This is a monthly series of album reviews I will be doing for DVL Audio here in Canada. I’ll be heading out to a local record store in Vancouver, digging through the bins, and coming up with an intriguing LP to discuss here on Part-Time Audiophile. I’ll never go out with something in mind beforehand, and there is no criteria for whether it’s a new album, an old album, an out-of-print LP, electronic, classical, jazz, punk – whatever – it just has to sound good to me.
I’ll come up with as much of the backstory as I can research, and include a small audio sample for listening. I hope you enjoy reading the reviews as much as I enjoy doing them.
If you’re ever curious about just how low your system can go, grab a dub album that Jamaican recording engineer, and producing ubër legend King Tubby (Osbourne Ruddock) had a hand firmly on. Ruddock was a seminal player in the Jamaican dub, and reggae scene for many years (often credited with inventing the concept of the remix). Partnering with the likes of producer Bunny Lee, dub mixer Prince Jammy, producer, and keyboardist (melodico) Augustus Pablo, engineering protégé Scientist, and dub, and fellow remix pioneer Lee “Scratch” Perry – all legends of the dub, and reggae music scene in Jamaica in the ’60s, ’70s, and ’80s, Ruddock’s was a sound that defined a generation of artists from the small Caribbean country, and around the world.
I’d heard a lot of King Tubby over the years at warehouse parties, old-school clubs, reggae-head friend’s places, and on college radio late at night, so I’m no noob when it comes to the stripped-down, bass, and drum-heavy riddims that helped make Ruddock famous. The predominant lack of vocals on most of his tracks, or the heavily echoed, and reverb’d vocals that did make it through on one of his cuts only added to the spectral, beat-infused vibe that was a signature to his sound in my opinion.
So when I saw the epic 1976 collaboration album between Ruddock, and Pablo “King Tubbys Meets Rockers Uptown” at local shop Dandelion Records, I stopped in my tracks, and possessively grabbed the LP in unwarranted fear lest some long arm try to pry it from my grip. The album was in excellent condition (not often for dub LPs), with the jacket near pristine in it’s mid-seventies colour palette.
Ruddock is often referred to by music industry insiders as having lifted the role of the studio mixing engineer to a level of fame previously only enjoyed by musicians, and composers. Cited as being a major influence in numerous genres of music – especially dance – with his role as the progenitor of remixing, dub singer Mikey Dread is quoted as saying Ruddock “… truly understood sound in a scientific sense. He knew how the circuits worked and what the electrons did. That’s why he could do what he did.”
For those unfamiliar with dub, Wikipedia conveniently sums it up thusly:
Dub is a genre of music that grew out of reggae in the 1960s, and is commonly considered a subgenre, though it has developed to extend beyond the scope of reggae. Music in this genre consists predominantly of instrumental remixes of existing recordings and is achieved by significantly manipulating and reshaping the recordings, usually by removing the vocals from an existing music piece, and emphasizing the drum and bass parts (this stripped-down track is sometimes referred to as a riddim). Other techniques include dynamically adding extensive echo, reverb, panoramic delay, and occasional dubbing of vocal or instrumental snippets from the original version or other works. It was an early form of popular electronic music.
So, you’ve got some background on Tubby, you’ve got the 411 on dub, and now you’re probably wondering what the record sounds like?
As soon as I dropped the needle into the groove of Keep On Dubbing I didn’t have to wonder whether I had just shaken my neighbour’s martinis for them. The Audio Note AN-E/SPe HE loudspeakers I use are rated for 18 Hz (+/- 6dB) of bass response, and I felt that this cut was hitting the ocean floor of what my system could produce for bottom end in my listening space. Bobby Ellis’ trumpet was hitting a long-stride golden tone of brassy wail down the left-hand side, while the subterranean bass licks of Robert (Robby) Shakespear and Aston (Family Man) Barret Leroy kept nicely defined down the middle. Carlton (Carlie) Barret’s percussive snare snaps, and stick work had sheen, and shimmer up top with heavily echo’d, and reverb’d space all around them. The sparse organ playing of Pablo helped set the pace for a downtempo dub ride that got my head excessively bobbing as I followed the groove.
Dynamics were outstanding on this US pressing, with minimal surface noise after running it through my Okki-Nokki record cleaning machine, and let’s be fair, as this is a 41-year-old record. While not the thickest black disc, I’d say it weighed in at the 140g mark.
Recorded Audio Sample Below:
Each One Dub lights up with moody, long-play organ noodling courtesy of Pablo that has layered echo’d vocals plaintively wailing over Barret’s tight drumming that once again gets the door from the studio thrown open onto a cavernous dancehall courtesy of Tubby’s reverb-heavy hand on the mixing board.
The title track – which is a dub version of the cut Baby I Love You So, by Jacob Miller – pumps up the tempo, and lays on percussive-heavy high hat, and snare splashes to drive the song forward with Miller’s sparse, sampled lyrics fading in, and out. Snatches of laughter are thrown deep into the 3D-Vee of the mix between the speakers, and are interspersed with moog-heavy effects, and high falsetto keyboarding which rang clear, and bright but never wavered into hot, which is a bit of hallmark of some of Tubby’s dub tracks I’ve heard on other systems over the years. Here – with the still breaking-in EMT VM low-output cartridge running through my Audio Note SUT and into a NOS-tube equipped moving magnet phono stage in my Soro Phono SE integrated – it was smooth, and harmonically pleasing without losing any impact, or slam.
This is an album guaranteed to get you swaying in your listening chair, and while completely worthy of listening to in a critical fashion for solo enjoyment of the sonics, and outstanding production value, this is an LP that for me goes on during chill conversational sessions with friends, or when I’m cooking something slow, and easy like my signature chicken thighs, and pasta. Also, this LP goes seriously low – I wasn’t kidding earlier – so be forewarned if you’ve got a system that can reproduce the lowest octaves, and you’ve got the volume turned up: It will shake the window panes. Heralded by Allmusic in their review as “absolutely essential” I can only parrot this remark because I have to say if you want to buy only one dub album, make it this one.
Associated equipment for listening session:
- EMT JSD VM low-output cartridge
- Thales TTT Slim-II turntable
- Audio Note AN-S2 Step-Up Transformer
- Audio Note Soro Phono SE Signature integrated amplifer
- Audio Note AN-E/SPe HE loudspeakers
- Audio Note Lexus/AN-V interconnects and speaker cables
- Audio Note ISIS AC/Mains cables
- PS Audio P10 Power Regenerator
- Entreq Olympus Tellus grounding box/cables