(Reviews by Steve Shafer)
- Despite having been Studio One's trombonist-in-residence following the tragic death of Don Drummond, and performing on hundreds of key recordings for top ska and reggae acts (including Lee "Scratch" Perry, Bob Marley, Burning Spear, The Heptones, The Ethiopians, Culture, Big Youth, Horace Andy, Mad Professor, Mighty Diamonds, Bob Andy, Keith Hudson, Augustus Pablo, Max Romeo, King Tubby, The Skatalites, Tommy McCook and the Supersonics, Alton Ellis, The Revolutionaries, Aswad, and many more), Vin Gordon's public profile has never quite matched that of his peers Drummond and Rico Rodriquez (he's only mentioned a few times in Steve Barrow and Peter Dalton's Reggae The Rough Guide and Colin Larkin's The Virgin Encyclopedia of Reggae for playing on other people's records--and doesn't even have his own entry in either book; while Gordon's nickname "Don D., Jr." is meant to be complimentary, perhaps it has kept him trapped in Drummond's shadow). Many ska and reggae fans know his trombone sound, but not his name. Recent collaborations with producers/musicians Al Breadwinner and Nat Birchall--including last year's superb African Shores (read my review of it)--have helped to rectify this situation, and Studio 16's reissue of Vin Gordon's masterful 1980 debut album Way Over Yonder (vinyl LP, Studio 16) should seal the deal. Produced by Errol "ET" Thompson (who also was the recording engineer on much of Rico's Rico Jama a few years later), backed by a fantastic band including Lloyd Parks, Sly Dunbar, Winston Wright, Bobby Ellis, and Tommy McCook, and released on Joe Gibbs Music, Way Over Yonder is a brilliant instrumental reggae album that makes judicious use of solos to show off Gordon's incredible chops without overpowering his bandmates' excellent performances. In addition to Jamaican jazz versions of standards like "Easy Living" and Lovable You," this album features two amazing medleys, "Fiddler Rock" (AKA the "Swing Easy" riddim, which is the song "Tradition" from Fiddler on the Roof) with "Real Rock" (Gordon plays on the original Sound Dimension riddim; ET adds some ocean wave effects that work quite well); and the standards "Summer Time" and "Blue Moon." Gordon also covers one of Don Drummond's greatest compositions "Green Callie" (AKA "Green Island"), as well as his "Confucious"--and there's a lovely original by Errol Thompson, the title track "Way Over Yonder." This album has been out of print for years--original pressings are almost impossible to find, so make sure to grab a copy now. Gordon's Way Over Yonder deserves an honored spot in your collection right next to Rico's Rico Jama and Drummond's The Best of Don Drummond.
- Anyone who picked up Little Roy's Battle for Seattle--an album of phenomenal roots reggae Nirvana covers produced by Prince Fatty and Mutant Hi-Fi (read my review of it)--knows that since Kurt Cobain and co's songs contain great, enduring melodies at their core, they're ripe for being recast within wildly different musical genres. Japan's Park Rangers' new single "Smells Like Teen Spirit" (vinyl single, Parktone Records, 2020; available through Juno Records), which Little Roy didn't cover, is a terrific companion piece to Roy's LP for fans who want more of this. Park Rangers' skinhead reggae version of this grunge-pop staple channels Jackie Mittoo and Winston Wright--so much so that you'd think that the copyright on the label is dated 1969. The flip side is a stripped down reggae take on Kool and the Gang's 1974 hit instrumental "Summer Madness" (one of the most sampled R and B hits of all time) that keeps the original's signature synth washes and multi-octave upward glissandi. There are cool Japanese spoken word bits in the mix, too. On a related note, in 2016 Park Rangers (AKA Inokasira Rangers) released an awesome digital album full of instrumental skinhead reggae covers of classic punk and post-punk cuts called Rangers Patrol 1977~1982 UK! Highlights include their versions of The Clash's "(White Man) In Hammersmith Palais," Dexys Midnight Runners' "Geno," The Undertones' "Teenage Kicks," The Buzzcocks' "What Do I Get," Ian Dury and the Blockheads' "Sex and Drugs and Rock'n'Roll," The Jams' "The Bitterest Pill," and their extraordinary deconstructed cover of The Damned's "Neat Neat Neat," which is Prince Buster meets James Brown and The Upsetters.
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