Sly, Robbie head to Red Hills Rd

Sly, Robbie head to Red Hills Rd

Observer senior writer

Tuesday, January 05, 2021

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FOR Sly Dunbar one of the thrills about going to recording studios in the 1970s was working with elder musicians like saxophonist Tommy McCook and trumpeter Bobby Ellis. They were always willing to pass on their knowledge, which he credits for helping him and his contemporaries improve.

“Dat was like a honour to me, being around people like Tommy an' Bobby Ellis. Then yuh have [drummers] like Joe Isaacs and Paul Douglas who yuh could go to an' ask questions. Is not like dat anymore,” Dunbar told the Jamaica Observer.

In December the drummer and bass player Robbie Shakespeare, his long-time music partner, released Red Hills Rd. It is their first album in six years and is distributed through French company Tabou 1 Records for their Taxi label.

For the 13-song set they worked with long-time Taxi Gang members like keyboardists Ansell Collins and Steven “Lenky” Marsden, saxophonist Dean Fraser, and trombonist Nambo Robinson.

All are veterans who came up through the old studio system in which musicians went in and recorded songs side by side. With technology at their fingertips most modern producers overlook the conventional recording session, which has fast become obsolete.

Dunbar believes because there is no longer a meeting of the minds, younger musicians do not seek out the elders as he and his colleagues did.

“Yuh find in Jamaica di youths not as eager as in America to know who Miles Davis or Buddy Miles or Sly and The Family Stone is. With our youth dem, with all di technology dem feel like there is nothing to go back to,” he explained.

It was that inquisitiveness that led Dunbar to create Santa Barbara, one of 12 instrumentals on Red Hills Rd. The beat was programmed after he watched a Kumina event on television in Christmas 1992.

According to Dunbar, he played the rough cut at home the following day and got the thumbs up from a close relative.

“Mi daughter came into di room an' sey, 'Daddy, I like that.' After dat, mi play it fi Gitsy [guitarist Lloyd Willis] an' Chaka Demus and Pliers was di first fi voice on it,” he recalled.

Murder She Wrote was the hit single that launched Santa Barbara up the charts. Like the groundbreaking Sleng Teng eight years earlier, it drove a flurry of hit songs including Dem A Bleach by Nardo Ranks.

Collins, Marsden, Fraser and Robinson (who died in 2017) get opportunities to shine on Red Hills Rd. Peter G's cover of Arthur Prysock's When Love is New is the album's only vocal track while Cherine Anderson scats on Sweet Dub.

Red Hills Rd is Sly and Robbie's first album since Dubrising in 2014. The duo won the Best Reggae Album Grammy Award in 1999 for Friends.

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