Super Furry Animals bassist Guto Pryce takes a spin through the apparently bottomless Trojan back catalogue and produces a surprisingly cohesive mix of ‘70s rocksteady and dub reggae.
Undeterred by the flood of budget-priced three CD box sets released by Trojan Records over the last several years, Sanctuary Records offers another compilation of vintage reggae nuggets. Following in the footsteps of 2007's Jonny Greenwood Is the Controller, Super Furry Animals bassist Guto Pryce takes a spin through the apparently bottomless Trojan back catalogue and produces a surprisingly cohesive mix of '70s rocksteady and dub reggae. In keeping with the '70s vibe, the mix draws heavily on the spaced out dub of legendary producer Lee "Scratch" Perry.
Along with the dedicated musical archeologists at Soul Jazz Records (not to mention whoever is emptying out the vaults at Trojan), fans like Pryce and Greenwood are helping to expose new generations of fans to Jamaica's astonishingly rich musical heritage. And while Pryce's compilation isn’t quite as exhaustive as the typical Soul Jazz compilation (for example, the recent Studio One Kings or Studio One Groups), he clearly knows his subject.
Though I feel almost obligated to dock the mix points for starting off with the overused, impossible-to-avoid (yet still wonderful) Horace Andy chestnut "Skylarking", Pryce quickly delves deeper, moving on to the lesser known "Curly Locks" by Lee Perry. Unlike some of Perry's more spaced out productions from the Black Ark days of the late '70s, "Curly Locks" showcases The Upsetter's serene vocals floating over a vintage rocksteady rhythm track. After Mikey Dread's "Dread Combination", Pryce revisits Perry's back catalogue with the cheerful "Flashing Echo" by Leo Graham & the Upsetters before slowing things down with the spacey dub of "Vibrate On (Dub Version)" by Augustus Pablo, and Keith Hudson's eerie "Darkest Night on a Wet Looking Road".
Pryce then works his way back to early dub with the obligatory ode to ganja by Linval Thompson ("Jamaican Colley (Version)"), followed by U-Roy's "Penny For Your Dub", and what feels like the disc's only misstep (perhaps not coincidentally, the only track recorded after the '70s): "Ring the Alarm" by Tenor Saw. It's not a bad song, but to my ear its brassy vocals just don’t work well with the rest of the mix. Thankfully, it's right back to business with the mellow dub of "Channel One Feel It" from Leroy Smart's Aggrovators, followed by one of the best tracks on the album - the obscure gem "Do It Baby" by Susan Cadogan.
Like any good DJ, Pryce closes his set on a high note, starting with a wonderful early version of the Wailers classic "Kaya" produced by Perry and a much less polished version than later, more radio-friendly mixes. Next up, the rocksteady rhythms of Cornell Campell's wistful "Girl Of My Dreams", with its soulful horns and falsetto backing harmonies, segues nicely into the Perry-produced album closer "The Long Way" by Junior Byles, featuring some excellent guitar work, most likely by someone in Perry's house band.
I certainly wouldn't have pegged Pryce as a diehard reggae fan, but this just goes to show that you can't judge an indie rocker by his title. He obviously has great affection for vintage reggae, and has combined that affection with a fairly comprehensive knowledge of the genre to produce this, an excellent primer on classic rocksteady and dub reggae sounds of the '70s. Hopefully it will be the catalyst for a new generation of fans exploring the rich musical legacy of Jamaica.