Monday, August 14, 2006

My Operator, My Selector: White Mice in the Area

As Khenu a.k.a. the doctor, and many others, well know there are very few conversations about music in which I do not utter the words “Roots,” “Steppers,” “Shaka,” or some such dubwise variation. So keeping with form, I have to give my 100% Roots and Wires sound-dimensional props to the basic channel crew for their hotly anticipated recent reissue of four purely wicked 7” singles.

All serious selectors take note: These singles from the mid-eighties Jamaican singer White Mice are pure worries. The Basic Channel site tells the story so:

“Born in 1970, in Montego Bay, Jamaica, Allan Crichton aka White Mice is a graduate of three sound systems - Sugar Minott’s Youthman Promotion, Jammy’s Hi Power, and his hometown Ticka Muzik. His first break came at Sun Splash in 1985, when he and Little Kirk were called on stage to perform with Tenor Saw. Recording at King Jammy’s and Channel One studios, with Junior Delgado at the controls, over next the few years Mice let off a series of records amongst the very deadliest of digital reggae - nearly all on his brother Blemo’s Intellitec imprint, out of Miami…”

The four singles that make up this particular brace of White Mice tunes are “It’s A Shame,” “Try a Thing,” “Youths of Today,” and “Tallawah.” Each one is a slice of serious mid-80s computer riddimized roots. Like Little Kirk’s “Ghetto People Broke” from the same era, these singles retrospectively bridge the gap between the anachronistic roots-steppers vibe of the 70s and the nascent UK digital roots that was soon to give birth via such artists as Dred and Fred from the Jah Shaka stable and Nick Manasseh/Sound Iration via the Mr. Modo imprint.

I first heard White Mice’s minor-key digital classic “Youths of Today” on a Jah Shaka sound tape from around 1986. With Shaka chanting over the dub I was hooked. Since that time, the mythology around these White Mice singles only increased as my luck in finding them hopelessly decreased. Soon come…

About a month ago, I received the four singles in a printed white paper bag. Crisp, solid pressings ready made for pushing bass bins in a dance. They have been rotating on and off my turntable ever since.

“It’s Shame” starts with a wicked digital drum roll before White Mice wails “Oh it’s a

shame, oh it’s a shame to see my brother’s blood running down the drain…. From there White Mice licks lyrical shots at world leaders that build nuclear weapons to ghetto youths that kill one another. Sub-bass lines rumble under the propulsive digital riddim. The version accentuates the snapping snare in counterpoint to the rolling bass line. “Oh it’s a shaaaa…..mmeeee” echoes out, guitar and keyboard licks bounce around the echo chamber in fine fashion.

“Try a Thing” is a 4/4 mid-paced marching stepper with the Mice once again singing lyrics dedicated to all those sufferahs trying get by in the ghetto – “Just try a thing… Brother and Sister try a thing…” The guitar evokes Black Uhuru circa “Red.” The version on the flip, is proficient if a bit unadventurous. The kick drum and staccato guitar dominate with snare shots echoing in and out alongside shards of White Mice vocals.

“Youths of Today” is the tune that brought me to White Mice in the first place. It is, to my mind, the centerpiece in this serious brace of reissue 45s. So the youths of today will be the man of tomorrow, but when your old and getting grey…and we are the youths gonna lead the way… and try and try youth to get a bly… The riddim on this one hits harder than hot iron to anvil. The drums move back and forth from full-fledged digital roots riddim to pared down kick-kick-snare dancehall roughness. The dub version begins with an unorthodox skipping echoed shard of White Mice vocals before the strident riddim kicks in. From there out it is dubwise marching time.

“Talawah” in Jamaican parlance means sturdy and strong. On “Talawah,” White Mice comes in a strong fashion. Over top of yet another blistering minor-key steppers, the Mice warns all upstarts not to judge a book by its cover. By this point, they should know White Mice a come in “Talawah.” The version is a rudimentary dub unhindered by major studio trickery. The marching riddim is given space to breath. Time to clear out the living room and start stepping.

So once again the reissue folks at basic channel/basic replay come with pure sound quality. For all folks interested in a few 7" singles of serious minor-key mid-80s digital roots reggae these White Mice tunes are for you. Check them and support the labels that tread the lonely waters of diminishing record sales to uncover beautiful music such as this.

In coming installments of the Roots and Wires blog I am going to highlight more of my favorite recent roots-dubwise reissues. Likewise, in the coming months make sure to stay tuned to these pages as Roots and Wires Hi-Fi spreads the word in the San Francisco-Bay Area and beyond.

Andy G, Roots and Wires Hi-Fi

No comments: