Over the decades of doing our radio program, there has been a consistent discussion between us around Horace Andy that goes far beyond our mutual admiration of his over five decades long discography. Often, when we are creating a canon of the ultimate distinctive voices in Jamaican music history, it is difficult to argue who might reign supreme as the singer whose voice is the most recognizable, not necessarily by fame, but more by aspects like tone, vibrato, and that intangible, mesmerizing sound that possesses some unknown intrinsic quality. “The High Priest of Reggae,” Roy Shirley, is usually an early vote for the top spot, as is “Mr. Rock Steady” Ken Boothe, and of course, the late, great, Keith “Slim” Smith is in the race as well, but in terms of a voice that utilizes an elegant falsetto that haunts you down to your core, there is no voice as unmistakable as the one that comes from of the vocal cords of Horace “Sleepy” Andy.
Since cutting his first single in 1967, “Black Man’s Country,” for renowned producer Phil Pratt’s too adorable to write without smiling Wiggle Spoon label and his subsequent cuts for Pratt, Sir Coxsone, Keith Hudson, Jo Jo Hoo-Kim, Gussie Clarke, and Tappa Zukie, Horace has continued to solidify himself into the pantheon of legendary Jamaican talents who have not only endured, but have also excelled when experimenting far outside of the comfort zone where they had thrived for the bulk of their early careers. In fact, Horace’s superlative and innovative efforts with Massive Attack that began in the 1990s gave Horace an even more dynamic stage to perform on and introduced him to an entirely new generation of fans. In the 2000s, Horace’s outstanding albums with Mad Professor and Sly and Robbie were further testaments to his endless desire to broaden his sound.
Given Horace’s aforementioned history of trying new directions coupled with his enormous popularity in the UK, it seems almost inevitable that he would one day work with the King of On-U Sound, British dub giant Adrian Sherwood. For us, it was Adrian’s work producing the equally smooth-voiced Bim Sherman (if you haven’t heard Bim’s 1982 album, Across the Red Sea, then, by all means, pause reading this for a moment and check it out!) that turned us into On-U Sound devotees, and, as we’ve long hoped for a collaboration between Adrian and our beloved Horace, we feel that our prayers were finally answered earlier this year with the release of their highly successful effort together, Midnight Rocker!
Now, just a handful of months later, Horace’s Midnight Scorchers has hit the shelves with a stunning cover featuring Horace’s image immersed in swirls of paint that sets the tone for the lush and wide sounds to come. Midnight Scorchers is an expansive continuation of some of the tracks from Midnight Rocker as well as other Horace classics that smartly hit the mark. As an overall concept, it is an album that goes far beyond a simple collection of dubs — Sherwood takes full command here by building Horace’s voice around sonically manipulated instruments to completely transform vintage Horace songs and the songs of Midnight Rocker into a brilliant companion piece.
There are so many highlights for us on Midnight Scorchers, such as its opening track, “Come After Midnight,” where Adrian uplifts the somber and meditative Midnight Rockers cut, “Try Me,” into a punchy and more urgent recording by increasing the level of percussion and moving the previously ambient strings into the forefront with Horace’s voice from the original recording now adding a sharp elegance. As we have always adored Horace’s classic track “My Guiding Star,” it was thrilling to hear Lone Ranger’s powerful voice blast on top of the classic melody in “Dub Guidance,” and speaking of classics, the version of Horace’s 1972 Studio One gem, “Fever,” turns atmospheric through Adrian’s board in the Scorchers track, “Feverish!”
If we had to pick a favorite from Midnight Scorchers, it would have to be “Away With the Gun and Knife,” because, for us, it provides the album’s finest example of all that Horace and Adrian have in their collective toolboxes. Here, Horace’s voice is at its soulful and poignant best as he comes at you strongly without ever losing the feeling of the lyrics while Adrian seems to be having a blast with the entire proceedings as he pulls out and applies a mind-numbing amount of processes that cleverly accentuate all that Horace is giving you.
After hearing Midnight Scorchers, we eagerly await whatever magical concoction these two cultivate next!
Midnight Scorchers is available now via On-U Sound.