Keith Hudson:Flesh of My Skin Blood of My Blood

Kim Kirkpatrick: Flesh of My Skin Blood Of My Blood has an interesting history. This release is considered a reggae masterpiece, also the first true reggae album, not just a collection of singles released on an LP. It was released in England in 1974, but oddly was never released in Jamaica. It quickly went out of print and became a talked about obscurity that few reggae fans had heard. Thanks to the label Basic Channel, and it's superb reggae reissue sub label Basic Replay, this piece of reggae history surfaced again (and for the first time on CD) in 2004. This was Keith Hudson's solo debut, and thirty years later the intense lyrics (of the black experience and history), the haunting performance and production still create a vivid impression of skill, content, and blending of genres.

Keith Hudson grew up in Jamaica with classmates such as Bob Marley, Delroy Wilson and Ken Boothe, with whom he organized school concerts. In 1960, at the age of fourteen he released his first record, using musicians who would later join The Skatalites. He continued to produce instrumentals and popular Jamaican 45s for many famous reggae vocalists including: Ken Boothe, Delroy Wilson, John Holt, and U Roy. In 1970 he started singing on his own tracks, and by 1974 when he relocated to the United Kingdom he had stopped recording other vocalists all together. Hudson was signed to the Atra label and worked at Chalk Farm's Studios in London. His first release for the label - Flesh Of My Skin Blood Of My Blood was produced, written and arranged by Keith Hudson and released in 1974.

Hudson picked musicians who were the bedrock of 70s reggae, including: Augustus Pablo (harmonica, melodica), Earl Chinna Smith (guitar), Leroy Sibbles (bass), Santa Davis (drums), and Candi McKenzie (backing vocals). Count Ossie And The Mystic Revelation (who I reviewed back in January 2007) bring their percussion and congas to the first track. They set the mood on this unique instrumental track "Hunting", a blending of dread roots, blues, and Nyahbinghi rhythms. (See below for info on each musician)

While writing this post I listened through a DAC/headphone pre amp/ transport system with Sennheiser HD 800 headphones. This system tends to expose flaws, revealing brittle or harsh recordings, and bad production. I selected this release specifically to hear it more intimately through this system. I found Flesh Of My Skin Blood Of My Blood beautifully produced and recorded. The prime exception is the intro track mentioned above, with distorted bass and a bit of overlying noise. These kind of sonic flaws are nothing new to anyone who listens to early reggae (some Lee Perry cuts come to mind) and Flesh of My Skin Blood of My Blood overall provides 30+ minutes of rich, velvety lushness you can lose yourself in.

Of course fine production and skilled playing does not guarantee any music is worth your time. I was attracted to Hudson's serious, consistent message of consciousness (some refer to this as a concept album), and how the hard hitting band supported the lyrics with relaxed rhythms and drumming that persistently lags behind just so slightly. The musicians on this recording live up to their legendary status, the playing is warm and interwoven, the interaction is pure reggae at it's best. But the real importance of Flesh of My Skin Blood of My Blood is the smooth blending of musical genres Hudson created. Not only from track to track but within the songs. The title track (actually two cuts) is split between a vocal and an instrumental track. It has a pop element within the melody but also sways in classic roots reggae style, with rhythm and blues as the underlying center. "Testing My Faith" follows, with it's country and western harmonica and melody, blended with blues guitar and reggae beat. "Fight Your Revolution" skips along at a nice pace with beautiful layered vocals by Hudson and McKenzie, and two (left & right) soulful guitar tracks from Chinna Smith. "Darkest Night On A Wet Looking Road" was originally a single from 1971. On this version Hudson blends jazz and wah wah guitar tracks, reverb vocals, and an overall production worthy of Isaac Hayes. "Talk Some Sense (Gamma Ray)" is classic roots reggae along the lines of early Bob Marley and The Wailers. "Treasures of The World" is lover's rock based, a bit heavy on the synth keyboard, but with particularly nice singing by Candi McKenzie. "My Nocturne" is an instrumental, with organ and synth keyboards laying down an infectiousness melody, and excellent rhythm and wah guitar playing, all in a blues/reggae package. "I Shall Be Released" is plain weird, with keyboards intruding on the melody, conga and tambourine beats, and limited vocal presentation from Hudson. "No Friend of Mine" is a ballad, countered by blues guitar and conga percussion. "Stabiliser" closes out this release, another instrumental which features a thick organ sound, melodica, and guitar. It is a fitting closing with it's blending and blurring of multiple genres and heavy atmosphere.

Because of the blended genres and the blues foundation of much of the playing, I think this release would be of interest to even the casual reggae listener. For me in addition to all the praise above I found a couple of other elements on this release that were particularly satisfying. Earl Chinna Smith's playing is front stage and featured on Flesh Of My Skin Blood Of My Blood. Chinna is THE guitarist of classic reggae, it is impossible to imagine the prime years of this genre without his playing. He has always been a favorite guitarist of mine, and I have yearned for decades to here him featured and eventually I decided such a recording did not exist. Even his few solo releases did not feature his diverse skills as wonderfully exposed as on this release. I also spent a few years and dollars searching for more reggae female vocalists, brought upon after hearing the I Threes live, Bob Marley and The Wailers back up singers. In general, I was disappointed by what I found, until hearing Candi McKenzie's beautiful and significant contribution on Flesh of My Skin Blood of My Blood.

Augustus Pablo
Essential roots/dub reggae producer, and musician most famous for featuring the melodica on such classic recordings as: This Is Augustus Pablo, King Tubby Meets Rockers Uptown, and East Of The River Nile.

Earl Chinna Smith
He appears on dozens of CDs I own, such as: Abbyssinians, Prince Alla, Horace Andy, Dennis Brown, Burning Spear, Cornell Campbell, Don Carlos, Johnny Clarke, Mikey Dread, Earth and Stone, Phillip Frazer, I Roy, King Tubby, Barrington Levy, Ras Michael & Sons Of Negus, Roots Radics, Mighty Diamonds, Freddie McGregor, Hugh Mundell, Augustus Pablo, Lee Perry, Prince Far I, Prince Jammy, Michael Prophet, Scientist, Sly and Robbie, Bim Sherman, Linval Thompson, Bob Marley and The Wailers, Bunny Wailer, and Delroy Wilson.

Leroy Sibbles
Lead singer for the rock steady Heptones, bassist for the Studio One label, also worked with Lee Perry, and Lloyd "Bullwackie" Barnes founder of the Wackie's label. A label significantly reissued by Basic replay, without them I would never have heard Bullwackie's work.

Santa Davis
Original drummer for Roots Radics and Channel One Studio.

Candi McKenzie
She also appeared on the classic Heart Of the Congos by The Congos and Exodus by Bob Marley and The Wailers.

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous11:15 PM

    Fantastic review! This album will be a favorite of mine for eternity... -BC