Flush in the midst of celebrating its 30-year anniversary, the U.K.’s Greensleeves Records is on the move, with incredible reissues from their storied reggae vaults. Among the crop of vintage recordings seeing the light again are Wailing Souls’ Classic Cuts: 1978-1984 and Barrington Levy’s Englishman. These aren’t merely rehashed albums meant to cash in on a new generation of roots reggae fans. Rather, the discs offer rare, out-of-print, and never-before-heard mixes from pioneering artists during their most creative periods.
As its title implies, The Wailing Souls’ Classic Cuts features 12 late-’70s-to-mid-’80s maxi-12” tracks (vocal plus dub mix) including the dread “Kingdom Rise & Kingdom Fall,” “Jah Give Us Life,” and “War Deg Round A John Shop.” Previously, only lucky or wealthy vinyl hunters could cop these singles at collector fairs or on eBay. Musically, this is Wailing Souls at the pinnacle of their politically informed and conscious era, when they and other vocal harmony groups such as Black Uhuru, Mighty Diamonds, and the Itals were among Jamaica’s most popular acts.
As Harry Hawke’s excellent liner notes for the album reveal, Winston “Pipe” Matthews, Lloyd “Bread” McDonald, George “Buddy” Haye, and Rudolph “Garth” Dennis worked alongside studio bands The Roots Radics, the Sly & Robbie-led Revolutionaries, and also The High Times Band (featuring noted lead guitarist Earl “Chinna” Smith) on the album. Producers Junjo Lawes and the Hookim Brothers guided the sessions with help of engineers like Scientist, Barnabas, and Errol Thompson. Highlights of Classic Cuts include “War,” featuring an extended mix with MC Rankin Trevor, the full version of “Fire House Rock” (including the Scientist dub version), and a 12” version of the 1982 classic, “They Don’t Know Jah.”
Likewise, Greensleeves’ reissue of Barrington Levy’s 1979 album Englishman includes 10 original songs and four bonus mixes. Jamaican DJ Scorcher stretches out two of Levy’s originals, while the 12” mix of “Sister Carol” (riding the “Full Up/Pass the Kutchie” riddim) includes an echo-saturated dub version. Crucial!
The vintage sounds don’t stop with classic artists and labels. Modern imprints and producers are also looking back to look forward. For instance, check the recent 7” vinyl single from Brighton’s Richie Phoe on Brooklyn’s Redbud Records. The two-track effort is inspired by dub heavyweights such as the aforementioned Scientist and his mentor King Tubby, but adds 21st century studio techniques on the meaty “Heartical Behavior” and the sedate, swirling “Ital Food.” Killer release!
Other evidence of a revival mood can be heard on recent Jamaican riddim sets from Frenchie’s Maximum Sound label (remakes of Bob Marley’s “Zion Train,” Aswad’s “Dub Fire,” and “Warrior Charge”), on Reggae Fever’s re-lick of “His Imperial Majesty” by Rod Taylor, or on Footsteps Music’s Halfway Tree riddim, which copies Bunny Wailer’s “Ballroom Floor.”
These tracks comprise a mere fraction of Jamaican music instrumentals that are resuscitated every year; 2006 also saw Bobby Konders rewind Yabby You’s “Jah Love,” and Robert Livingston’s Big Yard label unearth the rocksteady classic “Solomon” for its Reggae Vibes riddim. With vintage and classically inspired reggae releases flowing forth like oil in Arabia, it’ll be a good while before the Jamaican revival tap is turned off.