5 Borough Fire ~ Philip Smart Productions From The New York Dancehall
Street Platinum And Gold
September 29, 2005

Track list
  1. 5 Pound Box Of Dub - Sammy Levi
  2. Come Off The Road - Sammi Levi
  3. Blow Out (Horns Dub) - Tom & Jerry
  4. Retreat Wicked Man - Garnet Silk
  5. Put It On - Scion Success
  6. Herb Ash ( Horns Dub ) - Dean Fraser
  7. Heartbreaker - Sammy Levi
  8. Broken Dub - Philip Smart
  9. Dollar To Spend - Nicodemus
  10. Pounds To Pounds - Larry McDonald
  11. Trainer - Scion Success
  12. Don’t Try To Change Me - Admiral Tibet
  13. It’s A Shame - Sammy Levi
  14. Jah Light Shining - Scion Success
  15. Trouble Again - Sammy Levi
  16. Tired Dub - Philip Smart
  17. Cry Fe Mi Girl - Scion Success
  18. Special Lover - Robert Ffrench
  19. Wrap Up - Sammy Levi
  20. Nuff A We A Rude Boy - Scion Success
Rating : from 5 (excellent) to 1 (poor)
Vocals : 4 Backing : 4 Production : 4 Sound quality : 4 Sleeve : 4
This selection presents the digital vibes that were popular in New York during the 80's -- and if you are looking for an antidote to a steady diet of rehashed 'steppers' clichés, and yet another one of those Bunny Lee compilations -- then this may be it.

And the producer of the tunes, Philip Smart, makes it clear it was his intention to actively go against the flow of regurgitated clichés, and cynical, so called 'relicks' of old rhythms from previous reggae eras :

"Me love the dancehall, straight up. It's more pon an original level. I've heard all those old rhythms so many times, I don't even like to lick them back for myself. With dancehall, we were creating something new. That was the next level. So either step up -- or step out... You start out trying to copy a Jamaican sound then you say to yourself -- what are we trying to copy that for? Why don't we make our own sound? ...That's when it kinda start to work!"

(Philip Smart recounts his disinterest in rehashing old 60/70's rhythms in conversation with Robert Kenner, C/F "5 Borough Fire" sleeve notes 2005)

This is a strong selection, arguably superior to the last few digital releases from Pressure Sounds/Maximum Pressure and the Unity Sounds compilation from last year. Those releases were good, for sure -- it's just that this release is better, more vital, original and aggressive.

Of course its compositions are rooted in reggae history. But notably, it is disinterested in repeatedly referencing the past, and older rhythms and styles, which is more than a relief, and refreshing in this current time when reggae is -- arguably -- deeply in need of a creative jolt.

Much of the vocals are in a Tenor Saw/Nitty Gritty style. Sammy Levi lays down the gauntlet in "Come Of The Road" whilst "Blow Out" is its horns counter action, rendered as a beautiful jazz composition. Whoever thought digital dancehall was only for flippant vibes of excitement and of a good, but transient value in the wider scheme of reggae history -- may think again on hearing these more reflective vibes.

Garnet Silk is up next with his anti corruption chant, "Retreat Wicked Man" imploring Babylon powers to surrender, to relinquish their wickedness. "Can't you feel the Father's vengeance? It's waiting to melt you like butter" Garnet chants over an old Carlton Barrett style drum loop sample and digital beats. "Your wicked device is going to break your own neck, the cry of my people will stop your breath" runs the elegiac chant. This is probably the most "traditional/conventional" composition on the album, with clear references to an earlier roots ambience.

"Broken Dub" has a Firehouse Crew vibe, whilst Nicodemus' "Dollars To Spend" has the kind of fractured, broken beats which morphed into Junglist a few years down the line. "Pounds To Pounds" is ambient surreality, with a West African talking drum ringing tone and taut percussion punctuating the rhythm. "Trainer" has a fairly conventional vocal -- but is shredded and cut up with acidic, hallucinogenic sounds threading between the bass overtones.

"Special Lover" by Robert French shows exactly where the mid 90's UK Drum and Bass/post Junglist genre took its influences from. It's only too obvious, judging from these harsh monolithic drum structures and bass feedback overtones. Rough, sombre and aggressive in no small measure.

Robert Kenner's sleeve notes are well written too, featuring interviews from major singers and players of the time. Kenner's narrative is both evocative and atmospheric, conjuring up the ambience of the digital scene in New York in the 1980's and its place within the wider musical environment of early Hip Hop, Cuban, Latin Freestyle and Kraftwerk beats.