Dread Prophecy: ‘The Strange and Wonderful Story of Yabby You’ Album Review

Courtesy of Shanachie Entertainment
Courtesy of Shanachie Entertainment

On February 16, 2015 Shanachie Entertainment will release the long-anticipated ‘Dread Prophecy: The Strange and Wonderful Story of Yabby You’ a three-disc box set in “long” digipak format. The set features the transformational roots reggae music of Vivian Jackson AKA Yabby You – reggae’s enigmatic “Conquering Lion.” The digipak also includes an extensive compilation of essays by people who knew him best along with many previously unreleased photographs. ‘Dread Prophecy: The Strange and Wonderful Story of Yabby You’ is not only an essential introduction to the music of one of reggae’s most revered ‘dread prophets,’ it also includes many rare vinyl singles, alternative mixes, and tracks that have never before been released.

‘Dread Prophecy: The Strange and Wonderful Story of Yabby You’ is filled with the artist’s “lightning, thunder, brimstone and fire” brand of roots reggae – a weighty, atmospheric sound created within the broken and battered walls of Lee “Scratch” Perry’s Black Ark studio and translated through King Tubby’s 12-channel, custom-built MCI mixing desk. An avid reader of the Holy Bible, Jackson’s lyrics are not as prophetic as they are a dramatic and introspective revelation of prophecies contained within the scripture. However, these lyrics take on a more reverential tone when sung by Jackson, who often uses the same revelatory cadence characteristic of the great nyabinghi chanters like Ras Michael.

The three discs of music included with the digipak are divided into a “Classics” disc, which has most of his greatest and best-known work from the 1970s; a “Many Moods of Yabby You” disc, which features his productions of artists he discovered and mentored such as Michael Prophet, Patrick Andy, and Trinity as well as dubs, instrumentals, alternate mixes and some of his lesser known recordings; and finally a “Rarities” disc featuring very rare gems and previously unreleased recordings by Yabby You and artists like Willi Williams, U Brown, and Prince Pampado. Several of the recordings included on the “Rarities” disc were discovered on tapes left by Yabby You with friend Alex Peacemaker and numerous uncatalogued DATs left with his widow.

Also included are several rare dub plates (“specials”) recorded for sound system play only on acetates of which only one copy of each exists in the world. Of the 56 tracks on ‘Dread Prophecy,’ 31 are rare vinyl singles that have never been released in digital format while a dozen have never previously been released. The 28-page booklet contains commentary and perspectives on the life and career of Yabby You by author David Katz, who spent time with Yabby while both were living in the UK in the 1980s. Also included are very personal essays from Alex Peacemaker and Shanachie Chief Randall Grass, who were both close personal friends of Yabby You. The booklet also includes many rare and previously unreleased photographs donated by Yabby’s widow Jean, as well as photographer Kate Simon, Alex Peacemaker, David Katz and John Williams, who photographed Yabby You and his group The Prophets in the late 1970s.   The booklet is an incredibly thoughtful and well-researched document which paints a portrait of an artist of great originality and spiritual commitment whose impact has been little understood-until now. It is without a doubt the most definitive narrative ever written about Yabby You’s life, career, and daily struggles with his debilitating health.

For the uninitiated, discs 1 & 2 are the perfect introduction to the unique sound of Yabby You’s music as they include his more popular songs, many of which are built around biblical, age-old themes that he built his career singing about: “sufferation,” oppression, repentance, sacrifice, deliverance and freedom. For the true hardcore fans disc three is pure gold. Instead of reissuing alternate mixes of previously released material, Shanachie searched the world over for Yabby You productions which were either never released or released in very limited numbers as original vinyl singles or dub plate specials. These aren’t “throw-away” tracks but brilliantly produced tracks from the likes of Brother Joe & the Rightful Brothers (“Freedom of Life,” “Hail The Children”), Cleopatra Williams (“Beyond the Hills”), Gladiators (“Mercy & Truth”), Prince Pampado (“Education Fro Free”), U Brown (“Natty Roots Man”), Half Pint (unknown previously unreleased track), Alric Forbes & Willi Williams (dub plate special), and King Tubby’s “Jah Vengeance” dub plate. Also included is a previously unreleased track by Yabby You titled “King of Kings” and an outstanding track by Lenroy Swaby titled “We Want Our Liberty,” which is by far my favorite track on the entire set.

Just like he did with 2008’s ‘Mystic World of Augustus Pablo: The Rockers Story’ box set, Randall Grass has constructed the most significant and definitive collection of music ever assembled for one of the unheralded heroes of the “golden age of reggae.” Dread Prophecy: The Strange and Wonderful Story of Yabby You’ is the first great reggae release of 2015 and the most noteworthy compilation of the artist’s work since Blood & Fire’s masterful ‘Jesus Dread’ (1997). With all proceeds going to Yabby You’s widow Jean Jackson, it is a profoundly meaningful and staggeringly beautiful piece of work – a true testament to the spiritual power of music.