Living Dub, Vol. 5
First Appeared in The Music Box, November 2006, Volume 13, #11
Written by Douglas Heselgrave
Music has always been an amorphous form of expression, but these days, things are changing more rapidly than ever. A song no longer is simply a song, and often a subsequent variation on a tune becomes its definitive rendition. Recognizing this trend, some performers — such as Ben Harper and Beck — have taken matters into their own hands and offered re-imagined renditions of their recent albums. Naturally, there is a commercialized incentive for following this path, and the worst of these sorts of affairs have been nothing more than callous attempts to appeal to new markets. On occasion, however, the updated versions of albums and songs — Neil Young’s second stab at Living with War, for example — have provided artists with the means of addressing the perceived deficiencies and flaws that they later discovered in their recordings. For the past five years, Burning Spear, whose real name is Winston Rodney, has been working to reinvent Calling Rastafari, his masterful effort from 1999. The result is Living Dub, Vol. 5, a brilliant and revelatory endeavor that stands as a true rarity among re-conceptualized outings.
Perhaps a little cultural and historical context is in order. In the reggae world, dub is strictly old-school — a style of music that predates the current remix craze by at least 25 years. Dub grew out of Jamaica’s competitive sound-system culture, where DJs strove to attract customers to their dances by playing versions of current hits that could not be heard anywhere else. A dub version was usually recorded as the B-side of a single, where the drums and bass were emphasized and the melody lines and most of the vocals were erased. This allowed the DJ to talk, rap, or sing over the recording. In the 1970s, most singers recorded dubs of their songs, and some artists and producers, such as Lee "Scratch" Perry and Mad Scientist, released full-length dub albums. These early recordings influenced the evolving sounds of hip-hop, techno, jungle, and ambient music. American musicians like bass player Bill Laswell continue to expand and blend pure dub sounds, pushing them into new territory, but for the most part, Jamaican dub reggae has fallen into repetitive and wholly clichéd drum and bass patterns that offer little to a listener who is hearing the tracks outside of a dance hall’s heady atmosphere.
What a treat, then, it is to hear Jamaican dub move into new, conceptual frontiers! Not merely a restatement of the tunes from Calling Rastafari, Living Dub, Vol. 5 is a hard-hitting journey through the history of reggae. Sometimes roots-y and sometimes futuristic, Rodney’s vocals and congas weave the tracks together in order to form a musical pilgrimage that runs the gamut from dirt road acoustics to outer space keyboard jams. Bound by a lyrical and melodic sensibility that is missing from most dub music, the tracks on Living Dub, Vol. 5 flow seamlessly from one to another as new sounds and samples from Burning Spear’s sonic palette stealthily reveal themselves with each journey through the endeavor. The sense of joy that emanates from the album is inescapable, and each song is full of enough killer horn lines to brighten even the bleakest November days. Living Dub, Vol. 5 is a testament to the healing power of song, and it serves as a reminder to listeners that music exists primarily to uplift the human spirit. This is a crucial and essential recording!
Of Further Interest...
Living Dub, Volume 5 is available from
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2006 The Music Box