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Dub Colossus - Addis to Omega

  by Adrian Janes

published: 14 / 11 / 2014

Dub Colossus - Addis to Omega
Label: Echomaster
Format: CD


Evocative and inspirational but over-long fourth album from London-formed dub/reggae collective, Dub Colossus

As befits its title, ‘Addis To Omega’ is an album of expansive ambition, stretching out over both space and time. Dub Colossus are centred around former Tranglobal Underground member Nick Page (aka Dubulah), who has gathered together an international collection of musicians and singers. Although this fourth album was recorded in several studios around Europe, Page proves himself as adept a producer as he is an orchestrator. There’s a consistent sound that balances clarity with power, the brass section bright as sunlight, the bass rippling darkly like an underground stream. It’s not a dub album in the sense of a radical deconstruction of songs using echo and reverb: these are instead the foundation of its spacious sound, while throughout echoes of the past reverberate into the present. ‘Boom Ka Boom (And The Dub Disciples)’ is an immediately compulsive start, low end piano notes bouncing off the drums, while Joseph Cotton toasts with a gritty, roasted tone that recalls 70’s legends I Roy and Prince Far I. Writing this review in the wake of the Tory conference, the sequence of social comment songs that follows feels well-aimed. David Cameron himself is the target of ‘Family Man’, his life set against the protagonist’s struggles (“He thinks he’s like the rest of us/But that’s a bitter pill”), solemn harmony vocals and wafts of melodica evoking the pain and anxiety of a life at the bottom. ‘The Casino’s Burning Down’ denounces the system which creates the contrasting worlds of ‘Family Man’, with a passionate vocal from Mykael S. Riley underpinned by Dubulah’s solid bass. But melancholy keyboard and the harmony vocals of Riley, Dubulah and P J Higgins chanting “burning, burning, burning’ are more warning than joyful anticipation; there is no sense here of a possible new beginning, just an inevitable end. The sound and the sentiment are reminiscent of early Aswad or Steel Pulse, apt as Riley began his career with the latter. The resentful ‘We Are the Playthings of the Rich and Famous’ is one of the more truly dubwise efforts, the vocals swimming in echo, the music rent by random gunshot effects. Despite the groove it’s unfortunately one of the more monotonous songs, although enlivened by Harry Brown’s trombone. The sequence is rounded off by ‘Fight Back’, from the imperative title onwards its relentless reggae-funk groove and soaring sax resisting the air of fatalism in the other songs. The vocals veer from Jamaican patois to an American accent, with the polished brass of the Negus Horns also to the fore. It’s a song that crystallises the band’s international influences; here funk, soul and jazz all find the light, while growing out of reggae roots. After the sufferation, the celebration: ‘Addis To Omega’ fully deserves its place as the title track. Amidst a blazing fanfare, Higgins declaims the scope of the song, “From Ethiopia to Londinium”, the anachronism somehow right, the power of music being celebrated now, but with a nod to the past that recognises the relief it’s provided over the centuries. There’s a delightful, classic 70’s feel to the track, right down to being urged to “step it in a rub-a dub style”. In a cooler vein, ‘Keep On Rocking’ has a gently insistent lovers’ feel, another paean to the music itself where ‘Dub will find its way” as indeed it does here, with subtle touches of echo and shimmering electronica. ‘Madmen’ returns to social comment, its ska rhythm, dissonant electronics and dry, weary vocals (Dubulah himself) - “We can see how the future lies/Computer decides when the food price rise,” - creating a sort of Specials meet Gary Clail effect. ‘Mi Dad’ is an affectionately nostalgic portrait, co-written and sung by Winston Blissett (who contributes bass to several other tracks), of how his father would unwind after a day of bus driving in London with “a wicked tune/You could feel down to the bone”. The ska beat evokes the era, just as the joy in the face of a hard life comes through in Dubulah’s fluid guitar and Ben Somers’ exuberant tenor sax. The latter part of the album is dominated by instrumentals of various styles, for instance the sultry Latin feel of ‘Tale Of 2 Cities’ and the Fela Kuti-esque workout of ‘Orpheus Underground’. They’re enjoyable enough grooves, but by this point it feels like the high standards set earlier on are falling away. At over 70 minutes, it’s an album that would have even more impact by losing two or three of the latter tracks. But in amongst this section, ‘The Shape of Things to Come’ introduces another Transglobal Underground alumnus in singer Natacha Atlas, and it’s a reminder of how bold Dub Colossus can be in combining elements, her mournful voice and Samy Bishai’s violin together creating a desolate Middle Eastern atmosphere, even as it’s founded on a slow reggae beat, church-like organ and treated piano. Despite feeling that there is more than enough included on this album, it still represents a considerable achievement. It draws strength and inspiration from reggae’s past to energise the present, and feels grounded in the local even as its boundaries are global: many roads lead to this colossus.

Track Listing:-
1 Boom Ka Boom & The Dub Disciple
2 Family Man
3 The Casino Burning Down
4 We Are the Playthings of the Ric
5 Fight Back
6 Addis to Omega
7 Keep on Rocking
8 Soft Power
9 Madmen
10 My Dad
11 Tale of 2 Cities
12 Shape of Things to Come
13 My Happy Face
14 A Voice Has Power
15 Orpheus Underground

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