Horace Andy: Midnight Rocker review | Ammar Kalia's global album of the month

(On-U Sound)
Artfully rearranged classics and mature dub-defining new tracks, all produced by Adrian Sherwood, reveal a late-career masterpiece

Few singers have better mirrored the mercurial sound of dub than Horace Andy. Finding prominence with a spate of singles recorded with producer and Lee “Scratch” Perry collaborator Bunny Lee in the mid-1970s, the Jamaican singer’s vibrato-heavy falsetto has become one of dub’s defining features, as well as featuring amid the nocturnal trip-hop of Massive Attack’s albums.

Over the past five decades, the legacy of Andy’s voice has reflected his music’s history. Just as the acetate of a dubplate wears with each play, giving the genre its uniquely decaying instrumental quality, so his voice has matured from the clean, high-register clarion call on breakout single Skylarking into a richer, more vulnerable tenor. His first collaboration with British dub pioneer Adrian Sherwood, Midnight Rocker is the perfect showcase for this late-career sound, revisiting a selection of Andy’s earlier material in addition to six new tracks.

Sherwood artfully rearranges Andy’s originals, allowing for his vocal range to come to the fore. Sherwood darkens the sprightliness of his 1978 classic This Must Be Hell – which placed a roots vocal over jazz pianist Dave Brubeck’s Take Five refrain – by removing the jazz piano and amping up the track’s dancefloor potential with a crisp bassline and driving rhythm.

Throughout, Sherwood subtly subverts the degraded spirit of dub by using studio-quality live instrumentation. This modern touch brings Andy’s vocals into high definition, in sharp contrast to the earthy pulse of rumbling bass: on their new version of 1977’s Materialist, a synth bass bolsters Andy’s yearning, crackling vibrato, giving a greater sense of urgency to his lyrics on eschewing vanity for spiritual gains; the redux of 1978’s Mr Bassie holds a journeying confidence that transforms the original’s long, melodic notes from pleading to power. New songs Watch Over Them and Try Love bring Andy into the intimate register of lover’s rock, his vocals mirroring a slow dance over the syncopated instrumentals.

Sherwood coaxes some of Andy’s finest performances to date – especially on the fierce vocalisations of Safe from Harm. This potent collaboration suggests there are many more formidable dubs yet in the 71-year-old singer. Midnight Rocker is a late-career masterpiece – and who knows how he might reinterpret it in the years to come.

Also out this month

Malian vocal star Oumou Sangaré releases her latest album Timbuktu (World Circuit), a bluesy, full-throated collection showcasing the stringed kamele n’goni. Tanzanian producer DJ Travella brings his debut record Mr Mixondo (Nyege Nyege Tapes), a blistering exposition of neon rave melodies and high-tempo singeli backbeats. Featuring Arcade Fire’s Win Butler and Shabazz Palaces’ Tendai Maraire, Congolese-Canadian singer-songwriter Pierre Kwenders produces a beguiling mix of multilingual Afropop, rhumba and R&B on José Louis and the Paradox of Love (Arts & Crafts Productions).


Ammar Kalia

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Debit: The Long Count review | Ammar Kalia's global album of the month
Mexican-American producer Delia Beatriz draws on the flutes of the Mayan courts to create a startlingly original sound

Ammar Kalia

28, Jan, 2022 @9:30 AM

Article image
Mabe Fratti: Se Ve Desde Aquí review | Ammar Kalia's global album of the month
The Guatemalan musician layers soft vocals and jarring textures to create a direct and forceful new tone

Ammar Kalia

09, Sep, 2022 @8:00 AM

Article image
Sarathy Korwar: Kalak review | Ammar Kalia's global album of the month
Flute, horns, synths and tabla accompany Korwar’s undulating percussion in the dummer’s hypnotic fourth album

Ammar Kalia

07, Oct, 2022 @8:00 AM

Article image
Rian Treanor and Ocen James: Saccades review | Ammar Kalia's global album of the month
The presence of James’ bow complements Treanor’s dense compositions, creating the latter’s most melodic and dancefloor-adjacent work to date

Ammar Kalia

06, Jan, 2023 @9:00 AM

Article image
Various Artists: Tokyo Glow review – radiant homage to Japanese city pop
This upbeat collection unearths artists whose glossy, disco-influenced pop contains subtle fusions and canny innovation

Ammar Kalia

10, Dec, 2021 @9:00 AM

Article image
Perú Selvático: Sonic Expedition 1972-1986 review | Ammar Kalia's global album of the month
A new compilation collects the fuzzed-out, jungle-born head-rush of wah wah and reverb that rethought a traditional folk music of Peru

Ammar Kalia

02, Dec, 2022 @9:00 AM

Article image
Park Jiha: Philos review | Ammar Kalia's global album of the month
Using no more than three instruments on each track, Jiha’s music expresses as much emotion as words could convey

Ammar Kalia

14, Jun, 2019 @7:30 AM

Article image
Ami Dang: Parted Plains review | Ammar Kalia's global album of the month
Dang’s self-assured album brings elements of unease to stillness, with keening melodies and multilayered sounds

Ammar Kalia

09, Aug, 2019 @7:30 AM

Article image
Shenseea: Alpha review – thundering energy, staggering profanity
With a hypnotic flow of eye-wateringly blunt lyrics, the 25-year-old’s debut heralds Jamaican dancehall’s next big crossover star

Rachel Aroesti

11, Mar, 2022 @9:30 AM

Article image
Special Interest: Endure review – jackhammer beats and punk catharsis
The New Orleans band provide a release from tough times with a hardcore album inflected by funk, glam rock and disco

Emma Garland

04, Nov, 2022 @8:00 AM