Mad Professor

True Born African Dub

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West Indian reggae producer Mad Professor (aka Neil Fraser) has spent his career crafting roots-fueled dub soundscapes with a studio full of modern electronic equipment. On True Born African Dub, he is joined by a host of vocalists including U-Roy, Kofi, Madame X, and the Wild Bunch on a series of mostly tepid dub explorations confined to rigid, programmed rhythms. Autopilot instrumentals like "Black Is Dub" and "Dub Pon Me Corner" are built around precise beats and fills. Sparse basslines map out the terrain and uninspired guitar and piano chime in. On "Monkey Dub" (which includes vocal snippets of a cover of Ray Charles' "This Little Girl of Mine"), the activity is reduced to some toying with the song's chirpy keyboard line and the occasional movement of mixing board faders. Mad Professor rides along the steel drum work of Patrick Augustus on the stiff dance number "Dubwise Soca." "Treasure Isle Style," with its bright, breezy keyboard figures, sounds like dub rendered in Muzak form. Exceptions (though there are few) do exist: The jarring electronic tones that spring unexpectedly from "Six Million Dub Version" and "Sistren Version" and the absurdly heavy reverb shots fired by the drummer on "Dubwish" are impressive. The collection's best track, the gleaming electronic construction "Bengali Dub," continually pushes window-rattling bass in and out of the foreground, giving the music a disorienting feel. The submerged chattering of chipmunk-like voices is the sort of bizarre element that distinguishes Mad Professor's style. There is no doubt that Fraser is capable of crafting captivating dub, but his high output (he produced 16 albums in the 1980s alone) suggests that some of his material could have remained in the vaults. Despite the occasional surprise, True Born African Dub feels like a series of templates from which to build.

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