CD Review of Version Dread: 18 Dub Hits from Studio One by Various Artists

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Version Dread: 18 Dub Hits from Studio One
starstarstarstarno star Label: Rounder
Released: 2006
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If you know what reggae musicians mean by "version," skip to the next paragraph. If you don't, here are the Cliffs notes: Rap artists today legally co-opt their samples. That comes after a decade of the original artists recovering what's theirs in the court system. Because of this, most fans and critics view heavily sampled rap hits as covers of the originals – or at least covers on steroids. Before that, there was illegal sampling. Before that, we all saw sampling – legal and not – as a new art form, kind of like we do today's noncommercial mash-up mp3s (think Afrika Bambaata's innovative "Planet Rock" with its Kraftwerk backbone, or Run-D.M.C. enlisting Aerosmith for their remake of "Walk This Way"). Before that, there was dub reggae, long instrumental versions of reggae hits reserved for the B-side, loaded with weird echo-y effects, popularized in Kingston clubs and brought to American shores by European punks and ska bands groups like the English Beat and Clash, who revered the Jamaican originals. Still with me? Version was the original invention from which dub evolved.

Rappers and DJs owe their livelihood to version artists, and some of the finest version records showed up on Studio One Records, an early Jamaican reggae/ska label that would be the rough equivalent of Columbia, Sub Pop, Sire, and Warner Bros. if it existed in the United States. Since the label hosted many of the biggest reggae hits of the 1960s and 1970s, it also owned the version remixes. The cuts featured on this handpicked mix – Rounder's got the keys to the Studio One vault and is releasing disc after disc of tasty soul-drenched original reggae – are not clean. They don't feature any digital technology, just overdubbed originals with some funky sound effects and few vocals, so you can concentrate on swaying and the pretty pretty lights of the club while making romance with your baby. Most of the stuff won't be familiar, save "Armagideon Version," covered by the Clash ("A lot of people won't get no supper tonight…A lot of people won't get no justice tonight").

But don't let that scare you away, this is tasty stuff, and you can hear the original riddims and harmonies from which later reggae dinosaurs such as Bob Marley and Peter Tosh used to create their own mega hits. The Sound Dimension – Studio One's house band that was just seminal to reggae as Memphis’ Booker T and his Motown peers the Funk Brothers were to American soul – performed on many of the tracks, infusing the tracks with soul melodies and perfect harmonies. And lots of funky, spacey sounds that Fatboy Slim can only wish he could reproduce with all his computer wizardry. Dance club and reggae fans, DJs and hip-hop mixmasters, this is must-have material for your CD collections, even though it might not seem readily obvious from the cover and low-key Rounder release. It's obscure but classic-fantastic tuneage that probably will go out of print if you let things slide too long.

~Mojo Flucke, PhD