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Back to Babylon with Junior Byles

The genius of Junior Byles — who recorded some of roots-reggae’s greatest songs — is recalled on ‘Still Beating Down Babylon’, a 10-song album released June 23 by DubShot Records.   

Largely produced by legendary guitarist Earl “Chinna” Smith, it comprises acoustic versions of songs such as ‘Beat Down Babylon’, ‘Fade Away’, ‘A Place Called Africa’ and ‘Curly Locks’.  Smith, who wrote ‘Fade Away’, started work on the project two years ago. He was determined to do the original versions justice but kept things fresh with the Nyahbinghi style of his Binghistra band. 

“We didn’t do it like di originals, wi have some different arrangements. It’s jus’ like yuh writing (songs) with a guitar an’ bring in some instruments,” Smith explained. 

‘Beat Down Babylon’ is done by Freddie McGregor, Mykal Roze and Inner Circle; ‘Fade Away’ is covered by Chiney KiKi; ‘A Place Called Africa’ is done by Itral Ites and Curly Locks’ is covered by Little Nate, a singer from Israel. 

There are also renditions of ‘Long Way’, ‘Nebuchadnezzar’, ‘Fever’, ‘Chant Down Babylon’, ‘I Don’t Know’ and ‘Heart and Soul’. 

Byles began recording music in the 1960s as part of a harmony group, but his career took off when he went solo during the root’s revolution of the early 1970s. Several of his hit songs including ‘Beat Down Babylon’, ‘Curly Locks’ and ‘A Place Called Africa’ were produced by Lee “Scratch” Perry. 

That promise was curtailed by psychological problems which saw Byles aimlessly roaming the streets of Kingston. There has been renewed interest in his music during the past 25 years due to regular playing of ‘Beat Down Babylon’ and ‘Fade Away’ at dances and on radio in Jamaica. 

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