Jessica is the author of a forthcoming book on Daptone Records and revival soul (Jawbone Press, 2021).
Here’s my list — man this year was great! You can use the same photo and bio from my page from last year. If you wouldn’t mind adding to my bio the following: Jessica is the author of a forthcoming book on Daptone Records and revival soul (Jawbone Press, 2021).
1. The Co-operators & Friends — Beating The Doldrums
I love a record that operates outside the bounds of what you’d expect, and this semi-concept album from the UK’s Co-operators & Friends is no exception. Written around the themes of economic and class turmoil/struggle, Beating The Doldrums grooves easily from lovers rock to rocksteady and dub. There’s plenty of excellent vocal work in here that brings to mind the likes of Slim Smith, though I particularly dug Kitma & The Eastonian Singers’ “Sleepwalkers” and the locomotion of the instrumental “Pocket Change.”
2. Jah Jazz Orchestra – Introducing
Reggae breaking down walls! This nine piece from multiple countries in Europe brings a killer debut that blends (you guessed it) jazz and fine Jamaican style. The record has original versions of classic compositions by Duke Ellington, Charles Mingus, Dizzy Gillespie and The Skatalites. While more an orchestra with a sick ska drummer, I found Jah Jazz’s arrangements to be unique and engaging, fit for all occasions. I’ll dig this while cooking during a snowstorm or dodging slow pedestrians down a NYC street at rush hour. My favorite track is “Black Narcissus” for the way it effortlessly meanders between tempos.
3. Alpheus – The Victory
This record makes me miss the dancefloor — drop the needle on any track and imagine rocking downtown style with all your friends. The sixth record from Alpheus and his fourth with producer Roberto Sánchez, The Victory brings all the boss reggae, ska and rocksteady you need with solid lyrics and Alpheus’ strong vocals. Even though this was made in the UK and Spain, The Victory takes me right back to reggae dances in California.
4. Top Shotta Band – Spread Love
Shout out to NYC locals Top Shotta Band, who released an instant classic this year. The 10-piece bring heavy ska and rocksteady under the direction of trumpeter/engineer Mush 1 and local vocal legend Screechy Dan. Uptempo and highly danceable, this second LP from Screechy is the good vibe you need in a shitty year. Spread Love also features NY reggae greats including The Slackers’ Vic Ruggerio and The Far East singer Maddie Ruthless.
5. The Juks — Way Back
To be honest, I hadn’t heard of The Juks, but was really blown away by the way the group mixed reggae and dub with spiritual jazz and psych rock. “When I Woke…(I was Still In South London)” is a standout.
There were so many great records this year, particularly instrumental albums, so this was a super difficult decision. Big ups to The Oldians’ Roots’N’Soul (Nice & Easy), The Higher Notes, Double Salute, and Victor Rice, Drink.
Jessica Lipsky is a Brooklyn, NY-based journalist and DJ. She’s written about ska and reggae for Billboard, LA Weekly, The North Star, OC Weekly and anywhere else that will let her evangelize.