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From ska to Desmond Dekker, Johnny Nash, Jimmy Cliff and even the more commercial Dave and Ansil Collins, Jamaican music had been lapping on the shores of Britain for some time. Adopted by black urban comminities and skinheads alike, by the time that punk kicked in, Bob Marley's footprint was on land and funky cats with big hair contained in even bigger tricoloured woolly hats started to appear on the dance floor. In search of new colours from the ever widening palette of Reggae, in 1976, the prophet John Peel span the wheel of his turntable and took CB 200 for its first test drive. Hop on and I'll take you for a spin.
In case you don't know CB 200 is a motorbike which in downtown Kingston at the time would have been a pretty cool vehicle. It is also the name of the album and the first track so let's fire her up and see what she sounds like.
Track 1 CB 200 9/10
John Dillinger opens up with some kind of rant in Jamaican patois. I really like it but 30 years on, I still haven't got a clue what he's saying. It makes Bob Marley sound like Bamber Gascoigne. After ten seconds the music joins which is quite sparse - simple bass, drums well to the front of the mix with occasional honky-tonk piano on the off beats.
'One dread, two dread
Sat upon a CB 200
I said to one dread
You better show me your natty dread'
Although there is a hint of lover's rock, the style is essentially 'dub' which involves a high reverb setting particularly on drum rimshots and occasional cranking of the echo fader to overload giving a four second musical brain hemorrhage. Nice! We're off to a good start.
Track 2 No Chuck It 10/10
This has a very traditional feel that Wailer fans would enjoy and also carries a political message which I interpret as 'no chuck it' meaning don't do bad to others. We have some soulful female vocals and although the song is upbeat in tempo it also carries some gravitas.
Track 3 Cokane in my Brain 9/10 (as spelt on the album cover)
This is an eclectic album and this song switches the mood and theme quite dramatically. The bass line which is the crucial core of the song sounds like James Brown. The introduction still makes me laugh as Dillinger calls out,
"Jim? Hey Jim!
Where is Jim man?"
The subject matter may not be to everybody's taste as once we have located Jim, the lyrics continue,
'No matter how I treat my guests
They always like my kitchen best
Cos I've cocaine
Running around my brain'
If you don't get too PC about it, the song's a lot of fun and we even get some Brown like 'right on's' at the end. Ride on.
Track 4 The General 9/10
Back to a very solid roots track that is so happy and makes you want to get on yer bike and feel the wind in your dreadlocks. The introduction is a bit strange with a vocal opening sung or spoken in a very heavy Spanish accent with particular exaggeration of rolled 'r's further multiplied by the return of the echo machine. The song also gives us one of my personal favourite lines,
'Natty dread don't shiver
'cos 'e don't eat liver'
It's enough for me to make the song a winner.
Track 5 Power Bank 9/10
A great introduction with an articulate little brass section that gets the full dub treatment so that their punctuated notes pile up together and then tumble down a hill. The song seems to move thematically from a tale of a corrupt power plant project to end on a Rastafarian incantation - something of a niche market in music but Dillinger has a unique lyrical style that mixes politics, religion and a lot of Jamaican humour.
Mr Finnigan said him are a Christian But when I check him out, him are really Babylon*
(*hell, devil, evil)
Track 6 Plantation Heights 8/10
Once again the brass pours a smooth, creamy sauce over the sound whilst the piano is joyfully proud of not having been tuned since it first left the factory, John rattles away about Ethiopia and it's another song for a hot day on a CB 200.
Track 7 Race day 7/10
The song starts with real drama with guitar chords moving up three times building towards the main business of the track but what follows is a bit of an ant-climax and the track seems a little aimless. I think the lyrics sound interesting but I honestly struggle to understand them. There is definitely some reference to 'sighting Sister Linda, whose sure to surrender, cos she 's feminine gender but beyond that, I'm not sure, if there is reference to 'Chinaman' a shopping trip or a race - let me know if you crack it.
Track 8 Natty Kick Like Lightening 9/10
Topical and witty, this track uses the metaphor of Kung Fu to represent Rastafari's victory over Babylon! Quite a natty idea. It's easy to forget the immense popularity of Bruce Lee in the 70's so whilst this might seem a touch bizarre now, it made sense at the time.
Track 9 Buckingham Palace 10/10
Easily my favourite track on the album, this gives more Rastafarian preaching with a range of metaphoric (or real targets) including Buckingham Palace, Mrs Wallace and the Vatican so I gues some people might not feel very happy about that. I am not taking a theological position on it and the line 'Cheers Mrs Wallace (pronounced as in 'Alice') has brought our household many years of happiness.
The best transcript I can offer is:
Said her, old mother Wallace
Beg her, lend me the chalice
Let me lick it in the Palace
Say me, lick to chalice
In the Buckingham
Oh we dashed with the malice
In to Buckingham Palace
Cheers Mrs Wallace
There's more but you get the idea - the music's good too; mostly bass and drums. It's a slower track but never drags. We also get some guys joining in a call and response line to particularly good effect.
"Yes I!" "No I."
Track 10 Crankface 9/10
Quite a surprising last track with a move away from dub to a much straighter roots sound. An up-tempo beat is maintained by a persistent high-hat and a guitar picks and shadows the busy bass line. The subject is generally the criticism of a girl who doesn't match up to requirements and unlikely to be top of Germaine Greer's hit list but for me, it's pretty tongue in cheek and the line,
'Pack up your trouble and run'
is rhythmically and metaphorically perfect.
Well that's it; tour over. It's not an album without flaws and some of the tracks fade out rather suddenly as if the electricity meter ran out or maybe it was time for the next spliff. The most impressive thing about CB 200 is that it clearly has a few miles on the clock now but still fires up first time. The lyrics are wonderfully cranky, the echo fuel supply occasionally overloads but the solid little engine still provides maximum satisfaction. Check it! Yes I. CB 200. Still Runnin'.
* Will be posted on Ciao.com at a later date*
Disc #1 Tracklisting
1 CB 200
2 No Chuck It
3 Cokane In My Brain
5 Power Bank
6 Plantation Heights
7 Race Day
8 Natty Kick Like Lightning
9 Buckingham Palace