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The Scientific Method

St. Louis icon Tom Ray's Soundsystem records produces a labor of love -- a reissue of the dub classic Scientist Meets the Roots Radics

What separates the mediocre from the sublime in the world of dub is a depth, along with, says Ray in his liner notes, weight: "Like the concept of the neutron star, the best dub seems to carry in its rhythms an almost unbearable sense of heaviness in space." Either that, or it's all the dope them Rastas smoke: There's no denying that the sound is inextricably linked to the ganja and that said dream state is at least partially the result of smoking fatties on the porch. The classic tunes of the '70s and '80s have a relaxed, stoned vibe, and to most, this vibe is not the result of some sort of lofty philosophy but of a desire, in the words of the Dub Syndicate (which the Roots Radics formed in the early '80s), to be "stoned immaculate." Regardless of the origin -- be it chemical, spiritual or, most likely, a combination thereof -- Scientist discovered this space when remixing the music of the Roots Radics.

Bass, provided by Flabba Holt, anchors the beat in the physical world, providing a constant, repetitive bottom-end structure. Holt finds a rock-hard groove and works it. Drummer Lincoln "Style" Scott is steady and unhurried. His action is sparse and deliberate, offering just enough to keep the sound tight. Scientist, in his role as mixologist, has taken the skeletal parts of the Roots Radics -- the bass, drum and countless organ chords, the skiffle-wood scrapes and off-beat guitar kicks -- isolated and doctored them, then mixed them together in beautifully minimalist fashion. At its best, as on "Inforce 'Ah," Scientist discovers the dream state. Sounds echo in and out randomly: Steelie Johnson's keyboard offers classic reggae clusters that Scientist funnels through virtual dungeons; Holt's bass carries a dense, unfathomable weight; and a voice bounces around, singing, "Keep it in the family family-illee-illleee-illlleeee" Where other dub producers prefer to pile on a lot of competing sounds, Scientist on Meets the Roots Radics is patient with his constructions; eventually all the sounds find their own space inside, but often these bits exist only for a few measures, then disappear, only to re-emerge in another part of the dub.

"Everything that's on this CD was basically out of print by 1982," says Ray. "It was originally released in England, and the additional five tracks that I chose to put on this for the CD era comes from an album called Radic Faction, and I picked it because I really felt that -- it was so obviously recorded within the same year, the same engineer, a guy named Crucial Bunny. Same studio, Channel One, and the same person mixing it, Scientist. It made for thematic unity.

"I linked up with Flabba Holt, the bandleader and producer of these sessions, in Washington, D.C., back in February, and he was in D.C. at the time, working at Fox Recording Studio -- he still lives in Jamaica. And he was immediately approachable about this. And we went from there. And now we have an option on any dub pre-1985 recorded by the Roots Radics, who were the absolute, no-questions-asked, pre-eminent recording group in Jamaica between 1979-1984, surpassing even Sly and Robbie."

Ray says that a nearly endless supply of classic dub is awaiting reissue and that his label will work to keep it flowing. "Soundsystem's approach is to strike licensing agreements with the artists for music that we know is incredible by that artist and that we feel deserves to be released despite the fact that there's so much music already in circulation -- especially in reggae."

Here's hoping they continue along the same track; Scientist Meets the Roots Radics is an essential dub plate (it's available on CD now and will be issued on limited-edition vinyl in the near future) and deserves praise. Adds Ray: "What we're talking about here to me, as far as early-'80s reggae, is music of the very highest order."

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