“Melodica Melodies” Compilation (1981)

Augustus Pablo made me a fan of that most ridiculous of instruments, the melodica, that strange combination of a woodwind instrument and a kazoo and a piano necktie. It’s absurd, but when you play some reggae riddims with it… magic happens. So when I saw this 1981 collection of melodica reggae tunes the other day I had to buy it, both because it was all melodica all the time and frankly because it’s a vintage reggae record; not sure about the music scene where you live, but up here in Seattle most 1980s and earlier reggae comes to you via reissues.

I decided to play Melodica Melodies tonight because at 7PM my living room feels like Jamaica. After a crazy wet and cold winter that even had Seattle natives complaining about the rain, we’ve been in a warm dry spell and right now it’s 81 degrees in my living room and more than a bit humid. If it gets any hotter the vinyl will warp.

The songs on this comp are a combination of dub tunes and straight reggae… though even the reggae jams are more musical than vocal. It’s everything you’d expect it to be, and that’s exactly what I need on a hot night with a cool drink. Melodica Melodies is a smooth chill trip, and well worth checking out.

Ranking Trevor & Trinity – “Three Piece Chicken & Chips” (1978)

In general, I find I can’t go wrong with random reggae and dub purchases. So this 1978 split release featuring Ranking Trevor and Trinity was a no-brainer for $10 today over at my local haunt, Vortex.

My copy is on blue vinyl and appears identical to the black vinyl original posted on Discogs other than the color of the vinyl and labels. Is it also period from 1978, or some kind of re-release or something unofficial? I don’t know… The quality and wear of the jacket certainly appear dated, and it looks to be a punch-out based on the hole in the upper right, something I wouldn’t expect to see on a bootleg or unofficial version. But I can’t be sure. Not that it matters, because these are some great jams.

Each artist contributes five track to the record and most of them have at least some dub influence, though overall Ranking Trevor’s stuff feels like it’s more heavily dubbed than does Trinity’s. Trinity’s “Judgement Day” borrows heavily from The Temptations’ “Get Ready”, though the samples could come from a different version since so many artists have covered that song over the years. Sly and Robbie contribute bass and drums to some of the tracks, and all in all Three Piece Chicken & Chips is a solid slow burner, one perfect for chilling.

Eddie Grant – “Killer on the Rampage” (1982)

For about two months in 1983 you couldn’t watch MTV for more than 22 consecutive minutes without seeing the video for Eddie Grant’s “Electric Avenue.” It was Eddie’s biggest hit, making it to #2 in both the UK and US (♠) and it was probably the first reggae song I ever heard. To be fair, it’s barely reggae… very much a cross-over playing up much more the pop/new wave element that was sweeping the charts. If you’re of a certain age (mid-40s), you can’t help but smile when you hear this song. Unless you were one of those kids who was way into X genre and hated everything that wasn’t X… but even then I suspect you still kinda liked it, even though you’d never admit it to your friends.

As for the rest of Killer on the Rampage… much like “Electric Avenue” it’s sort of reggae lite. “War Party” is a pretty slick jam that holds true to its roots, but the rest is pretty adult contemporary. Still, if you can find a clean copy priced right like I did, it’s worth it solely for “Electric Avenue”… and that will take it higher…

(♠) It made the UK charts in 1982, the US charts in 1983, once again proving the Brits are ahead of the musical curve.

SOJA – “Strength to Survive” (2012)

On one of my seemingly countless trips to Los Angeles my friend Kris and I drove to Hollywood one evening to hit up Amoeba Music. Kris (aka “Mr. Jam”) and I bonded over music during our mutual participation in the multi-year project we’re working, so it seemed natural to head out to Amoeba and do some vinyl shopping together. To make it a bit more interesting, we also decided that each of us would select one album that we love and the other person would buy it for themselves and check out. For Mr. Jam’s listening pleasure I selected Kiasmos‘ 2014 debut LP; for me he selected SOJA’s Strength to Survive.

SOJA (Soldiers of Jah Army) are a reggae collective from the Washington DC area who have been pretty active for the last two decades, releasing seven albums and touring near continuously. Strength to Survive was their sixth effort, a 13-song double album that comes with a CD copy inside as well as a download card for a few additional tracks, so you’re definitely getting your money’s worth.

Musically Strength to Survive is pretty chill, a sort of relaxed yet upbeat-sounding style of reggae that doesn’t put too much emphasis on the low end. While that may not sound classically reggae, lyrically SOJA are right on point with their use of social commentary and introspection. The lyrics feel like real expressions of love, concern, frustration, uncertainty… you name it, all of it feels genuine.

A nice album, and one that feels like it will benefit from repeated listenings because of how important the lyrics are to the songs.

AmabAdamA – “Ai Ai Ai / Riddim” (2016)

I’m not entirely sure why there’s so much reggae being played in Iceland, other than that the people are chill and you can grow weed indoors (and yes, it exists). But when I heard AmabAdamA had a new limited edition (of 50) 7″ coming out, I immediately shot off an email to my friends at Lucky and they put aside a copy for me. We saw the band play a set at Lucky a few years ago, and if I had one takeaway from that show, it’s that AmabAdamA look like they have a lot of fun performing together.

“Ai ai ai / Riddim” is a good-time little 7″ – I believe one side has vocals, and the other is the instrumental. The style is more dancehall than traditional reggae or dub, and it’s a pretty sweet little jam.

If you like yourself some reggae, man, check them out.