February 05, 2005

1-2 Step Forward, Backward

One of the hottest reggae revival riddims these days is one called Hard Times, and it's notable for the strange fact that it's from Lee Scratch Perry.

Why is that strange? Most revival riddims are proven dancehall favorites--in other words, stuff that would make folks move and groove. So there's a heavy reliance on sounds from Coxsone Dodd's Studio One and Duke Reid's Treasure Isle, and more recently, on Junjo Lawes' Channel One--which most hardcore reggae folks will snort was actually a revival of the late 60s also, and hey they'd be right--as well as pretty much anything by Gregory Isaacs.

You hear that mid-70s deep roots sound in revival much less often (although not long ago there was a very welcome revival of Prince Lincoln's exquisite "Humanity"). For one thing, the tempo is too slow. Again, that's why rock steady and even later, slower ska, late 60s over late 70s, is popular for revival. But there comes a point where the returns diminish, and anyone tapping Scratch knows the well is gonna be deep.

For Hard Times, Stephen "Gibbo" Gibbs--yes, from that famous Jamaican Gibbs family--pulled out Max Romeo's "One Step Forward" from the same album Kanye West raided "I Chase The Devil" for J-Hov.

(War Ina Babylon, incidentally, is not called a classic for nothing. All the crazy-dude mythology of Scratch aside--and really, let's please put it aside--his Black Ark music is nothing if not absorbing. Nothing easy- or background-listening about it. So Romeo's razor wit is a fine contrast to Perry's moodiness. In fact, Romeo seems to perfect the kind of minimalist phrasing that Perry had begun teaching Marley back in the late 60s. Check "Sexy Natty". B-side wins again.)

Anyway, back to the beat. As you can hear on the original dub, Scratch's thing was always a slow cult-like mind-penetration thing, an insistent water-against-the-rock erosion of your aural resistance. That worked out well for stoned music critics from foreign--see also in re: Robert Johnson--not so well for working folks who just wanted something full up and nice for a Saturday evening downtown skank.

So Gibbo's new roots manuever--not an unfamiliar technique--ticks up the BPMs and the intensity. (The best cut on the riddim is Capleton's "That Day Will Come", which can also be found on his latest album, Reign of Fire.) The result is a lot more mosquito-in-your-ear hum, Perry's sorcery assimilated at a higher rate. Isn't that the way the old new thing or new old thing--whether DFA or Green Day--goes? You go back jack and do it again--faster.

Posted by Jeff at February 5, 2005 02:59 PM