ARTIST: VARIOUS ARTISTS
LABEL: VP RECORDS
I was very excited when I learned that there was a new Steely & Clevie project coming out. I was even more excited to learn that the project consisted of their take on some Jamaican classics, similar to the “Steely & Clevie Play Studio One Vintage Classics” from 1994, which spawned the Dawn Penn hit “No No No (You Don’t Love Me”) in fine 90’s form. This project “Memories” was also the project that the duo was working on before Steely’s untimely passing on September 1, 2009.
Though Wycliffe “Steely” Johnson and Cleveland “Clevie” Browne came into prominence as a team during the digital era, first as the house musicians at Jammys studio, then as the prolific freelance rhythm makers for a variety of producers during the second half of the 80’s and into the 90’s. They launched their own record label in 1988 releasing their first single “Bruk Camera” by the combination of Leroy Gibbons and Dillinger. They’ve gone on to produce scores of hits since. Despite coming into prominence in the digital dancehall era as a team, their prior experience more than qualifies them as experts on Jamaican classics, as the included DVD shows. They played their first recording session in 1973 when Clevie who played drums, was 14, and Steely at age 14 played keyboards on an Earl Sixteen song entitled “Man Making Plans.” It was the debut recording for both as musicians. They continued their respective musical journeys separately until coming together as a team at the end of 1985. Most notably Steely, who played with The Roots Radics band and is estimated by experts for playing on the most studio sessions in Jamaican music history. The “Memories” project consists of revisited classics from Jamaica’s rich musical history (though not all of the songs are Jamaican in origin.) Some of the songs were remade by their original artists, while others by more contemporary artists.
The CD kicks off with Richie Stephens’ rendition of the Delroy Wilson classic “True Believer,” which finds Stephens in top form. Makes me wonder is there’s a song he can’t master.
Next up is Cornell Campbell’s “Stars.” Steely & Clevie sticks to the original arrangement, only giving the song a cleaner more contemporary sound. Campbell for his part, sounds like his voice hasn’t changed since he first recorded the song as lead singer of The Eternals in 1969, at the legendary Studio One. The first-rate music proceeds with Ed Robinson’s take on the classic “If I Follow My Heart” which was written by the late Alton Ellis and recorded successfully not once, but twice by reggae’s Crown Prince Dennis Brown. First in 1971 as the title track for his second album, then ten years later for his “Foul Play” album, released on major label A&M. The first three songs on “Memories” set the tone nicely for the rest of this masterpiece. Who would have thought of Mr. Vegas to render a cut of “A Little Love” as made popular in reggae by Jimmy London in 1971? -Steely & Clevie of course! To top it off, a DJ combination of the song was also added, featuring Conkarah (who is he?) Other high points on this first-rated production, include Leroy Sibbles with a modern arrangement of his classic “Sweet Talking” which he first recorded as lead singer of The Heptones and was a major hit in 1969. I was pleasantly surprised by the inclusion of The Chantell’s hit “Waiting In The Park.” Upon seeing this song on the track listing, I was curious about how it would sound since the group’s lead singer Sam Bramwell passed away in the mis 80’s, but Lloyd Forrester (I presume, since he was interviewed in the afore-mentioned DVD) filled in so admirably I couldn’t tell that it wasn’t Bramwell. This song too, was given a modern arrangement.
The hit single “A House Is Not A Home” by Freddie McGregor also highlights this project (and don’t miss the expertly produced music video on the DVD directed by the multi-talented Clevie.) An instrumental version of the song featuring saxophonist Dean Fraser is also present on the album. “Say You” by Ken Boothe is not to be missed. This song too is true to the original arrangement with a fresh coat of musical paint by Steely & Clevie and Ken Boothe singing in vintage form. The all-star cast of artists also include John Holt, Al Campbell, Errol Dunkley, and Dennis Walks (when was the last time you heard a recording from the latter two.) The DVD too, as mentioned is also a nice treat. It’s narrated, produced, and directed by Clevie. He visits some landmark locations on his and Steely’s musical journey. Project participants and veterans of Jamaica’s music industry give insightful information. There are also clips of the album being worked on, like Freddie McGregor voicing his contribution and Clevie’s brother Danny Browne mixing the said song. If you are a serious lover of reggae music, this album is a real treat and should become a timeless classic. Steely’s contribution to Jamaican music was great and this project was a great final testament to his musical legacy. I have all confidence that his works will carry on through his musical partner Clevie for years to come. Hope you enjoy this album as much as I do.