Monday, January 4, 2016

Trojan Dub Box Set, Volume One

Anyone with more than a casual interest in dub, the effects-laden form of reggae music that puts the emphasis on the instrumental portion as a "version" of a track, has to have some experience with the amazing catalog of the form put out by Trojan Records.

The label was an imprint of Chris Blackwell's Island Records back in the late Sixties, founded by an associate of Blackwell named Lee Gopthal, and produced recordings of some major reggae figures, like its namesake "Duke" Reid, who was often called "Trojan" early in his career, as well as the Upsetters, Jimmy Cliff, and Desmond Dekker, among many others.

The association with Island ended after a few years, but Trojan soldiered on, though it struggled for years until the early 80s ska revival gave a brief resurgence to the label.  In 1985, an accountant and fan named Colin Newman (not the singer of the great British band, Wire) bought Trojan and put a focus on its voluminous and rich back catalog.

The major label, Sanctuary, paid a pretty price for Trojan in 1990, and it was under that owner that a series of budget, three-disc box sets mining the catalog were issued.  The first of the dub sets came out in 1998, with a second following two years later.  In 2007, Sanctuary was acquired by Universal Music Group and then the Trojan label went to BMG, where it now resides.

The first volume is packed with 50 prime dub tracks from such figures as legendary drummer Sly Dunbar and The Revoluntaries; the Aggrovators, the Upsetters, Gregory Isaacs, Scientist, King Tubby, Roots Radics, the Observers, and more.

All the hallmarks of great dub are here--the prominence of largely deep-grooving bass as the melodic centerpiece, the particularly distinctive use of drums and other percussion to ornament the bass with remarkable rhythms, and the heavily distorted remixing of these instruments and guitars, horns and others with often otherworldly vocal samples.

The version of the box owned by this blogger is a demo one, so there was no cover art, just cards for each disc that provided part of an overall story of Trojan's history.  It's very brief and general and could be useful for those coming to dub for the first time or with limited experience.

Dub is one of the few forms of music for this listener that can accompany so many different activities--at work, driving, doing work out in the yard or in the house, exercising, or whatever.  When it comes to some of the choicest examples of the genre available at a great price and providing such a great overview, it's hard to imagine something topping the Trojan Dub Box Set series.

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