Damian Marley’s latest album Stony Hill is his first solo effort in 12 years. That’s a lengthy absence, except he hasn’t exactly been resting on his laurels during that time since he’s continued touring, built a studio, produced several other artists, launched an annual reggae cruise and become a licensed ganja farmer. He’s also shared an album with Nas [called Distant Relatives] and released a series of groundbreaking singles and videos [more of which later].
After a blessing from Big Youth, Stony Hill opens with a track that goes some way to answering why he’s been away for so long: “If I have not been around/It’s just part of my mystique,” he informs us on Here I Come Again, which could have easily been titled Return Of The Mack. “I’ve been busy so to speak/Winning on the street/I’ve been feeling a Wednesday, surrounded by the week… ”
Something happened whilst I was listening to the new independently released Decosta Boyce album that was like a proper ‘Throwback Thursday’. Halfway through playing the promo copy of Electrick Soul I got stuck on one individual track, a funked-up, feelgood love tune entitled I’d Do Anything. I couldn’t resist repeating over and over again – at least into double figures – before finally allowing it to fade all the way out and my brain to move on to the next number. It’s something I can only remember doing regularly back when I was growing up, discovering up-beat classics for the first time like Could It Be I’m Falling In Love by the Spinners or U Will Know by B.M.U. – until the soulful bliss would be interrupted by my wearied, heaven-knows-he’s-miserable-now, Morrissey-obsessed older brother, who would emerge from his slumber and bang on the wall in the next room until I either pressed fast-forward, or my VHS copy of Mannequin fell off the shelf.
Triggering the relapse was the glorious way the electric bass on I’d Do Anything floated out of the speakers – just like the pimp that won ‘Player Of The Year’ at the 1972 Mid-Town Players Ball gliding through the pool hall with fine vines and a dip in his hip.
What makes music easy or uneasy listening is by no means clear-cut. In the jazz world the general consensus is that the music John Coltrane made towards the end of his career was abstract, if not opaque, even for his diehard converts. However, British saxophonist Denys Baptiste has an intriguing story to tell about his son’s reaction to Trane’s work.
“Gabriel would sleep to it when he was a little baby – the one thing that made him go to sleep was Interstellar Space… but what’s peaceful about that?” Baptiste inquires wryly in the kitchen of his home in north London. “He found that quite calming. The melody is the way in.”
Talking to Scotty Hard is in many ways like getting a guide to alternative New York music over the last 25 years. A studio hand – engineer, mixer, producer – for everyone from Prince Paul to fireman-turned-rapper Ka, he’s worked with some of the best, strangest, and most original artists based in the city.
Instrumental in shaping some of the most avant hip-hop of the ‘90s, he’s held a much-respected place on the fringes.
“The fringes of everything!” he laughs on the phone from his Brooklyn residence, where he’s battling the air conditioning.
“I’m not a mainstream artist. I do things that are left of centre.”
And not just to be different.
“I’m not trying to be obnoxious or pretentious. It’s just the way I hear things. It’s my natural expression… to do things a little on the edge.”