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Cornel Campbell - New Scroll

Cornel Campbell - New Scroll

Cornel Campbell - New Scroll

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Cornel has delivered a late career classic and Zion I Kings have done it again.


Since Cornel Campbell's sweet soaring voice first graced a record in 1956 aged just 11, he has sometimes supplemented his income from non-musical sources. But he's been busy at the music of late - working with younger international bands and production houses.

Cornel Campbell - New ScrollHe's put out an EP with Israel's Zvuloon Dub system and has an Afrobeat-meets-dub album about to drop alongside the UK's Soothsayers in July. Before that though, he's completed this 9 vocal, 4 dub longplayer for old friends Zion High Productions/Zion I Kings - showcasing Cornel the cultural singer, who voiced the likes of Two Face Rasta for Bunny Lee and African Woman for Garfield Potter’s short-lived Ultrasonic label.
In keeping with the ancient revival implied by its title, 'New Scroll' is very much a deep roots meditation. Where the yet-to-be-released Soothsayers project gives focus to the lighter side of Campbell’s singing, with nods to Sam Cooke, Scroll harks to the days when Cornel’s vanilla ice-cream tones would starkly contrast with powerful minor key backdrops. Cornel may sing in a lower register than his heyday yet the magic is still there. You can hear him smack his lips before each verse – which somehow makes the whole thing seem more real.

The glossy delicate rhythms are the hallmark of three-way creative conglomerate Zion I Kings. The cascading clean guitar and slow intensity horns of the title track recall 1980s Misty in Roots. The smooth, rather angular dubby production with abrupt deployment of delay and laser sfx is shared between Jah David Goldfine, Andrew "Moon" Bain and Laurent "Tippy I" Alfred, plus Gary "Jah Oil" Walton, Carlyse "Wadi Gad" Daniel and Donald "Jah Bless" Toney. It creates a cool and mysterious vibe that is a good counterpoint to the organic warmth of Cornel’s voice.

Notable minor key moments include the haunting People (which makes great use of Dereck Harris’ low trombone) and anti-politician single Weed Out Vampires (with descending Hammond and chugging clavinet by Tippy I). Major key standouts are the Ras Michael-style hymn Chant it Out, and youth guidance second single Gun Powder (whose lyric “Buy a house and land”, touches on a subject close to Campbell’s heart - he cites a broken promise of a property as one of the reasons for his falling out with Bunny Lee). Sam Cooke’s spirit is finally channelled in the gentle marriage proposal, Walking in the Rain (on the same backing as Glen Washington’s Fall On Me).

The songwriting is locked tightly into the rhythms, making this is an immediately grabbing listen compared to the forthcoming, slower-revealing Soothsayers collaboration. Then again, Cornel has known Zion High Productions for years and Soothsayers are taking him to more unusual musical places. Ultimately, why compare? Both albums are worth owning in their own right.

In the interests of balance, a couple of dubby effects on the vocal sides feel a bit sudden. However, this is fairly subjective and when given the space of the dub versions the Kings’ wizardry works wonderfully well.

Cornel has delivered a late career classic and Zion I Kings have done it again. Given the announcement of a Lloyd Brown opus in October, it would be surprising if they don't have multiple albums in the tedious if necessary reggae “best of” end of year lists.

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