Sly & Robbie Blackwood Dub Review

Released 2012.  

BBC Review

A great and unexpected comeback from the ever-reliable, always inspirational dub duo.

David Katz 2012

The unbeatable drum and bass partnership of Sly Dunbar and Robbie Shakespeare has been an unsurpassed institution in Jamaican popular music for over 35 years. Dub has always been a big part of the picture, and many a dubhead has long lamented that the digitisation of Jamaican music in the mid-1980s ultimately sounded the death knell of the dub album.

Overseas practitioners have since tried to emulate the vintage 1970s dub vibe, but no one has pulled it off convincingly. The reason why Sly and Robbie dub albums such as Gamblers Choice, Raiders of the Lost Dub and Syncopation sounded so great is that they featured the inimitable sound of the Rhythm Twins at work in Jamaica; the dubs they cut at Compass Point are equally compelling, even if they drew from disco, funk and electro.

Nostalgic dubheads now have plenty of reason to rejoice, thanks to the totally unexpected appearance of Blackwood Dub, a new Sly and Robbie dub album, recorded at Harry J studio in Jamaica and mixed down at the nearby Mixing Lab. The brainchild of perceptive producer Alberto ‘Burur’ Blackwood (who has worked with conscious dancehall star Chezidek and reggae veteran Horace Andy, among others), the album seeks to recreate the feeling of a vintage Sly and Robbie dub disc.

Any scepticism about the concept will immediately vanish, once one hears the opening bars of Dirty Flirty: this is as meaty and three-dimensional as anything on Gamblers Choice. Although the tracks are not obviously linked to vocal work, the track Burru Saturday is the kind of complex rhythmic stew that we always expect from these heroes, while The Bomber has the kind of mushroom-cloud syndrum sound that only Sly Dunbar seems capable of conjuring.

Sometimes the album really does sound like a Channel One session of yesteryear: Riding East could easily fit on Raiders of the Lost Dub, and Ruff House could easily have been a Taxi 12-inch B side. Check the credits, and it makes even more sense: here are Mikey Chung and Sticky Thompson from the Compass Point All Stars and former Black Uhuru member Daryl Thompson, plus long-time cronies such as Skully, Ansel Collins, Robbie Lyn, and Dalton Browne – all top-notch musicians who each bring something great to the plate.

This is a thoroughly enjoyable dub set that sounds fantastic on first spin and even better on subsequent spins. The hat is tipped to the ever-dependable duo for making it so great, and for Burur for having the vision to request it.

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