Lately there have been releases that are primarily characterized by singers, whose voices can be described as “characterless”. That may sound extremely disrespectful, but it is by no means meant to be. Singing per se is not for everyone; not every voice can be used universally and only a few have this clear recognition value, which I would like to call "vocal character". It is this unique intonation, diction and manner that - if you want to put it that way - gives a voice its character. The reggae genre was and is rich in these unique vocal specimens: Michael Rose, Winston Rodney, Marcia Griffiths, Peter Tosh, Gregory Isaacs, Eek-A-Mouse, Dennis Brown, U-Roy, Earl 16, Apple Gabriel, Don Carlos, Vaughn Benjamin, Leroy Sibbles, the Marleys, etc. etc. - each and every one of them is unmistakable and instantly recognizable at the first note. It is completely unimportant whether the tone is right or wrong; in reggae you don't see that so closely and sometimes the slightly crooked tone - the one between the notes, so to speak - becomes a stylistic device: Winston Rodney aka Burning Spear knows how to sing one or two songs about it; for Anthony B. intonation is a lifelong "Universal Struggle".
It is no coincidence that the above name dropping mainly includes the big players from the 1970s and 80s - a time when major labels still gave reggae great value - mainly thanks to Bob Marley, but also to the hype that followed his death arose: who would sign the next reggae superstar? Of course, even in Marley's time, other artists of the genre were more or less successfully built up; and as it was in those times, the majors made a rigorous selection: only the best of the best in terms of marketability, recognition value and ... yes, also ability. I assume that criteria such as naivety, docility and manipulability played a certain role; the investment had to pay off. If that wasn't the case, you quickly found yourself with small and micro-labels, which thankfully carried the genre into the new millennium after the major labels lost interest in sales.
The music landscape today has changed completely due to the dwindling music industry and new technical possibilities; the big sales drivers are live performance and merchandise. Everyone - and this is the key point - everyone, musician or not, can try their hand at in-house production, distribution and marketing with relatively little capital expenditure. There is no longer any preselection of the “best of the best” and the pyramid with the levels of success has become very, very flat - in the reggae genre, mind you. It is up to the subjective evaluation whether you want to see it as positive or negative.
So it's no wonder that we're confronted with a considerable number of releases today, which I would like to rate as mediocre at best. The reason for this could be a lack of expertise: Not everyone who has Pro Tools installed on their notebook can produce. Not everyone who owns an instrument masters it or can use it for the arrangement. Not everyone with a voice should sing - which brings us back to the starting point and the end of this little digression. And all because of Nick Sefakis!
Contrary to the suspected question mark on the face of one or the other reader, Sefakis is not entirely unknown: The man is a guitarist in the Californian reggae-rock-pop conglomerate Iya Terra and does a good job there, as you can see on YouTube:
Schuster, stick to your last: As a gifted string plucker, you don't have to sing too, especially if the voice in the lead doesn't do it due to the lack of the cheeky "character" mentioned above. Nick Sefakis can use his vocal cords sensibly: There are wonderfully layered, wonderfully harmonious old school background vocals on his solo debut "Foundation“- and to the great delight of the reviewer, he leaves it on Dub-Counterpart "Foundation in Dub“(Self-published) really come into their own. They put the hook lines in the limelight as smooth as silk and awaken memories of the great vocal trios á la Israel Vibration, The Viceroys / Paragons / Tamlins / Meditations / Heptones and whatever their names are. That and the absence or the reverb doctoring of the lead vocals over long stretches characterize this Dub-Album that can be described as successful from a production point of view: Classic arrangements and beautiful, balanced, if a tad too polished sound meets reserved, nonetheless fine Dub-Mix. Well, I would have liked to have had live drums on all of the tracks, but you can't have everything and I see the fine, live brass sections as a kind of compensation. I don't want to be petty either, and wave to AutoTune myself: If it fits, then it fits. With the occasional hip-hop beats it stops again, they don't have to be.
So can you “Foundation in Dub“As good DubRecommend album? Absolutely, especially compared to the rather boring vocal album. Even if Nick Sefakis probably didn't intend that: The Dubs are made for the soundtrack to the sundowner ... on 7-Mile-Beach in Negril, in Alfred's Ocean Palace. "Life is surely what you make it so I made a dream of it" - Mr. Sefakis is right.