Various Artists Harder Shade of Black Review

Compilation. Released 2010.  

BBC Review

If you’re fresh to the sounds of Santic this is a good place to start.

Angus Taylor 2010

In 1994 Pete Holdsworth and Adrian Sherwood’s fledgling Pressure Sounds label reissued Harder Shade of Black, the debut LP by the highly distinctive Jamaican producer Leonard ‘Santic’ Chin. Its 2010 re-mastered redux is a cheerful reminder of why their imprint has stood the test of time.

Chin released Harder Shade of Black in London in 1974, drawing on his adolescent Jamaican single releases, often starring waifish keyboardist and melodica player Augustus Pablo. Recorded mainly at Randy’s studio (and featuring squelchy dub mixes from Errol and Dennis Thompson and King Tubby) their rickety rhythms, with hacking guitar work and shuffling organ framing balletic drum-and-bass patterns, managed to sound both unwieldy and graceful all at once.

Snatches of foreign compositions melded with increasingly home-grown ideas. Gregory Isaacs’ I’ll Be Around is neither The Spinners nor the older jazz composition, but Roman Stewart does give a revival reinterpretation to US gospel pioneer Thomas Dorsey's Peace in the Valley while the title-track makes use of The Beatles’ Norwegian Wood.

To their original, augmented reissue Pressure Sounds have added six Santic productions, three of which – Pablo’s Columbo, the Santic All Stars’ Special Branch and I Don’t Want To Lose You by Paul Whiteman (who would grace Pablo's earliest production, Say So, as Paul Blackman) – appeared on their 46th release, Down Santic Way. They’ve also removed Jah Woosh’s Free Jah Jah Children, replacing it with Shouldn’t Say No, his deejay cut to Whiteman’s tune.

The scattergun selection of the 1994 edition has been replaced with a more chronologically-minded approach (Santic and Pablo recorded the hit instrumental Pablo in Dub before Horace Andy sang his Revelation-inspired vocal Children of Israel). Chin’s later, more polished if less unique-sounding works now don’t appear until the latter part of the disc.

Finally, new liner notes yield amusing reminiscences from Leonard himself, such as his falling out with Studio 1’s Coxsone Dodd over “stealing” the melody to Norwegian Wood. Pressure Sounds collectors will have most of these tracks already, but if you’re fresh to the sounds of Santic this is a good place to start.

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