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Brenda Ray - D’Ya Hear Me!: Naffi Years, 1979-83

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Artist: Brenda Ray

Album: D’Ya Hear Me!: Naffi Years, 1979-83

Label: EM

Review date: Jan. 15, 2013

In Britain, the word “naf” denotes straight-up badness, and not the good kind. For Cheshire, England, residents Brenda Ray (a.k.a. Brenda Kenny) and Freddie V (a.k.a. Jerry Kenny) to call their band Naffi (or Naafi Sandwich, or Brenda and the Beachballs — they seem to have been into unstable nomenclature) suggests that they weren’t in it for stardom. But sometimes people who are just in it for fun are fun to hear, and that’s definitely the case here. There’s a light-hearted, “why not?” quality to this music that makes virtues of the occasionally murky recording and giddy goofing that the pair indulge on this collection, which is drawn from cassettes, singles, and an LP that were released on dinky labels operating out of the northern British cities of Liverpool and Manchester in the early 1980s.

This is the second release under Ray’s name by the Japanese EM label. Its predecessor, Walatta, played with jazz and reggae iconography by depicting Ray in a pose that referenced images of Augustus Pablo and Pharoah Sanders records. Its music had an air of temporal non-specificity; Ray had spent over a decade recording and tinkering with the sounds of her voice and melodica over rhythms laid down by reggae pros in Kingston, Jamaica during the late ’70s.

This collection uses some similar elements, but feels very much of a particular time. With its strong but unvarnished pop melodies, dubby production and sprinklings of exuberant racket nicked from free jazz records, D’Ya Hear Me’s contents would flow perfectly on a mixtape along with The Slits, Raincoats, Young Marble Giants, early PiL, and Vivien Goldman’s “Launderette” single. But Ray’s track would be the one in the mix that makes everyone smile. The grooves may be sourced from the county just east of Wales, but Ray and V treat that East Of The River Nile vibe like a favorite toy, which is to say that they scuff it up and play around with it. “Why not,” I can imagine them giggling as they send bass and cardboard box recorded on a 2-track reel-to-reel through a reverberant hall of mirrors. “Echo is fun!” So is Ray’s singing, which often sounds like she’s transposing jump-rope chants to girl group tunes. Much of the music made by Ray’s contemporaries wears a certain English raininess on its sleeve; on D’Ya Hear Me, you can feel the sun coming out.

By Bill Meyer

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