The Best 25 Albums of 2020 by Reggae Fever
Once the pandemic situation started to take its toll on the live musical environment, many artists and producers have quickly shifted their main attention to studio work and studio releases. In just a few months, musical releases started flooding over platforms such as Bandcamp and the media inboxes were proportionally flooded with numerous brand new music.
The more in-house time on the side of listeners actually meant more listening and dedicated time for collecting and enjoying the music. Careful and diligent listening time for formats such as albums has particularly increased and affected many musical 2020 lists. We, from the Reggae Fever podcast, come with an unusually long list of the best LP/album releases of previous year.
It’s important to mention that albums are not listed in any particular order, but the idea is to make this article suitable for reading from start to end. However, nothing is lost if each album review is treated separately and is read independently of others.
FC Apatride UTD
Earth Works. Digital
Now becoming usually overlooked, Belgrade-based FC Apatride UTD released a companion to their another revolutionary & socially album of “Third Worldism” from 2019. Produced and recorded in Earth Works, the same house as a vocal version of the album, dub companion explores the deep analogue basses in pure roots and militant style. Bass immersive and spaceful, mixed by 4 different engineers, two of them from Balkans - Countryman and Echomer - and two of them from production house - Jah Works and Kingsway - this album is listened only in a breath, from start to end.
100 Years of Theremin (Dub Chapter)
Submission Records. LP/CD/Digital
Utilization of theremin in modern music is certainly not something unknown, but it’s highly doubtful that anyone has ever done it before in such a blissful and unique way as GAUDI has done it on “100 Years of Theremin”. Especially over dub riddims exclusively produced by big time names and legends such as Mad Professor, The Scientist, Dennis Bovell, Adrian Sherwood and Prince Fatty. This is the perfect soundtrack for a dark, spooky, vintage sci-fi or even horror movie, and not actually hearing this music in some movies in years to come will be just an enormous shame for the film industry.
At 333 House
Mock Records. LP/Digital
Only a year-time was needed for the Pachyman’s second LP to become one of the most wanted brand new LPs out there (no seriously, it’s been around Discogs now for more than 100e). Not without a reason two pressings were sold out in a quick fashion as this is something the closest to vintage roots dub style of King Tubby and Scientist available in the music world today. Legit and warm sound of Jamaica 70’s, produced and played completely by one man. Definition of “old school in new school” music.
40 Years of Dub!
Ariwa Sounds. Digital
Can you dub it? This is the name of the opening tune of the Mad Professor's anniversary album and at the same time it is the real question for all dub fans and producers out there. Through previous 40 years of work, Neil Fraser has certainly set a high criteria and proved that his dub capabilities should not be taken into question by any means. Once again the pure dubness is coming out of the “40 Years of Dub!”. Fifteen “out-of-nowhere” tracks, not strictly without vocals i.e. DJ parts (hear “Immigration Plan”), that are going to blow both your speakers and mind. What else is out there hidden in the archives of the dub master? That’s the question we're gonna stick with for a time to come.
Bokeh Versions. LP/Digital
The very first official record of TNT Roots from the legendary Earthquake steppers duo, made from a collection of music hidden in the UK underground scene. Raw, dark and melodic at the same time this is the real 90s Aba Shanti style which has enormously affected the UK sound system culture. Finally on a LP, in a format and style that TNT and Earthquake music deserves to be presented on. Darkness out of the deepest dark, finally easily reached (or at least it was for LP collectors, as the both pressings have been sold out!).
Songs Of An Unknown Tongue
Brownswood Records. LP/CD/Digital
Certainly not an “everyday dub” album, as matter of fact, officially counted as soul, r&b and jazz, but first beats of “Songs of An Unknown Tongue” easily discover the dub nature of the LP. Furthermore, tunes such as “Roots of Freedom” come with one of the hardest dub riddims heard in the year, sound system alike, easily. Hardly unexpected from Zara though, this LP is an astonishing fusion of jazz, dub and traditional forms such as Kumina & Nyabinghi. Voice is just on another level.
Mungo’s Hi-Fi x Marina P
Scotch Bonnet. LP/Digital
As soulful as a reggae-dub album can get, the “Soul Radio'' is another excellent example of hard dub riddims being perfectly utilized as a background for sweet and tender jazz voices, in this case for the voice of Marina P. Bass lines flow in a sound system fashion, while ska, reggae, jazz and soul with touches of rub-a-dub and voices of Dennis Alcapone and Tippa Irie make this LP one of the most popular albums of the 2020. Catchy, groovy and perfect for any real sound system dancehall night.
On-U Sound. LP/CD/Digital
Yet another fusion album of the 2020, but not of any kind, coming straight from Denise Sherwood, daughter of the great UK producer Adrian Sherwood. Real On-U Sound style, driven by dark and groovy basslines and marvellous voice of Denise always having honest and proper blues tone to it. The album realization did take some time - 17 years - but results speak of themselves with peak and dynamic tunes such as “Music Shall Live”, supported by legend Lee “Scratch” Perry himself! Unique and uplifting!
Manasseh Meets Praise
Manasseh Meets Praise
Roots Garden records. Digital
For very unknown reasons, the album of dub producer Nick Manasseh and violin-viola virtuoso player Praise, has been under-radar for an entire year. Released in May as a culmination of their work which started 10 years ago with single “Matter of Struggle”, this is a unique blend of classical music and dub. This is as well somewhat similar concept to Gaudi’s theremin LP, but from completely another musical angle. Deep, touching and beautiful play by Praise over diligently worked and flowing riddims of legendary Manasseh. Perfect soundscape for everyday listening! Winter friendly as well.
Nat Birchall meets Al Breadwinner
Tradition Disc. LP/Digital
After the highly acclaimed album “African Shores” by Vin Gordon from 2019, produced and arranged by Al Breadwinner and Nat Birchall, two follow-ups occurred in 2020. Both “Tradition Disc in Dub” and “Upright Living” released in April and August, respectively, are based on almost the same riddims as “African Shores” but with different dub and instrumental takes. Especially “Upright Living” is being over-dubbed by Nat Birchall with saxophone jazz harmonies as well as by David Fullwood on trumpet and again by legendary Vin Gordon on trombone. Produced with analog equipment, the sound on all of these LPs is just astounding, with a quite warm feeling in the style of Jamaica 70s; compared to Pachyman’s approach, Breadwinner is more lining to LSP type of production.
Nga Han & Roots Unity
The Living Stream (Chapter One)
Roots Unity Music. CD/Digital
Serious spiritual Rastafari vibes have always been a very special part of roots reggae as a genre, but hearing the same is definitely not so common in the modern-time productions. At least, it hadn’t been until Jamaican vocalist Nga Han started taking big steps on the roots scene in recent years. With appropriate musicians and producers his vocals have definitely put roots followers on notice, now especially with “The Living Stream” LP released in June with Roots Unity Music, first class roots crew from Amsterdam. Instruments are flying over fast rootical riddims along with Nga Han’s chants in quite strong bass production, making any “fillers” out of reach on this LP.
Nga Han & The Hi-Flyers
Kingston Echo. LP/Digital
Yet another LP with Nga Han as a lead vocalist, this time in collaboration with Antwerp-based producer Kingston Echo. In comparison to “The Living Stream”, very clean and at times a slower type of riddims with a touch of psychedelic effects provide the space for Nga Han’s vocals to emphasize spiritual vibes even more. Not only that, but comparisons to Benjamin Vaughn’s vocals have become more obvious than ever. This LP is for “slowing down the pace” and completely immersing into the spacious vibes. By the way, LP is recorded in complete analogue fashion, without any digital paths (which also means no computer)!
Rapha Pico & The Noble Chanters
Continue The Glory
Earth Works. LP/Digital
Speaking of spiritual roots vibrations, Rapha Pico is another emerging young vocalist whose talents have been best presented so far on LP “Continue The Glory”. In collaboration with Amsterdam-based studio and crew - Earth Works - Rapha Pico’s voice leads the spiritual journey on waves of uplifting riddims which makes this LP for a reason one of the highest-ranking roots albums of 2020. Trodding thru modern times with big respect to tradition.
Earth Works. LP/Digital
Hardcore militant roots coming straight from Hornsman Coyote, world acknowledged roots trombonist player. Album is packed in a diligent old school manner with 6 vocal-instrumental tracks interleaved with 6 appropriate dub versions, some of them done over common Earth Works riddims. Both dark in the style and heavy in production, this album also provides the optimistic, higher energies through fast rockers riddims and virtuoso trombone plays of Coyote. LP format is welcomed and hopefully still to be released.
Live By The Spirit
Hen House Studios. CD/Digital
There’s certainly something quite special about Jamaica’s foundation artists that makes them keep the uplifting spiritual energy. Famous singer and even more famous Nyabinghi specialist Ras Michael in his 77th year has come with simply a masterpiece of its own. A soul healing LP. An energy uplifting chant and astonishing backing vocals in production with clearly emphasized Nyabinghi drums, the “Live By The Spirit” is really what the name says about it. After listening to the album, it’s definitely easier to understand the effects of full-of-vitality type of Rastafarian life.
They Call Us Legends
3 Par Music. LP
Dandy Livingstone certainly knows what being a legend feels like and he is not shying away from the legendary status of Jamaican foundation artists on his comeback LP “They Call Us Legends”. After 40 years of musical silence, Dandy has come back in a big-time rootical fashion. Taking into account his legendary status in rocksteady and ska circles, it is at first surprising to hear that much roots influences on this one, but he’s as well staying with rocksteady groove and bringing reeditions of cult tunes such as “Suzanne Beware of The Devil” and “Instant Music”. His voice though has not been affected by the 40-year pause, that’s for sure.
Dallas Records. Digital
It’s only a matter of time when taking the foundation path brings musicians to the very source of reggae - Jamaica. Experienced Croatian band Brain Holidays have taken a brave step of recording an album in the famous Tuff Gong studio founded by Bob Marley in 1965. Now this album is kind of historic for Balkans reggae as nobody from Balkans has ever recorded an album in Jamaica, not mentioning the legendary studio. But what matters the most are music and the sound itself, which simply blossom in real Jamaican rootical style. Tight and groovy! It’s hard not to notice the original Jamaican influences, even without knowing the background information on the Brain Holidays journey.
Positive Reality Sound
Positive Reality Records. Digital
Another album coming from the Balkans (ex-Yugoslavia) area heavily influenced by foundation sound. Maybe not recorded directly in Jamaica, but certainly sounds like it is, bringing in the familiar roots voice of Linval Thompson! With a few more guests including Ras Algeti, Jah Kajgaan and Hornsman Coyote as well as production expertise of Brain Holidays frontman, this album is definitely the best creation of Slovenian so far. Sound system influences with distinctive rub-a-dub sequences of Haris and some guests (some Prince Far-I-ish sounds) makes this album have a “Foundation Sound'' written all over itself. Hugely over-looked!
Midnight Riders meets Naram Rhythm Section
Midnight Riders meets Naram Rhythm Section
Red Robin Records. LP/Digital
Hardly any modern artists and producers come with serious tributes to revolutionary rub-a-dub sounds of the 80s. Red Robin Records and Naram have been the closest to that sound for many years, but only with their very first full-length LP, the 80’s reggae culture has been finally showcased in a full and appropriate manner. Surprisingly enough, this is also the very first LP of Winston ‘Midnight Riders’ Powell, who brings the original 80’s energy as he was indeed recording in the studios such as Channel One and Blue Mountain during the era. Even the most digital tunes of this LP have that rootical approach, which is definitely something that early dancehall and rub-a-dub period is recognized and appreciated for.
Adam Prescott & Deemas J
Backative Records. Digital
Bringing on the right energy in the dance halls has just become an easier task with Adam Prescott releasing the “Still Rising” album side by side with proven sound system MC Deemas J. Many vintage grooves are included - from rocksteady and dancehall to disco funky sounds - all riddims digitally produced to provide enough energy for the biggest sound systems out there. Deemas J lyrical style is an all around microphone attack, fast and direct, in the groove appropriate for big sounded riddims of Prescott. Instrumental companion “Still Rising: Versions” is also released keeping it open for other vocalists to have their opportunity for live MC-ing.
Sunday Best Recordings. Vinyl/CD/Digital
Rave times have become even more desired once Dub Pistols released the full-rave hardcore “Addict” LP. It did not take much time, only a couple of weeks, for this album to reach tops of UK charts and become one of the dance albums of the year. Whether it’s fast rub-a-dub, jungle, hardcore drum’n’bass or even dark and spacious electro, the base of the modern sound system UK style is perfectly presented through “Addict”. Along with 2-Tone tribute and political messages as present in “Stand Together” featuring Rhoda Dakar. Addiction to the bass, sound, dance and rave has just been approved.
Kiss, Cuddle & Torture: Volume 2
Zee Zee Records. LP/CD/Digital
Hip-hop, soul, dancehall, reggae, dub, funky, pop, you name it and the Hempolics will blend it! “Kiss, Cuddle & Torture: Volume 2” is the modern mash-up of vintage styles, in an original and unique style developed through years by this talented UK group. Diverse as much as a reggae-dub could be, this is by far their best work and most probably the current culmination of the style with enormous building potential. Upbeat and soulful colors of the album do not exclude some dark and even spooky vibes present at the very beginning in “Full of Surprises” and “Strange Feeling”.
We Are Many
Wah Wah 45s. LP/CD/Digital
As expected by any serious follower of Soothsayers, soothing and mellow sounds are again rocking all around the latest “We Are Many” LP. Development of deep musical fusion is continued more than successfully as jazzy, soul vibes are amazingly immersed into reggae and afrobeat grooves, this time going a step forward and including even some Brazillian samba grooves as well (hear “Move In Silence''). Strong anti-right political messages are also included on the top of these instrumental riddims and the album had been previously announced by beautiful 7’’ cover of “Racist Friend”. Proper blend of music with proper blend of messages.
Carry Me Home: A Reggae Tribute to Gil Scott-Heron and Brian Jackson
Montserrat House. LP/Digital
The tribute compilation to famous soul-jazz duo of Gil Scott-Heron and Brian Jackson is released by Washington DC band The Archives in collaboration with Thievery Corporation’s Eric Hilton. Numerous artists are recruited including legendary dub poet Mutabaruka and younger Addis Pablo and Kenyatta Hill (the sons of reggae legends Augustus Pablo and Culture’s Joseph Hill), to help establish this tribute in an astonishing way. Not only they succeeded but many have considered this to be the album of the reggae year. Top-quality musicianship in top-quality production.
Pop-A-Top Records. CD/Digital
The only proper rocksteady, early reggae type of album on the list as Erin Bardwell from Erin Bardwell Collective has taken an interval from normal and brought this quite raw album. Authentic old school grooves and sweet harmonies are inevitable along with some tracks that really bring the bass on (hear “Injured Arm”). Very simple in production, almost as raw as a sound of the band in a regular everyday rehearsal, but emphasizing proper parts of the music at proper moments. Emotions are there, in the right place as well.
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