Robert French “meets” Anthony Johnson
Roots Records/Acid Jazz
January 13, 2023
Website Record Label
2. Park Dub
3. Know Yourself Mankind
4. Mankind Dub
5. I Want To Hold You
6. Hold You Dub
7. Stop Spread Rumour Mama
8. Rumour Dub
9. Number One Lover
10. Lover Dub
11. No War
12. War Dub
One of the most well-known dancehall/reggae producers Jah Thomas started as a local artist who rose to local celebrity status. His significant body of work includes his own records as well as collaborations with Triston Palma, Sugar Minott, Anthony Johnson, Little John, and Early B. He released his works on his own Nura and Midnight Rock labels. Due to his collaboration with the famed Roots Radics, a group whose name has come to be closely identified with dancehall music, he enjoyed special popularity throughout the 1980s.
Robert Ffrench (or French), a much-loved figure in Jamaica and the U.K., started his career as a dancehall singer in the early 1980s. One of Robert’s first albums was Robert French “meets” Anthony Johnson, in a rock-solid production by Jah Thomas. His dancehall song with deejay Clement Irie, Bun And Cheese, achieved platinum status in Britain in 1989 and sealed his reputation as an outstanding composer, vocalist, and performer. He has also produced music with renowned artists such as Buju Banton, Pliers, Jah Cure, Luciano, Sizzla, and Courtney Melody. He runs the Ffrench record label and distribution company and continues to be active today, but in a more productive role as a producer than as a vocalist.
Anthony Johnson was inspired by artists such as John Holt, Dennis Brown, and Alton Ellis since he was a child. He began auditioning at Kingston studios in the mid-1970s and made his debut track Free Black Man for producer Bunny Lee, however, it was never released. He formed a trio named Mystic I, but they were not particularly successful, so he started a solo career. He worked with a number of the top producers in Jamaica, but Jah Thomas, who gave him his first significant success with Gunshot in 1982, was the one with whom he performed at his finest. He made numerous excellent albums, including Reggae Feeling (read the review here) and Robert French “meets” Anthony Johnson. Roots Records, a division of Acid Jazz, has recently reissued the latter.
Robert French “meets” Anthony Johnson
This album is among one of the reggae gems of the early 1980s. Nowhere is it possible to pinpoint exactly when the set was recorded, although the cover of the reissue LP mentions the year 1982. The two vocalists each take a side, both with three songs followed by the respective dub version. The underlying riddims are played with full conviction, razor-sharp, and unrestricted by the Roots Radics. Peter Chemist & Professor’s mix also adds the necessary tension and rawness. On the front cover is a photo of the two singers, but the icing on the cake is the back cover with a beautiful piece of art by the gifted reggae/dancehall illustrator Wilfred Limonious. For the cover alone, this album is worth its price!
While there are absolutely no weak songs on this album, three stand out immediately. Perhaps the most famous tune is Stop Spreading Rumour sung by Robert French. Producer Jah Thomas used the 1968 Mama (Let Me Go) riddim built in 1968 at Studio One for The Heptones for this appealing song. It is also known as Love In The House riddim, named after the Errol Dunkley tune of the same name, also produced by Jah Thomas. Also by Robert is the protest song No War. This hypnotic song hovers over a bare, dubbed up, drum and bass riddim, with bassie Flabba Holt claiming the unrelenting lead role. In 1984, this song was paired with Michael Palmer’s top tune I’m Still Dancing for a murder Greensleeves 12inch. On side one, Anthony opens with Sitting In The Park. Unlike the two Robert French songs, this is an uplifting lovers tune, sung across the familiar Answer riddim.
After this lovers tune, Anthony switches to the roots side with Know Yourself Mankind. Side 1 closes with the catchy lovers tune I Want To Hold You, sung over the riddim of Things A Come Up To Bump, a 1975 Studio One hit by The Bassies. Robert French also shows his romantic side with the song Number One Lover. As mentioned earlier, the dub version follows each vocal tune. These are stripped of the vocals, but with well-dosed sound fx, without all kinds of nonsensical gimmicks that only distract and detract from the essence of dub versions.