Harder Shade of Black

Various Artists

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Harder Shade of Black Review

by Thom Jurek

While Harder Shade of Black was available on LP for a good long run during the '70s, '80s, and even into the early '90s, it was the excellent Pressure Sounds imprint that finally brought producer Leonard “Santic” Chin's (the nickname is his label’s name) album of killer productions from 1973-1975 to compact disc. Their original, Even Harder Shade of Black, issued on disc in 1995, collected most of what’s on this album in the sense that it put the big singles and their dubs that made up that album onto a 16-track disc. This version contains that album in fine remastered style -- even the tracks taken from vinyl and acetates sound better than they did on the initial CD -- and some bonus material that is every bit as crucial as the cuts that made Santic a legend with some of the biggest stars in reggae history. Here one will find his first smash, ”Pablo in Dub,” with Augustus Pablo playing a melody over Santic’s trademark inside-out rhythm where the bassline actually precedes the melody. This is heard to great effect on the title track and its dub where Pablo lays out a slippery counter melody in and through the dubbed-out effects on Leroy Sibbles bassline. But Pablo’s clavinet ends up ruling the day -- underscored by a sparse, uncredited tenor saxophone part that plays the Beatles “Norwegian Wood” later in the tune -- especially on its dub version. Check Horace Andy's spontaneously cut vocal on “Children of Israel,” or Roman Stewart's take on the hymn “Peace in the Valley,” for the way Santic could place a vocal at the center of his dub space station mix. Gregory Isaacs' sweet, sexy version of the soul classic “I’ll Be Around” opens the set and displays the rhythmic genius of Santic. “Columbo,” by Pablo, is one of Chin's freakiest productions; the drums are thin and rickety, and Sibbles' bassline pumps the front end as Pablo’s clavinet improvs on the melody, finding a healthy middle between the rhythm tracks, where the echo bleeds so much it overtakes the saxophone fills to signal the verse changes. It sounds like music from many dimensions converging. Another stellar cut is King Tubby with the Santic All-Stars on “One Heavy Duba,” where rhythm is pushed so far into the red, everything else feels like a whisper. It bubbles and boils, simmers and splashes all over everything else in the mix. In all, there are 21 cuts on this version, issued in a slipcase with the original cover artwork. The booklet contains liners from the original album, as well as Even Harder Shade of Black's, plus excerpts from three interviews with Chin. For those who bought the LP, this is an excellent update, for those who bought the earlier CD, this is a noticeable improvement, and for those who’ve never heard it, it’s about time.

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