Album Review: Dennis Bovell - The Dubmaster
Dennis Bovell’s reputation as a master of music is longstanding. So, as he approaches his 70th birthday, it wasn’t hard for Trojan to find over 150 minutes, over 38 tasty tracks, spanning 5 decades, for release on 2 discs/albums (and digital formats) in the artist’s honour.
Bovell – otherwise known as ‘Blackbeard’ - makes a point in his liner notes to thank God the Almighty. If indeed there is to be a ‘judgement day’ and Bovell is asked by this ‘Almighty’ to explain what use he has made of his many talents whilst on earth, the inquisitor should take a long deep breath. Bovell’s biography covers quite a range. From being a much sought-after producer, musical engineer, sound system proprietor, lyrical maestro, movie score writer, lead vocalist, multi-instrumentalist, bass player extraordinaire, key influencer in the emergence of ‘British-reggae’ and the transition from ‘roots reggae’ to ‘lovers’ rock’, facilitator in redressing reggae’s female: male imbalance, to (cameo role) acting, Bovell even has the audaciousness to scribe the extensive liner notes that accompany this impressive release.
Little wonder then that he was offered an MBE – Member of the Order of the British Empire – in 2021, despite doing a term courtesy of ‘Her Majesty’s’ prison service in 1974. The wonder really is that he accepted it!
His span of accomplices over the years includes production work with luminaries like Fela Kuti, Alpha Blondy, I-Roy, the Thompson Twins, Bananarama, Boy George, the Slits, Madness and Irish traditional musician Sharon Shannon. Notably however, despite collaborating with dub poet Linton Kwesi Johnson for most of his working life, this artist’s absence from the compilation does raise questions.
As a further reflection on Bovell’s ability and longevity, it is worth recalling that in the early 1970s his Matumbi band acted as backers to touring Jamaican musicians. For example, in 1973, they opened for their heroes, the Wailers, at a famine relief concert in London, when – to their embarrassment – they allegedly went down better than the now immortal headliners!
This new Trojan release is comprised of 2 CDs/albums, with the first focusing on Bovell’s work as an artist in his own right, whilst the second showcases his production work with an array of artists.
The first CD offers up 20 tracks reflecting the artist’s work from 1976 to 2022. Whilst the earlier material certainly can’t hide its dated origins, there remain some definite highlights thereon. These include the rootsy dub Half Way To Zalon, the righteous Run Dem Out, the captivating orchestral aura on The Grunwick Affair, the seductive easy-swing effect on Row, Row, Row and the dub version of Janet Kay’s classic Silly Games.
The same Janet Kay opens the second CD with this Silly Games track, that Bovell claims to have written with the sole intent of securing a hit song – which he most certainly did. In fact, this 1979 release is widely credited with introducing ‘lovers’ rock’ to UK and European audiences. Errol Dunkley then picks up the pace with a riveting rhythm in A Little Way Different, before Errol Campbell’s slower devotional piece entitled Jah Man (followed in dub) kicks in. Thereafter Angelique’s high pitch lovelorn Cry is delivered with both pace and ease, followed by Good Breed’s exotic instrumental, where the guitar is given extensive scope by the reggae standards of 1977! I Roy’s novel toasting then takes a turn on Get Up, Stand Up, preceding Marie Pierre’s Our Tune, with its array of musically melded influences.
Captain Morgan and his Merry Men then do what their name suggests, with a delightfully melodic contribution on Tom Hark from 1977, with the whistle/flute effect still capable of lifting the roof at any assembly. Thereafter, the roots vibe prevails, as Pebbles reprises Dunkley’s earlier input with plenty of verbals riding shotgun. Errol Campbell’s understated African Queen is then followed by Joshua Moses’ call to arms on Africa, before we’re treated to the sweet and subtle Take Five from the Young Lions dating back to 1978. Gladwin Wright is next, offering the listener a sad, sincere and soulful Portrait of You. On a similar, albeit less seductive, theme than Wright’s, Delroy Wilson’s Hooked On You then features, before the irrepressible Johnny Clarke has his way and his say on Guide Us Jah.
The collection’s penultimate track sees Julio ‘Dreadful’ Finn deploy some accomplished harmonica or mouth organ effects on Nasty, for another uplifting input to the compilation. This ably sets the scene for Marie Pierre to return, to close proceedings, with her 2022 construct called Can’t Go Through (With Life) – another lovelorn input for the soulful swingers.
All round, this double CD is a worthy testament to Bovell’s extensive skill-set, calling into question the old adage: ‘that a jack of all trades is a master of none’. He should be well pleased with the use he has made of his skills. It’s hard to think of a greater accolade for any human being.
Dennis Bovell - The Dubmaster: The Essential Anthology
DIGITAL RELEASE / 2LP / 2CD [BMG]
Release date: 03/25/2022
01. Dennis Bovell & African Stone - Run Rasta Run
02. Dennis Bovell & The 4th Street Orchestra - Za-Ion
03. Dennis Bovell & The 4th Street Orchestra - Half Way To Za-Ion (Za-Ion Dub)
04. Dennis Bovell & Dennis Curtis - Come With Me
05. Dennis Bovell & The 4th Street Orchestra - Run Dem Out
06. Dennis Bovell & Dennis Matumbi - Raindrops
07. Dennis Bovell - Eye Water (Raindrops Dub)
08. Dennis Bovell - Blood Ah Go Run / Blood Dem (12'' Mix)
09. Dennis Bovell & The 4th Street Orchestra - The Grunwick Affair
10. Dennis Bovell & African Stone - Choose Me
11. Dennis Bovell & The 4th Street Orchestra - The Grunwick Affair
12. Dennis Bovell & The 4th Street Orchestra - Row, Row, Row (Rowing Down The River)
13. Dennis Bovell - Chief Inspector
14. Dennis Bovell & The Dub Band - Dub Master
15. Dennis Bovell & The Dub Band - Pow Wow
16. Dennis Bovell - Silly Dub
17. Dennis Bovell - Oh Mama Oh Papa (7'' Mix)
18. Dennis Bovell - Pickin' Up The Pieces
19. Dennis Bovell - Caught You In A Loe
20. Dennis Bovell - After Tonight
21. Janet Kay - Silly Games
22. Errol Dunkley - A Little Way Different / Differentah feat. Julio 'Dreadful' Finn
23. Errol Campbell - Jah Man
24. Errol Campball - Jah Man Dub
25. Angelique - Cry
26. Good Breed - Heights
27. I-Roy - Get Up Stand Up
28. Marie Pierre - Our Tune
29. Captain Morgan & His Merry Men - Tom Hark
30. Pebbles - Positive Vibrations
31. Errol Campbell - African Queen
32. Joshua Moses - Africa (Is Our Land)
33. The Young Lions - Take Five
34. Gladwin Wright - Portrait Of You
35. Delroy Wilson - Hooked On You
36. Johnny Clarke - Guide Us, Jah
37. Julio 'Dreadful' Finn - Nasty
38. Marie Pierre - Can't Go Through (Dancehall Version)