Never Thought / Version – Renaldo Domino / xRob Black
Think Again! / Lunar Report – Lone Ranger / xRob Black
Happy As A Lark – 7” singles, digital download
I am a big fan of the current vogue for souly/ska crossover releases. The pinnacle for me was the beautiful, emotional and incredibly poignant album by The Frightnrs called ‘Nothing More to Say’. (You can read more about that absolute gem of an album in my review, and if you are not familiar with The Frightnrs, do check it out.)
Taking a ska/rocksteady beat and combining it with a silky voiced soul singer is not a new thing, but these modern takes on the style seem to work perfectly. When you consider the development of Caribbean music and that time before the Islands found their own voice, it was American RnB drifting over the airwaves that provided early influences. So it’s no wonder that there is a natural fit between the genres.
This review features an interesting guy called Anthony Abbinanti and the Chicago based record label he runs called Happy As A Lark. His two new singles ‘Never Thought’ and ‘Think Again’ are now in the shops and are perfect examples of mixing together the best of each sound.
Happy As A Lark
I caught up with Anthony to find out a little more about the background of the label (I do like to know what motivates music lovers!). Growing up in Chicago, Anthony had to work to develop his love of Jamaican music. Although there some good reggae shops, like the long gone Studio 1 Records and Conquering Lion Records, as a young teenager they weren’t yet on his radar. I shall let him explain. “I got into reggae through the ska-craze of the 90s. I had just started high school when it had reached a level of ‘underground accessible’ but was still not mainstream.”
“I also fancied myself a jazz fan and so always gravitated more towards the ‘traditional’ ska, usually played by more musically accomplished artists. Most record shops I visited back then lumped all ‘ethnic’ music into the ‘international’ bin, so that’s where I would hunt for ska albums.”
“So mostly I would only turn up not-so-great releases from the 80s by The Skatalites and Toots, but every once in a while I would find albums by intriguing artists with names like ‘Yellowman’ and ‘Prince Far I’, or albums enigmatically titled ‘Night Food’ and ‘Two Sevens Clash’. Being a student of music, I would research these as best I could (pre-Google), but this is how my love affair with reggae music began.”
I find that the motivation behind starting a label tends to be a way that owners can showcase their musicianship or production skills. Anthony seems to have followed that path. “Happy As A Lark was a natural next-step in what I had been doing musically. Over the last 15 years I’ve been building up a studio to record my band(s) as well as friends’ bands and like-minded folks. Most of the groups I had been playing with are largely disbanded now, but I still have the bug to create and share music – so it just seemed logical to focus more on studio output and then construct a vehicle to get it out (basically, something that didn’t rely on touring).”
Labour of Love
Like most labels I feature in this blog, they are a labour of love, you certainly don’t go into it expecting to become a millionaire! One of the most difficult things is choosing what you think your audience may like. This is something Anthony obviously mulls over. “It’s a perpetual struggle to know what is going to sell, what is going to excite people. We’re doing niche music in an even niche-er format (7″ records). And if there’s one thing I’ve noticed it’s that the reggae vinyl community does not embrace new releases with the same fervour that the soul vinyl community does. New boogie/funk/soul 7″s are in hot demand, however there seems to be a distinction with reggae vinyl heads, that they only want vintage. There’s nothing wrong with that, it just means we have to search harder for our audience.”
Despite the uncertainty of what release is going click, Anthony I think has got it just right with these two singles. Both are built from the same tune, but they offer enough variation to make them both must haves. The main track ‘Never Thought’ is pure liquid gold. Chicago soul legend Renaldo Domino was recruited to voice this track and his falsetto vocals give the song a proper dreamy feel to it.
If you are going to succeed with this style then you have wear your heart on your sleeve and sing and play with convincing emotion. Never Thought does this and you would have to have a hard heart not to be swept along in its wake.
The second A side features a more deejay led version, courtesy of singer Lone Ranger. The production, courtesy of xRob Black, is more playful with some echoes and effects thrown in to give it a more boisterous edge. The B side ‘Lunar Report’ is also a cracking tune, different from the others in that it is a bouncy full on ska monster with a space feel to it. Think ‘Telstar’ by The Tornados given the ska treatment.
Anthony Abbinanti is another label owner who deserves some kind of medal. It is the love of music that drives these guys and girls and the music scene would be a poorer place without them. The singles will be available on May 14th direct from the Happy As A Lark Bandcamp site. Go buy, particulary if you like your coloured vinyl, it makes sense…
Cheers, Paper Lion
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