Jonny Greenwood Is the Controller
First Appeared in The Music Box, March 2007, Volume 14, #3
Written by Douglas Heselgrave
It has been a truly wonderful year for reggae-oriented outings. Jonny Greenwood Is the Controller, the latest outing from Trojan, is no exception. When it was formed in 1967, Trojan originally was a part of the Island Records family. Over the years, many of Jamaica’s best-selling artists — Toots and the Maytals, Bob Marley, Lee "Scratch" Perry, and Dennis Brown, among them — have worked for the label. Consequently, the catalogue that Trojan has assembled over the past 40 years is superlative. In fact, it wouldn’t be a stretch to claim that its arsenal is as crucial to reggae as Stax and Motown are to R&B and as Sun Records is to rock ’n‘ roll. In other words, both the historical and artistic value of Trojan’s collected body of work cannot be overestimated.
Nevertheless, Trojan has been languishing since the mid-1980s. It had been bought and sold on several occasions before it finally found a home with the Sanctuary Records Group in 2001. Since then, the label has been revitalized via new recordings as well as a steady stream of reissued classics. Unfortunately, these efforts largely have been ignored by all but reggae’s most ardent fans.
Trying to break free from a niche market is never easy. The new directors of Trojan, however, seem to have discovered what, in the end, may prove to be a rather brilliant plan. In effect, they have undertaken a few creative initiatives that are designed to introduce new fans to their catalogue via a series of carefully conceived compilations, each of which has been assembled by a high-profile player in the music business. Issued respectively in 2005 and 2006, Chapter Oneub and Chapter Twoub Massive were the first of these endeavors. Both outings featured material that had been remixed by ambient dub pioneer and legendary bassist Bill Laswell, who strung vintage classics together to form a seamless musical experience that captured the essence of the Jamaican dance hall experience. Laswell masterfully evoked the aura of the original Trojan singles, though he simultaneously made them sound contemporary via an array of subtle dub effects and sonic flourishes.
On Jonny Greenwood Is the Controller, the latest installment of the series, Radiohead guitarist Jonny Greenwood provides a different kind of glimpse at the Trojan vault. Instead of remixed and re-imagined material, Greenwood preferred to act as a curator for reggae’s cultural museum. The result is one of the best compilations of classic reggae tunes ever to be released.
Greenwood’s taste is impeccable, and with Jonny Greenwood Is the Controller, he has succeeded brilliantly in pulling off the difficult feat of compiling a song selection that is, at once, challenging and familiar without being alienating. Avoiding any obvious hits from artists such as Bob Marley and Toots and the Maytals, Greenwood covered a lot of stylistic ground with classic tracks from Jamaican stalwarts such as Gregory Isaacs and Lee "Scratch" Perry.
Greenwood’s love of the music is evident in the enthusiastic and informative liner notes that he composed to outline his reason for choosing each of the songs on Jonny Greenwood Is the Controller. While fans may argue the relative worth of some of his selections, the fact remains that most of these tracks have been under-represented in the digital age, having not seen publication on CD until now. Indeed, the fact that classic dub hits from the ’70s — such as the truly weird Flash Gordon Meets Luke Skywalker by Jammy and The Roots Radics — have been made available, at long last, in a format other than 45- RPM vinyl is reason in itself to buy this disc. It’s hard to remember, given the dearth of great contemporary reggae releases, that the genre once was one of the most experimental and creative styles in modern, popular music. Every outing of this kind goes a long way toward making these tunes available to the general record buying public, thus giving new fans an opportunity to hear these crucial cuts for the first time.
For music lovers wanting to expand their reggae collections beyond Bob Marley or the soundtrack to The Harder They Come, it’s hard to think of a better place to start than Jonny Greenwood Is the Controller. With new selections of classic Trojan hits due later this year from Fatboy Slim and Super Furry Animals, as part of the label’s 40th anniversary celebration, there appears to be no end in sight to the continued excavation of reggae treasures from the golden age of Jamaican music. ½
Of Further Interest...
Jonny Greenwood Is the Controller 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 © 2007 The Music Box