Popular music has proved itself to be the most fluid of art forms. Indeed, some of the most vibrant works have occurred when seemingly adroit styles have been fused to form something perfectly unified and wondrous. One only has to think of Dr Dre and Missy Elliott‘s appropriation of Indian music forms for a recent example, or further back, for Talking Heads merging their nervous, geek-rock with far-out funk and field hollers for Remain In Light.
However, another less recognised tendency is the desire to revive and isolate styles, as though something pure was being lost through the processes of continual development and miscegenation.
Michael Hunter has attempted to do just as much under the moniker Butch Cassidy Sound System with Butches Brew. Variously recording as Pablo and Guidance, Butch Cassidy Sound System revives, as you might expect, the sound of roots reggae. Even the Hollywood-referencing sound of his new nom de plume has all the hallmarks of ’70s reggae, with many a gun-toting celluloid cowboy getting nuff respect in Trenchtown and Kingston back in the heyday of Studio One.
Not content with merely re-recording new dubs, Hunter has gone to the trouble of re-visiting old methods of recording, using old compressors, effects and two-inch tape. It’s a meticulous approach, and with the comparative ease of digital technology, some may ask what’s the point? After all, there’s been many shifts of styles not only in Jamaica, in the last 30 years, but the lessons of dub have all but been assimilated by the dance and rock fraternity over the last 15 years.
Well, mainly thanks to the releases of Blood & Fire, the mysteries of original dub have been passed on to more than enthusiasts, and its power to subvert and displace rhythms and narrative still have the power to bewitch no matter the passing of decades. Butches Brew is an admirable attempt at deriving new flesh from old bones.
It’s no surprise though that Butches Brew’s finest moments occur when Hunter extends the brief beyond the dry and heavy reverberations and acknowledges reggae’s grand tradition of absorbing American R ‘n’ B. Though Brothers And Sisters is Hunter on auto-pilot, Outsider and Case In Point could both be echo-deck treatments of Black Caesar out-takes, while his reggae-fication of The Meters Cissy Strut ain’t far away from Leroy Sibbles‘ Express Yourself for Jamaica-style decoding of US funk.
Struck between blue beat and ragga is the album’s stand-out party track, Rudi, a butt-shaking evocation of reggae’s true roots in the dancehall, and proof that dub isn’t necessarily all about spiritual pilgrimages to Abyssinia or merely a soundtrack to ‘erb-toking. Standing On widens the brief with kitchen-sink effects from spooky W�rlitzer to cowbells to the odd arcade laser-fire. As Scientist once proved, dub can be the broadest of churches.
Butches Brew might not be the most orfentik piece of roots reggae in this world, and it may not have the sense of spirited re-invention that Justin Robertson‘s Lionrock project had. Still, even if deejay ain’t your trade, and you don’t know yer Big Youth from yer Little Axe, Butches Brew can rock the cobwebs from your bass bins, and you might find a trip to your local dub vendor worth the journey.