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Album Review

Dennis Bovell's influence on '70s U.K. music goes far beyond his punk-related production liaisons, or his role as Linton Kwesi Johnson's producer/bandleader with Dennis Bovell and Dub Band. He was central to the development of British reggae as a distinct sound, both with his group Matumbi, and as a producer, and the kind of dub and instrumental excursions on Decibel: More Cuts From Dennis Bovell 1976-1983 laid the foundation for Adrian Maxwell Sherwood and Mad Professor to emerge in the '80s.

Decibel is a strong example of British reggae emerging as a distinct form — it's not the Channel One or Studio One rhythm cops with a new melody or instruments flung on top, but a parallel roots sound from a different place and space. It's denser, with full basslines and the band playing longer melody lines than the 'Ja' norm that reflects the influence of U.K. pop. "The Grunwick Affair" and "Harmonizer Dub" show this isn't strip-down-and-drop-out dub so much as flesh-out and fill-in the middle with lots of little details floating through, and dub-wise studio tricks applied to the instruments (and the latter doesn't even work that well because the recording is so static).

"Dominion Dub" works off a melodic guitar hook and effects overkill on top before going to skipping-along-in-the-park reggae — it gets down to bass and drums in a different way, while "Rowing" is pretty classic in its use of space and heavy reverb over a skeletal riff hook. Many tracks, like "Zombie Zones," are well-developed instrumentals with some dub touches (more than dub per se), and even "Zion Dub" is both fuller and edgier than the 'Ja' norm.

"Higher Ranking" starts with jazz-tinged guitar, and develops a sunny afternoon, easy skanking feel as sax trades off with the guitar — it's a reminder of Bovell's finely honed pop sensibility. "Shi-cago" works harmonica into that sunny afternoon feel, and it makes for a very smooth transition into the strong melodica driving "None Jah Jah Children."

"Entebbe" works off phat skanks before a nice horn line adds the missing melodic link and a trombone solo takes over to carry it home, but then "Scientific" is all drums and dub-sonic weirdness. "Ah Fi Wi Dis" is classic dub with militant, triumphant horn surges, and ragged-but-right punctuation blats with Bovell's bass at the fore, while "Blood Ah Go Run" features vocals and plenty of effects on a pretty striking repatriation anthem.

Not all the tracks are as memorable, but Decibel is an excellent, varied sample of early British reggae, and easily the best Dennis Bovell disc out there (in part because he's only been reissuing his music in original LP form, and 30 minutes of music ain't a great value-for-the-money deal in this CD age). Now, if Bovell or anyone else would get around to reissuing his 1982 double LP, Brain Damage, which really lives up to its name for mind-boggling dub wizardry. ~Don Snowden, Rovi


Born: 22 May 1953 in St. Peter, Barbados

Genre: Reggae

Years Active: '70s, '80s, '90s, '00s, '10s

Born in Barbados in 1953, reggae guitarist Dennis Bovell (sometimes known simply as Blackbeard) was one of the key figures on the London reggae scene of the late '70s and early '80s, not only as a solo artist but also as a producer. The band Bovell co-founded in the mid-'70s, Matumbi, was one of England's first self-contained reggae bands, and also one of the best; in addition, Bovell released several albums of solo dub experiments, which often featured jazz-pop keyboardist Nick Straker and producer...
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Decibel, Dennis Bovell
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