Traditional calypso has in recent times become something of a dying art form when faced with the competition from its newer rival soca (itself taking on board the roots of calypso and adding beefed up percussion), but there is still hope yet and this superb documentary DVD and compilation CD chronicles both some the greatest calypsonians still alive and some of its latest practitioners. No less than Bob Dylan has championed the genre for its witty repartee and regularly plays the likes of Lord Kitchener and the Mighty Sparrow on his radio broadcasts. Pascale Obolo is to be commended for her superb documentary that accompanies the CD. This focuses on the annual carnival competition which, over the decades, has introduced the whole of Trinidad to its future stars. Alongside performances by the greats such as the Mighty Terror and the longest winner of them all, the Mighty Sparrow (though Lord Kitchener runs him mighty close), the great merit of the documentary is to provide an insight into how the calypsonians deliver instantaneous lyrics in competition when asked by a panel to produce verses off the cuff on a given topic. This explains why a singer-songwriter of the calibre of Dylan marvels at their art. Excellent sound and wonderful images capture the genre to perfection and a re-creation of the legendary 1950s night club Dirty Jim’s on Port of Spain’s seafront enable some of the classic singers to perform before a live audience. The CD takes a selection of these songs, virtually all competition winners from the past, and allow the listener to appreciate the witty lyrics on all manner of social topics. It is the trials and tribulations of family life that is the subject of Relator’s ‘Shame and scandal in the family’, recounted in a humorous fashion. Calypso’s leading lady, Calypso Rose, is on top form on ‘Rum and Coca Cola’ which depicts life in Trinidad during the presence of US troops and the effects of this on relations with the local population. Lord Superior further describes this era on ‘Jean and Dinah’ and the competition for women with American soldiers on the island. Meanwhile on ‘Whiteman wife’, Lord Superior touches on the social mores of the British during the colonial era. Songs have long been transferable from one musical genre to another in the Caribbean and so it is the case with ‘Bam Bam’ executed to perfection by Bomber. Reggae fans will remember the tune as an early hit for Toots and the Maytals. All in all a wonderful selection that carries on the calypso message and will be a joy to those who watch and listen to the performers on offer.
While the songs contained within were released on a limited edition Third World double album from the late nineteen seventies and as such have become a collectable commodity, ‘Dub Style Plate’ differs from the original in that expert production skills of one Prince Jammy has been brought to bear on proceedings and as a result, the overall sound is a good deal harder with the drums beefed up and a spacier, in parts, dubified instrumentation. The genius of Jammy, however, is that he leaves the honey-toned vocals of Delroy Wilson intact and therefore we have an album that is certainly vocal, but with the major plus of dub techniques employed ever so subtly at opportune moments. Of course an artist of Wilson’s stature who has straddled the earlier era of ska and rock steady has always been eager to revisit the classics and on this selection, the singer reworks the Wailers ‘I’m still waiting’ and John Holt’s ‘Stick by me’ to good effect. Where the songs really stand out, though, are on the inventive additions of Jammy such as the extra percussion on ‘Mash it up’ or the use of organ on ‘Can I change my mind’. Most successful of all is the sparse accompaniment with rhythm guitar inserted into ‘Living in the foot steps of another man’. A fascinating and very successful fusion of vocal and dub techniques to one of reggae’s greatest singers and one that re-affirms the early genius of King Jammy.
Guitarist extraordinaire Bill Frisell returns with a new album after the compilation of his recordings that surfaced earlier in the year. Once again Frisell engages in a masterly exploration of the roots of Americana and the result is a triumph. Masterpiece vignettes of American life are transposed to the guitar as on ‘Lovesick blues’ on which the guitarist’s virtuosity is exemplified. The album is inspired by the photographs of Michael Disfarmer during the second world war period and befitting the ambience Frisell is joined by country-folk musicians in Viktor Krauss on bass, Jenny Scheinman on violin and Greg Leisz on steel guitar and mandolin. A hoedown atmosphere permeates the take on Elvis’ ‘That’s alright mama’ while ‘Lost, Night’ is disarmingly charming. In general, there is a real warmth to the ensemble playing and Frisell’s highly distinctive sound places him in a select group of guitarists of the calibre of Ry Cooder and Pat Metheny. Someone ought to put this kind of music on a film soundtrack and introduce Frisell’s music to a wider audience.