Smith + Mighty :: Retrospective
[!K7]   review from derek  

There's good reason the first two tracks on Bristol-based duo Smith & Mighty's Retrospective sound vintage: they were the very precursors to the genre eventually known as trip-hop. Early producers in the game, tweaking the likes of Massive Attack, Tricky and Portishead, Rob Smith and Ray Mighty compile 11 of their favorite cuts for this enlightening gander inside the drum-led world of Euro-ragga-soul.

The first two cuts were not there own, but productions for Les Carlton and Fresh 4. Carlton's "Come on Back" is a throwback R&B reggae-tinged drum 'n bassy cut focused on his higher-pitched soul vocals; the latter's "Wishing on a Star" is a sonically busy track fueled by airy female vocals and a spoken-word rant that would prefigure Tricky. Within all their busyness the synth-led, Jamaican-informed grooves that would inform this duo emerge, a decade prior to '99's Big World, Small World dropping.

By the time they were releasing on their own label, More Rockers, Smith & Mighty's connection to reggae was well implemented, their stutter-stepping light drum 'n bass fused with an '80s drum machine vibe while maintaining widespread accessibility. They stuck with the soulful side of dub, taking smooth melodies and layering them into lightly charged textures that, even in their bass-heavy hypnosis, admitted signs of frenzy. Theirs was not a supercharged 180 bpm take on this genre; the laid back attitude helped foster a toned down aesthetic that can cross platforms and audiences due to an emphasis on harmony.

The flowing chorus of "Move You (Blue & Red Mix)," with Tammy Payne's exquisite vocals, is a great example of this energetic surge of smoothness. Payne is a frequent collaborator; on this collection she closes out on the jazz "Same," sounding like an outtake from any Massive Attack record. Smith & Mighty show their strength in the lyrical realm by featuring vocalists on every song, giving danceable instrumentals a pop-oriented feel.

For the most part it stays mellow, even in the chaotic rupture of drums. Louis Rhode's lyrical charge "Life Has A Way," capped by a killer guitar line and piano flourishes, maintains a downtempo feel only by the strength of triggered strings on the synth pads. Only a track like "No Justice" is truly chaotic: the political spirit of Rudy Lee's fist-pumping poetry matches the quick-paced riddim Smith & Mighty concoct. Given the longtime quarrel with major labels that led to the formation of their independent stature, this track is both a calling card and a declaration of liberation from the system they rally against. This entire retrospective proves to strengthen the integrity of artists refusing to cater to a particular style, and the subsequent greatness one (or in this case two) achieves by listening to their inner voice.

ethnotechno rating: 3.5 out of 5
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  1. Carlton :: Come On Back
  2. Fresh 4 :: Wishing On a Star
  3. Walk on By (Mellow Mix) (pick)
  4. Down In Rwanda
  5. Move You Run (Blue & Red Mix)
  6. Life Has A Way (pick)
  7. No Justice (pick)
  8. B Line Fine Blow
  9. Give Me Your Love
  10. Anyone (Edit)
  11. Same