Chalk one up for the old farts mourning the days when riddims were slow- pumping and juicy, lyrics tough and high-minded. Freshly minted reissues of Alcapone’s impeccably timed toasts on 1971’s Forever Version, the Lone Ranger’s equally keen rhythmic sensibilities throughout 1981’s On the Other Side of Dub, and Culture’s thundering reggae gospel on 1977’s Two Sevens Clash—three collections of Jamrock too raw, too original for most of the world to get the first time around— now aim to give the world another chance.
Studio engineer King Tubby rendered a tremendous service when he pulled the vocals on simple two-track recordings in and out of the mix, thereby inventing dub and leaving space on the instrumentals for sound-system deejays to provide their own lyrical commentaries. Studio One owner “Coxsonne” Dodd captured the results on wax, and Forever’s “combination” tracks (singer–deejay duets)—Studio One mixes released for the first time on CD—showcase not just Alcapone’s irresistible rude-bwoy drawl, but also seminal riddims like “Nanny Goat” and tantalizing melodic bits from the likes of John Holt, Delroy Wilson, Alton Ellis, and Leroy Sibbles.
One reggae generation later, along came the Lone Ranger, spitting halfway between posh Britspeak and to-the-bone patwah. True to his name, he rode solo, his “ribbits, bims, and boinks” precluding the need for a singer’s sweetening. But it was the ’80s, and a crack pipe knocked him out of the saddle. What’s amazing, though, is that Other Side doesn’t begin to hold the string of other boomshots the Ranger produced during his brief spin on Planet Reggae, like “Love Bump” and “M16.”
Culture lead vocalist Joseph Hill was on board from reggae’s early glory days, and seemed destined to last forever until he passed last year at 57 while on tour. His group flew just under the radar, but this 30th-anniversary reissue of Two Sevens re-introduces one of the most transcendent roots-rock albums ever. Hill’s anecdotal accounts of human struggle from a humble Rastaman’s POV, delivered in a grainy, pitch-perfect baritone, enshrine a glorious moment in music history, one that will hopefully enrapture a few young farts along with the old ones.