King Tubby coverKing Tubby
[Moll-Selekta, 2 CDs, 2003]

It’s tricky to review a release like this. I could summarize the origins and circumstances of the music—it is historic material, after all. But then you might take it to be an artsy museum piece—reggae to admire instead of listen to. I could describe the music itself—but it’s dub, and to try to describe dub, ohh yikes. Or I could praise the gorgeous packaging of the material, but that might emphasize presentation over substance.

But it’s a wonderful release, so here goes. There are actually two albums: The Roots of Dub, according to the liner notes, is King Tubby’s first dub album and dates from 1974, Dub from the Roots being his second, six months later. (Other sources claim the reverse order.) And the reason these early dub explorations are significant is because King Tubby is the title-holder of not only “Dub Master”, but “Dub Organizer” and “Dub Inventor” as well. So most experts agree he was the one: the engineer and mixer whose studio smarts and creative imagination gave us a new musical genre. And these manipulations of Bunny Lee-produced tunes are the first ones King Tubby conceived of as components of albums rather than the B-sides of singles.

Okay. Dub. You take a reggae recording and play around with the mix—making sure to leave the rhythmic base intact, but taking great liberties with textures and dynamics. You can drastically change and reduce the role of the vocals, add whatever intriguing ingredients you wish, including reverb and echo, and generally have fun restructuring the song. That’s dub. In this case what it lacks in the sophistication of later dub, it makes up for in enthusiasm and the feel of new sonic adventure.

The packaging. The folks at Moll-Selekta take great care with such matters, and the results are always solidly functional and elegant at the same time. Here it’s the label’s usual fold-the-wings-open-and-read-the-liner-notes design, but with a bold, warm orange-red gloss. You’ll want to fondle it as you play the music. And King Tubby dub is the perfect music to fondle by.