Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Mikey Dread - S.W.A.L.K. (1982)

Hard to find, out-of-print, and critically unappreciated, Mikey Dread's S.W.A.L.K. album is a forgotten record that deserves to be heard.

With this release, the late reggae pioneer (who died of brain cancer almost ten years ago) stepped back from his barrier-breaking dub experiments. Instead he concentrated on more conventional reggae songs and sounds.

Because of this, the album has been dismissed as "lover's rock" in some quarters. The lover's rock designation is understandable because the tenor of the songs is mellow and the title track spells out "Sealed With a Lover's Kiss." Plus, the music here is a far cry from LPs like African Anthem and World War III. But the critical dismissal this LP got is just wrong. This is still Mikey Dread in his prime, after all. The songs are mostly great. And as for being conventional? Hahaha. Dread is a singer who couldn't sound conventional if you offered to pay him millions of dollars to do so (and for all I know, maybe someone did).

It was Dread's eccentric vocal and mixing board styles, after all, that earned him scads of hardcore fans. The most famous of these were the guys in the Clash, who collaborated with him and had him produce several tunes with them. Dread's idea of love songs on this LP is still edgier than that of most other performers. Plus, a lot of his songwriting is stronger since he doesn't have his sonic experiments to fall back on.

The opener, "Rocky Road" is based on Brenton Wood's "Gimme Little Sign" and is one of Dread's most clever reworkings. The epic title track, with its killer horn riffs and definitive vocal performance, stands as one of the best things Dread ever did. The version found here, by the way, is different than the one on the Best Sellers collection. This one runs almost nine-minutes and has a five-minute dub outro edited on in place of the regular fade-out.

More first-rate tunes follow with "Positive Reality" (which would work really well as a folk song should someone decide to cover it that way), the half-joking "Problems," and the affecting closing track, "In Memory (Jacob, Marcus & Marley)," which serves as a history lesson of sorts. In all, this is one of my favorite Dread albums, probably second only to the remixed World War III.

Track list:
1. Rocky Road
2. S.W.A.L.K.
3. Positive Reality
4. Heavy Weight Sound
5. Problems
6. Zodiac Signs
7. Armagiddeon Style
8. In Memory (Jacob, Marcus & Marley)

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