What I’ve Been Listening To: Predator Dub Assassins/Songs In The Key Of Sea

Until last Sunday, I had never heard of a band with the somewhat fearsome sounding name Predator Dub Assassins. I had seen them billed as a reggae outfit to perform at a free summer concert in the park type of event in Ocean Branch, N.J. Listening to Jamaican grooves on a lovely summer evening sounded like a great proposition, so I went there together with my wife.

We arrived a bit late and ended up sitting on a park bench a good deal away from the stage where it almost felt like listening to background music. At some point, I recognized Stir It Up and thought the lead vocalist sounded pretty similar to the great Bob Marley himself – pretty cool! We kept listening, and I liked the singer’s voice, as well as the sound and groove of the band, though I didn’t recognize any of the songs.

About 10 to 15 minutes prior to the end of the concert, we got up and moved a little closer toward the stage. Suddenly, the band started playing a cover of the Rolling Stones’ Miss You. While admittedly it’s not my favorite Stones tune, I thought giving it a reggae groove was a brilliant idea – frankly, to me it sounded better than the disco-influenced original! Finally, these guys had my full attention – I wish this would have happened a bit earlier, but between chatting with my wife and slurping an iced coffee, I guess I was a bit distracted!

Predator Dub Assassins
P-Dub (center) and Predator Dub Assassins

Before the band finished, the vocalist mentioned something about a new CD. So I looked them up in iTunes. And, there it was, Songs In The Key Of Sea (clever title!), along with numerous older albums and singles, going all the way back to 2005. Obviously, this meant I had just listened to a band that wasn’t exactly a newcomer. Now I was really curious!

It turns out that Predator Dub Assassins is one of the bands of Timothy Boyce, a.k.a. P-Dub. There isn’t exactly a ton of public information out on this artist, especially given how long he has been around. His Facebook page doesn’t reveal much. According to his website, P-Dub’s unique brand of reggae music fuses classic rock and pop elements with contemporary island sounds. Not only has he released more than 12 full-length albums since 2005, but he has also worked as an instrumentalist, singer, songwriter and producer with numerous other artists like Akon, Sean Kingston and Paul Wall – pretty much all names I admittedly don’t know.

P-Dub
Timothy Boyce, a.k.a. P-Dub

According to a recent interview he gave to Irie magazine, P-Dub initially got into music by working as a sound engineer at a local recording studio close to his home town of Sea Bright, N.J. The owner, a 55-year-old Kingstonian named George, attracted many musicians from the West Indies. Eventually, George ended up forming a band with P-Dub as the core member on vocals and guitar.

While I’ve listened to Bob Marley since my teenage years and always liked his music, I still wouldn’t consider reggae to be part of my core wheelhouse. So P-Dub is not the type of music I usually listen to. But once I started doing so, there was something that drew me in immediately. I think it’s his great voice and songs with seductive melodies and nice grooves – to me it’s the perfect summer music!

Unlike on most of P-Dub’s previous records, the material on Songs In The Key Of Sea goes beyond reggae and is a fusion of various styles. In a related note on his website, he explains, “I did things a lot differently this time. Instead of sticking to the musical rules of the reggae genre, I just let the songs do whatever they wanted. If a song popped out sounding funky, I let it. If a waltz popped its head in the door, I welcomed it in and this eclectic album resulted. The reggae is definitely in there. Its one of the main elements of the stew but you may have to look harder to find it on some tunes, while on others it’s more than obvious.”

Time for some music.

Things start off with Pleasant Picnic, which has a clear reggae feel to it – pretty much what I expected, based on the above concert and from listening into some of P-Dub’s earlier records.

Next up: Special. I like the funky groove. The beginning reminds me a bit of Listen To The Music by The Doobie Brothers, perhaps in part since I’m going to see these guys next week, so I guess they are on my mind.

Another tune I like is Good Day, a more acoustic-oriented song.

Chico Was The Man has an interesting groove. I also like the flute, which is a bit reminiscent of Jethro Tull.

On Your Prayer things become a more rock-oriented. To me this tune has a Lenny Kravitz vibe.

The last track I’d like to highlight is Rockets Are Supposed To Fly. In this song, P-Dub’s reggae influence becomes more obvious again.

Songs In The Key Of Sea was released on June 1. It is available on iTunes, Amazon and Bandcamp. According to P-Dub’s website, he wanted to create a 60s garage band approach to recording a reggae band. ” While some tracks are certainly more layered than others on this album, every single song was cut live in the studio, with the band playing together. I only used three mics on the drums and I let it bleed. I wound up loving the results and I think you will too.” Indeed!

Sources: Predator Dub Assassins website, Irie, YouTube

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Sting And Shaggy Deliver Sunny Pop Reggae

Unlikely pairing of artists teams up for groovy collaboration album

Like probably most folks, initially, I was surprised when I learned a few months ago that Sting and Jamaican pop reggae fusion artist Shaggy had teamed up to record an album together. Then I thought if anything, the British artist has demonstrated plenty of versatility throughout his now 45-year-plus career. As early as during his days with The Police, this has included occasional reggae groove-influenced tunes, such as Roxanne and Walking On The Moon. While 44/876, which was released yesterday, is unlikely to become my favorite Sting album, after having listened to it a few times, I have to say there is something intriguing about it.

The album opens with the title track, a combination of the codes of each artist’s respective home country, the U.K. and Jamaica. In addition to Sting and Shaggy, who like on all other songs trade lines back and forth, the tune also features Jamaican artists Aidonia and reggae band Morgan Heritage. By the way, all tracks are credited to Sting, Shaggy and their backing musicians.

Next up: Morning Is Coming, one of catchiest tunes on the record. It was also released separately as a single on March 9. I think the voices of Sting and Shaggy match particularly well on this track, which has summer written all over it.

Don’t Make Me Wait is another lovely tune, which became the album’s lead single in January. Here is the official video. Check out that cool Gibson SG Sting is playing, though no Highway To Hell in there!

Just One Lifetime reminds us that we each only have one life to make a difference, so we should make it count: Just one lifetime/And there is only one/Yes there is only one/Just one life to live/Assuming that we’ll make it/We’ve no choice but to take it…It’s one of the few songs on the album, where political undertones come more to the forefront. The lyrics borrow from The Walrus and the Carpenter, a poem from 19th Century English novelist Lewis Carroll, which originally appeared in his novel Through The Looking Glass.

The final track I’d like to call out is Dreaming In The U.S.A., a tune I’m afraid could easily be misunderstood, similar to what happened in the ’80s with Bruce Springsteen’s Born In The U.S.A. While the lyrics praise America for its movies, music, stars and clothes, they don’t mean to endorse the country’s present situation – in fact, quite the opposite! During a recent interview with ABC Nightline, Sting said, “We’re both immigrants. He’s [Shaggy] from Jamaica, I’m from Britain. And we came here because we love this country, because we value what this country represents. We both feel that the things we value about America are under threat. So it’s really a love letter to the United States.”

So how did Sting and Shaggy meet? According to a Billboard story, it was Martin Kierszenbaum who brought them together about a year ago. Kierszenbaum is Sting’s manager and Shaggy’s former A&R. Despite their very different backgrounds and approaches to music, they clicked and decided to record their first single Don’t Make Me Wait. In January, Sting performed at Shaggy and Friends, a biennial fundraising concert supporting Kingston’s Bustamante Children’s Hospital – his first time to play in Jamaica. During the show, he and Shaggy unveiled their new single. From there, they decided to pursue a collaboration album.

“We just had a rapport,” Sting explained to Billboard. “I decided a joint venture was much more exciting than him just guesting.” Added Shaggy: “He’s brought me patience and intuitiveness. He’s taught me to dissect a record down to the last T…. I used to do three or four songs a day, just write them, boom, boom, boom and done… [but] this is more exciting.”

Sting & Shaggy

Perhaps not surprisingly, various initial reviews of the album I’ve seen are lukewarm. “44/876 contains much of the sizzle of classic reggae or dancehall, though a little more substance would’ve been welcome too,” concluded Rolling Stone. “While the world wasn’t exactly clamoring for this album to exist, the end product is more lucid than many likely expected,” wrote USA Today. “If anything, 44/876 is proof that both Shaggy and Sting can keep evolving into the later era of their careers, and maintaining a sense of humor about it in the process.” The Guardian opined, “The sound of two millionaires fretting non-specifically about the state of the world is pretty annoying, especially given their only solutions are Marley-ish bromides about peace and love.”

As I said at the outset, 44/876 isn’t my favorite Sting album. But it’s undeniable he and Shaggy have developed a good rapport, blending their different styles and voices in groovy pop reggae tunes. I think a review by The Associated Press got it right: “The fact that Shaggy and Sting are teaming up on a CD does, admittedly, sound like a gimmick. Why are these two very different artists together? Because they happen to be known by a single name? Why not keep going and add Shakira, Sia, Slash and Seal? Maybe one day, but put the snarkiness aside and enjoy this warm bromance between the Jamaican dancehall king and the cool, intellectual Englishman.”

Sources: Wikipedia, ABC News, Billboard, Rolling Stone, USA Today, The Guardian, YouTube

What I’ve Been Listening To: Eric Clapton/461 Ocean Boulevard

1974 album marked Slowhand’s triumphant return to music after three-year heroin addiction

461 Ocean Boulevard represented a clear break for Eric Clapton from his hardcore blues rock-oriented days with John Mayall & The Bluesbreakers, The Yardbirds, Cream and Derek and the Dominos. I’m a fan of all the aforementioned bands but also dig the more laid back side Clapton showed on his second studio solo album, which was released in July 1974.

It’s important to remember this record came after a three-year hiatus during which Clapton had overcome a heroin addiction. As the great documentary Eric Clapton: Life In 12 Bars tells, he tragically ended up replacing heroin with alcohol before finally getting sober in 1987. Clapton had also grown weary about his previous status as a “guitar god,” so he was clearly looking for a new start.

The album opens with a cover of Motherless Children, a blues standard that was first recorded by American gospel blues singer Blind Willie Johnson in 1927. The sped up beat gives the tune a great groove. I also like Clapton’s slide guitar playing.

The second track Give Me Strength is one of three tunes, for which Clapton has writing credits. I dig the dobro he plays on that track, something that at the time of the album’s release seemed to irritate a Rolling Stone critic, who also noted, “What’s disturbing is not that Clapton plays differently, but that he plays so little.” In my humble opinion, knowing when and how to show restraint is part of being a great guitarist.

Willie And The Hand Jive is one of two songs that were also released separately as singles. The tune was written by Johnny Otis and first appeared in 1958. Like the original version, Clapton’s take has a cool Bo Diddley beat.

The second and undoubtedly much better known single from the record is I Shot The Sheriff, a nice cover of the Bob Marley tune. I really like the slightly funky guitar sound and the keyboard part on this recording. It became a big hit for Clapton, hitting no. 1 in the U.S. on the Billboard Hot 100, and also topping the charts in Canada and New Zealand. According to Wikipedia, years later Marley told Clapton he liked his cover.

Next up: Let It Grow, which is my personal favorite on the album and another tune written by Clapton and on which he plays the dobro. Yvonne Elliman sings backup vocals. Before joining Clapton’s band in 1974, she had played Mary Magdalene in the musical Jesus Christ, Superstar. Elliman also scored a hit with If I Can’t Have You in 1978, which became part of the soundtrack of the motion picture Saturday Night Fever. Music critics noted the chord progression of Let It Grow is similar to Led Zeppelin’s Stairway To Heaven, something Clapton himself acknowledged. I wonder whether those same critics also worried about the similarity between Stairway and Taurus, the instrumental by Spirit.

The last track I’d like to call out is Steady Rollin’ Man, a song written by Robert Johnson, one of Clapton’s influences. In fact, 30 years later, he would record Me And Mr. Johnson, an entire album dedicated to the delta blues artist. This is another example where Clapton took an old blues tune and gave it new life and a nice groove by speeding it up.

While 461 Ocean Boulevard received mixed reviews from music critics, it became one of Clapton’s most successful albums with strong chart performances in the U.S. and many other countries. In August 1974, it was awarded Gold status by the Recording Industry Association of America. And, oh yes, it’s also listed at no. 409 in Rolling Stone’s 2012 list of the 500 Albums Of All Time – the same publication whose critic ripped it apart when it originally appeared.

This post wouldn’t be complete without acknowledging the musicians who helped Clapton record the album. Some critics felt they were less than capable – yes, there was no John Mayall, Ginger Baker, Jack Bruce or Duane Allman, but to say that Clapton’s band essentially was mediocre is simply ridiculous, in my opinion.

The musicians included Dick Sims (keyboards), George Terry (guitar, vocals), Carl Radle (bass), Jamie Oldacker (drums, percussion), Al Jackson Jr. (drums on Give Me Strength and Albhy Galuten (synthesizer, piano, clavichord). In addition to Elliman, Tom Bernfield and Marcy Levy were backing vocalists.

Last but not least, the album was produced by studio wizard Tom Dowd. This certainly helps explain the great sound.

Sources: Wikipedia, Rolling Stone, YouTube

What I’ve Been Listening to: Bob Marley & the Wailers/Babylon By Bus

This 1978 gem is one big reggae party, from the first to the last track

Babylon By Bus was my first deeper introduction to Bob Marley in ca. 1979/1980. I borrowed the album from my best friend shortly after he had gotten it on vinyl. This was still pre-CD days. I was immediately drawn in by the music’s amazing groove and the record’s party mood that invites you to get off your chair and move!

Released on November 10, 1978, Babylon By Bus was the second live album from Bob Marley & the Wailers and their 12th release overall. By that time, Marley already had been making music for some 13 years. But broad international success had not started until 1977, when Marley and the band released their ninth studio album Exodus. This came on the heels of Marley seeking exile in London after he had survived an assassination attempt on his life in Jamaica.

Babylon By Bus is believed to capture performances from three shows recorded at the Pavillon de Paris in France from June 25-27, 1978 during Marley’s Kaya Tour, which included the U.S. and Europe. The album kicks off with Positive Vibration from the 1976 studio album Rastaman Vibration, which became Marley’s first release to crack the top 10 on the Billboard 200, peaking at no. 8.

I could literally call out every other song on Babylon By Bus as well, since each tune is incredibly powerful. Obviously, that would not be practical, so the following selection is somewhat arbitrary. First up is Exodus, the title track from the above mentioned studio album.

The next tune I’d like to highlight is Stir It Up, one of Marley’s early songs he composed in 1967. It was first released as a single that year and later also included on Catch a Fire, the fifth studio album from Marley & the Wailers released in 1973.

Is This Love is another song I’d like to call out. It has always been one of my favorite Marley tunes, especially the live version on Babylon By Bus. It is faster than the studio recording, which I’ve always felt is how the song was meant to be played. The studio version appeared on Kaya, the 10th studio album from Marley & the Wailers, which was released in March 1978. The speed of the version on the following clip is somewhere in-between the studio recording and Babylon By Bus.

The final tune I’d like to note is Jamming, the album’s closer. The track originally appeared on the above mentioned studio album Exodus. It was also released as a single. Stevie Wonder used it as inspiration for Master Blaster (Jammin’), his tribute to Marley with whom he had performed live in the fall of 1980. It must have been one of Marley’s last live appearances prior to his premature death from metastasized cancer in May 1981.

Not only is Babylon By Bus my favorite Bob Marley album, but I would also consider it as one of the best live albums I’ve heard. It remains just as vibrant today, almost 40 years after its release, a great testament to an exceptional artist.

Sources: Wikipedia, YouTube