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Riding Strange Horses

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Album Review

The third full-length by Swiss reggae quartet Dub Spencer & Trance Hill is one of the more outrageous offerings of 2009 — even if few outside of Europe heard it. Riding Strange Horses is a covers album in dub. While not a strange premise, a single listen will leave listeners shaking their heads in disbelief at the act's outrageousness — and more than once have them laughing out loud. The band chooses tunes culled from movie soundtracks, teen anthems of post-1980 Europe, some underground classics, some punk and post-punk numbers, and a few kitsch selections. What’s more, for the sake of “authenticity,” they enlisted, wherever possible, original vocalists to either re-record their vocals or in some cases merely scored permission to use the originals in these new versions. And are they new! The set begins with a solid dubwise reading of Ennio Morricone's “Man with a Harmonica” and is followed with a stretched version of the Clash’s "London Calling." Next up, they flew in Martha Johnson (of Martha & the Muffins) to re-record “Echo Beach.” They do a deeply dread dub on Falco's “Jeanny,” and bring in Ken Boothe and Lee "Scratch" Perry for versions of reggae classics “When I Fall in Love” and “Blackboard Jungle,” respectively. They enlist the Catch to re-record “25 Years,” done in bass-heavy dread style. A Swiss vocalist fronts the band on its deep Rastasized version of Deep Purple's "Smoke on the Water,” and they resurrect the ghost of Malcolm Owen of the Ruts on a wildly stretched version of “West One (Shine on Me)." The pairing of a reggae version of Metallica's “Enter Sandman” back to back with a ganja-cooked version of Genesis’ “Mama” is hysterical. The biggest surprise here is cover of M's hit “Pop Muzik,” with original vocalist Robin Scott fronting the quartet. Certainly, a healthy dose of irony and some good-natured winking are involved with many of the tracks here, but that doesn’t make it a novelty album. It's a welcome breath of fresh air that simultaneously heats up the “authenticity” debates in Euro-reggae circles.

Riding Strange Horses, Dub Spencer & Trance Hill
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