Dread Operator Box Set - On U Sound - reggaerootsreview.com

Dread Operator – from the On U Sound Archives – CD Box Set

Singers & Players – Leaps & Bounds
Creation Rebel / New Age Steppers – Threat to Creation
Creation Rebel – Lows & Highs
Wild Party Sounds Vol.1

On U Sound is a massively influential UK record label who have been following their own path with distinctive and eclectic reggae releases since the early 80s. I am a big fan, ‘house band’ Dub Syndicate feature heavily in my collection and it was an Adrian Sherwood influenced album that got me into reggae. This four CD box set features some of the lesser known and earliest productions from label head and dub maestro Adrian Sherwood. These albums were originally licensed to Cherry Red Records who have collected them together for a box set release on their recently revived Hot Milk imprint. Some are sceptical of these sorts of box sets but there are no ropey compilations here, each album maintains that high bar of quality that you expect from Mr Sherwood. The set features four albums in slipcases, plus you get a booklet with an interesting essay on the background of these albums. They are not quite up there with collectors 180gm LP re-issues, but do offer an economic way of collecting some influential Sherwood releases.

For this review I am not going into a history of Adrian’s work, as that is already well documented. If you want to know more then check out the On U website for history and releases, whilst this recommended album guide from Vinyl Factory is worth a read. Instead this piece will focus on some of the best tracks from these CDs and also some of the artists that appear.

Singers & Players – Leaps & Bounds

Singers & Players - Leaps & Bounds - reggaerootsreview.comFirst up and in no particular order, we have the forth Singers & Players album Leaps & Bounds. Singers & Players released five albums and you could almost call them a reggae super group. They featured an ever changing line up which included On U regulars like Prince Far I, Bim Sherman and Style Scott. Released as a dedication to Prince Far I who had been needlessly gunned down a few months earlier, Leaps & Bounds is a beautifully varied collection. The album features the On U trademark rhythm sound, this time courtesy of Scott on drums and Errol ‘Flabba’ Holt on bass. If you like your reggae to have a religious edge then my favourite tracks, ‘Moses’ and ‘Make a Joyful Noise’ are maybe for you. Make a Joyful Noise in particular is an achingly beautiful track. The vulnerable vocals from singer Congo Ashanti Roy give it the sound of a hymn. I like the big upfront bass sound, which is very prominent in the mix. The bass and vocals sound like they are having a conversation, a biblical Q&A.

Creation Rebel – Lows & Highs

Creation Rebel like Singers & Players, were a collection of musicians who were part of the Sherwood family. They acted as a backing band for Prince Far I under the name of the Arabs and featured on his Cry Tuff Dub Encounter Chapter 1 album and also backed him live. This set has a less experimental feel than Leaps and Bounds but is still a nice collection of reggae dub tunes.  Highlight for me is final track Read and Learn, it’s worth picking up this album just for that track. It has a more ethereal sound than the rest of the album, again biblical in tone due to the delicate vocals from (I believe) Bim Sherman. The layers of sound are beautiful and topped off by Keith Levene’s icy, minimal guitar work. More well know for his work with Public Image Limited, it’s interesting to hear what a ‘rock’ guitarist can add to a reggae record. Keith’s style instantly jumps out as it doesn’t quite sound like traditional reggae guitar. The track is all the better for it though and a nice symbol of Adrian’s experimentation.

Creation Rebel - Lows & Highs - reggaerootsreview.comCreation Rebel / New Age Steppers – Threat to Creation

Threat to Creation is probably the hardest album of the box to get into. It has an industrial, minimalist sound that is miles away from the sun-drenched shores of Jamaica. This is reggae for the urban greyness that was 80s London. That is not to say that this album isn’t good. Tracks like Eugenic Device are excellent and feature a very hypnotic bass line and guitar riffs reminiscent of 70s spy films, it’s great stuff. What is interesting about these productions is that you don’t get regular vocals. What voices there are, contribute sounds rather than words, the voice is used as another stripped back instrument. Painstaker is another highlight, the track reminds me of water. The long opening keyboard riff sounds likes continuous running water, merging into the drips of the harsh drum beats. This is atmospheric reggae at its best!

Wild Party Sounds

I will leave you to discover the final part of this box set for yourself, compilation Wild Party Sounds, although the Jah Woosh track Woodpecker Sound is a marvellous off beat song. This Cherry Red release does a good job of pulling together some of Adrian Sherwood’s early productions. It is highly recommended not just for the many great tracks, but as a showcase of some of the best reggae musicians working during this period. It’s not always accessible, but certainly lives up to the On U message of ‘Disturbing the Comfortable, Comforting the Disturbed’. Adrian is one of our greatest producers, music wouldn’t be the same with out him and I know a lot of you reading this have been influenced by his wonderful releases. The box is available from the Cherry Red website and all good retailers, pick up a copy and enrich your life.

I hope you like this review, any comments or feedback will be gratefully received. The On U sound story is long and intricate, so apologies if the odd fact has gone array, it’s quite a jigsaw! Please give this a Facebook share if you can….. Paper Lion x

Join the conversation! 1 Comment

  1. Inside you’ll find four studio albums from Adrian Sherwood’s On-U Sound label, including the fourth instalment of the Singers Players series, two Creation Rebel albums and the other planetary compilation of industrial reggae experiments, Wild Paarty Sounds Vol.

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