Album of the Week: Bunny Lee & Brad Osborne’s King of Dub (1978)

Bunny “Striker” Lee was one of reggae’s premier producers. Discogs credits him with production on over 2000 recordings, as well as writing credits for legends such as John Holt, Max Romeo, Dennis Brown and more. His Jamaican reggae productions form the backbone of King of Dub, a Jamaican-Bronx record of unassailable dub music.

This album is erroneously attributed to King Tubby on Spotify, which is somewhat understandable. The LP cover suggests that the artist is simply “King of Dub”, and the back cover’s notes from Clocktower Records founder Brad Osborne read in part, “For the right sound and effect, KING TUBBYS ‘the dubmaster’ is a must, knowing when to bring in the Rhythm and leggo the Bass and Drum”. The album was also mixed partially at King Tubby’s studio in Jamaica, and what with Tubby being a prominent King of the dub genre, the confusion is almost inevitable.

Little is written online about Brad Osborne, but this blog post from 2015 gives some insight. Osborne imported records from Jamaica to his shop in the Bronx based on the personal connections he had with Jamaican producers like Bunny Lee and King Tubby. According to the post, Osborne was given exclusive music on tape from these producers and often overdubbed them with flutes and pressed them to vinyl for Clocktower.

King of Dub, then, is a compilation of Bunny Lee productions for reggae artists that Osborne selected and released. With Sly & Robbie holding down the rhythm section you can’t go wrong (this is a general rule in reggae releases): the thing bangs. Like all dub, it’s best heard on loud speakers rather than an iPhone (the LP sounds particularly tight). Horns, organ, echoing vocals and dubby beeps abound on the opener “King Zion Dub”.

Much of the joy in this dub collection comes from tracking the many instruments or lack thereof (and as with any dub, the mixing board becomes an instrument): you’ll hear a horn appear out of nowhere, then fade out, leaving only bass and drums, then a guitar will enter, then echo away. The hi-hats will change in timbre and then drop. At times the music might come to a complete halt altogether. “Rubba Dunza”‘s ominous bass-heavy track is complimented by occasional drum splashes.

The final track “Stalac 80 Dubwise”, a scorching dub of “Stalag 17” by Ansell Collins (better known as the riddim used by Sister Nancy in “Bam Bam” as well as Chaka Demus & Pliers “Murder She Wrote”), is not listed on Spotify. Whether this is due to some sample clearance issue or the title’s similarity to the Nazi POW camp Stalag 18 is unclear. I believe that the track listed as “Fancy Up a Dub” is actually an edit of “Stalac 80 Dubwise”, but I would have to relisten to my record to be sure. Nevertheless, the final track here is a true ranking dub that tops off what is one of the greatest dub albums I’ve had the pleasure of hearing.

Listen to King of Dub here.

Album of the Week: Wayne Jarrett’s Showcase Vol. 1 (1982)

I’m in California now, so naturally I took a trip to the beach. Amidst seagulls and sunbathers I ducked under my t-shirt for a couple puffs of my one-hitter. Climbing up some rocks with my cooler I settled down at a picnic table to enjoy some iced tea and mellow out. Music was in order and I turned to Wayne Jarrett’s Showcase Vol. 1, which was probably the best decision I made all week.

This shit is magic. There’s a formula of sorts – despite the 80s release date we have here some rootsy, organic reggae songs featuring Wayne’s smooth voice. Then about halfway through each track we get a “version”: each song is dubbed out to glory before our very ears. The first two tracks, while great, have relatively short dubs. But once we get to “Magic in the Air”, which is a great song in its own right, there’s about 3-and-a-half minutes of dubby goodness in the backend.

“Bubble Up”‘s muted hi-hat creates a revolving, hypnotic dub that provides a base for some wicked guitar and flute vamping. “Darling Your Eyes” is a fat lovers rock song and possibly the best track here. At just 6 tracks, the brief album closes with “Holy Mount Zion”, recalling in melody Dadawah’s classic “Run Come Rally”.

In the mid-2000s, Basic Channel undertook a reissue project for the legendary American reggae music label Wackie’s, which originally released Showcase Vol. 1, along with other killer LPs like Horace Andy’s Dancehall Style and Junior Delahaye’s Showcase. If it wasn’t for them, we probably wouldn’t be hearing this album to today, so I’ll end this one on a big salute to Basic Channel.

Listen to Showcase, Vol. 1 here.

Album of the Week: Brenda Ray’s Walatta (2006)

Brenda Ray did it right. Flexing the melodica on the cover a la Augustus Pablo, the British musician gives a clear tribute to a hero who helped pave the way for Jamaican music’s international takeover in the late 20th century.

According to her Bandcamp, Ray “became ‘hooked to the dub’ via Roger Eagle. In between sets at Erics Club (Liverpool), he played the rarest cuts on the planet – dub plates to rockabilly out takes.” Beginning her career in the late 70s, she recorded with friends in a home-made Liverpool studio, releasing dub and pop records under the monikers Naffi and Naffi Sandwich.

Perhaps more fine-tuned than earlier releases, Walatta was recorded between 1993-2005 and acts almost as a greatest hits compilation of that era. Assisted by Roy Cousins (producer for King Tubby and others), for whom she was helping to remaster old reggae/dub tapes, she dubbed vocals, synths, koto and other instruments over some of his classic riddims. The legendary Prince Far I guests on “Sweet Sweet Wine”, though I’m not sure how exactly, since he died in 1983. Scientist, a gargantuan name in dub, appears on “Swirling Hearts”, which is indeed swirling in dubbed-out ecstasy. Anthony Doyley of the reggae band Knowledge assists on “Lend a Helping Hand”, where Brenda Ray harmonizes wonderfully with his voice. Given the personnel involved, there’s no real question as to the authenticity of the project.

Towards the back-half you get a solid cover of Fred Neil’s “Everybody’s Talkin'” (Midnight Cowboy) and the aptly titled “Vision-Dreamin”, which closes the album in a swoosh of drumless magic.

Listen to Walatta here.