Sunday, February 10, 2008

Prince Jammy/Various: The Crowning Of Prince Jammy

The Crowning Of Prince Jammy
Pressure Sounds CD PSCD25

"The Crowning Of Prince Jammy" is a collection of some of the man born Lloyd James's greatest productions from the late 70s and early 80s, while he was emerging from his "Prince" status as King Tubby's protégé and establishing his own identity as a producer alongside contemporaries such as Jah Thomas and Junjo Lawes, but before the digital revolution of 1985 allowed him to undisputedly claim his position as "King".

The set opens with Black Uhuru's " King Selassie I" (aka "I Love King Selassie"), taken from their Jammy-produced first LP "Love Crisis"; this appears to be the original 1977 version, rather than the overdubbed 1979 version, and is a classic example of the early Uhuru, and Waterhouse, sound. (It can also be found on the Greensleeves re-release of both versions of "Love Crisis"/"Black Sounds Of Freedom").

Next up is Wayne Smith's evocative "Time Is A Moment In Space", a mournful song of lost love which in fact originates from an old country and western tune. A wonky, spooky keyboard is reminiscent of some of Lee Perry's later Black Ark work (eg. Danny Hensworth's "Mr Money Man"), but the heavier, more monotone bass vibe of early dancehall is already evident. The dub has the classic Tubby's echo techniques, but in a pared-down, strong yet subtle context.

Johnny Osbourne's rousing steppers anthem of theological devotion, "Jahovia" was, oddly, not released as a single at the time, but only on the "Fally Ranking" LP. "The Earth is the Lord and the fullness thereof, but it's heating like a melting pot", and the riddim is suitably hot and unrelenting. The version is a particularly bass-heavy, echo-laden workout, "warrior style".

Half Pint's "Puchie Lou" is a completely different vibe, breaking the chronological sequence by skipping forward to 1983; it's a bouncy, melodic love song in an uptempo yet mellow dancehall style, Half Pint showing the lighter side of the Waterhouse singing style. Mighty Rudo's "Waterhouse", a joyful tribute to both the studio and district, is on a similar riddim, despite being from after the birth of digital reggae in 1985. The lyrics resonate with localism of a wholly positive kind and a loved yet never idealised community, while at the same time pleading for an end to violent "political" rivalries conducted on a petty parochial basis: "I'm not here to build no strife, I just want to see everyone staying alive... I don't want to live in the sophisticated kind of cities..."

Earl Zero's "Please Officer", however, takes it straight back to the dark side with another rumbling, bass-heavy steppers riddim and a strident lyric of police brutality which pulls no punches in its condemnation of the whole Babylonian system. This 12" version is extended with a full-length dub to over 7 minutes, and is followed by its equally long and equally heavy B-side instrumental "Pablo In Moonlight City", one of Augustus Pablo's dreadest melodica pieces.

Half Pint returns with "Mr Landlord", over the classic "Hypocrites" riddim, its strong reality lyrics attacking exploitative ghetto landlords leavened by an irrepressibly funky horn riff. The following dub is the one which gives this compilation its title, a thunderous version to Junior Reid's classic "Jailhouse". Why the vocal of this is not included here, I don't know; however, enough snippets of it remain to make the tale of unjust imprisonment and torture comprehensible, adding an extra layer of paranoia to the spine-chillingly dread, wild and multi-layered dub mix; a true classic of "versioning" reminiscent in feel of Black Uhuru at their darkest and most industrial.

"Mr Vincent" by the fairly unknown group Black Crucial is another anti-landlord testimony of poverty, again lightened by the major key sweetness of its riddim, with a particularly nice piece of piano floating in the mix. Johnny Osbourne's "Mr Marshall", however, is another relentlessly heavy steppers tune, opening with powerful crashing of guitars and cymbals and propelled by militant double drumming, the stridently passionate lyric chanting down all warmongers and hypocritical authority figures, making no distinction between state and gangland hierarchies; another of Osbourne's most crucial tunes from the "Fally Ranking" album.

"Return of Jammy's Hi-Fi" is a masterful dub deconstruction of Horace Andy's classic Tubby/Harry J produced "Pure Ranking", showcasing the heaviness and inventiveness of Jammy's mixing, with the blissful keyboard melody melted down and echoed into wild, tantalising swirls of percussion, without even needing to retain any of the vocal. Sugar Minott's "Give The People What They Want" is probably the least memorable track here, due to its relatively conservative (at least in comparison to most of the ultra-heavy tunes here) mix, but still a nicely mixed and sweetly voiced, if rather staid, plea for rights and justice.

The closing track, Hugh Mundell's "Jah Fire Will be Burning", is, while not having as much radical studio deconstruction as most tracks here, still a highlight of the set for being simply one of the heaviest, most apocalyptically dread roots tunes ever recorded, with Nyabinghi style drumming, deep lo-fi bass, and a haunting, majestic trumpet underneath one of the Blessed Youth's darkest and most passionate vocals, describing, in imagery straight from the Book of Revelations, the downfall and bleak aftermath of industrial society. "The smoke of the dreadful furnace turns the sun and the air into darkness... what a great, great day that shall be." Prescient, terrifying and revelatory.

This is by far one of the heaviest collections of late 70s/early 80s tunes out there; almost every track on it is a killer for anyone who likes music which is dark, tense and political, yet also joyful and spiritual. While there are many other Prince/King Jammy compilations around, many of them overlapping with this one, you cannot go wrong with this as an introduction to one of the foremost second-generation reggae producers. My only (slight) gripe with it is the non-inclusion of the original vocal of Junior Reid's "Jailhouse" (I'm still looking for that on CD), which seems odd considering its dub provided the title for the compilation; however, this album proves Pressure Sounds' status as a worthy ascendant to the throne of reggae reissue labels.

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