Saturday, August 25, 2007

Horace Andy: In The Light/In The Light Dub

Horace Andy: In The Light/In The Light Dub
Blood & Fire CD BAFCD006

"In The Light/In The Light Dub", dating originally from 1977, is a US/Jamaican collaboration between the legendary, unearthly-voiced Horace "Sleepy" Andy (who prior to this album had been mostly a singles artist) and New York-based producer Everton DaSilva, using mostly JA musicians but aimed at least partly at a NY audience, presented here by leading UK reissue label Blood & Fire with the vocal and corresponding dub albums together on one CD.

"In The Light" opens with one of Andy's best known hits, "Do You Love My Music", a rousing celebration of the power of reggae music accompanied by punchy horns and a virtuoso, rock-styled guitar solo by Andy Bashford (reminiscent of the likes of Hendrix or Santana). In retaining and celebrating the spirit of prime Jamaican roots while adding a noticeable dose of US influence, it nicely prefigures the vibe of the album.

The following track, "Hey There Woman", is perhaps a little over-similar to that preceding it, and due to its rather slight lyric is thus nice but forgettable; nonetheless, it has first-class musicianship, and the best is yet to come...

"Government Land" (aka "Government Man") is one of the heaviest of all Horace's roots tunes (and one of his personal favourites, according to interviews), a passionate condemnation of the enclosure of land with a resounding anarchist message delivered n typical spine-tinglingly unearthly style: "How long can you keep up this, government man? You know you can't fool wise man, you will run away in the end". The horns flow like a mighty river and add to this tune's majesty. An all time classic.

"Leave Rasta" is much lighter in tone, despite its serious anti-persecution lyric, with its joyful vocals and bouncy riddim., but it's light without being lightweight. "Fever", a reworking of an earlier version recorded for Studio One, is also a lighter moment, and has the somewhat tinny, synth-dominated sound of a lot of New York reggae, something that is often a bit of a turn-off for fans of heavier JA roots; nevertheless, the style fits well with Sleepy's voice, even if it adds little to the original version.

The title track "In The Light" is another example of a light and airy tune with a rootsy Rasta message, testifying to childhood miseducation and misconceptions about African history and Rastafari. Again synths are dominant, but the bass is warm and live and Horace's voice has its trademark ecstatic quality.

"Problems" is a welcome return to deeper, darker roots territory, riding a captivating version of the "Mr Bassie" riddim, with a high-pitched yet foreboding synth taking the role of the melodica. "Everyone got problems, who will solve them?" "If I" keeps the mood with probably the darkest and bass-heaviest riddim on the set, grinding bass and reverberating percussion underpinning a darkly testimonial lyric about the lies taught by the Babylon system and the need to overcome such false teachings that recalls early Black Uhuru: another heavy roots classic to nearly equal "Government Land".

"Collie Herb" is another laid-back, blissful-sounding tune with a lot of synth and a bouncy vibe, extolling the praises of a well-known sacred plant in terms that are well-trodden but perennially (like the plant itself) popular. "Men fight against it cause it give us wisdom and overstanding, men fight against it because when we smoke it we deal with peace".

The closing track, "Rome", is another of the highlights of this set and another of Horace's highest-ranking roots classics: a powerful, poignant repatriation lament (yet generalisable to a critique of the whole of industrialised society), with the man's vocals at their sweetest and most yearning, dreaming of a utopia "where the air is fresh and clean, far from all these polluted cities". Understated guitar and melancholy melodica add to the tune's anthemic status, and let the album close on a fittingly elegiac note.

While the vocal set has a noticeable tension between the deeper, heavier roots tracks with live horns and the lighter, happier tunes with a very strong NY synth sound, "In The Light Dub", mixed by Prince Jammy, in fact comes across as a much more cohesive set, with Jammy's (soon to become King) bass-heavy mixing seeking out the unifying rather than the dividing elements of the individual songs. Much of the top end is stripped away, while judicially applied doses of echo and reverb, in a seamless updating of the classic Tubby's style, retain the sweetness of the arrangements while adding thunderous resonance. The result is that an album that could seem rather "bitty" with the vocals alone becomes much more of a fully coherent whole with the addition of the dubs.

Particular highlights include the especially masterful use of reverb for dread ambience in "Government Dub", "Dub The Light"'s transformation from "light" to "heavy" by means of the same reverberating power, and the all-out bass assault of "I&I" (the dub to "If I"), surely one of the heaviest, most uncompromising "classic style" dubs of all time; however, even a relatively dull track like "Hey There Woman" is turned into something arguably more satisfying than the original, and the whole set is probably one of the few dub albums to stand not just as an accompaniment to its vocal counterpart but as a fully satisfying work in its own right.

While a slight departure from much of the rest of their output, this is yet another essential release of classic 70s roots from Blood & Fire Records, and a very good intro both to the works of Horace Andy as a whole (although purists might argue it should be second to his Studio One output and/or his mid-70s work for Bunny Lee) and to the emerging New York roots scene of the late 70s (which later evolved into the Wackies and later digital sounds). Exercise a little caution for a few of the "lighter" vocal tracks if you like it dark, but purchase without hesitation for several uncontrovertible, transcendently heavy roots classics.