Little Axe - guitarist Skip McDonald and famed producer/remixer Adrian Sherwood - have a fascinating recent CD on Fat Possum, Hard Grind. In a recording world full of bizarre hybrids - from metal-rap to industrial-lounge - Sherwood and McDonald have created a surprisingly successful and organic new slot: "dub-blues."
Wedding McDonald's evocative, deeply bluesy guitar work, with samples of grizzled bluesmen and Sherwood's reggae-inflected dub beats, trippy echoes and hyp-mo-tizing washes, Hard Grind subtly reaches in, gathers listeners, and transports them to a mythical, swampy southern shore where Robert Johnson trades riffs with King Tubby.
"Dark as The Night, Cold as the Ground" opens the disc and creates a foreboding, lazy mood with McDonald's shivery slide and otherworldly vocal samples reverberating around in the mix before slipping back into the grave.
"One Drop Blues" creeps in on an ominous dub beat and layers melodica with a sea of electric and acoustic guitars.
"All Night Party" borrows a vocal sample from labelmate Junior Kimbrough's classic track "All Night Long." "Long Way To Go" reaches down into a reggae dub nether world to support backwards-tracked guitar solos for a dark subterranean ride.
"Down to the Valley" does shocking, groovy things to this traditional gospel tune (recorded as "Down to the River to Pray" by Alison Krauss for the O Brother, Where Art Thou? soundtrack), bringing in live vocals from Ghetto Priest, Bim Sherman, and McDonald, calling into question what kind of praying is going on down there.
McDonald has the blues in his blood, having absorbed traditional music from his father. For Sherwood, dub-blues is a continuation of 20+ years on the beat-music scene where reggae, dub, industrial and world music come together to form a sinuous, thumping whole.
Infatuated with reggae and dub from an early age, Sherwood was a London club DJ in his early-teens. By his early-20s, Sherwood had owned three labels: Caribgems, Hitrun, and the legendary On-U-Sound, which continues to this day.
For On-U-Sound, which began as a loose live performance group in '79, Sherwood has produced/performed with a rotating cast under various guises including African Head Charge, Creation Rebel, Dub Syndicate, New Age Steppers, Mark Stewart and Maffia, and most famously, Tackhead. He has also produced other reggae/dub artists including the great Lee "Scratch" Perry, Prince Far I, Bim Sherman, Singers and Players, and Little Annie.