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A New Chapter of Dub (Mango, 1982)

*GUEST REVIEW*
Though I have a lot of reggae from the '80s, I wasn't tracking the scene then, so I'm not really the best person to pass judgment on how special this album was.  However, it's one of the best available dub albums from that time I've come across.  And though it's full of all sorts of synth and '80s textures, A New Chapter of Dub is one of those albums that lacks commercial stylings and subservience of art to fashion.  True, it is a dub album and has all the classic "tricks" of the style, but it's also just really well made.  And like most dub, it's no sunny day affair.  The tracks are generally dark, weighty songs with haunting drums and smoky echoes and delays.  Those that are not are either chilled-out jazzy tunes with listless horns or soulful Caribbean songs with minimal melody, picked apart by the mixer.  Kudos to him for being conservative with punching out, delays, and reverbs. His sense of craft allows the songs breathing room without getting boring or repetitive; never do the effects get annoying or frivolous. Really, this is just a good dub album to have when you're in the mood for classic dub without intrusive sounds or low-quality production. There's nothing particularly amazing that you can't get with other great dub, but you can be assured that you can't go wrong with this one. 

- Trammell Scruggs

Track Listing
1. Dub Fire
2. Flikaflame
3. Truth
4. Bammie Blow
5. Tuffist
6. Shining Dub
7. Zion I
8. Natural Aggression
9. Ghetto in the Sky
A New Chapter of Dub
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Crucial Tracks (Best of Aswad) (Island, 1989)

This greatest hits compilation embodies the enigma that is Aswad.  How can a band that has produced two of the best reggae songs in the history of the genre -- "Roots Rockin'" and "Back to Africa" -- also contribute pop tripe like "Give a Little Love" and "Beauty's Only Skin Deep?"  It would be easy to say that Aswad has deteriorated from a solid roots band of the late '70s and mid-'80s to a bubble gum crossover reggae band of the late '80s and '90s.  It would be easy. . . because it's true.  Based on this album, you can pinpoint the turning point to somewhere around 1987, when the uncalled-for hip-hop remix of "Gimme the Dub" was recorded.  That paved the way for the pop hit "Don't Turn Around," later to be an even bigger hit for Abba's stepchildren, Ace of Base.  Still, you could see signs of crossover inclinations around 1984-86, when 3 light and airy tunes -- "Hooked on You," "Need Your Love (Each and Every Day)," and "Chasing for the Breeze" -- traversed that fine line between roots and rot.  But they stayed on the good side and are in fact quite enjoyable.  However, they pale in comparison to the earlier works -- "Roots Rockin'" is a bouncy celebration of life and love that dares you to remain still, while "Back to Africa" is a slow, wailing masterpiece of repatriation.  Showing some versatility, Aswad delves into dub with the funky "Dub Fire" and puts forth an electric live performance of the emotional "African Children."  If only the band could've maintained this level. . .  What could've caused this transformation?  The money?  The fame?  A partial lobotomy?  Boy George?  The world may never know.

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Track Listing
1. Don't Turn Around
2. 54-46 (Was My Number)
3. Set Them Free
4. Roots Rockin'
5. Need Your Love (Each and Every Day)
6. Gimme the Dub [Hip-Hop Mix]
7. Dub Fire
8. Hooked on You
9. Beauty's Only Skin Deep
10. Chasing for the Breeze
11. African Children
12. Back to Africa
13. Warrior Charge
14. Give a Little Love

Crucial Tracks

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Rise and Shine (Mesa, 1994)

There is a debate, I suppose, in every musical genre about the merit of crossover, pop-oriented versions of the genre. Reggae is no different, with acts like Third World, Inner Circle, UB40, Maxi Priest, and, of course, Aswad routinely being both hailed and maligned due to their crossover appeal. Personally, I feel that there are versions of reggae that are not "true" reggae but that I find appealing nonetheless. Reggae mixed with hip-hop (as with Born Jamericans) or R & B (as with Maxi Priest) are often -- but certainly not always -- enjoyable. As always, though, it comes down to personal taste. That brings me to Aswad's Rise and Shine, which epitomizes mainstream reggae. This album covers the spectrum, from pop reggae that works to pop reggae that makes you envision Bob Marley tumbling in his grave. Still, I must give Aswad its due; they have found their niche and have been a leading force in it for over a decade. Rise and Shine presents Aswad in typical mass appeal form, with catchy hooks and up-tempo dance rhythms. At their best, Aswad produces slick guilty pleasures like "Pickin' Up," "Fever," and "Day By Day," which they do for the first half of this album. Unfortunately, the guilty pleasures run out and are replaced by unlistenable drivel like "Give Me a Reason," "Heartbeat," and "Deeper and Deep." Ick. Rise and Shine is an unbalanced album whose best spots still make you long for the Aswad of the '70s and early '80s.

Track Listing
1. Day By Day
2. Shine [Beatmasters 7" Mix]
3. Fever
4. 2 Makes 1
5. Warriors Charging
6. World of Confusion
7. Pickin' Up
8. Give Me a Reason
9. Deeper Than Deep
10. So Good
11. Heartbeat
12. Lay My Troubles Down

Rise and Shine

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Roots Rocking: The Island Anthology (Island, 1997)

Witness the rise and fall of a roots band.  Well, "fall" is perhaps too harsh a description, for their latter-day songs aren't all bad.  Also, the material on this album doesn't put forth their lowest points, which was saved for their post-Island days.  Nevertheless, the first half of this 2-CD set is heads and shoulders above the second.  Several classics included on Crucial Tracks are here as well: "Back to Africa," "Roots Rocking" (the live version here), "African Children" (also live), and "Dub Fire."  As an anthology, though, Roots Rocking also contains gems like "Can't Stand the Pressure," whose light and airy tune is reminiscent of "Back to Africa," the electric "Drum and Bass Line," the funky "A Rebel Soul," and "Judgement Day."  The inclusion of the rootsy "Just a Little Herb" at the start of the second disc gives hope that this half won't be very pop-oriented, but such hope is short-lived.  Still, it's not as bad as it could be, and you have to hand it to Aswad -- they can come up with some catchy (albeit annoyingly so) hooks.  "Smile" is a bit too poppy (or poopy, depending on your maturity level) for my taste, however.  A couple of decent lover's tracks -- "Need Your Love (Each and Every Day)" and "Feelings" -- along with a remake of Cymande's funk tune "The Message" help you get through to the end.  Still, although you get some nice added tracks, you also get a good amount of dead weight, making Crucial Tracks a more efficient choice.

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Track Listing
CD 1:
1. A Rebel Soul
2. Can't Stand the Pressure
3. Back to Africa
4. Sons of Criminals
5. Judgement Day
6. Not Guilty
7. Warrior Charge
8. Three Babylon
9. It's Not Our Wish
10. Rainbow Culture
11. Dub Fire
12. Tuff We Tuff [Live]
13. Not Satisfied [Live]
14. Roots Rocking [Live]
15. Drum and Bass Line [Live]
16. African Children [Live]

CD 2:
1. 54-46
2. Just a Little Herb
3. Need Your Love (Each and Every Day)
4. Java
5. Bubbling
6. Gimme the Dub
7. Kool Noh
8. The Message
9. Don't Turn Around
10. Feelings
11. Don't Get Weary
12. Smokey Blues
13. On and On
14. Dancing on My Own
15. Smile
16. Fire
17. Old Firestick
18. Gotta Find a Way

Roots Rocking

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Roots Revival (ARK 21, 1999)

To quote wiseman Flavor Flav, "Don't believe the hype."  The "hype" here is the self-promoting title and liner notes of Roots Revival, which, believe me, is not the "return to Aswad's origins" that it claims to be.  Rather, this album continues the downward spiral into the abyss of pop music-dom that constitutes the group's career.  Roots Revival is unapologetically up-tempo and happy, which isn't necessarily a bad thing, but when combined with cheesy music and corny melodies, it has all the feel of a Kool Aid commercial ("Oh yeah!").  Aswad probably believe that the title track (since it is the title track) -- a solid lovers groove -- and "The Best Times of Our Lives" (since it includes a dub cut) -- featuring a catchy dance beat and the haunting vocals of Algerian rai singer Cheb Mami -- are the two best songs here, and they indeed are, but that's not saying much.  "My Love" is merely OK, and the only other moderately enjoyable tunes are remakes: The Wailers' "Thank You Lord" and "Caution" and "Boom Boom Carnival," a cover of The Jamaicans' "Ba Ba Boom" that is both similar to and inferior to fellow British band Black Slate's version of the same song.  The best thing that I can say about any of the remaining songs is that it is 'inoffensive'; the worst thing that I can say -- "nauseating pop drivel" -- is reserved for the abhorrent "Follow '99."

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Track Listing
1. The Best Times of Our Lives featuring Cheb Mami
2. Freedom Street
3. Caution
4. Boom Boom Carnival
5. Follow '99
6. Take It Easy
7. Peace Truce
8. Breakout
9. Roots Revival
10. My Love
11. Thank You Lord
12. Invisible Sun featuring Sting
13. The Best Times of Our Lives [Dub] featuring Cheb Mami

Roots Revival

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