Whew! This month’s mix is really a backbreaker! I’m really excited about how it’s turning out, though. I’ve spent the last few days shaping the selections and I have to say this is my favorite so far. So now more delays–it’s time to deliver the heartbreak with punishing regularity.
VOLUME I: LONELY DAYS AND LONELY NIGHTS
JUSTIN HINDS AND THE DOMINOES — “ONCE A MAN” (from Ska Uprising)
I’ve had some trouble with records like this one, but it’s the good kind of trouble. I like ska alright, but I’m no connoisseur. It’s extremely fun, but exhaustingly upbeat. Rocksteady jams can be laid-back, sultry, frenetic, searing, strutting and potent; Ska doesn’t fuss as much with innovation or variety, it just pumps strident, in-the-red soul demonstrations into your ear with as much force and conviction as possible. So even with incredible artists like Justin Hinds and the Dominoes, I’ll tend to avoid what I think are entire compilations devoted to Ska recordings. This one covers their Rocksteady years as well, but I guess Ska has more appeal to prospective buyers these days — that, or the word “ska” is more fun to say. For their part, Hinds and company deliver miraculous performances in any configuration, and produced stellar work in the ska, rocksteady, and roots styles. Speaking as someone who doesn’t take to roots and dub too well, but knows a good thing when he hears it, I can say that The Dominoes’ “Jezebel” is one of the finest reggae albums of the 70’s–but it doesn’t sound too far removed from this gem. Justin Hinds has one of those immediately identifiable voices — unlike his peers, his style didn’t seem drawn from American R&B and soul — that seems to challenge a whole generation of singers to approximate it. The influence of the Dominos on the later Reggae styles is probably immeasurable, so I should’t attempt to measure it here. Especially when the original is so fulfilling.
CARLTON AND THE SHOES — “NEVER GIVE YOUR HEART AWAY” (fromLove Me Forever)
I don’t think I have the writing talent to express the splendor of Love Me Forever. I’ve never tried to write about a perfect thing, so I don’t have the practice. There aren’t very many such objects, and even fewer so tender and delicate as well. The harmonies between lead singer Carlton Manning and his unassuming Shoes are such singular manifestations of beauty that any attempt at comparison would be foolish. Still, I’ll take a bow and give the floor to the Other Music update that clued me in to Carlton, and offered me a window onto unfettered gorgeousness. And they couldn’t put it into words either:
Carlton Manning, and his group Carlton and the Shoes, stuck with Coxsone Dodd for much of his early career and issued his most beloved sides on the Studio One and Coxsone labels; the highlight being the Love Me Forever LP. And let me tell you, few records upon first listen have had as profound an impact upon me as this one. By the time I stumbled upon this date, I was already more than sold on Jamaican rocksteady; having been something of a scavenger of this hybrid of down-tempo ska and American soul for many years. Still, something made this record special in a way that I couldn’t quite verbalize, and still might not be able to do today, frankly. All I can tell you is that, not unlike the Impressions, these guys made some of the most earnest and warm soul music ever recorded. It just so happens that Carlton and the Shoes were from Jamaica and not the States.
THE GAYLADS — “HARD TO CONFESS” (from After Studio One)
Like the album title says, the Gaylads — the aforementioned Delano Stewart, the multifaceted B.B. Seaton and the long-suffering (?) Maurice Roberts — parted ways with Coxsone Dodd and Studio One in the late 60’s to work with Sonia Pottinger, one of rocksteady’s steadiest hands. Soon after, Stewart departed to record a handful of marvelous singles before moving to the U.S. and getting out of the biz. Then they left to work with Leslie Kong until he died. Then they recorded for even more folks before splitting into other endeavors. So obviously, when groups this unstable sing, “It’s hard to confess to a love that’s wrong”, they mean it.
PRINCE BUSTER — “DARK END OF THE STREET” (from Bluebeat)
So apparently this Prince Buster was a big deal. I haven’t really bothered to find out what the deal was with him is. (Five minutes later). Now I’m reading about Prince Buster. Maybe his story is interesting after all. Perhaps I’ll offer a condensed version here. (Twenty minutes later). Here you go–condensed version: Elder statesman of Jamaican Ska, influential businessman and Pan-African thinker, Prince Buster was a big deal.
More interesting to me– the song. What is it about “The Dark End of the Street” that turns to gold no matter whose hands run roughshod over it? I’ve yet to hear a bum version of this classic, which has been recorded to excellent effect by The Flying Burrito Brothers, James Carr, Percy Sledge and — what’s this? — Frank Black?
(five minutes later)
Ok, I take it back. Frank Black’s version sucks. I’m going to have to this one twice to make up for it.
Actually, I like to think this could double for a Caetano Veloso version. Prince Buster, in the laid-back mode, sounds uncannily similar to the English-language Caetano Veloso numbers I’ve heard. Strange.
One Word — Sibbles. It’s fun to say.
Couldn’t gather up too many prison songs for this mix — I’m focusing on heartbreak, which is, truth be told, much less depressing than going to prison, from what I hear. This one would get the “most depressing” award for disc 1, but for the hope it bears witness to. Singer and bassist Leroy Sibbles’ wistful vocals ponder several heart-shattering facets of imprisonment, atonement, exhaustion, rebelliousness and longing, while managing to avoid lurid drama or hopeless confusion. It’s altogether a more melancholy picture than another “I lost my baby” tale. But the Heptones, for almost 15 years the performing vehicle for Sibbles, who, in addition to singing, writing and playing bass for the Heptones, also was a session musician at Studio One and contributed to their greatest recordings of the 60’s and 70’s. It’s the group dynamic that’s the star of the show here, though. The Heptones definitely knew their way around a harmony, but they never let the stellar vocal interplay detract from a song’s lyrics, or from the singularity of expression that soung deserved.
I’m not 100% on board with Bob Andy, who cut some decent, but not stellar, 70’s hits in the roots and lovers’ styles, especially in tandem with superstar Martha Griffiths, but had less of a overground presence in the rocksteady era. He’s mostly famous for his songwriting over his vocal performances, but he’s not bad. The best thing I’ve heard having anything to do with Andy is a record by Delroy Wilson that seems to be all Andy covers — if not just Andy originals like “Open the Door” and “Honey Child” with Wilson’s voice in the mix. I did want to post that, but my friend Adam, of Eureka Gold, hasn’t ripped it to .mp3 yet. And no one else seems to know it exists. Anyway, not much to say about this one. Here are what I remember of the lyrics from the 30 or so times I’ve heard this song:
How Long Will This Hunger Last?
Quite a songwriter, that one.
Six more hits from the lesser-knowns and such tomorrow. I pledge it!