Dub and Dubber
Though the ignorant might say that Reggae music is easy to play, it can certainly be a difficult music to become a fan of. In many circles, there are almost as many detractors to Reggae is there is to modern Country music and sometimes the displeasure is expressed with the same kind of zeal that Rock fans once declared "Disco Sucks.""It all sounds the same." That would be the most common complaint from the majority of pedestrian critics. This has everything to do with the Reggae rhythm and beat, which, by design, is repetitive, leading some to call it redundant, while others simply find it hypnotic. From Mento, a Jamaican Calypso-like form, sprang Ska, a rather up-beat, often horn-driven style. Players slowed the tempo to create the half-time tempoed Rock Steady, which, slowed ever so slightly and moderately adjusted, became Reggae.As Reggae became modernized, exploited by Madison Avenue and the college touring circuit, a somewhat watered-down representation became what most people associated with Reggae. But beyond the theme to Cops and slick Pop Reggae outfits like Big Mountain -- who scored with a version of Peter Frampton's "Baby, I Love Your Way" that succeeded in being worse than the original -- Reggae is as diversified as any music. Reggae bands form in every crevice of the earth and while certain characteristics pop up in every version, it's impossible to confuse the dub experiments of the King Tubby with the R&B smooth moves of Maxi Priest. But once you are a fan, it then becomes difficult to stop enjoying the music. Once you cross the line and you can differentiate between different styles and artists, Reggae is as deeply soulful as the great R&B of yesteryear.So, if you're thinking of taking the leap and becoming a Reggae fanatic -- or you at least want to have a couple of cool names to drop in conversation -- CityBeat offers you a look at some of the more recent Reggae, Dub, Rock Steady and Ska releases.You could do a lot worse than starting with the Derrick Morgan retrospective Time Marches On (Heartbeat) as an introduction to Reggae's rich roots. Morgan is often credited as one of the music's pioneers, and Time takes a look at three groundbreaking phases of his career. Starting with some of his first Ska recordings, the new release also presents hard to find tracks from both his Rock Steady and Reggae periods, songs that some to be the first recorded examples of their respective genres. The Morgan set shows the clear impact of American R&B on Reggae, and it's easy to see why Jamaican's fawned over Morgan in much the same way as America developed a love affair with Motown. As both a performer and producer, Morgan's music was so popular in the early '60s that, in response to a feud with competing Ska master Prince Buster, the Jamaican government had to step in and force a truce. Makes the East Coast/West Coast Rap wars seem trite, doesn't it?Influential Dub Reggae producer Lee "Scratch" Perry has been nicknamed The Upsetter and King of Mess, and one listen to the three-disc compilation, Arkology (Island Jamaica/Chronicles), it's easy to see where he got his name. Next to perhaps Bob Marley, Perry is one of the most influential artists associated with Reggae, and you can hear his mark to this day on everything from Hip Hop to Electronic music. Perry is one of the great masters of Dub, which is the result of production procedures that involve the removal of non-rhythm tracks so that the bass and drums are in the forefront. From there, the other tracks pop in and out, and the whole mix is given a workout with various studio effects units. Arkology collects Perry's pioneering work in this field, from what is called the Black Ark period, named for Perry's home studio where much of the work was done between 1975 to 1979, when the notoriously "loose" Perry burned it down.Arkology presents Perry's work with Reggae all-stars like Junior Dred, The Congos, and Mikey Dread, as well as Perry's own material. Many of the songs are presented in their original "version" and then followed by an almost hallucinogenic Dub mix that finds Perry twisting the knobs like a mad professor and, at his best, creating a rubbery representation of madness. Fans who came to Reggae via the interpretations of the '70s Ska and Punk bands will be interested to note that this collection contains the original "Police and Thieves" by Junior Murvin.Though Perry produced some of the most representative Reggae records ever -- including a couple of records with Bob Marley -- the work presented on Arkology is an example of a genuine innovator. Like Brian Wilson or Phil Spector, Perry showed that the studio can be used like another instrument, and Arkology often comes off like one big, extended "studio solo" by the Upsetter himself.Since 1994, the Blood & Fire label, started by, of all people, the management company of British Pop stars Simply Red, has also been reissuing several groundbreaking Dub releases, including several projects recorded at Perry's Black Art studio, including the entire Ark output of the vocal group The Congos. The Blood & Fire releases strive to expose the influence Dub has had on Hip Hop and dance music, putting tracks on CD and vinyl that have been rarities for decades.One of the finest releases is Termination Dub (Blood & Fire), collecting tracks collaborated on by producers Glen Brown and King Tubby between 1973 and 1979. Much of the music on Termination has been lost for years, due to the limited release of Brown's pressings. Brown began his career as a vocalist before earning the moniker "Rhythm Master" for his heavyweight beats and swaying bass concoctions. Tubby, on par with Lee Perry as a Dub master, turns Brown's rhythms upside down with his mesmerizing deconstruction, turning the tracks into echoing Reggae psychedelia.Though they may be some of the best, not all of the recent Reggae releases are reissues from the past. Jamaican singer/songwriter Floyd Lloyd's Tear It Up: The Ska Album (Tuff Gong) may be a new release, but it reeks of tradition. In response to the "third wave" Ska revival, Lloyd -- who has worked with the likes of the Mighty Diamonds, Laurel Aitken and Derrick Morgan -- combines pure Ska energy with sublime horn work from the New Orleans Jazz Stars. As a veteran of the original Ska scene, Tear It Up can't help but sound classic. A fairly slick-sounding production, the record does lose some of Ska's grit and soul. Lloyd's vocals come off more like that of a Reggae vocalist at times and little chances are taken with the presentation. But overall, Tear It Up is a solid effort for anyone looking for a traditional Ska record that wasn't made 30 years ago.The Rolling Stones introduced a lot of people to the original R&B and Blues artists. Eric Clapton did the same for Reggae when he covered a Bob Marley song. But one of the more original introductions to Reggae came via The Police. The group's take on the Jamaican sound gave tons of fans the impetus to check out legendary Reggae bands like Steel Pulse and Black Uhuru. The band went so far as to declare their second album Reggatta De Blanc, or "White Reggae." So the current Reggatta Mondatta: A Reggae Tribute to the Police (Ark 21), featuring a handful of the top contemporary Reggae artists covering Police songs, isn't surprising. But it is a bit odd, in the same way that Howlin' Wolf singing "Satisfaction" would be strange. If you are a fan of the more modernized Reggae sound, which infuses synthesizers and electronic drum beats into the watered-down traditional sound, then this tribute won't bother you. Some of the more appealing interpretations -- like Steel Pulse's "Can't Stand Losing You" and Sly and Robbie's "Walking on the Moon" -- are the more heartfelt, and the straight balladry of Betty Wright's "Every Breath You Take" is charming, but barely Reggae. Sting even joins Ziggy Marley and Pato Banton on a couple of tracks, but he succeeds in only making the tracks more irrelevant. Reggatta Mondatta is a pleasant listen for fans of The Police, but it rarely transcends its novelty feel.