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Bullwackie's All Stars - Free For All

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Artist: Bullwackie's All Stars

Album: Free For All

Label: Wackie's

Review date: Aug. 6, 2007

Lloyd “Bullwackie” Barnes rose to fame in the culturally hot climate of dub reggae in early ‘70s Kingston, and is still performing today. Free For All presents Bullwackie in session with a number of Jamaican welterweights, bashing out immense versions of three riddims presented by Little Roy, Maurice Jackson and others. Spearheaded by Bullwackie and Marvin “Munchie” Jackson (Maurice’s brother), the 10 offerings here punch holes in either side of a dub headspace undisturbed by the better-known personalities in the field at the time.

Originally released as a series of singles, Free For All is definitely lacking the sort of connectivity of subject that works in the favor of albums originally presented as such (think Keith Hudson’s Flesh of My Skin, Blood of My Blood or Horace Andy’s In the Light Dub, two works that would nicely bookend Free For All). Still, the collection hits hard. “Space Age” trades in the tension of the “Free For All” riddim with Echoplex’d synth and electric organ sounds, and a bass groove that has all but decimated the cones of my home stereo. Time for an upgrade. “Drum Call,” with hand percussion quietly dominating the track’s headspace, plays like a boilerplate for R&S’s ongoing 10” dubplate series. “Dis-Ya-A-Dub” leaves the fuzz of a rhythm guitar in place while removing its originating strum completely, creating an intensely disorienting, impossibly groovin’ presence to hang off of the bassline and rhythmic skank. The title track resurfaces in “All for Free” and “Meditation Dub,” distinct and equally joyous studio workouts held in place by a unique instrument or technique missing from one another’s arrangements. The enormous bass of “Blackbyrd” closes out this set with chest-vibrating aplomb.

The welcome presence of Basic Channel/Rhythm & Sound in the world of essential dub reissues is a bit different from the sort of jobs put forth by Blood & Fire, Pressure Sounds, Moll-Selekta and other noteworthy imprints. Here, the focus isn’t on the reissue itself or the history of the artist as much as it is the preservation of the artifact. The label prides itself in producing exact replicas of the original releases, the only difference being the swap-out of shoddy JA vinyl pressings with painfully exact, pristine discs, mastered at Germany’s esteemed D&M and other pre-production houses worth a toss. Eschewing lengthy liner notes about the music and the history of those behind it, it’s almost as if the label is challenging the notions of time itself, as if dub’s history remains undiluted from the very days of the reissues they present.

While that certainly isn’t the case, they’ve done an incredible job at mining exactly what dub means to them, and drawing parallels from it to the groundbreaking minimal techno they’ve gravitated away from in the years since the label’s inception. That they continue to find titles worthy of their rarefied, hyper-specific aesthetic speaks volumes about the untold richness of dub’s heritage. Free For All fits right in with these aspirations, and as a rough, enjoyable speaker-wrecker, you probably won’t find much better in the way of competition this summer.

By Doug Mosurock

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