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Jezzreel / John Clarke - Great Jah Jah / Rootsy Reggae

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Artist: Jezzreel / John Clarke

Album: Great Jah Jah / Rootsy Reggae

Label: Wackie's

Review date: Nov. 6, 2006

Labels may come and labels may go, but if you’re looking for a rock of foundation, where else to go but Mark Ernestus’s and Moritz Von Oswald’s Wackies reissue channel? I’d dropped out of touch with their virtual dubbles of Lloyd ‘Bullwackie’ Barnes’s original reggae classics, but these two albums recently sat prod and proud in the mailbox, waiting for re-audition. My first exposure to Wackies was via Ernestus and Von Oswald - more correctly, reading of their love for Barnes’s productions in Kodwo Eshun’s article on their Chain Reaction label. He describes Barnes’s process thus: “Barnes would often run entire tracks through a graphic equalizer, softening the bass and exaggerating the mid-frequencies, sending the impact of the beat into a decay pattern, turning the voices of singers like Horace Andy and Wayne Jarrett into sepulchral trebles which would hover across the pulse, ebbing and flowing out of earshot.”

Woah, indeed. Jezzreel’s Great Jah Jah doesn’t take things that far - the bass is pushed forward, the rhythm is steady, and the vocals, from Clive Davis and Christopher Harvey, are equal parts gentle and strident, the falsetto backline weaving around the main melody like ghosts entwining. The album is presented showcase style, so the vocals are immediately followed by the dubs - the over-riding feeling is of the song slowly opening up and breathing out, you’re looking down and suddenly - woomp! - the floor’s gone. It’s not quite up there with my Wackies favorites - The Lovejoys, Sugar Minnott, the African Roots series, Horace Andy’s Dance Hall Style - but there are a host of little beautiful moments that melt your ears and heart; the spangling hi-hat echoes through “Sun Will Shine,” the click and clank of the guitar in “Roman Soldiers.” Good line-up, too - Barnes himself on production (and arrangements, with Prince Douglas), several of his brothers in the group, and Jah Scotty’s Reckless Breed as backing band (their Reckless Roots Rockers has been reissued recently, too).

The recent John Clarke disc collects a Wackies original album, Visions of John Clarke from 1979, and its reshuffled companion, released later that year on NY label Makossa, Rootsy Reggae. It’s a fantastic set, with Barnes’s production coating the production with his comfortable mid-frequency warmth, and some particularly sweet harmonizing from the Love Joys on “Bum Bang Festival” and “Boss I.” There’s also social realism on “Recession,” where Clarke’s voice appears to be sounding from underneath a down blanket. But is Visions of John Clarke/Rootsy Reggae a great reggae album? Well, yes. Though I do prefer the slightly hairier risks taken and the wider dub-space mapped by the Wackies original Visions of John Clarke - check the scratchy percussion on “You Like to Borrow” - it’s all fantastic stuff.

By Jon Dale

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