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Singers And Players - War of Words

  by Adrian Janes

published: 25 / 9 / 2015

Singers And Players - War of Words
Label: Select Label
Format: N/A


In our 'Re;View' series, in which we look back at albums from the past, Adrian Janes examines the reissue of the strong 1981 debut album 'War on Words' from producer Adrian Sherwood’s dub-rooted collective Singers and Players, which draws on talents like Prince Far I, Bim Sherman and Keith Levene

Singers and Players were a dub-based group gathered together by producer Adrian Sherwood. Their loose-knit conception meant that it was a shifting line-up which performed on a series of five albums, ‘War of Words’ (originally released in 1981 and thus an early Sherwood creation) being the first. The combination of Jamaican artists (including here vocalists Bim Sherman and Prince Far I, and musicians drawn from the Arabs and Roots Radics) with European (Public Image Limited’s Keith Levene and the Slits’ Ari Up), plus Englishman Sherwood’s dub-steeped yet unique sensibility, produces a great reggae album. At the same time it has enough left field moments - for instance, the slashes of Levene’s guitar on ‘Devious Woman’ and ‘Reaching the Bad Man’- to steer it away from the Jamaican mainstream, a direction Sherwood’s later career has confirmed even as he has remained indelibly associated with dub. On a stark foundation of drums and bass, over the course of the album he releases percussive explosions and fades instruments in and out at will, these unpredictable surprises both a feature of the best dub and something which sometimes makes it feel like he is mixing the album in that very moment. ’91 Vibration’, the echo-saturated closer, with its traces of melodica, church organ and cowbell, is outstanding in this respect. Bim Sherman is featured on the majority of the tracks, his plaintive voice evoking a Horace Andy or Hugh Mundell although,like them, this apparent sweetness is used to convey serious sentiments: the Rastafarian hope for release from tribulation on ‘Sit and Wonder’, and ’World of Dispensation’, where his gentle yet purposeful vocal urges “Please don’t give up the fight”. Most beautiful of all is ‘Fit to Survive’, more encouragement not just to endure but to strive to overcome, where Sherman’s silky delivery is accompanied by an atmospheric vocal drone. It would be hard to exaggerate the contrast with Prince Far I, who delivers ‘Quante Jubila’ (over a rhythm originally employed on Creation Rebel’s ‘Know Yourself’), in a guttural growl like a Kingston-born Howlin’ Wolf with a worldview as eclectic as Lee Perry, Old and New Testament references scattered alongside the information that “Frederick (sic) Nietzsche” was “cast in the fire/And never get burned”. The production is equal to such a vision, the drums sometimes boosted to levels of incredible power while Far I’s voice is echoed to a point where it belongs in a Hollywood Biblical epic starring God, or at least Moses. As with the majority of the tracks, ‘Quante Jubila’ is an extended version. This does give time to let a groove develop and Sherwood the space to experiment freely, but to some extent it’s a mixed blessing: ‘Sit and Wonder’, for one, could have benefitted from a tighter edit. Still, considering how early this album came out in the producer’s career, it’s mainly a successful mix of assurance and adventurousness. With his ‘Sherwood at the Controls 1979-1984’ compilation having also been released earlier this year, perhaps it’s the case that the need has been felt to take stock of a prolific career and make sure that some of this still vital music gets heard once more. The same should be said of the voices of Sherman and Far I, passed on but resurrected here to full and fresh effect.

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Singers And Players - War of Words

Singers And Players - War of Words

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