rolling.
There’s a Brooklyn connection to Kingston here. The album was produced by Knox Robinson from the NYC borough, and fellow Brooklynite Max Glazer of Federation Sound has done an hour-long mix of the album, complete with air horns, rewinds and a selection of this own custom dubplates to give it that proper dancehall vibe. In Rolling, Tony Curtis (that’s his name – honest) isn’t just singing about skinning up, he’s also rollin’ round Flatbush on a Friday night.
Across these two CDs, there’s not a duff moment to be heard. It’s all a thrilling, vital presentation of some of the best stuff coming out of Jamaica now. It’s still January and we probably have the compilation of the year already. Forget that, one of the albums of the year – period.
Now that I’m well and truly warmed up with this stuff, I’m ready to receive your recommendations for other good current reggae. Hit me with them!
Download: Gyptian – Serious Times
Download: Perfect – Handcart Boy
Pre-order Serious Times.