Well folks, here we are at the closing of yet another year and with that I’d like to take the time to point out a few of my personal favorite albums and artists of the year. This list will include both newly released albums in 2013 as well as new re-releases that came out in 2013 as well. I collect a lot of vintage music from around the globe and there is no end to how deep one can dig especially with the wonderful amount of terrific re-release labels out there like Pressure Sounds Records, Numero Group Records, and Soul Jazz Records to name just a few. So, know my tastes are broad and eclectic, check these albums/artists out when you can, and here we go:
#1 – James Blake “Overgrown”
James Blake is hands down my favorite new artist of 2013 as I had not heard him nor heard his music before this year and his sophomore album “Overgrown” (Polydor/Republic Records) is hands down my favorite album of 2013, PERIOD. I’ve since familiarized myself with his self-titled first album, and the growth and maturity as a both an artist and producer is astounding for James Blake’s latest release. Having recently won the prestigious 2013 Mercury Prize, “Overgrown” is nothing short of being a late night lover’s lament that is one mysterious sounding masterpiece. The production is simple and elegant, yet defying contemporary styling in any exact way. One part Radiohead, one part Sade, one part Joni Mitchell, and yet none of them at all, expect nothing but more of his incredibly beautiful, haunting music. The one thing for me that sparked my interest in him and his music was actually seeing how he and his 2 close friends/band mates (Ben Assiter – drums, Rob McAndrews – guitar/keys) perform LIVE. THIS is, and will be, redefining how the singer/songwriter really will portray them selves in the 21st century and beyond.
#2 – Tame Impala “Lonerism”
Another artist/group for me that’s similar in discovery to James Blake is Australian Psych-Rock band Tame Impala. They were new to me as a group this year and I’d not heard their music as well until listening to their sophomore album “Lonerism” (Modular Recordings). Embedded deep in classic Psychedelic Rock (ALA Pink Floyd, Hendrix, and Led Zeppelin mixed with The Beatles’ later albums), leader Kevin Parker and the group bring these classic sounds back to the forefront mixed with more touches of contemporary production techniques and sounds of current music via Electronica and Hip-Hop. This combination yields a huge sonically enhanced wild ride of a listen, full of imagination and wonder for what makes “Lonerism” my favorite Rock album of 2013. Again for me, what caught my eyes and ears to Tame Impala was THIS live clip as they effortlessly create the sound of “Lonerism” live in the studio in an amazing, natural, organic way!
#3 – Major Lazer “Free The Universe”
If there’s one album in 2013 to get a party pumpin’, it is DEFINITELY “Free The Universe” (Secretly Canadian Records), the sophomore release by Major Lazer! Major Lazer is a Reggae Dancehall DJ project created by American DJ/Producer Diplo. Diplo has been blazing up the clubs and the charts with his array of Dance productions for several years now, all being influenced in one form or another by Jamaican Reggae and Dancehall so it seemed inevitable that he’d step into the foray of making his own version of this kind of music, hence the creation in 2008 of Major Lazer. Initially a collaboration project for Diplo with a who’s who of Dance music artists from around the globe (Switch, Santigold, Vybes Kartel, Mr. Vegas, Turbulence, Elephant Man, Wyclef Jean, Shaggy, and Bruno Mars, to name a few), the centerpiece of the project is Slamming, Raw, Energetic Dancehall and Reggae music. With no boundaries on style (nor lyrics – NOT for the timid with titles and lyrics like “Bubble Butt”! nor insane, taboo video content – see break out video “Pon De Floor”! YOU’VE BEEN WARNED!!!), the results are driving, dance floor Mega-Bombs!!!
#5 & #6 – “Studio One Ska Fever – More Ska Sounds From Sir Coxsone’s Downbeat” & “Studio One Ironsides – Original Classic Recordings 1963-1979”
If you have any interest in learning where it all kicked off in Jamaica for the beginnings of Reggae Superstar’s like Bob Marley, Peter Tosh, Bunny Wailer, Burning Spear, The Heptones, Dennis Brown, Alton Ellis, Marcia Griffiths, Rita Marley, The Ethiopians, The Abyssinians, and countless, countless other AMAZING Jamaican artists then you HAVE to know about Studio One Records. The first Jamaican owned and run studio (established in 1954) by legendary producer and entrepreneur Clement “Sir Coxsone” Dodd, Studio One Records is to Jamaican music what Motown Records is to American R&B and Soul. There are ENDLESS amounts of recordings still coming out to this day from the Studio One vaults and Soul Jazz Records has released numerous, incredibly insightful, and thoroughly informative compilations about the INCREDIBLE Jamaican musical treasure chest known as Studio One. I personally own EVERY Soul Jazz Records Studio One release and there truly is not one bad release in the batch. Highly Recommended for anyone interested in some of the greatest music EVER recorded!!!
#7 & #8 – “Lee Perry & His Upsetters Present – Roaring Lion” & “Tommy McCook – Reggae In Jazz”
Continuing on my favorite re-releases, it should be known and stated for the record that I’m a HUGE Jamaican music fan. My favorite material from this tiny island, like most others, is the “Golden Age of Reggae” via the inception of Ska in 1963 to the advent of original Dancehall before Jamaican music became digitized around 1984, so in other words any Jamaican music from 1963-1984. One of the BEST re-release labels of ANY genre from anywhere around the world is the UK-based label Pressure Sounds Records. They specialize in putting out long lost, impossible to find Jamaican albums on CD and Vinyl all while researching these nearly forgotten, always amazing artists and their incredible stories. The 2 albums listed here are the 2 most recent re-releases from the AMAZING Pressure Sounds. First we have the most recent release by Lee Perry & The Upsetters. Known as one of the all time greatest, and strangest, producer performers from around the world, Lee “Scratch” Perry is a force to be reckoned with. His now legendary productions from his “laboratory” of a studio, “The Black Ark”, tell their own story in one listen. Extremely wild uses of sound FX and studio FX like Delays, Filters, Phasers, and Reverbs are the norm for Perry as he is a founder creator and purveyor of a Jamaican music genre known as Dub. If you’re new to Dub then definitely check out music by the Grandfather and Grand Master of Dub, Osbourne “King Tubby” Ruddock, and his apprentices Scientist and Prince Jammy.
On the other side of all Reggae music is the story that still has so much left to be told and that is the story of all the Jamaican session musicians that helped to create and define the sound of Jamaican music and it’s evolution of styles from the years gone by. It boils down quite simply to what amounts to just a handful of musicians (a rough guess let’s say of around 150 total people) that literally made ALL of the music from Jamaica from 1963-1984. One of the few musicians that can literally be ranked in the top 5 of this list would be the great legendary Saxophonist Tommy McCook. A founder and original member of The Skatalites, one of the Greatest bands in the history of all recorded music from around the world, Tommy McCook contributions to ALL of Jamaican music up until his death in 1998. He has literally recorded on THOUSANDS of albums across all major subgenres of Jamaican music. This recent re-release on Pressure sounds of Tommy McCook’s long lost album “Reggae In Jazz” is nothing short of an incredible insight and musical treat into the brilliance of Tommy McCook as a musician and arranger and into the creative atmosphere that was so very thriving at the time of the creation of this album in Jamaica. The opening cut “Grass Root” is worth the price of the album alone, being one part Jazz and one part Reggae meeting at nothing short of a magical musical crossroads. If the musicians of Motown or Stax got together to make a Reggae album, it’d sound something a bit like this one, super funky with a stone cold groove.
#9 – The Lions “This Generation”
So here’s my first of two “shameless self promotions”! BUT I must say and add that I cannot begin to express how proud I am of 2 albums I was a part of that came out this year in 2013. First up is my LA-based Reggae/Soul project The Lions with the group’s sophomore release “This Generation” (Stones Throw Records). The Lions features a who’s who of trend setting musicians pulled from several LA-area groups (Connie Price & The Keystones, Hepcat, Orgone, The Expanders, to name a few), this record was produced by Dan “Connie Price” Ubick and co-produced by myself and our amazing mixer/engineer Steve Kaye. With a tip of the hat fully towards the old-school sounds of Jamaican Reggae and American Soul, somewhere in the middle lies the potent mixture of what defines The Lions sound. Highlights of the album feature the breakout single and title track “This Generation”, along with a feature of legendary Jamaican singer/bassist Leroy Sibbles of The Heptones. If you long for that feel good sound of all those original 1970’s Jamaican albums, so do The Lions from front to back on “This Generation”. Note – this could be your next backyard BBQ soundtrack, good music for good people! Keep an eye out for The Lions live in LA, enjoy THIS clip for now.
#10 – The Decoders “Lovers & Dub Classics”
Here’s my second “shameless self promotion” which is the first album “Lovers & Dub Classics” (Inpartmaint Records in Japan) released by the LA-based super group The Decoders. The Decoders is a mixture of members of several other fantastic groups from around LA such as Ethio-Cali Ensemble, Rhye, Jungle Fire, The Lions, and other groups as well. The Decoders is the brain child of founding members Itai Shapira, Todd Simon, and Adam Berg who have chosen to combine classic Soul and R&B tunes and flip them with other world music based genres such as Reggae, Rocksteady, Samba, Bossa Nova, all creating a unique, hybridized sound reminiscent of all the musical flavors that are ever present in the greater Los Angeles area. The album features the same cast of musicians through out for the most part but features a wide array of guest singers such as Noelle Scaggs (of Fitz & the Tantrums), Sy Smith (of the Foreign Exchange), Raul Midón, and Kevin Sandbloom just to name a few. There are more tunes and another album in the works to pay tribute to the late, great Minnie Ripperton so keep your eyes peeled for The Decoders in 2014. And, in case you missed it, check out an interview I did this past August with bandleader Itai Shapira HERE. Good things coming for this group in 2014!
So, thanks for reading, please check out these listed artists, albums, and labels, and I wish you Happy Holidays and a Happy New Year! Lastly, support live music, Cheers!