Guitarist Dennis “Blackbeard” Bovell has long been a reggae musician and producer of high standing. (He co-founded Matumbi, defunct for several years now but still remembered as one of England’s first and best self-contained reggae bands; try their Point of View LP on EMI America.) Bovell also happened to have been a school chum of white jazz-pop keyboardist Nick Straker and musician/producer Tony Mansfield (New Musik, Captain Sensible, etc.), with whom he maintained contact; such eclectic musical connections have enabled him to bring a fresh perspective to the production of early new wave bands like the Slits and the Pop Group.
This same eclecticism informs his dub LPs in conceptual outlook and willingness to take chances beyond the usual electronic overkill. Bovell creates strong instrumentals that are mainly written and arranged for dub; the catchy melody lines are dissected but not disintegrated. Strictly Dub Wize (mostly performed by Bovell, with some help from Matumbi and others) exhibits cleverness and humor by the bagful (one track even bases itself on “Surrey with the Fringe on Top”!). I Wah Dub carries Bovell’s creation of aurally pungent tracks infused with musical witticisms from merely excellent to brilliant. Aside from some drumming, the odd piano part here or melodica toot there, Bovell plays everything.
Brain Damage and Audio Active are also both consistently enjoyable, though less spectacular: neither uses much dub at all. The former adds a mixed bag of boogie-woogie, rock’n’roll and R&B to the reggae, and Bovell’s homely but good-humored vocals adorn several tracks. (A bonus dub LP — all new tracks, similar to I Wah Dub, though not as engrossing — is included.) Good lightweight groove music, ideal for summer.
The later record — a band effort, including Straker and Matumbi’s horn duo — is mostly vocal and almost all reggae. Surprisingly, the instrumental and dub tracks are less interesting than the vocal tunes; Bovell’s songwriting has grown and his singing’s matured. If Eddy Grant stuck to reggae for most of an LP it might sound like this. Durably likable, it goes by too darn fast — all ten tracks are between three and four minutes long.