January 9, 2011
from 5 (excellent) to 1 (poor)|
|Vocals : 4/5||Backing : 5||Production : 5||Sound quality : 5||Sleeve : 5|
60-year old reggae veteran and cult figure Little Roy (born Earl Lowe in Witfield Town, Kingston JA) had recorded the 1965 released single "Cool It" for Coxsone Dodd and two singles, "It's You I Love" and "Reggae Got Soul", in 1967 for Prince Buster -- the one who gave him the name Little Roy -- without any success before making a series of very fine, mostly rasta-inspired, records for Lloyd "Matador" Daley at the end of the 1960s / beginning of the 1970s, along with 1974's "Don't Cross The Nation" which featured Bunny Wailer (on kette drum) and Peter Tosh (on guitar) for Lee "Scratch" Perry. It was for Matador that Little Roy recorded "Bongo Nyah", actually the first number 1 rasta song in Jamaica and the label's biggest selling 45.
Not satisfied with the way he was treated by Lloyd "Matador" Daley led Little Roy to the creation of the Tafari Syndicate, with the assistance of Maurice "Munchie" Jackson. The first song that came out on the Tafari imprint was "Prophecy", with the voicing being done by Lee "Scratch" Perry. Probably his best known single and also most covered song was the anthemic "Tribal War", which was re-done by John Holt, The Mighty Diamonds, George Nooks, Wayne Wade, and Buju Banton, just to name a few. With the end of the 1970s came the release of two Little Roy discomixes for Herman Chin-Loy on the Brooklyn based Selection Exclusive imprint, both on old Studio One riddims, but in an emerging dancehall style. Although a worthy outing, the set did not match the consistent quality of the artist's previous output.
The 1980s were a fairly lean period for Little Roy musically as he made moves between New York and Kingston. Even though Little Roy has been by no means a prolific reggae artist, it is to his credit that this situation has been created by his single minded determination that his music should retain its dignity and integrity by not falling prey to the whims and pressures of business dealings. In the 1990s Little Roy teamed up with On-U-Sound's Adrian Sherwood for whom he recorded the album "Long Time", which was followed by the 1999 released "More From A Little" album for the Brixton based roots label Lion Inc. and then "Children Of The Most High" for Pharos Records in 2005, all three featuring a mixture of new cuts and re-recordings from Little Roy's back catalogue.
And almost the same has been done for his brand new album "Heat", once again released by London based Pharos Records. As Little Roy says in a recent interview he did with Angus Taylor regarding his new album and the re-recordings... "This album is centred around some great songs that I recorded and a lot of them didn't get any justice, y'know, like radio plays... they weren't heard, y'know, as great songs. So I have re-recorded some of them and comment to get this right... they are better than the original y'know." Not simply a few tracks, but the bulk of the material featured on the "Heat" album are remakes of previously released songs. The tunes that have been revitalized include "Falla Falla", "More From A Little", "Heat", "Mama", Jah Can Count On I", "Fallen Angels", "My Religion", "Pyaka", "Membership Card", and "False Teachers". A pity that an artist of his calibre doesn't come up with entirely new material, but on the other hand... haven't big artists from his generation like Bob Marley and Burning Spear done the same thing after signing to Island Records in the 1970s?
The recordings for this project were done at Stingray studio in London, with UK's finest musicians Dave "Fluxy" Heywood (drums & percussion), Leroy "Mafia" Heywood (bass & keyboard)), Stephen "Marley" Wright (guitar), Tony "Ruff Cut" Phillips (guitar), Henry "Buttons" Tenyue (trombone), and Megumi "Megoo" Mesaku (saxophone) laying down the 'live' played riddim tracks, and Winston Francis, AJ Franklin and George Dekker of the Pioneers providing harmonies. The album opener "Falla Falla" is underpinned by a relicked version of Johnny Osbourne's "Warrior" riddim, while "More From A Little" (title track from the Lion Inc. album release) is now voiced over the "Koutchie" riddim. Don't know whether "No Guns No Bombs" is a remake or a fresh new tune, but it's a great song anyway, that mourns the senseless violence that continues to affect the lives of so many innocent people. The same theme is touched in the solid "Heat", which appeared on the "Children Of The Most High" set. The wonderful nyahbinghi flavored "Mama" is also known from the "More From A Little" album, but this version surely outmatches the original.
Even though "Jah Can Count On I" -- originally a single from the group Little Ian Rock, which consisted of Little Roy, Ian Rock and Anthony "Rocky" Ellis, and nowadays sold on the internet for a lot of money -- is a well done 'steppers style' remake, its new version doesn't come near the magic of the original. "Fallen Angels", and also "Pyaka", are solid do-overs of songs that were already popular in Europe. Just like "Jah Can Count On I", the original "My Religion" was recorded for the Twelve Tribes Of Israel. It appeared on the album "Twelve Voices" and only circulated within the organisation. "My Religion" is a beautiful tune that deals with his rasta vows. The next track, "Membership Card", is a sufferer's tune that first appeared on "Children Of The Most High", but makes a far better impression in its new appearance. The same goes for "False Teachers", previously released on the "More From A Little" album. The album is rounded off in real fine style with "Living Ain't Easy", a brand new tune that just sprang to life in the studio.
It's obvious that this Little Roy collection has been produced with care and devotion, and thus the music has class stamped all over. Not to nitpick, but it would have been an even more interesting release if Little Roy had penned a fair number of new pieces for this album.