Agony Shorthand

Thursday, March 03, 2005

It's always a crapshoot when you throw down a couple of beers before going out record shopping, as BT and I did two weeks ago in New York City. All of a sudden "$17.99" looks more like "$7.99", and items that you'd passed on for months all of a sudden find their way onto the credit card with zero hesitation. I was egged on to pick up something from the WACKIES label, given my affinity for heavy, effects-laden Jamaican dub from 1975-83, and it took some liquid courage to take the plunge and plunk down a hefty price to do so. But all I can say is w-o-w. I saw these Wackies comps all over Tokyo when I was out there a couple years ago, and the dirt-cheap crudity of the packaging (see picture above) and the lack of information promised either some incredible, rare, top-shelf "dub plate specials", or a swindle on the order of the stick-up at Brink's. Sober skepticism won the day out there, but not this time. Thankfully "African Roots, Act 1" is dub of the incredible, rare variety -- with a curveball. The curveball is that all this stuff emanated from New York itself (!), and featured a variety of Jamaican artists like HORACE ANDY and SUGAR MINOTT traveling to a studio in the Bronx to break bread and herb with producer/mixer LLOYD BARNES, aka "Bullwackie". I imagine that Barnes didn't actually record all the tracks on this CD in his studio, but mixed, spindled and folded them into various crazy shapes there.

The result, at least on this representative sampling, is fantastic, among the best I've heard (I'm sure it seems like I'm always saying that, but I just keep discovering more & more dub that tops what I've enjoyed before). Like my main man SCIENTIST, Barnes stripped all tracks down to a primer coat of thumping, reverbed bass, and tinny, echoey drums. Vocals are barely existant -- he rarely sampled a vocal sentence only to have it echo, fade & overmodulate like so many other dubsters did at the time. Too cliche! He also liked to dump in some rock instrumentation, and there's a number on here called "Wackie Rock Tune", if you can believe it, that you just have to hear -- particularly if you've been resistant to dub up to this point. Guitar fuzz squirms in & out of the mix, and is akin to the "what the fuck" feeling I first got upon hearing heavy rock/psych sounds in 1970s African music (see the incredible "Dakar Sound" compilation of Senegalese cuts). Like I said, whoa. I need to get on the stick with the Wackies back catalog in a big way. This past decade has been most kind to the genre, with CD releases pouring forth in untold bounties. This is just another piece of the puzzle, a way killer one at that.