British-based Blood and Fire has to be the best reggae label around. Not only do they put out great music, their packaging and liner notes are as slick and informative, if not more so, than those of any record label around. In remembrance of the murder of dub legend King Tubby 10 years ago, Blood and Fire has released Dub Like Dirt, an exhilarating homage to the reverend of reverb. With 16 Bunny Lee's Aggrovators tracks mixed by such Tubby followers as Prince Jammy, Prince Phillip, Pat Kelly and the King himself, Dub Like Dirt will make an excellent addition to any reggae collection. If "Guidance Dub," King Tubby's reworking of Horace Andy's hit "Guiding Star," doesn't convince you that King Tubby is one of the great studio pioneers of all time, you'd better adjust the bass settings on your stereo.
Johnny Clarke is another overlooked star of the reggae scene. Thanks again to Blood and Fire for bringing us Dreader Dread, 1976-1978, a fine overview of one of the sweetest Jamaican voices ever to sing. Here you'll find Clarke's prodigious talents backed by reggae studio stalwarts Robbie Shakespeare (bass), Earl "Chinna" Smith (guitar) and Sly Dunbar (drums), as well as a host of other talented studio musicians. "Dread a Dread" is simply infectious, and so are the covers of Peter Tosh's "I'm the Toughest" and Bob Marley's "Time Will Tell." Almost every track was mixed at King Tubby's studio, so you can be sure the sound is top-ranking.
If you're still not sure, you could always grab Blood and Fire's Heavyweight 3 sampler. It culls the best of their most recent releases, including cuts from the albums above and will no doubt have you asking your record store to order more Blood and Fire.
Greensleeves, another British reggae label, focuses more on new talent. One such artist they hope will be the next neo-roots star is Bushman, a.k.a. Dwight Duncan. His second effort, Total Commitment, updates the roots sound with R&B, jazz and blues influences. There are also a few nods to dance-hall as well (but it all works best when Bushman sticks with roots). The first track, "Worries and Problems," is a winner, but the rest of the album, though not at all bad, pales in comparison. Still, it's good to see younger Jamaicans returning to roots, and we can only hope more will follow.
Make a little room next to your copy of Bob Marley's Legend for some lesser-known but equally good music. It'll surely make your summer nattier. (MH)
'N SYNC ABSTRACT
Experiment: Study the differential in aural velocity (my term) between 1,500 screaming young ladies at the American Theatre to see 'N Sync and 22,000 such screaming young ladies five months later at Kiel Center.
Subjects: Chris, Lance, JC, Joey, Justin, audience (girls, mommies, a few visibly shaken men).
Dates: American Theatre appearance was Dec. 9, 1998; Kiel Center appearance was April 2, 1999. The excitement of spring, coupled with the arrival of a new millennium/Y2K anxiety may have played a crucial role in the results (you could smell anticipation in the air), especially when contrasted with the post-Thanksgiving hangover/arrival-of-winter bummer of the Dec. 9 appearance.
Venue capacity: The American Theatre seats 1,500 seats in 20,000 square feet. Kiel Center seats 22,000 seats in 665,000 square feet. Both shows sold out. (Note: We must also consider the "frenzy effect" of increased capacity: The louder screaming young ladies become, the more excited the noise makes them and the louder they get, seemingly ad infinitum)
Sound system/venue acoustics: System at least septupled in size; venue acoustics directly proportional to the square-footage increase (much more echo).
Performance: Since first appearance, all five have perfected the pelvic thrust/shit-eating-grin combo, which drives the girls crazy. Have also become much cockier and more self-assured. This drives the girls crazy. 'N Sync looks good: happy, well fed, excited, sated. This drives the girls crazy. Phallic spacesuit costumes and squirt guns used during American appearance replaced by streamlined, far goofier earless space-bunny costumes. This drives the girls crazy. They twirl long, glowing rods during one dance routine. Enough said. Another routine at the Kiel performance put them in Afros and covering the Jackson 5. The girls, they loved it.
Findings: Audience was a lot fuckin' louder and seemingly indefatigable in their enthusiasm. The five glory boys could have performed synchronized vomiting and the young ladies would have hooted with pleasure. Also, JC has really blossomed as a dancer. (RR)
DERBY DAY: The Missouri Derby is this Saturday, April 17, in Columbia, Mo., and should be an amazing day of music: Seven Days, Robbie Fulks,Rubberoom, BR5-49, Guided by Voices and the Flaming Lips. All live, all day long, on the Mizzou campus, south quad. Just look for the big dome, and you'll find the Derby in the back. Free. This was a late tip; at press time, there was no news on when the music starts. For more info, call 573-882-3780. What are you waiting for? I'll see you there. (RR)
BETTER LATE... : What's a fellow to do now that his favorite TV series has gone on spring hiatus? For three months I've been following the close-knit-family/gangster drama The Sopranos on HBO. The show is gone now but will be rerun on HBO starting in June; it's worth ordering cable if you haven' t seen it already. The opening credits feature a catchy little slice of gospel-drenched electronic dance song that beautifully sets the tone of paranoia and danger. The song, "Woke Up This Morning," is by an English band called A3, from their 1997 album Exile on Coldharbour Lane. The rest of the band's material is a cool mix of soul, country and gospel with interesting synthesized grooves. They even offer a fascinating take on John Prine's "Speed of the Sound of Loneliness." It's well worth a listen, and now there's nothing else to do on Sunday nights at 8 p.m. but play this record. (SP)
CORRECTIONS/PLUG: In last week's interview with Jeff Tweedy ("Here Comes the Summer," RFT, April 7), the caption to a photo of Uncle Tupelo mistakenly identified the drummer as Mike Heidorn. Oops. The drummer in the photo was Bill Belzer. We offer apologies for any bruised egos, confusion, etc. Also, we wrote glowingly of Ultraman and their reunion a few months ago but neglected to give you the date of the show. Well, that show has come and gone, but Ultraman will be performing again at the Galaxy on Saturday, April 17. (RR)
Contributors: Matthew Hilburn, Steve Pick, Randall Roberts