Album Review: Bitty McLean – The Taxi Sessions
Bitty McLean – The Taxi Sessions (Mideya/Silent River/Taxi Records)
This year marks 20 years since we first heard of Bitty McLean through his debut single and smash hit It Keeps Rainin’ (Tears From My Eyes), a cover version of Fats Domino. Before his breakthrough as a singer, Bitty worked as an engineer at UB40’s studios in Birmingham (UK) and co-produced their hit album Promises And Lies including the international number one hit Can’t Help Falling In Love.
After two albums and some singles, it took until 2004 before we would hear of Bitty again. This time it was Bitty’s cover version of David Ruffin’s Walk Away From Love, which had been so perfectly fitted on the riddim for Alton Ellis’ Treasure Isle classic Rocksteady that it almost seemed as if Tommy McCook & The Supersonics built that riddim for Bitty rather than for Alton way back in 1967. The highly acclaimed On Bond Street album on Peckings Records followed in 2005, including Walk Away From Love along with eleven other scorchers on classic ska and rocksteady riddims originally released on Duke Reid’s Treasure Isle label. With this album Bitty established himself as one of the finest reggae singers in the lovers rock genre.
Soon after, Bitty started his collaboration with legendary Jamaican producers and musicians Sly Dunbar and Robbie Shakespeare, resulting in a few singles on their Taxi label updating some of their finest classic riddims like Taxi, Merry Go Round and Hold On To What You’ve Got and eventually the album Movin’ On in 2009. Bitty toured Europe and Japan with Sly & Robbie and those who have seen Bitty performing live know that he sounds as good as or even better than on record. This Summer Bitty did some excellent shows in Belgium, The Netherlands and France and whilst in Amsterdam he took the time to talk to WorldAReggae and already revealed a new album would be released shortly.
Now here is The Taxi Sessions, Bitty’s second album with Sly & Robbie and it continues where Movin’ On had stopped. As may be expected of heavyweights like Bitty and the Riddim Twins, they deliver a solid selection of tracks. Of course Bitty is best known for sweet lovers reggae, but he proves on this album he is equally skilled in delivering some heavy roots and culture with songs like Back Weh, Right Fight, Blessings and It’s Running Over.
Just like on Movin’ On, a few classic riddims from the Taxi Records vaults have been used here. Dennis Brown’s anthem Revolution is the basis for Blessings, on which Bitty tells us to praise Jah more and more for blessings by the score. The organ and horns overdubs give the riddim a complete different feel from Dennis’ original. Another Dennis Brown classic was used for Brotherman, a track Bitty voiced years ago as a demo on Jackie Mittoo’s Free Soul. This time he uses the Sitting And Watching riddim to full effect. Black Uhuru fans will immediately recognize Shine Eye Gal as the backing for the roots song It’s Running Over. This track, a cover of Freddie McKay, had already been released last year as a 12 inch single featuring ‘80s rub-a-dub veteran Josey Wales. Unfortunately Josey’s part is not included on the album. No Love (Plead My Cause) is based on Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner, another Black Uhuru favourite. This track was also featured on the Movin’ On album, but appears here in a completely remixed version.
Also some lesser known riddims from Sly & Robbie’s extensive catalogue have been used. Roots tune Back Weh is using the riddim of I’m Still Here by Junior Moore of The Tamlins, a track originally released in 1980 on the Tanka Records label, while Right Fight is on the riddim for Home T’s Do You Believe. Kotch’ Ooo Baby Baby has been reconstructed and overdubbed for opening track Let’s Just Fall In Love. Another highlight is I’m The One Who Loves You, a cover of Curtis Mayfield & The Impressions, done over Gregory Isaacs’ rockers style update of The Mad Lads’ Studio One classic You Will Never Know. Bitty can be heard singing in falsetto style, just like Curtis, and the dubby mix contributes to the ‘70s feel of this track. This is also the smooth lovers rock style that Bitty is known for. Fans of this side of Bitty are treated to further lovers tracks A Step Closer and In And Out Of Love, which both have been released on a double sided vinyl single two years ago already. The latter is presented here in an extended version with Taxi To Paris, an instrumental version by French saxophone player and Taxi Gang member Guillaume ‘Stepper’ Briard, who released the great instrumental album Sly & Robbie Presents Stepper Takes The Taxi (Mideya/Taxi Records) earlier this year.
Bitty and Sly & Robbie take us back to the days when albums were limited to ten tracks only. In those days that was simply because ten tracks was the maximum amount of tracks that could be fitted on a vinyl LP without compromising the sound quality. In these days it shows that quality goes over quantity because every single track on this album is a killer, but I guess many fans would not mind to have gotten a few extra tracks to enjoy. Besides the performance of Bitty and all musicians involved in the making of this album and the selection of the riddims, it is also the excellent sound quality that makes this album a real stand out. Bitty mixed the entire album himself and created a warm vintage sound that makes this album extremely pleasant to listen to. The Taxi Sessions will definitely rank high on many people’s top 10 albums list for 2013.
The album is available on CD and high quality download. For the vinyl heads a 180 grams LP is available, but this only contains eight tracks.
- Let’s Just Fall In Love
- Right Fight
- Back Weh
- A Step Closer
- I’m The One Who Loves You
- No Love (Plead My Cause)
- It’s Running Over
- In And Out Of Love/Taxi To Paris (feat. Guillaume ‘Stepper’ Briard)
By Danny Pepperseed