Sun Araw, M. Geddes Gengras and the ICON GIVE THANK crew’s top 20 reggae finds from Jamaica

By , May 15 2012
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In 2011, Sun Araw and M. Geddes Gengras – together with filmmakers Tony Lowe and Sam Fleischner, and RVNG Intl. boss Matt Werth – were welcomed into the “spiritual compound” where The Congos live and work in St. Catherine, Jamaica.

For weeks the American musicians embraced slept, smoked and lived the Ital lifestyle at the septuagenarian reggae legends’ headquarters. Of course they also recorded a vast amount of music with their hosts, which they took back home to assemble and mix down; the final results appear as Vol.9 of RVNG Intl.’s FRWKYS series, an album entitled ICON GIVE THANK. The release includes a suitably spaced-out, free-associative documentary by Lowe and Fleischner, ICON EYE, that captures the magic of the sessions.

Speaking to the four key members of the ICON expedition – Cameron ‘Sun Araw’ Stallones, Gengras, Werth and Lowe – it soon became obvious that each of them had acquired some remarkable vinyl treasures while in St. Catherine and the surrounding area, many of them from the shelves and boxes of a local record collector-cum-seller named Patrick. Over the next few pages, they tell us about some of the most special 12″s, 45s and LPs that they spirited back to the States, from sweet-natured rocksteady and roots cuts to dread-infused dancehall and cosmically-attuned dub.

Sun Araw and M. Geddes Gengras will be performing live with The Congos at London’s Village Underground on June 22, in association with the Barbican. King Midas Sound System lend DJ support, and there’ll also be a screening of ICON EYE -more information and tickets here.

RUPIE EDWARDS
‘IRIE FEELINGS’
(SUCCESS)

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Tony Lowe: “‘I’m feeling hiiigh, so high!!!’ Infinite sun from this, always makes everything easy. Sublimely catchy dub vocal remake of Johnny Clark’s ‘Everyday Wondering’. Deadly Dragon, the best record store in the USA, initiated me…it was a big UK hit and there are a ton of versions because obviously no one can get enough of this vibe. This is the OG on Rupie’s label though, b/w another version called ‘Feeling Good’…total uplift.”


SKULLMAN
‘RUN OUTTA LUCK’
(TAURUS)

TL: “Ruff and tuff digikal shot produced by King Tubby. Just drum machine, bass and voice straight to soundbwoy head…so bad it has a built-in forward. People freak out when you play this. Part of a series of diss tunes aimed at Early Black after he ripped the style of Skullman’s hit ‘Stuck’.”


COBRA
MERCYLESS BAD BWOY
(SINBAD)

TL: “Pure wickedness from the Original Kill and Nuh Run, Mad Cobra. Felt a little scandalous bringing this badman shit back to the Lion’s Den, but its worth it for the cover alone. This was Cobra’s first LP. Every cut is lean and razor sharp.”


DENNIS BROWN
‘LET LOVE IN’
(SUNSHOT)

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TL: “Dennis….just listened to this seven times and had to stop. Earthen scripture…the way he means ‘without love you can’t live on” – you know this lifetime has nothing to do with it! Was a very important mp3 for the boo and I last autumn, so to have the power of the original press on the home altar was a beautiful bless. The Crown Prince was 15 when he cut this.”


THE CONGOS
HEART OF THE CONGOS
(CONGO ASHANTY)

TL: “This is the Congos’ press on Ashanti Roy’s label; they cut herb on extra, unglued sleeves of this. He gave us all a copy when the week of sessions was over. Still in awe that Matt and the Congos opened that gateway. Only Cameron and Ged could have stepped through…thanks and praises Sam and I were there to film. This record is a portal into the vibrancy of that time.”

LEONARD WILSON / MIGHTY CLUB BAND
‘SWEET CAROLINE’ / ‘SWEET DUB’
(MID-NIGHT RECORDS BOB MAC PRODUCTION)

Cameron Stallones: “Our last trip to St. Catherine was bathed in the sounds of Rae Town, the classic rocksteady/oldies dance. A lot of the records I picked up on the trip were in that mode, dipped in the sweet soul spirit. The vocal side of this 45 is a beautiful, wiggly little cover of ‘Sweet Caroline’ with a sensitive electric guitar handling the descending horn line. But the version is the pick for sure, it has atonal but sympathetic synthesizer noises percolating throughout, while the pristine vocals are chopped in and then diced with delay, dissolved in every direction.”


ERNEST WILSON
‘UNDYING LOVE’ / ‘UNDYING VERSION’
(COXSONE)

CS: “There’s this little short delay bubble on the vocals; it’s a sharp little blur on the lead but on the harmonies it spreads and bleeds out.  This is the sort of song you want to get stabbed to. The promise is too beautiful and you can tell he means it, but why is it so devastatingly sad? Lover’s rock from beyond the pale. But that little four-stair-step vocal line at the beginning of each verse is climbable, it can lift you right out of the way.”


JOHNNY CLARKE
‘NEVER NEVER’ / VERSION
(HOT CITY)

CS: “This is a real special Rae Town dreamer, a sweet soul track voiced perfectly by Johnny Clarke, but the version is the real treasure.  An incredibly earnest upright piano replaces the vocal, delicately and straightforwardly walking the melody with a genuine but bashful romance, pausing at the end of each phrase to gather itself. There’s a lace curtain Sunday afternoon parlour feeling to the whole thing. Overall atmosphere is augmented by the thrashed nature of this copy, so a swirl of static turns and turns in the middle of all of it like dust particles suspended in a late afternoon window beam. I think it’s one of the most beautiful records I own.”


SOUL SYNDICATE
GHETTO-OLOGY DUBWISE
(BLACK ROOTS MUSIC 1979)

CS: “This one softly pounds everything down in tight little circles, marching in round; the kick is punched thru to sternum, but in a cushioned sort of way. Recorded and mixed at Channel One and Tubby’s respectively, my sleeve says engineered by Jammy but I trust Roots Archive more, which says Scientist. Wait, no, Wikipedia says its Jammy. My sleeve also has a completely different tracklist than the label.  Anyways, that’s the pleasure. It’s roots dub to the core, but it also has that light, dreamboat quality that a lot of the records I got on that trip have. Something slightly soulful and warm and sweet. The phaser whorls that Jammy starts throwing off the snare are mildly virtuosic, balling up the reverb and sending it spinning it end over end.”


THE REVOLUTIONARIES
DISCO DUB
(CHANNEL ONE, 1978)

CS: “Emphatic prescriptions in this order: ‘Head Ache’, ‘Belly Ache’, ‘Tooth Ache’, ‘Heart Ache’. The order of operations. ‘Head Ache’ calls for soaring and smearing triumph horns and a heavy nod. Yes eye. ‘Belly Ache’ takes it easy on you, smoothed out and friendly. But there’s this eerie disembodied wail that keeps erupting, moving out of tune and staying there. You do what you can. ‘Tooth Ache’ is a strut leaned all the way back, with a totally genius/psychotic doorbell ping-ponging around the mix. Hello? Hello? ‘Heart Ache’, the only malady that leads to death, has the most potent cure. It begins with a death rattle and, crouched and wary, it whispers unrepeatable messages through the hi-hat.”

Matt Werth: “Maximum respect to brother Patrick who drove us up from Congos HQ back to his house twice to rifle through the floor-to-ceiling assortment of 45s and 12″s. Likewise, respect to Mr Jeffrey Jensen for originally making the introduction to Patrick.”


VARIOUS
ORIGINAL REGGAE HOT SHOTS
(BEVERLEY’S RECORDS)

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MW: “This cover caught my eye for the meticulous detail a previous owner went through to create an ink pen and marker version of this rocksteady compilation’s tracklist and liner notes. The artist’s rendering of the jacket details (on the inside of a Willie Akoto 12″) is colourfully fundamental, much like the selection of Leslie Kong productions contained on this record that truly do define rocksteady’s original hot shots. You can not deny the heart-melter that is The Gaylads’ ‘This Time I Won’t Hurt You’, especially as unknowingly gifted from the hands of this sentimental record owner.”


GENERAL LEFFY
‘SHE NAH DWEET AGAIN’ / ‘CAR TOON STYLE’
(WAYNE)

MW: “I was inspired to dig a little deeper into the dancehall pockets of Patrick’s collection on our second trip to Jamaica after bringing home some surprise scorchers from the first trip. Will admit that I was lured backwards into the music by the mismatched 12″ jacket, but happily blasted by this duo of demented dancehall cuts. The B-side is pure master volume riddim riding on a melancholic bass riff.”


DILLINGER
CB200 –  18K GOLD
(SCANDAL BAG)

MW: “Dillinger’s delivery always teeters at that cusp of constraint and chaos. The hard-working toast of Kingston town in the mid-70s that made his way through Perry, Pablo and Dodd’s studios, this album compiles Dillinger’s work with King Tubby. Of that legendary production canon, Tubby allows Dillinger’s gruff to quake and aftershock. No track better captures that and Dillinger’s M.O. than ‘Working Day’.”


JOE GIBBS & THE PROFESSIONALS
AFRICAN DUB – ALL-MIGHTY
(JOE GIBBS MUSIC)

MW: “This early pressing on Joe Gibbs’ own imprint pastes the iconic artwork of African Dub atop a recycled record jacket on two sheets of wax-coated paper. A bold statement by Gibbs who by this career point had an absurd amount of rocksteady AND reggae hits under his production belt and was now venturing into dub territories with the greatest rhythm section that ever walked Island soil. This compilation is as solid as Sly & Robbie’s playing gets, dropped and expanded in all the right ways by Joe.”


TYRONE EVANS
‘SMILE’
(CHANNEL ONE)

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MW: “A perfect Channel One production that allows generous space for Tyrone Evans’ vocals to glide from the soul into the harmonic cosmos. There were so many Channel One 12″s stacked all over Patrick’s house. I’m glad the black stamp on this label was just legible enough to pull out of a pile.

EARTH + STONE
‘JAH WILL CUT YOU DOWN’ / VERSION
(WELL CHARGE)

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M. Geddes Gengras: “Later retitled ‘Jailhouse Set Me Free’ for their LP and subsequent single pressings, this tune is straight massive. Insistent rim hits and organ skanking against a sweet and sad two-part vocal: ‘I was down in deep meditation, singing songs of love.’ The version is a study in mute-button mixing, perfectly constructed and letting the hats and five-note bass line carry you there.”


DENNIS BROWN
‘WHIP THEM JAH’ / VERSION
(EARTHQUAKE)

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MGG: “Dancing on the grave of Babylon, because ‘only dread can come over, Babylon can’t get over’. Picked up a score of choice D.B. cuts, including some amazing Observer sides, but the version on this one is a masterclass in mixing, the rimshots get PUNCHY and along with the bass pretty much lead the tune, while the slightly dulled vocal and sharp guitar/organ echo blasts take turns trading off with some self-oscillating tape echo. I know, I know, that could describe pretty much any roots dub, but this one is perfect.”


ANSEL COLLINS
‘SCATTER/SHOT’
(ROSSO)

MGG: “Saw a couple people audition this cut briefly and put it back, but I heard something in the vocal I really liked and brought it home, a BIG posi dancehall vibe, crunchy koopa-trooper drum machines and gunplay lyrics. But the version is totally unhinged, totally smeared digital organ and random synth blorps, wild percussion echos, most of which are present on the vocal side, but brought into sharp FOCUS. The backing vocals are wild, too. Too cool for YouTube.”


JUNIOR REID
‘MASHING UP THE EARTH’ / ‘RYTHM [SIC] ONE TWO’
(J.R. PRODUCTIONS)

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MGG: “So simple, so perfectly heavy. Nyabinghi drumming and the sound of thunder and THAT’S IT. An amazing jazzwad rhythm meeting a really passionate anti-violence vocal from Reid. Shout-outs to Portmore, AND Loading Video…

;ob=av2e” target=”_blank”>it’s a Michael Jackson rip.  The version adds some crushing casio organ in a total Batman mould. Play this on a huge system and watch people lose it. [the version on YouTube is different to the 45’s, but you get the idea]”


JAH GRUNDY
‘RESIDENT AREA’ / ‘SILENCE ZONE’
(DREAD AT THE CONTROLS)

MGG: “Was super stoked to grip a few Dread At The Controls 45s. I think Mikey Dread was doing some of the most psychedelic productions of the late 70s, the elements are all familiar to any casual roots fan, but the mix is very distinctive, with sounds floating in the empty spaces like hummingbirds and a laidback vocal from Grundy, meditating on THE RENT (which, as MV reminded us, can’t be paid with happiness or love)  The dub is subtitled Mikey Dread Computer Mix and it’s one of my favourites ever, from the false start intro to the too-good-to-be-true vocal delay swells, bass-centric mix, and general WOBBLE factor. Pretty much perfect in every way. Tragically not on YouTube, but here’s one from the same era I gripped, though it’s maybe HALF the tune.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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