Record Review: Sly & Robbie – Blackwood Dub (2012, Groove Attack Productions)

An album of stripped-down Jamaican Dub music from the originators

Sly & Robbie Blackwood Dub

Genre: Dub

Country: Jamaica

Artists Website:  Reverbnation

Label:  Groove Attack Productions

Lowell Dunbar and Robert Shakespeare, mostly known as Sly & Robbie, have such a long history in music, hard to encompass in this review. These prolific musicians/producers have been involved in around 200.000 recordings, some of them pivotal in the development of dub/reggae music. I would just need to mention that they have played in Bunny “Striker” Lee’s main backing band, the legendary Aggrovators, and Channel One studio’s mainstays ‘the Revolutionaries’. With the latter they forged the ‘rockers’ sound and Channel One became a nodal studio in the second half of 1970s in Jamaica.

Apart from the heavier ‘rockers’ sound that evolved out of the classic ‘one drop’ roots reggae sound, Sly & Robbie are responsible for the development of the drum & bass propelled rub-a-dub sound which defined the early dancehall era. Even in the early 1990s they introduced the combination of rough deejay vocals with soul-tinged, melodic ones that was first presented by Chaka Demus & Pliers and then was taken over by other dancehall deejays as well as rappers. Apart from their accomplishments in reggae music, Sly & Robbie are well-known outside of the reggae world with so many collaborations and productions hard to cite here.

Enough with the history lessons, the point is what Sly & Robbie have to offer in the current reggae/dub soundscapes. We need to note that this is their first dub release in years. Recorded at the famous Harry J studio in Uptown Kingston (where albums like Wailers’ ‘Catch A Fire’ were produced) with veteran musicians and long-time collaborators Uziah ‘Sticky’ Thompson (percussion, since the Revolutionaries) as well as Mikey ‘Mao’ Chung (guitar, since Peter Tosh’s backing band Word, Sound and Power) Blackwood Dub inevitably bares the flare of reggae’s golden days.

However, the sound of ‘Blackwood Dub’ cannot be described as purely retro. Even if some dub elements seem untouched since decades, the production is very modern – bright and clear. Everything can be heard in precision and high fidelity. The overall feel of the record is upbeat (for dub standards), uplifting and positive. There are no dubstep / jungle leanings here, there are no ultra hard UK steppers beats nor the unrestrained experimentation of French dubheads. This is Jamaican dub straight from the originators that primarily features effect-laden stripped down reggae riddims in Sly & Robbie’s unique ‘rockers’/‘rub-a-dub’ fashion. The sound, although polished is both fluent and powerful, forging a solid wall of sound where the drum kicks and the full, intensive basslines are omnipresent. ‘Blackwood Dub’ has also a particular 1980s bleep feel.

Blackwood Dub’ is strictly dub, there no traces of vocals here to the point that some cuts are a bit ‘dry’ (e.g. Frenchman Code) since they are not left to breathe at all out of the continuous, hardline dub approach (for instance, there are not even horns). The only exceptions here are are the funky/house overtones of ‘Burru Saturday’ or the rock appeal of ‘Dirty Flirty’ as informed by Sly & Robbie’s work outside the reggae genre. Standout tracks are the overly addictive riddim of ‘Shabby Attack’ and the album’s closer ‘The Great Escape’.

Sly & Robbie with the release of Blackwood Dub put Jamaica back in the map of dub music. This album features a host of legendary musicians (Noel ‘Scully’ Simms, Radcliffe “Dougie” Bryan etc.) and is recorded in a historical studio. Only time can tell if this move will inspire other Jamaican musicians to get involved (again) in dub music. This release is definitely relevant for dub enthusiasts, but might be a bit ‘hard-to-swallow’ for dubstep or bass-driven dance music hipsters due to its bare, back-to-basics character.

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Explore other exquisite dub artists via Freegan Kolektiva:

Shanti D & Mayd Hubb – Politik 7″ (2012, Dubatriation Records)

Morphy – The Three Wise Dubs EP (2011, charity giveaway self-release)

Full Dub – Potentiodub EP  (2012, ODG Productions)

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