01 March 2011

The Top 5 London Albums of 2010

A little late with this, but here are my favourite five albums from 2010 recorded (partially or fully) by London-based artists:

1) The Filthy Six - The Filthy Six (Acid Jazz)

A near-perfect album in every way: from the excellent cover artwork to the all-important music within. The Filthy Six's blend of Hammond jazz, soul and funk has taken London's club scene by storm, and this album proves that their sound translates equally well onto disc. The match with Acid Jazz records was made in Heaven and kudos must also be given to the label for signing them up.

The long-player is entirely instrumental and the majority of the tracks are self-penned. Their cover version of the "Get Carter" theme, however, was also chosen as the debut 45rpm single from the album. The only track that didn't entirely work for me was their cover of Amy Winehouse's "Rehab", though the solos are good and it proves popular on dancefloors. To be honest, it's hard to pick a favourite track as the whole record is so strong, but I should give a mention to "Knockout". This original number was also released as the B-side of the aforementioned 45rpm. It's a real groove of a track and will definitely be featuring in my DJ sets.

If you like 1960s soul-jazz, Blue Note, the Hammond sound or are merely curious to hear one of the best young bands of the last 10 years, then you quite simply must own this album!

Available on vinyl, CD and download

2) Fire Walker - The Root Source (Freestyle)

A beautiful instrumental album from Andy Fairclough's Root Source - a seven-piece jazz outfit with something of a 1970s sound and a groove aimed firmly at the dancefloor. This is their second album and their best yet. Whilst most of the tracks on the album are originals, the highlight has to be Fairclough's inspired arrangement of the "Oompa Loompa Song" and "Pure Imagination" from the 1971 film version of "Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory". So lovely and unexpected did I find the band's atmospheric treatment, that I had to keep playing these numbers over and over again!

The rest of the album is not quite as infectious as the "Charlie And The Chocolate Factory Suite", but the last two tracks, "Echoes Of Your Past" and "Streams", certainly keep the quality just as high. The only complaint I can really make about the album as a whole is that there maybe isn't enough variation. However, it is a very strong release and The Root Source prove themselves to be another young group to keep your eyes (and ears) on!

Available on CD and download

3) Super Size - Prince Fatty (Mr Bongo)

This delightful reggae album from Brighton-based producer Prince Fatty features fantastic guest vocals from Jamaican legends Winston Francis and Little Roy (now based in London) as well as Horseman, Natty, Alcapone and Hollie Cook. Much of the material consists of cover versions - from the straightforward, such as Winston Francis's soulful take on Bruce Ruffin's "Dry Up Your Tears" which kicks off the album - to the more unusual, namely the dancehall reggae versions of hip-hop classics "Shimmy Shimmy Ya" and "Insane In The Brain". These two are definitely love-em or hate-em tracks, but Prince Fatty certainly deserves full marks for originality and to my ears these are vast improvements on the originals.

The aforementioned Winston Francis track and Little Roy's "Need Some Lovin" are definitely the best tracks here. Much of the rest of the album consists of dub, which doesn't work quite as well for me as the straight reggae tracks. Prince Fatty is without a doubt an excellent producer and has hired some phenomenal musicians and vocalists for this album, but King Tubby he is not.

The sound of the album is very clean and up-to-date, which at times is all that differentiates it from the music of the 1970s that it draws inspiration from. This is not a bad thing, though it may be something that divides opinion amongst reggae connoisseurs. Overall, however, "Super Size" is a sterling effort and proof that authentic soulful reggae can still be produced in the 21st Century.

NOTE: The album is available on vinyl as well as CD, but with fewer tracks. These "missing" tracks were released as 45rpms.

Available on vinyl, CD and download

4) Skalsa #1 - Skatroniks Jamaica (Skajam)

Whilst "Skalsa #1" was finished in 2009, it wasn't until 2010 that it got its official release - with the band performing the whole album live at the launch party at Camden's Jazz Cafe.

Skatroniks Jamaica were formed in 2003 and I had been waiting eagerly for this, their first album, since hearing them live on a number of occasions. At their early gigs they came across as a reincarnation of The Skatalites. Since then, some changes have occurred to their line-up, most notably with Bigga Morrison taking on the role of vocalist, producer, song writer and keyboard player. Whilst Bigga is not the strongest vocalist, he does prove himself to be a great songwriter and arranger. The 8-piece band is full of other talented musicians however, with mentions going to Jay Phelps on trumpet, Alan Weekes on guitar and Brian Edwards on Sax.

Although the album didn't quite live up to my expectations, it does still contain some amazing ska tunes in a Skatalites vein that make it well worth the money. "Forward Ever", "Flight To Ethiopia" and "Original Nubia" are destined to become floor-fillers and I plan to feature them heavily in my DJ sets. I also like the title track, though it has more of a straight Cuban rhythm than the ska-salsa hybrid that the name and lyrics imply. The sweet "Diurnal & Nocturnal" vocal ska track should also get a mention as a catchy and heartfelt love song.

The album is slightly let down by its production, use of sound effects and unnecessary vocal echo, but that shouldn't put you off. I can only hope that the band continues to play live and that we don't have to wait so long for their next release.

NOTE: It is already near-impossible to find this album on CD (which is a shame as the booklet contains some nice artwork and brief notes by Ernest Ranglin), but it can still be downloaded in MP3 format from Amazon.

Available on CD and download

5) Mambo Ska - Ska Cubano (Casinosounds)

Ska Cubano must surely be one of the most exciting live acts around at the moment. Their performances are full of energy and talent and seem to get better and better. Mambo Ska is the third studio album from the band and is good fun, though not as consistently strong as their previous two albums in my opinion. The production is very clean, but somehow seems to lose a little something. However, it is well worth picking up for "Pachito E Che", "Cumbia Del Monte" and "Mambo Ska" - the title track. That's not to say that the rest is just filler, but these are the stand out tracks for me.

"Pachito E Che" is a ska version of the Cuban song made famous by Beny More with Perez Prado. The vocals are provided by the talented Beny Billy (who no longer performs live with the band) and the group skillfully swing both the Jamaican and Cuban elements of the rhythm. This track was recorded as a straight ska instrumental in the 1960s by The Skatalites as "Latin Goes Ska", but here Ska Cubano give them a run for their money!

"Cumbia Del Monte" again features Beny Billy on vocals and is a pretty straight cover version of the classic cumbia track recorded in the 60s by a number of bands, including Carmen Rivero y su Conjunto. Ska Cubano proved on earlier albums that they can swing their cumbia numbers as well as, if not better than, their ska ones and this one ticks all the boxes.

"Mambo Ska" is an original by group leader Natty Bo, who also provides the vocals (probably his best on the album). It is a joyful sing-a-long number which beautifully sums up the concept behind Ska Cubano and their Jamaican-Cuban fusion (which, though not unique, arguably has no better exponents).

Available on CD and download

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