Skank It Up
The Small Axe People
Small Axe People
October, 2009

Track list
  1. The Fencebeater
  2. Skank It Up
  3. Touch And Go
  4. Welcome To Chenappa
  5. Dobblers
  6. Freak Force
  7. Whine In Time
  8. Jimmy Riddle
  9. Screwball
  10. Crunchie
  11. Three Holes
  12. Sidetrack
Rating : from 5 (excellent) to 1 (poor)
Lead Instruments : 4 Backing : 5 Production : 4 Sound quality : 5 Sleeve : 4
After the reviews in 2001 of the first Small Axe People album "Original Version" and one of its successors, the 2003 release "Once Upon A Version" by Teacher & Mr.T and mine of 2004 release "Portion Of Version" and in 2005 of the first 'vocal' album, a joint effort with legendary Studio One and Treasure Isle veteran DJ Dennis Alcapone "Just Version" and one year later in June 2006 of "V Is For Version", followed by 2007's "The Wildest Version", last year gave us the Area X album "Dub One" together with its instrumental companion "Generation Version" and then "Creation" the latest release before this "Skank It Up" album by The Small Axe People, the brainchild of the very amicable long time reggae and dub (and yes, even dancehall) aficionado Ray Hurford, editor, owner and writer of 'Small Axe', the reggaezine that has become an institution over the years, first on paper and later on the internet.

As pointed out in the earlier mentioned reviews of "Original Version", "Once Upon A Version", "Portion Of Version", "The Wildest Version", "Dub One", "Generation Version" and "Creation", the whole concept, around which the now acclaimed series of version albums has been built, is based on the "Pop A Top" version Andy Capp a.k.a. Lynford Anderson cut of Derrick Morgan's recut of "Fat Man". And then not taken to just versioning a riddim, but to versioning the version again, and again again. With the minimal changes in instrumentation over the whole of those albums, all in all 12 tracks, the concept seems to owe as much to minimal music pioneers like Philip Glass et alibus, and probably is closer to reggae music yet just as minimalistic and 'obsessed' by repetition, the techno-dub of Rhythm & Sound, the sound covered on this site in depth in the 'Jamaican hallucinations in stripped-down slowmotion'-article. It's clear where the inspiration is coming from, but it's always styled as a tribute, never as an epigone. Area X' sophomore album "The Wildest Dub" was scheduled for release later last year but is now preceded by this "Skank It Up" album.

This album opens with "The Fencebeater", a tune that deserves special mention for more than just musical reasons, as (the title of) this tune pays tribute to Colin 'The Fencebeater' Moore RIP, Ray Hurford's very close friend and behind-the-scenes UK reggae stalwart who passed away in April this year. It's followed by the almost upful "Skank It Up" and the melancholic "Touch And Go" that immediately makes you think of Augustus Pablo Far East sound. In all tunes the minimalistic riddims form the perfect backdrop for rather scarce repetitive effects, keyboard stabs and keyboard riffs, which together with the strong mix of the tracks on this album create just the amount of tension needed to both emphasize the minimalistic repeating groove and the subtle changes and movements, although I would have prefered to hear the riddims themselves being mixed just a bit more upfront. "Welcome To Chenappa" is the most intriguing tune of this set, as the syncopated percussion seems to almost invoke a storm, truly mesmerizing and then "Dobblers"'s effects (if you're old enough like me) take you back to the arcades where you first played Space Invaders.

"Freak Force" suddenly has a very soothing influence with its very contemplative chord-sequences, before "Whine In Time" mirrors the less upful side of "Skank It Up", sounding like its less happier little brother. Almost every time there is one track on the album where for my ears the keyboard melodies on top of the backing are just a bit too much out of sync with the overall feel the riddim itself gives and on this album it's "Jimmy Riddle", followed by the very fine Lee Perry experimental-organ-instrumental reminiscent "Screwball" and the also Upsetters like "Crunchie". That early instrumental reggae vibe is maintained in "Three Holes" and it's amazing how much less minimalistic dubby and indeed late 60s skanking especially the second half of this album is compared to earlier Small Axe People releases. The album closes with (of course totally in contrast with what just has been written) the strange swampy sounding dense yet minimalistic dub "Sidetrack". One of the easier listening Small Axe People albums, surely recommended to those afraid of too much minimalism, but also for the dry-to-the bone enthusiasts. To hear it, visit The Small Axe People, to buy it, visit Small Axe People Paypal.