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Soul Shadows

Photo by Rankin

Grant Marshall, who has operated mysteriously for almost 15 years as Daddy G, is a thin English guy in sunglasses who in 1980 co-founded the Wild Bunch Sound System in Bristol. Out of that mobile society of Jamaican-minded record-spinners, musicians and rappers, Marshall later formed, with fellow mysteriosos Mushroom and 3-D, Massive Attack, the recording unit known internationally to fans of very soulful, very eccentric, very brilliant U.K.-made soul music.

The Massive Attack story remains elusive. Here is the Spin Alternative Record Guide on what the outfit, with the release of its 1991 debut, Blue Lines, was: “A shadowy consortium of DJs, rappers, remixers and multimedia dabblers around whom various players and singers orbited.” Over the course of four albums, the most recent being last year’s 100th Window, that’s what Massive Attack has been. With shifting guest leads from Everything but the Girl’s Tracey Thorn to Cocteau Twins’ Liz Frasier, fastidiously constructed and considered sonics, and cliché-free integrations of styles ranging from Burt Bacharach to goth-rock to reggae, Massive Attack albums have answered the question, What would Quincy Jones albums sound like made by gifted Bristol DJs?

Daddy G’s new release, the latest in the “DJ-Kicks” series of the Berlin-based label !K7, sidesteps some of the famous Massive Attack imponderables. Here, simply, are 17 songs Daddy G loves, often remixed or even created, and which behave superbly as a definitive Bristol collection. For a guy associated for so long with the modern, Daddy G as a DJ seems a touch old-school; the mazelike instrumental arguments of no-songs trance DJs are not for him, and his sense of soul looms far too large for him to concentrate on any single club-style-of-the-moment. Unlike the uncanny Austrians Kruder & Dorfmeister, early explorers of the DJ-Kicks compilations, Daddy G doesn’t stalk the wildly beating heart of the mellow, although he’s hardly afraid of the subtle.

As the set begins with Willie Williams’ Studio One classic “Armagideon Time,” it’s clear that trim ’60s/’70s reggae exists for Daddy G as the starting point from which subsequent soul excursions depart. Yet unlike so many who fall for a style that seems utterly complete in itself, Daddy G doesn’t stop there. For him, vacant spaces in reggae song arrangement only indicate more sounds and more spaces to fill in later — but with the same crucial nature of tones and moves. He seems delighted to play, shortly after the Williams tune “Non Non Non,” an intensely French 1994 version of the old Studio One classic, here done by Melaaz. For Daddy G, authenticity is nationless.

The collection includes the original white-label version of Tricky’s 1993 debut single, “Aftermath.” With singer Martina Topley-Bird’s streaky soprano hovering somewhere both above and below the music’s erotically unpretty flutes and synths plus Tricky’s slow, ominous rapping, the track seems hardly included for its rarity only; the music portrays personal heartbreak and social uncertainty, both exposed in dangerously slow motion. After this comes the immediacy, the horns and the rhythmic scruff of the Meters’ 1974 “Just Kissed My Baby,” followed by staggeringly alive and pointed Massive Attack mixes of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan’s “Mustt Mustt” and Les Negresses Vertes’ “Face à la Mer.” Through selections by Badmarsh & Shri, Barrington Levy, Leftfield, Foxy Brown and others, Daddy G never chooses or remixes a record that isn’t dead-on.

He saves the best for the last three songs. In a 2002 collaboration done for an unreleased soundtrack, Massive Attack and the U.S. rapper Mos Def do “I Against I.” The music stills the clangor and sweep of post-Puffy hip-hop to the penetrating sound of one loosed bass drum as Mos raps with a swift focus, the high end of his ricocheting tenor sounding against the deep furriness of the bass. Danny Krivit’s mix of Aretha Franklin’s “Rock Steady,” far from trivializing the heat of the original 1971 production, reinforces its connection to the Jamaican style with which the track shares a name. Then the set ends on a rare example of dramatic fabulousness, Paul Oakenfold’s Perfecto Mix of Massive’s 1991 “Unfinished Sympathy.” Muscle Shoals–worthy singer Shara Nelson wails, exquisitely. Massive Attack grooves, urgently. The strings burst with the hurt and beauty of Bacharach. Daddy G goes out on track. He has crested on what has been his chief criterion all along: soul music at its most creatively frenzied.

DADDY G | DJ-Kicks (!K7)


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