Run It Red
Blood and Fire
or most music fans, Mick Hucknall is known as either the guy from Simply Red or (if you are a fan of 24 Hour Party People) as one of the audience members for the Sex Pistols' first Manchester concert. His real and lasting contribution to the music world, however, was co-founding Blood & Fire, the preeminent reggae reissue label based out of Boston and responsible for reintroducing such seminal works as The Congos' Heart of the Congos, Horace Andy's In the Light, and King Tubby's Dub Gone Crazy (three of the greatest reggae albums of all time).
For the label's tenth anniversary, Hucknall has chosen 20 of his favorite tracks from the label's vast catalogue and has released it as Run It Red (get it?). So, yes, it's a compilation of previously released tracks, but these are tracks by some of the greats of Jamaican music: King Tubby, Junior Byles, Prince Jammy, The Congos, Horace Andy, Yabby You, Gregory Issacs, Big Youth, and even the legendary Jackie Mittoo. How can you go wrong?
Well, you can't—unless you've heard all the songs before. Since I inhale Jamaican music like I inhale bread at Olive Garden, I have heard most of these songs before, especially the Tubby tracks. Granted, a lot of the familiar songs are here rendered in slightly less familiar guise, as in the (I think) alternate mix of Prince Alla's "Stone" and the dubs of Horace Andy and Prince Jammy's "Do You Love My Music" and The Congos' "Fisherman." The dubs and remixes are interesting here, and they do make these tracks a bit fresher. But even those have been released on previous Blood & Fire disks, so there's really nothing too original here.
So is there anything new? I don't think so—not officially. But there are a number of tracks that were new to me, especially the Prince Jammy dubs. I've heard a lot about Prince Jammy and know he was Tubby's protégé, but I have not heard a lot of his music (outside his production of Horace Andy and a few others). Further, I haven't been able to find copies of the various Prince Jammy releases on Blood & Fire and elsewhere (too obscure for even iTunes?), so I was happy to finally get ahold of some tracks. And while Jammy isn't his teacher, he is a deft producer and dub master. I'm particularly impressed with "Chapter of Money," a dub of Horace Andy's "Money Money." This song is about as streamlined and as minimal as dub music gets. It's just a beat stretched out and delayed to its breaking point over and over and over again, with minimal additions from horns and other instruments. So there are some surprises here, but are there enough surprises to warrant buying this disk? Hard to say.
The bottom line, I think, is that the music here is all of an incredibly high level, and even the most diehard fans of reggae and dub probably will find something new among the twenty tracks here. So if I'm not overwhelmed with Run It Red, it is probably because I'm old and jaded and cynical enough to wonder why they didn't just release 20 completely unreleased tracks to celebrate this great label's anniversary. But don't feel as though you have to listen to me bitch. If you are relatively new to classic reggae music—that is, if you are like I was, a kid who loved Bob Marley, had heard some Culture and Steel Pulse, and wanted to know more—then this disk might just be as good an introduction as you're likely to find anywhere.
Reviewed by: Michael Heumann
Reviewed on: 2005-03-21