By Rob van Alstyne
By Zach McCormick
By Emily Eveland
By Jack Spencer
By Michael Madden
By Reed Fischer
By Emily Weiss
By Emily Weiss
Impact All Stars
Forward the Bass: Dub from Randy's 1972-1975
Blood and Fire
"EASY COME DUB," from Steve Barrow's reissue of the mid-'70s reggae classic Forward the Bass, is pure pleasure; it contradicts the theory that dub gratifies gradually by providing immediate returns. A languid rhythm forms a backdrop. A loud, shivering, pealing piano kneels on your lobes and caresses your inner ear. Subtle echoes enhance both the glass-shattering notes at the fore and the guitar underneath it. The track shimmers like the sun setting over a lake. For two-and-a-half minutes, time stops and you're in paradise.
Today, mid-'70s dub reggae has attained the status enjoyed by Motown and '60s garage rock: Its legendary sound conjures an ethos more imagined (or constructed) than real. Retrospective romanticism is always to be approached with caution, but the kind of beauty described above is rare in any context, though there's a lot of it on this album.
At first Forward the Bass doesn't seem all that dubby: It opens strong with five tough, bare-bones instrumentals that use almost none of the genre's characteristic echo-chamber FX. Yet, as the record unfolds, you'll find a rewinding tape solo on "Shining Dub," and echoing vocals on "Just Another Dub" and "Last of the Jestering." Instead of the kind of jarring, liberal sound-painting employed by the likes of King Tubby, producer Clive Chin and mixer Errol Thompson drop constantly shifting vocal and melodic motifs over disorienting, echoed drums. "Sabotage in Dub," for instance, is a weird sonic travelogue in which single-note guitars and pianos pop up through a blurry rhythm that sways and strays, but never quite loses its way.
This record could serve as a strong addition to any dub collection--and a good place to begin one--which is remarkable given that it originated in 1975 as a private pressing (total first run: 200). Obscurity is no guarantor of quality, but in this case Barrow was right to dig through the vaults: He came back with gold. Blood and Fire's output in general is always intriguing, but frequently hit-or-miss. Here's one that hits hard, and never lets up.