Agony Shorthand

Tuesday, June 08, 2004

A 2000 release on the UK’s Pressure Sounds, “El Rocker’s” is almost a poor man’s version of the almighty “King Tubbys Meets Rockers Uptown”, up to and including many dubs of tracks from that very album (which were in fact dubs – “versions” – themselves). No slighting that record in the least, no sir – it was my entrée into a deeper fascination with the world of tripped-out 1970s dub, as it was & has been for so many others as well. I’d venture a guess that it’s far and away the best-selling dub LP/CD of all time, but someone please check me on that if I’m wrong. In any event, this one suffers a bit by virtue of its copycat nature – almost like those remix records of rock bands that seem to be coming out way too frequently now (Numbers, Erase Errata), there’s not much sense in multiple knob-twiddles through tracks that were themselves studio manipulations of vocal-free, groove-oriented, slow-burn ganja reggae in the first place.

That said, with one step back and eyes closed in stoned concentration, this set of 1972-75 assemblages has been packaged into a monster dub CD, as slitheringly intense as anything else created and tweaked with during the golden years of Jamaican studio trickery. Augustus Pablo’s snake-like melodica – that bizarre combination of a keyboard and a reeded instrument (you know, like an oboe) – winds its way through distant, echoed horns, ultra-reverbed and multitracked percussion and a haunting, almost creepy vibe that lords over the whole package. With King Tubby at the controls, you know you’re in good hands. If you’d never heard the first versions, you’d swear this one was one of the greatest dub/reggae CDs ever. This supreme combination of Tubby & Pablo, along with the masterworks of LEE PERRY and the various SLY & ROBBIE ensembles (S&R play on most of this as well), set the bar as high as it’s been set for what can be done in a studio with someone else’s music after the fact. That it’s really just a knockoff of another great LP/CD should give one pause before serious purchase contemplation, but that’s a decision you’ll have to look deep inside yourself or talk to your priest, rabbi or imam to resolve.