Raw – “Raw” (1990)

I picked this up on a lark not realizing its connections to one of my favorite labels, On-U Sound. Raw is Keith LeBlanc, a percussionist and producer who’s had a remarkable career. You know, little stuff like being one of the core musicians that was part of Sugarhill and Tommy Boy, performing with artists like Sugarhill Gang and Grandmaster Flash & the Furious Five, from there being a member of Fats Comet, Tackhead, and Mark Stewart‘s backing band Maffia, and later getting production credits with projects like NIN. No big deal, just a consistent track record of being on the cutting edge of music. Nothing to see here.

Raw was one of LeBlanc’s solo projects, one that only produced this single album in 1990 (he was also releasing solo material as DJ Spike during this period). The overall On-U vibe is all over this record, with Adrian Sherwood in the booth and performers like Gary Clail and African Head Charge‘s Bonjo Iyabinghi Noah joining in on some tracks. Man, this thing is right in my sonic wheelhouse – electronics, dub, vocals that are a cross of singing and rapping, and just a dash of industrial. Interestingly half the album’s eight tracks are remixes of songs from LeBlanc’s 1988 album Stranger Than Fiction, a record he put out under his own name.

I can’t get enough of Raw. This is going to make it into the Gary Clail / Tackhead / Fats Comet rotation that I sometimes find myself embracing, and I’m going to need to track down some of LeBlanc’s other projects as well.

Audio Active – “Robot War” 12″ (1997)

Sometimes fate forces you to buy a record. A few weeks back we were in Hiroshima, Japan with plans of stopping at Dumb Records. When we got there they weren’t open yet so we decided to head back up to the main street and just wander around for a bit, but then right there on the corner we spotted the sign for Stereo Records and figured we’d just go check them out first. Stereo Records is a great shop – small like most record stores in Japan, but well organized and full of awesome stuff. I pulled a 12″ called Robot War out of the Japanese Pop/Rock section simply because it looked interesting, and imagine my surprise when I flipped it over and saw that it was recorded at On-U Sound and produced by none other than Adrian Sherwood. My love for all things On-U is not a secret, and this just seemed like the perfect conjunction of events, as if the universe was trying to tell me that I needed this record. And who am I to argue with the universe?

A blend of dub reggae and electronica, Sherwood’s fingerprints can be felt all over Robot War. And is that Gary Clail I hear repeated saying “Robot War” throughout the song? He isn’t credited, but it sure sounds like him and he would have been hanging out doing other stuff at On-U during this period. The B side track “Stiff Wheel” puts aside any notions of reggae and instead comes at you like a cosmic dub space jam, the strong bass line keeping the beat while everything else flares off all around like a fireworks display. Some classic On-U stuff.

Gary Clail/On-U Sound System – “End of the Century Party” (1989)

So the other night I was swilling some Jack Daniels and poking around on Discogs. That can often be a dangerous combination, one that results in me waking up in the morning and wondering, “did I buy some records last night?” Fortunately I don’t get too crazy when this happens (♠), and my most recent episode only resulted in the purchase of one record for around $11, which included shipping. I had been looking at Gary Clail‘s page and realized that he was also credited on a separate page as Gary Clail/On-U Sound System, which is how I came to discover a Clail album I didn’t have – 1989s End of the Century Party.

This album looks like Clail and producer Adrian Sherwood simply put out an all-call to everyone they knew and invited them to come jam. Clail gets writer credits on all eight tracks, with Sherwood as co-writer on six of them (credited as A. Maxwell), but form there it’s a mix of performers. Clail splits vocal duties with Bim Sherman and Andy Fairly, while no less than five different people are credited with playing bass (including Jah Wobble), three on keyboards, and another three on various types of percussion. It’s a team effort and that comes across in the songs, which vary in their approach to vocalized EDM.

Stylistically End of the Century Party flows between EDM to light industrial to Barmy Army-like Oi! to dub reggae, and Clail sticks to his guns with some politically charged lyrics as he’s wont to do. It came out at the end of the decade, and also at the end of what I find to be Clail’s best period of work, 1985-89. Definitely a worthwhile pick-up.

(♠) Unlike my buddy Greg who, years ago, woke up one morning to find that he had bought a used limousine on eBay. Fortunately it ran and he made the best out of having it for a bit.

Gary Clail / On-U Sound System – “Emotional Hooligan” (1991)

I’ve been on a bit of a Gary Clail kick recently. I mentioned on a Facebook group the other day that I couldn’t believe it took me this long to “discover” Clail and the other On-U kids, and another poster astutely pointed out that was to my benefit since all his stuff seems very readily available at used record stores, and for cheap prices. Two very solid points. I picked up 1991s Emotional Hooligan on our recent trip to Portland, and I think it might have set me back about five bucks. A serious bargain.

Emotional Hooligan is heavily influenced by dub, and producer Adrian Sherwood keeps the whole thing sounding funky and unique. Right from the opening dub reggae style riddims of “Food, Clothes And Shelter” he sets the tone of the record, and Clail’s weird sort of rapping style of delivery makes it a unique experience. That song and the title track “Emotional Hooligan” are my two favorites, and probably not coincidentally both were also remixed by Paul Oakenfold and Steve Osborne.

I need to get some of this Clail, Tackhead, and On-U stuff on mp3s so I can load them onto my iPod, because it’s some great stuff. I enjoyed 1987s Tackhead Tape Time so much that I burned it to mp3 right from my vinyl copy, and I might just need to do the same with Emotional Hooligan.

Gary Clail’s Tackhead Sound System – “Tackhead Tape Time” (1987)

“I need to get to the bottom of this whole Gary Clail situation.”

This is the kind of thing you can say to someone when you’ve lived with them for 20+ years, and they just respond with “OK.”

I bought Tackhead Tape Time at Neptoon Records on our recent trip to Vancouver. I’ve written about Gary Clail before, and

Tackhead Tape Time isn’t fancy. It’s sampled beats with sampled vocal clips, with intermittent Gary Clail singing/rapping over the top. The vocal samples are news casts, songs, movies, and Martin Luther King Jr speeches. For some reason I love it. The way it comes together. The blending of music and audio clips. By far the best song is “Reality” with its repetitive “In my life / In my dream…”

How do you describe an album like this? The beats, the samples? I don’t know. But for some reason this style of music appeals to me, yet I don’t seem to actively pursue it. It’s not industrial… it’s not hip hop… it’s not electronic… But sometimes it just seems to come my way, which is fortunate for me.

Holly says it goes good with cocktails and carmel corn. And I think she’s right. Clail supposedly has a new album coming out at the end of the month, and I for one will be buying it.