Monday, February 23, 2015
Guest Review (Chairman Ralph): Capital Letters: "Wolf" EP
Wolf EP (Sugar Shack Records)
There's an old saying that experience is the best teacher, which definitely characterizes this new EP by Birmingham reggae veterans Capital Letters. The band formed in 1971, and quickly built up a fanbase during its iinitial'70s and '80s heyday (including Britain's late, sorely missed number one DJ, John Peel).
Thanks to the recent reissue of its '80s album, Reality, and remixed version of its EP, Smoking My Ganja, the band is enjoying some renewed attention. These four tracks – mixed by the team of David Hill and Nick Manassehare, whom the band gave a free hand to do whatever they wanted – are intended to give you a taster of the band's latest album, Wolverhampton, scheduled for release in March.
What you get is a classic '70s-style roots reggae track, complete with horns and burbling organ, that aims at religious hypocrisy: “Wolf, leave the sheep and the shepherds alone...Not everyone who goes to church is a Christian...not everyone with locks is a Rasta.” In some ways, the mood isn't far removed from Bob Marley's “Talkin' Blues” (minus the church burning references).
In true roots style, you get two vocal versions – although, to my ears, the “Rootikal Dubplate Cut” doesn't sound radically different from its sister track (“Wolf (Rootikal Re-Mixdown)”, aside from a few additional mix effects – but it's the “Rootikal Dubwise Instro Version” that stands tallest. Except for a few brief, strategic vocal interjections (“not everyone with locks is a Rasta”), the in-out, in-out bursts of guitars and keyboards take center stage – as the bass shadowboxes underneat them.
Listeners with more minimalist-leaning tastes, on the other hand, will most likely favor the “Wolf (Deep Riddim Dub)” version – which puts the emphasis squarely on bass, drums and percussion, leavened by the odd burst of Morse guitar echo. Like its predecessor, this cut sticks in your ear right away, and stays there.
However, all this creative dubcraft wouldn't mean anything if the song wasn't memorable, which is the case – you can tell that Capital Letters has been around the block, and knows how to build compelling arrangements.
Judging by these versions, the album should make a good outing for casual and committed fans alike...if you like old school roots reggae, don't pass this release up (www.sugarshackrecords.co.uk). --Chairman Ralph
(Republished by arrangement with: www.chairmanraph.com)